Wellness is the new green, and now it comes to the backyard.
We have been saying for some time that Wellness is the new green, and now it comes to the backyard in the form of the Welpod, "an immersive and multi-sensory room designed to promote physical and emotional well-being."
We have shown backyard sheds used as offices and yoga studios, but this is very different. According to the V2com press release:
The driving force behind The WelPod’s soothing environment lies in the innovative selection and use of natural, therapeutic materials in its construction. Glowing salt brick walls enclose a clean, open space while infusing a plethora of therapeutic benefits. In addition to storing heat and increasing efficiency, unrefined salt cleans the air, relieves skin problems, cleanses the respiratory system and emits negative ions, which elevates mood.
Paul Hennessy of Circle Wellness, the builder of the WelPod, says he has "researched and experimented with many materials and technologies such as salt, charcoal, minerals, heating systems, control systems, and building techniques to create functional wellness designs that have a place in our lives, today and into the future." Indeed, it does have an interesting bill of materials; the Himalayan salt bricks are said to sterilize the air, neutralize odours and are anti-bacterial. Salt is also wonderful at storing heat. Charcoal is known for its ability to purify air and absorb odour. He builds from "thermal wood", a heat treatment developed in Finland. Thermal Wood Canada describes the process and the result:
Heating wood permanently changes several of its chemical and physical properties.... As a result, swelling and shrinkage due to moisture is decreased, biological durability is improved, colour darkens, several extractives flow from the wood, the wood becomes lighter, equilibrium moisture content decreases, pH decreases, and thermal insulation properties are improved.
Hennessy then clads the building in our favorite cladding, Shou Sugi Ban, where the surface of cedar is burned and treated with linseed oil.
The Welpod is heated with radiant heat, and Hennessy makes claims that this promotes detoxification, lowers cortisol levels, removes heavy metals from the bloodstream, and "reduces cholesterol and regulates blood pressure." This is not exactly convincing. In an article in the Atlantic about infrared spas, Dee Anna Glaser, a dermatology professor at St. Louis University, an expert on sweat, notes that this is mostly nonsense.
“Sweat can release some toxins and some chemicals, but that is not really sweat’s major job. The organs responsible for detoxifying our system are the kidneys and the liver. Those two do such a good job that, really, sweat doesn’t need to do that. So, for most people, sweating a lot does not detoxify them at all. Because the kidneys are doing it. Sweat’s main job is to keep us cool.”
Another doctor noted that "very tiny amounts of lead, copper, and nickel do appear in sweat, but if you have dangerously high concentrations of these metals in your body it is probably best that you visit a hospital rather than an infrared sauna."
As I have complained about Well Standard and some of the stuff coming from the Global Wellness Institute, there is a bit of sketchy science here, and others, like WSP technical director and wellness specialist Meike Borchers, have noted that "the research ranges from the robust to the frankly somewhat flaky." But on the whole, the wellness trend is leading to the use of healthier materials and better air quality. So whether the science backs up the claims for the radiant heating or not, it still does feel very relaxing, and unlike a sauna or steam room, is there waiting for you all the time.
This is possible because of the efficient building envelope, interior salt brick walls that act as a thermal mass, and the intelligent control system. The energy-efficient design consumes considerably less power than a traditional sauna, swimming pool, or hot tub.
The WelPod shown in the images here is a freestanding unit in a waterfront house in Tofino, BC, which "is especially enjoyed by clients here for morning meditation, hot yoga before and after surfing, as well as sauna sessions in colder weather." It would be a nice addition to any backyard, but can also be installed inside. Surprisingly, an article in The Globe and Mail says it starts at C$50,000, which is less than some shed home offices we have shown on TreeHugger. I would happily trudge through the snow to this.