KB Home ProjeKt – Oh, for a home that soothes and protects you

The Washington Post

April 11, 2019

The heart of the house is the living-dining area with an 18-foot long wall of sliding glass doors across the back that fit pockets, creating an opening so wide the line between indoors and outdoors dissolves. The Modernist finishes and furnishings in warm earth tones create a comfortable, informal ambiance. (Kip Dawkins Photography)

 This experimental dwelling in suburban Las Vegas has all the razzle-dazzle features you’d expect in a show house: a living/dining area with a ceiling that soars 13 feet; an exterior wall that opens to create combined indoor-outdoor space; and a contemporary design with large areas of glass contrasted by earth-tone furnishings.

But the gray-skinned, 3,275-square-foot, three-bedroom house in the desert wasn’t designed just to be aesthetically pleasing.

It’s also aimed at improving the health and well-being of homeowners of the future.

We’re not talking home gym and exercise equipment.

The wellness feature is in the walls of Builder Magazine’s KB Home ProjeKt (yes, it’s spelled with a K) so you can’t see it.

The house — designed by Manny Gonzalez of KTGY Architecture and Planning in Irvine, Calif., for the 2019 International Builders Show — is equipped with a high-tech system that the manufacturer asserts delivers an impressive level of indoor air quality and water purification and even improves sleep.

The system — Darwin by Delos — allows homeowners to enjoy a level of indoor air quality that begins to approach that of hospitals. Darwin is being offered by KB Home in one new development in Irvine on a test-pilot basis.

Several luxury-home builders in the United States are installing it. Delos said it expects to start offering it to homeowners this year. But Darwin is not, as yet, widely available.

A comparable state-of-the-art home wellness system, Certified Pure Wellness by Pure Global, is widely available, and it is offered by Pulte in San Antonio, Meritage in Phoenix and David Weekley throughout Texas.

Pure Global will work with any custom home builder in the United States as well as with owners of existing houses.

“We’re on the precipice of a big change,” said C.R. Herro, vice president for innovation at Meritage Homes and a building science expert. “Home buyers are not yet saying, ‘I’ll take clean air over the quartz countertop,’ but we’re close.”

The shift is possible, Herro said, because mechanical engineers have designed air filtering systems for houses that deliver a high standard of indoor air quality but are cost-effective to operate for the average homeowner.

Homeowners, Herro said, can use the systems to monitor their air quality in real time (the monitor updates the indoor air status every two minutes with Darwin and every minute with Certified Pure Wellness) on a smartphone or tablet app.

This is also new.

Herro, who has the Certified Pure Wellness system in his home, said that when he’s preparing food, the air monitor app on his smartphone quickly registers the presence of cooking oil droplets in the air and about 40 minutes after he’s finished cooking, the monitor shows that the droplets have been removed.

What’s the health benefit of the two systems compared to what homeowners have now?

Most residential heating and cooling systems can remove an impressive array of airborne particulates, including mold spores, dander from dogs and cats, pollen and auto emission particulates as long as the homeowners regularly change the air filters, which is usually needed every three months.

Darwin and Certified Pure Wellness can remove particulates that are way smaller, including sneeze droplets and cigarette smoke, and that are much more harmful to health because they can travel much farther into the lungs.

Just as important for maintaining good indoor air, the filters do not need to be changed as often (every year for Darwin and every three years for Certified Pure Wellness, which offers a maintenance contract to have others do it).

To deliver a high level of water quality, both firms use a variety of filtration methods because different contaminants require different filters.

When local municipal water will be used, both firms assess the water quality to identify any contaminants of concern.

When well water will be used, both firms do more specific on-site testing because ground water can be contaminated by agricultural and industrial activities that occur many miles from the building site.

Even though the systems are cost-effective for homeowners to operate, they are pricey to install.

Pure Global charges $3,900 for a two-story, 2,400-square-foot house and a whole-house water filtration system adequate for a household of four using about 4,000 gallons of water a day.

KB is charging $3,500 to $5,000 for the Darwin in a similar size home and whole-house filtration system it is test-piloting in a new development in Irvine.

Darwin is costlier because it includes a circadian lighting system that is intended to support our biorhythms and help with sleep.

With Darwin’s lighting system, you wake to a simulated sunrise with “natural morning sounds” such as the chirping of birds.

You gradually fall asleep to a simulated sunset many hours after the actual sun has set.

During the day, the lights, which mimic the changing wavelengths of the sun as it crosses the sky, vary in intensity and color, segueing from very bright white in the morning to softer and more amber as the sun sets.

It sounds intriguing, but is this truly beneficial?

Satchidananda Panda, a professor of regulatory biology at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., whose research has included the effects of light on the circadian rhythm in humans and animals, said he did not know of any rigorous scientific testing of the Darwin system.

Still, Panda said, “There is enough data to support the idea that exposure to bright white light, especially in the early half of the day, will lift mood, and exposure to softer, orange light, similar to candlelight, at night can help nudge us toward sleep.”

Is this interest in health and home an expensive passing fad?

A recent survey by the Harvard Center for Housing Studies and the Farnsworth Group suggests maybe not.

The study found that 30 percent of homeowners worried that some aspect of their home may be adversely affecting their health.