Finding the path to health and wellbeing

Ben Roskrow

Ben Roskrow A new report reveals the results of a detailed survey into the attitudes of home owners and renters to health and wellbeing and the home. Saint-Gobain, which commissioned the report, joined forces with Housebuilder to bring together a panel of experts to discuss the findings and the implications for the new homes industry. Ben Roskrow listened in

How much do people think about their health and wellbeing? What do they do to improve their health and wellbeing? And, crucially for the new homes industry, what do they expect from their homes in terms of enhancing and improving their health and wellbeing?

These were just some of the areas analysed in The UK Home, Health and Wellbeing Report, commissioned by Saint-Gobain and launched last month. The report contains the results of a survey of more than 3,000 renters and home owners looking into this key and growing area of interest.

(Pictured) John Alker (right), campaign and policy director of the UK Green Building Council,opens up proceedings

To mark the launch, Saint-Gobain partnered with Housebuilder to bring together a panel of experts to discuss the findings of the report and their implications, led by chair John Alker, campaign and policy director of the UK Green Building Council which produced its own report on health and wellbeing in homes last summer. On the panel (see box) were senior housebuilders and architects with an interest in this area and its impact on homes.

Alker began the discussions by asking Marylis Ramos, a director at architect PRP and sustainability expert, to describe what we mean by health and wellbeing. “A healthy home is similar to a green home but with extras,” she said. “It involves having a neighbourhood that lets people be fit and active and it encompasses air quality, light, materials, the provenance of materials, noise and thermal comfort.”

Key findings
Alker highlighted the key findings of the report: “The report finds that less than 10% of renters and home owners self-identify a concern about the impact on wellbeing of their home, but 90% of those buying or moving into a new home are concerned by the home’s impact on health and wellbeing. And 30% are willing to pay more for a healthy home,” he said. “It also asks about the features they would want from an ideal home, with safety and security at the top along with running and maintenance costs. And these features are rated as three times more important than a house that will improve in value.”

What, asked Alker, did the panel make of the findings?

“It’s good that people put these features above the house improving in value,” said Redrow group sales and marketing director Dave Bexon. “And very surprising considering the media’s concentration on house prices. I wonder how tested that would be. It reminds me of when people said they would pay more for environmental packaging – but it didn’t fly off the supermarket shelves.”

“Perhaps people automatically expect that their home will not depreciate in value if it has features that enhance health and wellbeing – it’s an unspoken thing,” said Home Builders Federation director of external affairs John Slaughter. Both he and Bexon felt that there was room to take some of the key findings of the report and drill down deeper to find out more. “For instance, the 30% who would pay more for a healthy home – what specifically would they pay for?” asked Slaughter.

Clare Murray, head of sustainability at architect Levitt Bernstein, warmed to this theme. “Of the 90% who are concerned about the home’s impact on health and wellbeing, we should ask them what aspects of homes they think affect health and wellbeing.”

McCarthy & Stone director of communications Paul Teverson said that people’s requirements from their home change as they get older, an important issue for the retirement developer. Younger buyers are happy just to get on the ladder, but as they got older they want more from the home so health and wellbeing plays its part at the stage. He wondered whether some of the language we use around these issues did not always sell the features effectively. “For our customers, companionship is important so we provide communal areas. But if we start talking about this in terms of ‘space standards’ and ‘accessibility’ it loses something in translation.”

Getting to the heart of the matter, Alker then asked the panellists to honestly assess how housebuilders and new homes are faring in addressing the health and wellbeing issues, and could they do better?

Oliver Novakovic, technical and innovation director at Barratt, laid out the realities of the situation. “I have discussions with the guys that build Passivhaus homes – which are all about space, carbon standards, temperature etc. But this comes with a cost. We see the same with smart technology – if customers want it, we will provide it, but I have not seen that change in customers’ attitudes.

Building regulations
“Building Regulations – Part L, Part F – should take account of health and wellbeing and we meet these regulations. That doesn’t put us at the lower end of delivery in the area, it’s a 6 or 7 (out of 10). Passivhaus is a 10.”

“New homes are more healthy because they are legislated that way,” said Bexon. He went on to describe Redrow’s Garden Villages where “concrete jungles” are being changed into developments with parks and trails. “I definitely agree that we are a 6 or 7 out of 10,” he said.

(Pictured) McCarthy & Stone’s Paul Teverson: “This is a complex industry – we are trying to move forward in all areas but we can’t tick all the boxes straightaway"

Teverson argued that the government put challenges on housebuilders to deliver constantly: “Affordable housing, the energy crisis, health and wellbeing? Oh, the housebuilders will do that (says the government). Well, yes, we want to do that but we also have to build an affordable product for the market. This is a complex industry – we are trying to move forward in all areas but we can’t tick all the boxes straightaway.”

But Murray saw new homes performance in this area as somewhat worse than the housebuilders’ assessment. “I saw them more at a 3 or 4 out of 10. Part L in particular does little to contribute to health and wellbeing – it’s a carbon regulation, and overheating is a problem. The Building Regulations get the product to a certain stage, but not all the things that make us feel good are in the Building Regs. And neither should they be – but we have got to look to have them (health and wellbeing factors) elsewhere.”

(Pictured) Clare Murray of Levitt Bernstein: “Not all the things that make us feel good are covered in the Building Regulations”

Ramos backed up Murray. “The Building Regulations are there to make sure that people don’t die! Quality comes through planning.”

But Berkeley group sustainability manager Louise Clarke defended new homes. “If you are putting new homes at a 3 or 4 then on that scale the existing stock must be a zero or even minus 1.”

