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How Healthy Building Certification Promotes Wellness In Multifamily Communities


The Global Wellness Institute predicts that the global wellness economy will reach $7T by 2025. As consumer demand for health-conscious communities continues to grow, building owners and operators are taking notice and bringing tenant well-being to the forefront.

One way wellness has advanced in the commercial real estate industry is through WELL, a building certification system that measures and monitors how the built environment impacts human well-being through air, water, light, noise and other metrics. This is becoming a particularly prominent trend in Dallas, where more Class-A multifamily properties are pursuing healthy building certification.

Carrier, a heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment manufacturer, has seen firsthand how its variable refrigerant flow, or VRF, systems can be used to create greener multifamily communities by providing high-efficiency cooling and heating.

“Our VRF systems can help achieve points for WELL certification by optimizing the airflow quality to create healthier spaces for people,” said Adam Keith, business development manager of VRF and ductless systems. 

Keith said that poor ventilation in buildings leads to sick building syndrome, which contributes to increased rates of employee absences, higher operational costs for businesses and decreased productivity. VRF systems increase clean outside air circulating inside a building. Since each unit has its own air supply, it can also help reduce cross-contamination from one space to another, he said.

“Since VRF provides more flexibility on the separation of the indoor units, you have the option to give each resident their own dedicated air supply on their own system,” Keith said. “This means you can massively reduce the chance of volatile organic compound contamination through better ventilation in each separate unit.”

WELL doesn’t just apply to optimal airflow. It aims to promote overall productivity and comfort through a personalized thermal comfort concept. To maximize this solution, buildings need to offer more flexibility and more thermal zones that can be under each occupant’s control, Keith said.

“Thermal comfort is a very personal thing, and a one-degree difference can make a huge impact on the individual within a space,” he said. “VRF gives building owners and operators the flexibility to give each user their own thermal control with their own dedicated thermostat.”

Another key component of WELL is its sound concept, which focuses on providing a more holistic experience to address acoustic comfort. VRF systems can help contribute to this by providing a much quieter environment than standard single-stage HVAC systems, Keith said. 

Most of the mechanical noise from HVAC systems comes when the compressor starts, and since VRF systems have fewer on-off cycles in a 24-hour period, this means that there are fewer compressor starts and less noise, he said.

“With single-stage cooling, the airflow is either on at maximum velocity or off,” Keith said. “When airflow runs at maximum velocity, there is a good chance that the friction of the air on the duct or the supply registers will generate noise. Since the airflow in VRF systems works in tandem with the refrigerant cycle, it’ll be at a consistent speed all the time.”

This consistency is dependent on the demand created by the desired temperature, he said. The airflow typically comes on at a relatively low velocity and then ramps up as required. The reduced air velocity leads to less friction and less noise.

Keith credited Carrier with helping to create more resident-friendly spaces, but developers have also been steadfast in promoting health and wellness in Dallas, with a positive impact on tenants.

One such example is Texas-based StreetLights Residential, which designs multifamily communities catering to human wellness, he said.

StreetLights isn't just focused on wellness projects but also looks to collaborate with companies that help push this narrative forward for the betterment of the communities they serve. 

StreetLights was guided by Fitwel, a certification system that rates buildings on their health and wellness components. The company developed the first Fitwel multifamily property in Texas, The McKenzie, a luxury high-rise community in Dallas. Its features include improved ventilation systems, Lutron smart lighting and blackout shades to help enhance the resident experience, StreetLights Vice President of Operations Tiffany Bakewell said. 

Bakewell said that Fitwel aligns with StreetLights’ goal of creating elegant and health-driven spaces. 

“Our commitment to crafting beautiful places that lift the human spirit is further advanced when we align with Fitwel’s commitment to driving health insights,” she said. “Supporting the well-being of our residents and overall healthy communities is a common goal that we believe is worthy of the additional design considerations.”

Being the first of anything comes with its challenges, however. StreetLights needed to demonstrate its value without having significant brand recognition, Bakewell said, adding that can be an especially difficult challenge in such a large market.

The Fitwel team helped guide the firm through the Fitwel certification process, which went a long way toward establishing itself as a major player in the area, Bakewell said.

“We found the entire organization supportive and vested in our success,” she said. “They were in lockstep with us as we moved through the process for the first time, and notably, each subsequent time, as we have certified other assets in our portfolio.”

From WELL to Fitwel, Keith said healthy building certification will only continue to grow as tenants demand more comfortable spaces to reside. 

“Healthy building certification will continue to grow as wellness-focused communities become more of a priority for its tenants,” Keith said. “Carrier is steadfast in ensuring that our products will keep positively impacting our communities.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Carrier. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content. 

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