Housing Innovation Alliance's Podcast

Healthier Homes + Innovation with Michelle Foster and Tony Marnella

November 09, 2020 Housing Innovation Alliance Season 3 Episode 3
Housing Innovation Alliance's Podcast
Healthier Homes + Innovation with Michelle Foster and Tony Marnella
Show Notes Transcript

Betsy Scott chats with Michelle Foster, Home Innovation Research Labs and Tony MarnellaMarnella Homes about innovation, healthier homes and how this overlaps with sustainability practices.

Listen in to hear about current market perception (and how it's changing), the role the National Green Building Standard plays in design, delivery, and marketing processes and the growing opportunity for healthier homes as a key differentiator in your business.

Learn more about the Home Innovation Research Labs and Marnella Homes.

Many thanks to our partners at the University of Denver for their editing and post-production talents, specifically Lija Miller and Lisette Zamora-Galarza.

The University of Denver Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, teaches the full life cycle of the built environment. From integrated project leadership skills to a cohesive understanding of the built environment ––experience the only school of its kind!

"Upbeat Party" is brought to you by Scott Holmes, songwriter from Free Music Archive

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Speaker 1 (00:06):

You're listening to the Housing Innovation Alliance podcast in partnership with the university of Denver's Franklin L burns school of real estate and construction management. The housing innovation Alliance is a nationwide community of game changers driving the future of home delivery through crowd accelerated innovation. We represent thought leaders from dirt to dweller with a focus on the production builders business environment.

Speaker 2 (00:32):

I'm Betsy Scott with the housing innovation Alliance. I have the good fortune today to be sitting here with Michelle Foster who's with home innovation research labs. Michelle is the VP of sustainability and innovation services, and she manages the national green building standard. Hi Michelle. Hi there. Nice to be here. And Michelle will also introduce us to an interesting builder. Tony Marinella, who is the owner of Marinella homes, a builder in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Um, he's part of the national green building standard program. He's been a builder for more than 20 years and he and Michelle both are early adopters of green buildings. When both of you step back, how have you at Marinella homes and how has the national green building standard then delivering greater health and housing today, as you may know, a number of years ago, the green building programs that we had nationwide really were focused on commercial buildings, institutional buildings, educational buildings, and residential green building really lagged all the other industry types.

Speaker 2 (01:36):

About 10 years ago, the national green building standard was developed and it was specifically designed for single family homes, townhomes houses, and multifamily buildings. And it really became a game changer because it was so specifically wealth fit to the residential construction industry that they now had access to a usable definition of green building. And it provided a way that they could benchmark their construction against other builders and against code minimum. From there, it really took off. And then we've been able to work with builders like Tony and the buildings he does to really peg them again to the other construction that's happening in the industry and kind of measure their performance and how green and sustainable they are. Great. And Tony, on your end,

Speaker 3 (02:23):

Not really having a building background in the family, we weren't entrenched in any, you know, my granddad taught me to do it this way or my dad or whatever. And so everything that, from the day we, I built my first house, everything was looked at as kind of why, well, why, why are you doing this? And, you know, in 2007 we put our HACs on the inside of our home to push back, we'd get from trades. It was like, well, we just don't do it that way, doing it. It's like, why aren't you doing it that way? And so once you started picking up and, and I didn't try to overwhelm our flaws with, we're just doing all of this right now, it was like, okay, let's do this piece. And, and graduating in now looking back, it's like, how could we ever build a code built home again?

Speaker 2 (03:08):

So you mentioned HPAC and, you know, we've heard time. And again, quality is huge. Um, certainly in terms of healthy homes, um, but divorcing from that and don't want to shoot for me there. Um, what are the building systems that you both look at prioritizing, um, to deliver health and wellness in homes?