John Slaughter also rated new homes performance at about a 7. He pointed out that Building Regulations pushed for fabric efficiency which subsequently has led to questions about air quality, ventilation and daylight – issues which impinge on health and wellbeing. “It’s a little bit unfair to rate the new home performance in this area low when some of the issues are the consequence of following the Building Regulations.”

Novakovic summed up the challenge in this area – the conflict between the Building Regulations and health and wellbeing. “I worked on Part L and Part F – and if you designed a very healthy home then it wouldn’t pass the regulations to be honest.

“We build to Building Regulations, yes,” he continued. “But the better of us look at how to improve on that within the constraints of customer views and costs. We work with David Birkbeck (at Design for Homes) looking at improving new home design,” he said.

Murray’s firm Levitt Bernstein has recently worked on a scheme that is tackling some of the issues arising from new insulation and ventilation regs, such as overheating. She explained that there are things that can be done to tackle the challenges through good design, interior layouts, window arrangements and orientation of buildings. However, she said, construction costs were more expensive.

Ramos also pointed out that getting the living environment right was not just about design. “We also need to educate the inhabitants of the buildings and ensure that systems (installed in the house) are commissioned properly. There is a level of complexity to all this.”

(Pictured) HBF’s John Slaughter: “We have to focus on the additional knowledge and skills needed to tackle these issues – they are not there at the moment"

Slaughter agreed and turned the panel’s attention to the importance of skills in delivering improved standards in this area. “We are working on this at HBF with the launch of our Housebuilding Skills Partnership. We have to focus on the additional knowledge and skills needed to tackle these issues – and they are not there at the moment. Different building systems will further affect this, especially if we are using build methods that are not what people know now. We are looking to develop core competence requirements for the main roles to help this, and there are some good precedents in some of the work the Zero Carbon Hub did in its latter stages with its Designers’ Guide and Builders’ Book.”

Ramos said construction staff had to understand that simple decisions on site have knock on effects on the performance of the house. And Novakovic saw the challenge here: “Getting a plumber to know that the decision he is making will affect the home down the line just ain’t going to happen. They need to stick to the laid down design.”

Alker asked the panel to say what one thing needed to change or happen to help deliver homes with better health and wellbeing credentials.

“Anything that makes it easier to explain what needs to be done in this area to our developer managing directors and regional managing directors who are building high quality homes at volume to meet PLC requirements,” said Novakovic. “Also if there are lots of strands going on in this area it gets dangerous – I have been burnt before following one particular path only for government or others to change the direction of travel. We need one standard – there needs to be connectivity between the various strands.”

(Pictured) Dave Bexon of Redrow: ““We need some health and wellbeing principles in place”

Bexon agreed. “We need some health and wellbeing principles in place that we can point to and show that we are following ‘well-known health and wellbeing principles’.”

Opening the conversation
Clarke said that the report was helping to open the conversation and to help people understand the complexities. “This helps our board and employees understand the issues so they can sell the benefits to customers – we are bringing down the language barrier and making health and wellbeing more understandable.”

(Pictured) Louise Clarke of Berkeley: “We are bringing down the language barrier and making health and wellbeing more understandable"

Slaughter said the report helped in the drive to understand the issues in more depth: “We need to understand the trade-offs in terms of design and for customers – we have to work in the customers’ language.”

Teverson highlighted that customer surveys at McCarthy & Stone show that more than 90% think that their new home has enhanced their lives, and he thought other housebuilders believe that of their product too. “But the designers (here today) think less so,” he said. “So how do we get more on the same page on this? I think this report helps.”

Ramos was positive: “This report finds that there is great value in health and wellbeing – it resonates with people. People are willing to pay for a gym membership and not use it! This report shows that people are willing to pay for health and wellbeing.”

(Pictured) PRP’s Marylis Ramos: “This report finds that there is great value in health and wellbeing– it resonates with people”

And Murray also saw the value in the debate and the report. “There have been minor differences between us today – but we’ve exchanged ideas and have come together. And that will be the key to making a positive change in this area.”

(Pictured) Oliver Novakovic of Barratt: “Of course everyone wants to live in a healthy home – and we want to give them a healthy home”

And over to Novakovic to wrap up: “Of course everyone wants to live in a healthy home – and we want to give them a healthy home. We think we’re doing OK, we’re at a 7 (out of 10), we meet Building Regs. This report says: ‘Is there more than you can do?’ and we say: 'Is there a need, a driver, and a cost? What can we do and what will be the implication?'”

It feels like there is plenty of room for further debate and research in this area.

The panel
Chair: John Alker – campaign and policy director of the UK Green Building Council
• Oliver Novakovic – technical and innovation director, Barratt
• Dave Bexon – group sales and managing director, Redrow
• Paul Teverson – director of communications, McCarthy & Stone
• John Slaughter – director of external affairs, HBF
• Clare Murray – head of sustainability, Levitt Bernstein
• Marylis Ramos – director of development consultancy research, PRP Architects
• Louise Clarke – group sustainability manager, Berkeley

Marketing health and wellbeing
The panel debated the issues surrounding marketing the rather “nebulous” concept of health and wellbeing. “I would say our homes enhance people’s wellbeing – but saying ‘this is a healthy home’ is dangerous. Are all the other homes ‘unhealthy’?” said Redrow's Bexon.

Barratt's Novakovic agreed: “Health and wellbeing is such an unrecognised standard so we have to be careful about what we say. We can say: ‘These are some of the things we are doing for you for free to benefit you.’”

But he was concerned that if specific achievements are listed they may be hard to prove.

Bexon said if there was a clear list of four or five things that could be done to improve health and wellbeing then Redrow would certainly include them: “Why wouldn’t we?” he said.

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