When Meritage Homes began to ask its average buyer, a 36-year-old mother of three, how it could create better value in 2009, the subject of health kept coming up. Moms were worried about kids with allergies and concerned about soaring child asthma rates. They’d read that environmental toxins could disrupt children’s hormone development and watched HGTV shows about people building houses that promote wellness. They said they had enough to think about without having to worry about mold, offgassing, and radon.
Their answers caught company executives off guard. “I kind of missed how important this was initially because I never asked,” says C.R. Herro, vice president of energy efficiency and sustainability for Meritage. “Most builders don’t appreciate how much value they’ll get by going down this road. Talking to people about taking care of how their family feels and offering them better lifestyles is a self-supporting, smart business strategy.”
In 2014, as a result of this research, Meritage began to add features that improve airflow and reduce toxins in its homes, including better air filters, whole-house water treatment, and low-emitting materials. Salespeople now ask buyers about respiratory issues, which makes sense because 17.7 million adults and 6.3 million children in the U.S. have asthma and more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies.
At Chicago-based Evolutionary Home Builders, health is a foundational pillar. Brandon Weiss founded the company in 2005 after experiencing healthier green buildings while playing professional basketball in Europe. His new line, Evolutionary Pro Homes, is marketed to meet the exacting physical needs of professional athletes. The homes are designed and built to provide more oxygen, fresh air, and negative ions than traditional homes while reducing toxins and allergens. Weiss says doctors have recorded health metrics of athletes pre- and post-occupancy to show how improved indoor environments enhance performance. His company is already in conversation with athlete home buyers and a home builder in another market with an athlete client who is interested in consulting and branding. “Our customers definitely seek us out for what we have to offer,” Weiss says.
Across the country, home builders large and small are working to determine whether healthy building standards are important for their buyers. Many building pros have been reluctant to offer health and wellness features because they think they will cost more, interfere with schedules and budgets, and lead to conversations with clients about things they don’t understand. But builders who have already stepped into the healthy home arena say these concerns are becoming non-issues.