Run your fingernails down a blackboard. That's the sensation most home building firm leaders experience when someone in the room uses the term "innovation."

During the better part of the decade just past, the word innovation hovered, everywhere it seemed. Consultants and charismatic keynote speakers and outside commentators, and even some internal crusaders took up its cause and called on companies--whose best shot at making money comes from reducing variability--to change everything. Disrupt or be disrupted. Right.

Innovation would release exponentially advancing science, data, and technology's super powers. It would transform building from its primitive state and crude outmoded practices into a simple, elegant, profound marriage of design, structure and systems that cost less to produce and serve longer, more valuable, less intrusive purposes as shelter and community. Right.

Builders, in large part looked at themselves. They looked at innovation. They looked again at themselves. They looked again at innovation.

Did innovation save money on land, materials, human skilled labor, capital? Hmmm.

Did innovation produce more people who would pay higher prices for their homes and communities? Hmmm.

Did innovation placate investors, pay off lenders, increase monthly order absorption rates, expand per unit net margins, make subcontractors show up on time for a predictable task rate for quality work? Hmmm.

Did innovation help them win? Hmmm.

As they look at themselves and look at innovation in the sense they've heard, and heard, and heard the term used ad nauseam for the past 10 years, builders--humans as they are--are prone to experience what in some circles may be referred to as cognitive dissonance. Their own technical term for it may be that their BS-meter starts to vibrate at an intense level.

Where's the ROI? Can I save? Can I make more? Can I compete better? Can I grow?

This simple, logical, reality-check questions come reflexively to people whose business is to put up an awful lot of advanced capital in advance of ever being able to see a return on it. It's no wonder they're jaded, skeptical, almost impatient with talk of changing, and modernizing, and doing something they're not doing to be smart.

As long as people want, aspire to, and pay for a few bedrooms, a kitchen, and living space behind four walls and under a sheltering roof on a plot of land, builders are working across a complex array of investment, manufacturing, and marketing and sales operational flows in about as smart a way as anybody yet has devised.

So, what of innovation?

For builders, the problem is not what innovation is or isn't. The big difficulty is in what innovation does, or doesn't do.

Mostly, they see it as costing money and not paying it back in the way that any other expense needs to do. This is big. This is why you should register and participate in Builder 100, coming Nov. 2.

The issue is this. Innovation in isolation is a fail for organizations whose value chain is all about hard-wiring an array of processes into a system. A transformative "fix" or solution to an isolated part of the system can hardly be regarded as a positive when the consequence of that "fix" is breakage or dysfunction in pieces and parts that relate to it.

Change averse-ness is not so much strategy, nor obstinacy, as survival instinct.

Here's why, where, and how this changes. Now. Urgently.

We know this. The No. 1 determinant of humans' health is their home.

We also know this. Innovation--technology, data, design, structure, and systems--drives value disproportionate to cost when it comes to healthy homes.

For instance, did you know?

"Children breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults at rest, as shown here. An infant has three times the minute ventilation of an adult and a 6-year-old has double. Children also tend to be more physically active than adults. It is clear therefore, that environmental toxicants found in the air, both indoors and outdoors, will be delivered to children at higher internal doses than to adults. These toxicants include ozone, oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter, lead, mercury as well as moulds, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other air toxicants."

Here's where innovation comes in. Not innovation that is, innovation that does.

Sekisui House and its U.S.-operator, Woodside Homes, designed, engineered, and built a home for the Las Vegas market that draws from Sekisui House's taproot of home building and technology innovations. Chōwa unveiled to builder audiences during the International Builder's Show this past January, and went on in the past few weeks to win a prestigious Gold Nugget Award from the PCBC, for Innovative Housing. Watch a virtual awards stream here.

Among the hard, tangible returns on innovation builders get to see demonstrated in Chōwa are not only in how the home is built and engineered--where both the speed and ease of construction can save on direct costs of materials, labor, and time and, structurally, the home is more durable, sustainable and resilient in light of ongoing and extraordinary climate conditions.

Importantly, however, is the very design and performance of a home whose essence maps directly to the health, well-being, and peace of mind of its inhabitants.

This use-case shows where innovation becomes a lever to create greater value. No fewer than four home technology systems providers--Delos, Panasonic, resideo, and Icynene-Lapolla--needed not just to collaborate, but to fuse their respective solutions into a system in order for the home to produce the indoor air experience Sekisui House and Woodside designers sought.

"We combined multiple smart technologies in order to improve internal air quality in the Chōwa home," said Joel Abney, National Operations Director, Woodside Homes. "Delo's DARWIN Home Wellness Intelligence platform provides air quality sensors to monitor indoor air pollutants. And the home also includes Panasonic Cosmos™ Healthy Home System which automatically ventilates indoor air quality 24/7 to maintain a healthy environment for all family members, together with a Daikin air-conditioner."

Fact is, as innovative as Delos' DARWIN system is on its own, fusing DARWIN with Panasonic, Daikin, Icynene-Lapolla, and resideo is where innovation goes beyond. From being to doing. From collaboration, to partnership, to interoperability. This is what the pandemic and its health challenges have made customers come to expect when home builders promise healthier homes.

Here's why Chōwa truly earned honors at this year's Gold Nuggets for innovation.

It breaks through builders expectations around innovation, from a notion of something that people talk about to actions that people and processes do--to save money, to work better, to produce more value, and to make money.

The challenge for much of building technology innovation is that so much of it occurs in labs and conference rooms that wind up solving for a single solution, in isolation.

Chōwa shows home builders, designers, and engineers how fusion, interoperability, and a holistic improvement can occur, both to bend the cost curve, and equally, important, to heighten the arc of value to homeowners.