You wouldn’t be far off the mark if you called LBM dealer Bill Hayward an evangelist for the healthy home. It’s a subject near and dear to his heart, and like any revivalist tent preacher, he can proselytize at the drop of a hat.
The CEO of Monterey, Calif.-based Hayward Lumber (No. 57 on the ProSales 100) believes that the issue of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is creating a health crisis in the nation, one that dealers and their builder and remodeler clients are in a unique position to help mitigate.
Hayward’s journey down the rabbit hole of IAQ began after he discovered that the house he moved his family into in 2008 was making them all sick. Hayward, his wife, and their young children all began to suffer from a series of unexplained illnesses that ranged from respiratory ailments to neurological problems in the year they lived in the home.
In the case of Hayward’s 1980 home, the culprit was mold in the crawl space due to water incursion, and a leaky building envelope that allowed the mold spores and bacteria to disperse throughout the house.
Ignored but Insidious
Poor IAQ is an issue that has worried public health doctors, scientists, government agencies, and the public for decades, but their concerns remained just that—concerns—for years, as action in the building industry was directed toward energy savings in the wake of the oil crisis of the 1970s. Builders focused on tightening the building envelope to save on energy costs, and air quality problems, if even considered, were given short shrift.
In the early years of air quality research, the focus was on three major pollutants: combustion from heating and cooking appliances; formaldehyde, found in a wide variety of building materials; and radon.
Now scientists know this noxious trio is just part of a much larger toxic scenario that affects indoor air quality. Other pollutants include molds and mildews; waste products from vermin in crawl spaces and attics; dust mites; pet dander; asbestos; tobacco smoke; off-gassing of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) found in everything from carpets to paint; household cleaners; air fresheners; flame retardants; pesticides; and phthalates and BPA (bisphenol A), endocrine-disrupting compounds found in some plastics and cosmetics.
IAQ is receiving greater attention today, in large measure because the weight of decades of research has become too great to ignore, and more and more families like the Haywards are searching for answers to unexplained health problems … problems that often seem to resolve once they leave their homes, even for short periods of time.
A Home Warning Label?
Talking to friends about what happened to his family, Hayward was shocked to discover almost half of them told him they didn’t feel good in their homes either, and some had even moved out of their apartments because of it.
Another surprise came when Hayward ran across a statistic that said 35% of all illnesses come from the home. He notes that the EPA puts that figure even higher, at 50%.
“Houses should come with a warning label, but they don’t,” Hayward says.
Catapulted into action by his family’s experience and the sorry picture of America’s unhealthy homes that his own research into IAQ was revealing, Hayward has developed a set of tools for builders and architects that he calls the Healthy Home Toolbox for explaining the problem of lousy IAQ to clients and how to go about mitigating it.
Hayward has found that by working to engage both builder and architect in the sales process, the company has an 80% success rate, 30 points higher than if only the builder is engaged. That rate rises to 90% when the homeowner is also involved. This strategy drives the sales on the dealer’s higher-margin items, like mechanical ventilation systems.
“When you talk about health and family, it’s a much easier sell than sustainability values,” he says.
After the Haywards moved out of the home that made them sick, Bill Hayward set out to build a healthy home, using best practices to properly seal, insulate, and ventilate the new space and using the least toxic building materials and finishes he could source. Everything he learned about creating healthy IAQ went into his new house, which is as much a healthy home showcase as it is a family residence.
“We spent 2,000 hours assessing all the products we used in the new house, and we have made that list public,” Hayward says. “After we moved in, my daughter threw away her inhaler. This is the 21st century house, the house that breathes.”