Speaker 3 (03:30):

The HPAC system is almost paramount to it's at the core of it. I mean, we advanced frame everything. We've got certain standards that are just the way it will be, right? So the framing is 24 inch on center and the advanced framing, mental, or the systematic approach to it is obviously the code way. I always refer to it as it's more, would more better in the reality of the performance world is less wood is better before the floor systems and the structural engineering has ever done RSV contractor is tasked with definitely out before anything happens. So everything is being designed around the HPAC system. And obviously there's certain things that it can't drive, but it drives a good portion of that. So that comfort that air flow and the performance of that system is part of really what makes up, you know, in my opinion is really one of our key drivers.

Speaker 2 (04:32):

Yeah. I would agree with what Tony said. When we start working with builders who are new to the program, the first thing we try to do is kind of pull them back to the basics. First thing we want to do is get a good tight shell. And once you do that, you've solved a lot of the air tightness issues with regard to whether or not it's going to be an energy efficient shell. We've solved some of the moisture issues and it's this basic stuff. That's, it's not as sexy, but it's so important to put aside what windows you're going to select. Let's first install the windows that you do have correctly. And then we can talk about maybe upgrading the windows to a better window, but that's the most important thing is kind of getting those basics, right? Making sure even before we start to consider, do you want to get to a better HPAC?

Speaker 2 (05:18):

Is it sized appropriately? And the big problems that we've had in the industry for years is this notion that bigger is better and bigger is definitely not better. If the system doesn't work appropriately, it short cycles, you end up with moisture issues. And so these kinds of just basic building science things become the foundation to any good green home. And then from there, depending on a builder's budget or climate or the market they're building in, we can add the additional things. Do you get to a better system? Do you want to go to better windows? Do you want to add those renewables, like solar geothermal, that's just kind of the icing on the cake at that point. You know, both of you mentioned, um, heating and cooling, you mentioned HVC. Um, I think a lot of times people forget the V and the importance of the ventilation aspect of HVC, certainly, and, and delivering healthier homes. So how are you guys looking at ventilation, both as a builder and from the certification standpoint?

Speaker 3 (06:18):

One of the things that I think is, is most misinterpreted from the air tightness. And I hear it from builders that are curious, and they're engaging and talking with me about it. And even some buyers like, well, you know, the houses are too tight and that's causing issues and you're right. The V is what totally gets forgotten, because if you're, if you're infusing fresh air and exchanging it with your stale indoor air, you are, you're creating that balance. We want to control where the air goes, not just letting it force its way or pull its way through, you know, places at random. And actually that's one of the things we've learned through building science. You know, we have had homes too tight that didn't have makeup air and they rotted literally from the inside out. You know, we keep driving our, our air exchanges is, you know, down and I don't feel we can get them too tight because with every next measure we take on tightness, we're improving the indoor air circulation and controlling that. And, you know, at the ability for contaminants to make their way into the home that you don't want. And so I don't think you can have a home that's too tight.

Speaker 2 (07:27):

The other thing, whoever I think is complex, it's important to manage. And this is particularly true in building industry as compared to building a commercial building, or another type of building is thinking about how the occupants will use the house, how that adds additional complexity. One of the things I really like about their screen building standard in fact, is that it requires an occupant manual so that they know how to operate the house once they, um, take ownership of it. Um, and training as to how to do that, because you have builders like Tony, they were building fairly complex sophisticated homes, or were turning them over to homeowners that maybe have never had any experience operating those homes. We want to provide them with the equipment. Um, and, and as a building scientist or somebody who manages the program, we want to be thinking about that as well. So we talked about, you talked a little bit Michelle about the role that certification plays in ensuring performance. Um, but I'd like to see if you have anything to add on that front, Tony as a builder,

Speaker 3 (08:29):

A certification, at least for us is it's, it's almost kind of more of a multi-pronged aspect to it because you have consumer, the consumer is going to look to it as it's some form of validation, verification, everything we do States that we certify 100% of what we built through NGBs. We actually thought that what was going to most with people was an energy performance. And through the journey of this have learned that there's really, you've got four different types. The buyer segment is really in four groups, you do have the energy people, energy conscious people. You have the health conscious people, and you've got the, the true believers that are going to do whatever it is to save the earth and be energy conscious. And then you have the independence that are looking at it from a health sustainability. They all come to the same goal or same objective, but for different reasons, you know, going into every home before we start anything, it gets modeled and we target where it needs to be. And then obviously the certification validates that we got, where we needed to go. And we communicate that to, you know, every buyer, you know, during our hormone orientation, they do learn about the process and they learn the value of everything that's been designed and built into their home.

