So you would like to upgrade your home to a healthy one that would qualify as wellness real estate.

This can be rewarding and challenging for both investors (e.g. as a fixer-upper) and private home owners.

Maybe you have more or less of an idea of what wellness real estate means, but it’s still a bit vague and theoretical and you ask yourself how this works out in practice.

There already are several systems and principles on the market that support building for wellness.

Most of them cover some important factors, such as physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, community, and economic/financial aspects all at once.

And from a total of twenty-eight, nine cover all the aspects above.

As you might imagine, the more aspects you want to cover, the higher the effort and thus necessary investment amount.

Since I write both from the private consumer’s and investor’s perspective, we will need to keep that in mind.

Therefore I will present not only the systems that cover all aspects, but also some which cover only a few and thus have lower investment costs involved.

I will present you “concrete” projects in future articles that will show you where the money is.

So you will be able to make conclusions about whether the application of a certain system and standard and an investment in a wellness real estate project or home is worthwhile.

After studying several standards and their requirements I must admit that some elements or requirements of these standards are sometimes based on wrong or questionable assumptions and don’t necessarily align with my opinion, approval, or estimation of the situation.

But I will present it to you as is, since you can attain a certain established standard only by fulfilling the requirements.

If you are not aiming for a specific standard but still want to create or invest in a wellness real estate property or building project, you may consider the systems and standards as an orientation or inspiration from where you can pull elements, like tools from a toolbox.

All these systems together represent a huge amount of information (sometimes a bit boring to read) and could fill a book or two.

But don’t worry, future articles will help you avoid overwhelm. 

So let’s start.

Healthy Home Upgrade System – Living Building Standard

The Living Building Standard or rather the Living Building challenge started in the the mid 1990s.

It emerged during an effort to produce the EpiCenter in Bozeman, Montana, that aimed to be the most advanced sustainable design project in the world.

It was led by Kath Williams and Bob Berkebile and funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

If you want to get Living Building certified, there only two rules:


  • that with some exceptions depending on market limitations all imperatives defined are mandatory.
  • that before you get evaluated, the project must have worked for at least twelve months, for the certification is based on actual and not modeled or anticipated performance.

The 8 Imperatives You Need to Follow 

1. Place and its 4 specific requirements

To qualify for the “Place” imperative you need to answer these general questions which need to be implemented:
  • How can the place be protected and restored once it has been developed?
  • How can the creation of communities based on the pedestrian be encouraged?
  • How can these communities be supported by local and regional agriculture?

Requirement 1 – Limits to Growth:

1. You can only build on brownfields or greyfields. These are sites that have been developed. They must not border the following ecological habitats and can’t be built on: a. Wetlands (distance of 70 meters) b. Primary dunes (distance of 40 meters) c. Old growth forest (distance of 60 meters) d. Virgin prairie (distance of 30 meters) e. On prime farmland f. Within the 100-year flood plain 2. Conditions prior to start must be documented by project teams. 3. On-site landscape needs to be designed in alignment with the reference habitat and wildlife and needs to include density, biodiversity, plant succession, water use, nutrient needs, and avian habitat. 4. Petrochemical fertilizers or pesticides are not allowed for landscaping on site.  

Requirement 2 – Urban Agriculture:

Integration of agriculture opportunities is mandatory using the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) as a basis. Single-family homes need to have the capacity to store at least a two-week supply of food.  

Requirement 3 – Habitat Exchange:

Land away from the project site must be set aside. Each hectare of development needs to set aside a minimum of 0.4 hectares through the Institute’s Living Future Habitat Exchange.  

Requirement 4 – Human-Powered Living:

New projects need to create walkable pedestrian oriented communities and are not allowed to lower the density of the existing site. A mobility plan must be provided that includes the following:  
  • Weather-protected storage for human-powered vehicles (e.g. bikes)
  • Enhancement of pedestrian routes including weather protection
  • The use of stairs over elevators should be motivated
  • A transit subsidy
  • Accessible showers and changing facilities
  • One electric vehicle charging station
  • An estimation of how residents can use car sharing, public transportation, alternative fueled vehicles, or bicycles.

2. Water and its one requirement

The water usage must be net positive and work harmoniously with the natural water flows of the site and its surroundings. 100% of the needs must be supplied by rainwater capturing, another natural closed-loop water system, and/or recycling used water, and must be purified as needed without chemicals. Storm water and water discharge (e.g. grey and black water) has to be treated on site.

3. Energy and its one requirement

Energy needs must be supplied by on-site renewable energy by 105% on a net annual basis. This has to be done without the use of on-site combustion. Onsite energy storage must also be provided.

4. Health and Happiness and its 3 requirements


Requirement 1 – Civilized Environment:

Operable windows providing access to daylight and fresh air have to be provided in each occupied space.  

Requirement 2 – Healthy Interior Environment:

As a developer or investor you must provide an environment plan defining how exemplary indoor environment is accomplished. It needs the following elements:
  • Compliance with ASHRAE or international equivalent
  • Smoking prohibition
  • Indoor Air Quality test before and nine months after occupancy
  • Compliance with the CDPH Standard Method
  • Dedicated exhaust systems for kitchens, bathrooms, and janitorial areas
  • An entry approach that reduces particles tracked in through shoes
  • A cleaning protocol that uses cleaning products in compliance with the EPA Design for the Environment label or international equivalent.

