Fitwel Introduces Residential Standard for Buildings That Help Make You Fitter and Healthier

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Screen capture. Fitwel

Years ago, building science expert Joseph Lstiburek complained about the LEED certification system:

The problem? LEED gives "green" points for construction factors and building features that have more to do with "feel good" aesthetics than energy conservation. "A bike rack? You get a green point for a bike rack?" he said incredulously, pointing out that as important as that might be to some people, it has nothing to do with building performance.

Joe thought LEED should be about building performance, period. I have gone the other way and complained about the PassiveHouse standard because it was just about building performance and I thought it should be more holistic. I used to think that there should be one standard, like one ring, to rule them all (and even called it the Elrond Standard) but in fact the trend seems to be going the other way, towards what I would call "modular" plug-in standards. Some cover energy and thermal comfort, (like PassiveHouse) some covering health (like Well); there is a new one for Resilience (RELi) and now, there is one for fitness called Fitwel.

It has actually been around for a while for commercial projects, but just released a new version for multifamily residential. It's run by The Center for Active Design (CfAD), an organization originally started by Mayor Bloomberg of New York City in 2013, who noted that "physical activity and healthy eating are the two most important factors in reducing obesity." Since then new research as shown how important a little bit of exercise is in extending our lives. Fitness and exercise should be built into our lives, and the design of our cities and buildings.

fitwell categories

© Fitwel categories (for commercial buildings)

Fitwel certified buildings are designed to encourage healthy living. It is a points based system that is easy to understand; Location matters a lot, with points for Walkscore, Access to healthy ways of transport matter, with short and long term bike parking and good transit stops. There are points for providing space for a farmers market or a fruit and vegetable gardens.

Inside, accessible, attractive and safe stairs are a must. And of course it must be tobacco, asbestos and lead-free with good air quality and acoustics. Apartments must have "at least one window with views of greenery". And of course there has to be an exercise room and fitness equipment available free of charge.

Then there is food; major points for having a healthy grocery store, healthy vending machines and healthy bodegas (corner stores).

fitwell process

© Fitwel

From the press release:

Fitwel for multifamily residential is optimized for use in new and existing buildings and for market rate, affordable, and senior residential properties. Fitwel's technology-based system creates an efficient and user-friendly experience, helping to further ensure accessibility and ease of use by everyone from real estate developers to facility managers. Fitwel is committed to ensuring the most comprehensive outcomes for individuals, buildings, and communities and has intentionally been priced to be cost- effective, making it accessible to as many properties as possible.

Fitwel plays nicely with other standards and has already hooked up with BREEAM, the European version of LEED. It's cheap and fast compared to WELL or LEED. It covers many of the same points as the WELL standard but is more accessible; it is actually a pretty good baseline for what should be in every residential building.

When I joked around with the Elrond Standard, I was complaining that I didn't believe that the PassiveHouse standard was covering enough on its own. But with modular standards like Fitwell, designers plug in health and fitness on top. This could get interesting.