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Green Building Curmudgeon

Get Your Own Healthy Green Home for Only $15 Million

WELL WELL WELL, what do we have here?

This difficult-to-decipher graphic is supposed to outline the interrelationships between our surroundings, our lifestyles, and our health.
Image Credit: Delos Living

An article in the New York Times recently featured a company specializing in super-high-end healthy homes. The company, Delos Living, has created something it calls the WELL Building Standard — a standard designed to improve occupants’ health through a series of what the company maintains are unique features and technologies.

The gushing Times article was a bit over the top: “the second coming of sustainable real estate,” “posture-supportive flooring,” “air … continually cleansed … [and] subtly infused by aromatherapy,” “the uber-stratosphere of the healthy housing movement.”

I might forgive Delos for the superlatives, and I assume that the Times writer just got carried away and bought into their whole concept. The promotion efforts by Delos Living, and the company’s very sleek website, don’t shy away from their own awesomeness.

So what’s their standard?

The Delos Living website page that outlines their WELL Building Standard starts off with the point that it is designed to operate alongside sustainable building standards like LEED and Living Building Challenge with minimal overlap. The WELL standard is divided into seven categories: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. The Air standard claims to include “aggressive, performance based requirements that ensures the highest level of safety for indoor air quality.” This sounds fine conceptually, as do their objectives on providing clean drinking water, encouraging cooking and healthy eating, personal fitness, comfort, and reduced stress.

Interestingly, there is nothing beyond these broad-based claims available for reference on their website. I understand that they are currently working with the International Living Futures Institute on developing official standards, but it remains to be seen what will come of this.

The company has an impressive advisory board that includes Deepak Chopra, Dick Gephardt, Terry McAuliffe, and Jason McLennan of the Living Future Institute. Given that the Delos founders both retired from Goldman Sachs at the age of 39, they seem to have made good use of their connections in the stratosphere of finance to create an advisory board for their new venture.

I’m sure they are building very impressive apartments in New York City — which they should be, since the apartments are priced between $15 and $50 million — but so far, I don’t see much more than WELL Building vaporware.

Who needs LEED anyway?

Now I have my own (well documented) problems with LEED, but there is a highlighted comment in the article that says, “With new luxury dwellings certified WELL, who needs LEED anyway?” Now, that comment seems a bit over the top.

To be fair, this line is not attributed to anyone in particular. In fact, it may only be an interpretation of the company’s intent by the writer, but it could also be something that one of the founders said in conversation.

Some attributed quotes that also deserve comment include, “[Delos] is really onto something that will ultimately be as universal and accepted as green construction.” Really? What universe is he in, where green construction is universal and accepted?

One more: “Why build homes and offices just so they’re good for the environment? Why not build them so they’re good for people, too?” Are they completely missing the basic concepts of green building? I guess they think that they are the first people to think that occupant health and comfort are important.

Maybe there is more there, but I’m skeptical

Other writers, including Lloyd Alter on TreeHugger, and even Paula Melton at Building Green, have been a bit more complimentary of Delos Living than I.

In particular, Alter pointed out that many new technologies start at the high end and trickle down to the mainstream. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it in this case. I may be proven wrong, but something about this whole operation just rubs me the wrong way.

Then again, I don’t have $15 million to spend on an apartment in New York, but sometimes I wish I did.

11 Comments

  1. Lloyd Alter | | #1

    Delos
    I was being totally sarcastic about the trickle down theory, and concluded "The rich are different than you and me; they can afford healthy buildings. The rest of us have to eat the CO2 and mercury produced making the electricity needed to run 10,000 square foot apartments with built-in juicing stations, 78 bottle wine coolers, giant saunas and circadian lighting systems. " There is nothing green about this.

  2. Expert Member
    Carl Seville | | #2

    Missed the sarcasm
    Sorry I didn't pick up on that Lloyd. Maybe more snark was in order

  3. Andrea Lemon | | #3

    Energy efficiency?
    Did I miss the part where they describe any energy-saving measures? Or are they building these without concern for their carbon footprint?

  4. GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #4

    WELL WELL WELL...
    I thought you were going to follow that up with: ...3 holes in the ground.

    OK, so they've got Deepak Chopra and Dick Gephardt. Where are the building science experts? Do they understand building enclosures, ventilation rates, and psychrometrics? Have they figured out that distribution in forced air HVAC systems is more problematic in homes than the type of equipment installed? Are they going to keep the surfaces warm enough exterior insulation to prevent mold and IAQ problems?

    It's certainly possible that they'll get the right people to make all this work. Or maybe they'll just throw a lot of money out there, hire some engineers who don't know building science, and end up with much more expensive versions of the problems that so many homes have.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    According to the NY Times, it's "sustainable real estate"
    I hereby announce that the word "sustainable" has finally, definitively, and officially lost all meaning.

    A few years ago, the word was limping along, bruised and battered, but still (sometimes) used in a sentence that implied that the author recognized what the word meant.

    But if a $15 million apartment in New York City is tagged with the word "sustainable," I think it's time to dig a hole in the ground and have a proper funeral for this unfortunate beleaguered word.

    R.I.P., sustainable.

  6. Expert Member
    Carl Seville | | #6

    RIP Sustainable
    I think Michael Braungart and William McDonough said it best many years ago: If you were asked how your marriage was, would you want to answer "it is sustainable?"

  7. Foster Lyons | | #7

    Aromatherapy or wine therapy?
    I want a vitamin shower. And a loft on W. 13th St. with Siberian Oak flooring above Valbella's 8,000 bottle wine cellar. But only if it's hand scraped on site flooring, not that factory made, immitation stuff.

    I wonder if the Mongolian's are annoyed that their trees got re-branded as "Siberian". Maybe "Mongolian" just wasn't a sustainable marketing strategy.

  8. Shane Claflin | | #8

    on the other hand, this type
    on the other hand, this type of construction does sustain a lot of craftmen's livelihoods for some time.

  9. Curt Kinder | | #9

    There are people in NYC
    who will buy anything if the price is set high enough.

  10. David Meiland | | #10

    You guys just don't understand!
    "Sustainable" is when a tiny fraction of the population has fabulous wealth, and everyone else has nothing. The real problem is all these middle class people trying to have houses, cars, TVs, and refrigerators, depleting the world's resources in the process.

  11. Mike Collignon | | #11

    Response to RIP Sustainable
    Carl:

    I wouldn't want to describe my marriage as sustainable. However, unlike a forest, I'm not sure how a future generation would use my marriage.

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