Requirement 3 – Biophilic Environment:

The innate human need to connect with nature must be met by a minimum of one all-day exploration of the biophilic design potential resulting in a biophilic framework and plan with these elements:  
  • Environmental features, light, space, natural shapes and forms
  • Transformation by including natural patterns and processes and evolved human-nature relationships
  • Connection to the place, culture, climate via place-based relationships
  • Frequent interior and exterior human-nature interactions
  • Methods for tracking biophilia during each phase of design
  • Inclusion of historical, cultural, climatic, and ecological studies.

5. Materials and their 5 requirements


Requirement 1 – Red List:

You cannot use any of these red-listed materials or chemicals:
  • Asbestos
  • Bisphenol A (BPA)
  • Alkylphenols
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorobenzenes
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Chromium VI
  • Formaldehyde
  • Chlorinated Plyvinyl Chloride (CPVC)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs)
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs)
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVDC)
  • Short Chain Chlorinated Paraffins
  • Wood treatments such as Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in wet-applied products

Requirement 2 – Embodied Carbon Footprint:

The total embodied carbon impact of construction must be included through a one-time carbon balance by an approved carbon offset provider.  

Requirement 3 – Responsible Industry:

Certified standards for sustainable resource usage and fair labor practices must be proposed. Materials that can be used are rock, metal, minerals, and timber. All wood needs to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) 26 and all stone needs to come from quarries certified by the Natural Stone Council (NSC) 373 Standard. One Declare product has to be used for every 5,381 square feet of gross building area. You also have to send the Declare program information to a minimum of ten manufacturers not currently using Declare.  

Requirement 4 – Living Economy Sourcing:

You need to include place-based solutions and contribute to the expansion of the regional economy based on sustainable products, services, and practices. The manufacturer’s location must fit the following restrictions:
  • Material construction budget must come from within 310 miles by 20%, additional 30% from within 621 miles, and additional 25% from within 3,106 miles of the building site.
  • 25% of the materials can be sourced from any location.
  • If you need consultants, they must come from within 1,553 miles of the building site.

Requirement 5 – Net Positive Waste:

The building project must provide for a minimum of one salvaged material per 5,381 square feet of gross building area. If this can’t be provided, there needs to be an adaptive reuse of an existing building. A Materials Conservation Management Plan needs to explain how the project optimizes materials in the following phases:
  • Design Phase
  • Construction Phase
  • Operational Phase
  • End of Life Phase
You also have to install a dedicated infrastructure for the collection of recyclables and compostable food. If there is an existing infrastructure, it needs to be audited if the collection of recyclables is possible.

6. Equity and its 4 requirements


Requirement 1 – Human Scale and Humane Places:

The scaling focus of the project design must be the human places and needs to promote culture and interactions. Therefore there are specific requirements for paved areas such as block and street design, building scale, and signage.  

Requirement 2 – Universal Access to Nature and Place:

All members of the public regardless of background, socioeconomic class, and age (including the homeless) must have access to primary transportation, roads, and non-externally focused building infrastructure. Examples can be street furniture, gardens, benches, and public art. Designs must meet the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act Accessibility Guidelines. You are not allowed to block the access or reduce the quality of the following:
  • fresh air
  • sunlight
  • natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.
You must address any noise audible to the public.  

Requirement 3 – Equitable Investment:

The development has to set aside a cent or more per dollar spent for donation to a charity of its choosing.  

Requirement 4 – Just Organizations:

Business practices must be disclosed in a transparent manner. One of the following team members must have a JUST Label for their organization:
  • MEP Engineer of Record
  • Landscape Architect of Record
  • Structural Engineer of Record
  • Owner/Developer
  • Owner’s Representative or Project Manager
  • Architect of Record
  • Landscape Architect of Record
  • Manager
  • Contractor
  • Sustainable Consultant
  • Interior Architect of Record.
This JUST labeled person needs to have an important role in the decision-making process of the design and construction phases of the project.

7. Beauty and its 2 requirements


Requirement 1 – Beauty and Spirit:

The building project must include public art and design features for human delight alone and to honor culture, place, and spirit.  

Requirement 2 – Inspiration and Education:

The public must have access to educational materials about the operation and performance of the project. Its aim is to share success stories and motivate others to make a change.

8. General Requirements

  All projects have to offer:
  • One open day for the public per year
  • A copy of the Operations and Maintenance Manual
  • A Living Building Challenge Case Study
  • An educational website
  • Signage teaching visitors and occupants about the project
  • A simple brochure describing the design and environmental features of the project.


One of the standards covering all important factors of wellness real estate such as physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, community, and economic/financial is the Living Building Standard. As you read, it contains a large number of requirements that you as an investor or developer must fulfill. Additional efforts to attain the standard will inevitably attract more costs and explains why the prices of wellness real estate or healthy homes are above average. I will conclude with an open question from the investor’s perspective to which I will reply in future articles. Can those projects be profitable for investors? If yes, what do concrete numbers look like?
Imagine how it would be if you had your own healthy luxury home in Costa Rica Check out these wellness upgradeable high-end listings with top views!