Speaker 2 (09:56):

Um, well, one of the things that I was thinking is just such a benefit of the certification program is the iterative process that it is, um, and the collaborative process. So yes, in the end, the objective is for as an independent third party home, innovation is going to certify that Tony's homes are in compliance with the national green building standard at whatever level he's seeking bronze, silver, gold, and Emerald. But sometimes what gets forgotten about from the industry perspective is we're really trying to work, to push the whole industry to be better. So Tony has a certain expertise as a builder, but he's working with the verifier who's coming and doing the inspections, the verifiers, helping him by making sure that his subs are doing what they're supposed to be doing, serving as additional eyes on the ground. So to speak in the field, they may be, have even seen products or systems or techniques in other places that they could bring to him and make sure he's exposed to the same way that when they learn from him and his project, they will bring that to their other clients and then home innovation as adopting.

Speaker 2 (11:02):

And any role that we can serve is that Tony at every, any time or the verifiers, any time can call us and say, you know, we're not really quite sure how to comply with this, or what's your interpretation, or have you seen products that help us with this? And so together, we can make sure that these buildings are really being built as best as they can in, I don't know, probably the most collaborative way I've seen in the entire time that I've been in the industry working here. So you mentioned smart technology a little bit earlier. Um, what, if any role, do you see smart technology playing in driving health, in homes on your end?

Speaker 3 (11:41):

We've just started using some of those systems. I mean, you can just watch what the ring doorbell has done. And the nest thermostat has done to give an indication of where the consumer is pulling the industry. We will be there at what capacity and at what time line that will be only time will tell, but we're now putting in a basic, you know, smart home system into every home from this point forward. I think the value of that as the consumer starts to, to adopt, you know, first they adopted the nest and now they adopted the ring. And now they're going to start adopting something out. And as these pieces start coming in, you've got platforms like alarm.com that they all work with. You're going to start seeing packages grow and grow and grow. And the consumer, especially the millennials are going to start really gravitating to, Oh, wow, that's cool. I can control my door, let the ups guy put a package inside while I'm sitting here on the beach.

Speaker 2 (12:43):

I also think smart home technology, um, will be so important because of the automation it brings. We just have to recognize that we're human and we're fallible and we don't always do the things that we should do. Right. So, um, in the past 10 years I've seen more and more homes putting in really good kitchen, exhausts that bend to the outside. It's a requirement for the NGBs and we know that's super important. We know you need to get the pollutants that come from cooking and the moisture out of the house. But even when I think of myself, how often do I turn that vent on? It's probably not as frequent as I should. And there has been research that was done actually completed fairly recently that people admit that they sort of turn it on when they need it. And, but what we know is that they actually need it more than they think they do, and they're not turning it on.

Speaker 2 (13:34):

So I think that's a great opportunity for smart technology that as the sensors that we now have, can detect the pollutants and turn it on automatically, we don't have to rely on our understanding of when we should put it on or remembering to turn it on. Most of you are currently collaborating on updates to the national green building standard and launching a wellness badge, as well as other types of badges that builders can use to validate the extra effort that they're making in the space. What kind of things do do the new standards entails? So the 2020 national green building standard was approved by ANSI in January of this year. Um, and we are accepting applications or registrations for certification. In fact, Tony's building will be the very first one that, um, is certified to the 2020 NGBs. One of the things we've learned in the 10 years running the program is that even with four different levels of certification, so bronze, silver, gold, and Emerald, we still had builders who were building homes that had distinctions that they wanted to market or make sure that their home buyers understood that those four levels didn't completely convey.

Speaker 2 (14:47):

And as we were talking about earlier, wellness certainly has been one of things where a number of builders are incorporating a lot of wellness practices above and beyond what they would even have to do for just one of those four levels. And we wanted to make sure that he could recognize that. So we are launching a brand new, um, program it's NGBs green plus there would be six badges that a builder could earn. So there's wellness, zero energy net, zero water, smart, home resilience and universal design. Tony, what does this new wellness badge and these, these new updates mean

Speaker 3 (15:24):

For those of us that are building at, you know, certifying everything to some people it's just NGBs certified and it's not really differentiating how one home is different than another.

Speaker 2 (15:37):

Are there risks that you're looking at as a builder in terms of staking your claim, have you been concerned about any risks of asserting the performance from a business perspective with your customer?

Speaker 3 (15:53):

You know, I don't, and I've had this question come up in the past. I'm not making representations that I can't substantiate the, the equipment and the process. And I, you know, I referred to earlier the holistic approach that we take to every structure, regardless of whether it's a 400 square foot ADU, or it's a condominium building a customer, whatever, I believe so much in that process. And I'm validated by the certification and the journey through that build that. No, I don't. And I've gone to two building conferences and listened to attorneys, let us know what the exposure we have to that I've never been concerned about it because I feel like I can validate every single step of the way I see no downside. I see the only upside

Speaker 2 (16:42):

Working with builders like Tony, this is like probably the most rewarding thing that I ended up doing, because I have heard this as well, this sort of concern or undue risk that they feel is there, but you can't measure what you can count. And I was a prospective home buyer and I had a builder who said, well, I don't want to promise you that I'm going to build a home to this standard. I might be a little worried, right? I think that it's great. These builders that we're working with, Tony and the other pro builders in the program, they are saying, this is my goal. I am going to build a home of this performance level and I'm going to meet this standard and we will stand behind them and do everything we can as part of their team to help them get there. But they're drawing that line in the sand and saying, I'm going to build a better home.

Speaker 2 (17:29):

And for the most part, they do that. And we can verify that through visual inspection that that's actually what's happening. And so, you know, it's, it's encouraging because I think it just shows they are dedicated to just that high quality high performing home. It is better for the environment. It really is better for the occupant, but they have pride in what they do. And they've just set the bar high, our premise, really for the series and the Alliance we believe, you know, we've been looking at energy efficiency, it's still important for years, but we believe that really in the next five years, healthy homes are going to be calm. The new energy efficiency.

Speaker 3 (18:07):

I totally concur. As I had shared earlier with my experience, we thought the green or that the, uh, energy performance was the main component of green. And through our journey over all this period, we've realized that health and comfort was really more paramount in the purpose if you will. And so now with what's come to light. So recently I see that only escalating, um, you know, going forward.

Speaker 2 (18:36):

I agree as well. I think, um, our relationship and our thinking about wellness is very emotional and that will often drive our purchases and our decisions. Whereas energy efficiency is much more a, of a rational thought process. So one of the things that we know from market research for example, is that if a builder says, I'm building an energy efficient home, maybe it'll cost just a little bit more money than a code minimum home. The consumer automatically wants to know, okay. If it costs me X more, how much will I save? They're going to do that equation right off the bat. There they're very savvy that way. That is not what happens when you start talking about health and wellness. Suitably, understand that there's not an easy calculation, that if a home is healthier and has better indoor air quality, that it might cost X amount of more, but it's going to somehow translate to a specific value. They just want it because it's better for them. And it's better for them

Speaker 1 (19:40):

On behalf of the housing innovation Alliance and the university of Denver, this is Dr. Eric Holt. Thank you for being part of our journey. This is where innovation calls home.