To no one’s dismay, safer, healthier living through science has taken a firmer hold on Americans’ still widely-burning dream of homeownership.
One homebuilder’s marketing website features the coup-de-grace of classic canine come-ons—the irresistibly, kiss-ably sweet schnozzola of a sleeping pooch—to message a tranquil, balanced home life, “well-being, by design.”
Another promotes its own wellness ingredient brand as it showcases exterior elevations, flowing interior layouts, and indoor-outdoor living without rigid bounds. Homebuying prospects get five boxes to check for added confidence they’d be making a smart choice about the standard health features of new homes powered by the ingredient brand: whole-home filtration to remove aerosolized particulates; smart thermostat room comfort; water purification; hands-free faucets; and wall coatings that boast ultra-low volatile organic compound levels.
A third builder literally takes its potential buyers to school with a Healthy Living 101 class on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and how materials, technologies, structure, and systems integrate to eliminate the bad factors and add in the good inside the boxes where people spend more and more of their time in life.
In fact, new home construction has become—thanks to the malevolent forces of the pandemic and the powerfully mitigating economic shockwaves of government spending stimulus—a wild-west frontier flashpoint for converging trends of consumer demand for safety and security, materials science, sensor and microprocessor technologies.
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A cocktail of sheer cortisol-fueled fear, fear of missing out on ridiculously-cheap mortgage money has powered a new-homebuying fever, the momentum and trajectory for which seems among experts to have plenty of runway, despite recent Wall Street investor volatility.
At the same time, health tech— already “a thing” in capital investment prior to COVID-19’s emergence as a pandemic early last year—literally doubled-down in 2020 to $21.6 billion in new investments in digital health companies alone, according to analysis by Deloitte.
“As the world recovers from a devastating pandemic, we expect to see an increased focus on health care consumerism, mobility, and digitization of health care. Investors are looking for entrepreneurs that can make health care more effective, affordable, and consumer-friendly,” the February 9, 2021 Deloitte report notes.
Top of mind for people fleeing dingier, denser, downtown digs for pristine, never-before-occupied homes that offer refuge, sanctuary, a sense of spaciousness, wifi, and floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that seamlessly connect indoor and outdoor living spaces where they may be hanging out—owing to work-from-anywhere trends that may or may not set themselves in a permanent way over the next several months—are five pillars related to health and well-being:
- Staying out of harm’s way of COVID-19;
- Living in a home whose air, water, noise-levels, lighting, and building materials are safe and healthy
- Design for mental, emotional, and physical balance and comfort
- Fitness, nutrition, and weight-management
- Monitoring vital statistics and diagnostics of current conditions and medical issues
The next 12 to 36 months could see step-change application, adoption, and even democratization of home health and well-being technologies for virtual monitoring and diagnostics, self-care, healthy building materials and home systems, physical-mental balance, fitness, and protection from outside-world spread of disease and danger.
That consumers—i.e. homebuyers and renters-by-choice—should expect their homes and apartments to perform at a higher level, not only for evolving building code compliance for safe and healthy materials and systems, but in fuzzier areas that connect the home to levels of peace-of-mind, more relaxing sleep; even extending into at-home monitoring and diagnostics of existing medical conditions, is no surprise.
Three big issues here.
- One is education, training, and communication. Do consumers know—or even want to know—what MERV-13 means to air filtration, or what an R-Value can mean to thermal bridging and moisture levels, or what UV-blocking Low-E windows mean for room comfort, or off-gassing, or VOCs, any other airborne particulates? And what about those anti-microbial surfaces?
- The second is the same issue rearing its head in every other facet of the convergence of exponential technology and life: are the solutions technology and human-level data offer worth the risk of a loss, a compromise, or an invasion of privacy? Sensors—in the walls, floors, ceilings, and most intimate parts of the home—are a solution. But the cost?
- Third issue is human behavior. Typically, what people know about what’s healthy and what they do occupy two separate universes. Is a healthy home healthy if the person living there doesn’t choose to be healthy?
Pre- And Post-Pandemic Home Health
Even in normal times, people spend 9 of every 10 hours indoors; and during the pandemic’s profound disruption of norms around work, play, and other activities, we’re in our homes more than ever. Equally relevant, data clearly evidences that one’s home is the single most important determinant of health outcomes, a fact that’s leading many consumers to equate a healthier home with lower medical bills and fewer health problems.
Higher-volume production homebuilding firms have become materially-important proving ground for emerging health-technology solutions. These builders account for nine out of 10 new homes developed, built, and sold into a 10-month surge of red-hot demand—and they’re teeming now with marketing messages, overt, inferred, and otherwise as to the health value proposition of a never-before-lived-in home, performing up to code for energy, safety, and comfort as standard issue—all folded into the down payment and monthly costs of ownership.
“With our Energy Star platform, we’ve applied a rigid set of health and safety measures into our homes for years at a fundamental science level,” says Dan Bridleman, KB Home senior VP for Sustainability, Technology & Strategic Sourcing. “Our practice of rigor in bringing that basic science into homes to drive up the energy and water savings performance, all that took us to school in working with suppliers, manufacturers, and other partners to improve the ways the home can live. So, the focus on health, and what it means now that the pandemic has changed everybody’s perspective on both health and being at home, is natural.”
Bridleman’s associates at KB Home—who delved into design and engineering health features and functionality with its KB Home ProjeKt concept home in 2019, in Henderson, Nevada’s Inspirada masterplan near Las Vegas—evolved with one of its project partners, Delos’ newly-launched Darwin sensor-based health suite, to a next phase of health-and-well-being development.
KB, Delos, and Rochester, MN-based Mayo Clinic’s Well Living Lab have just unveiled a new concept home in KB’s Santolina at South Mountain community in Phoenix, which was chosen because of its proximity to the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale campus.
Per KB Home’s statement:
“The concept home demonstrates the potential health benefits of a new KB home through the latest advancements in design and construction materials. The concept home also features four microenvironments, informed by research from the Well Living Lab and its scientific collaborators. These microenvironments showcase health-focused products and technologies and can be viewed by visiting the community or by virtual tour.
- Health Remote Check-Up: Engages smart devices to measure health status and key biometrics of people in the home. Using a wellness intelligence ecosystem, the home environment can be adjusted to enhance aspects of health, such as sleep.
- MindBreaks™ Room: Offers a personalized wellness space that uses immersive audio and visual content intended to increase energy, reduce stress, enhance mood, improve focus and boost performance.
- Safer Inside: Showcases products and technologies designed to reduce virus transmission. This includes many products that come standard in a new KB home and others that are available at the KB Home Design Studio.
- Home Office Reimagined: Features products and technologies that depict elements of a supportive home office, such as ergonomically correct furnishings and flexible office products. It also showcases the new KB Home Office, a dedicated room that can easily be personalized for a productive work environment.”
Dr. Véronique Roger, Research Director of the Well Living Lab and Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Mayo Clinic notes that the physical structure, its ability to attract people searching for a new home, and the KB Home-Well Living Lab-Delos venture itself add up more as a “learning center” than a template to be built at scale.
“As a scientist who’s worked for 30 years on research and clinical care on the relationship of external factors on heart and overall health, what excites me about this project is the opportunity to develop a body of new research and data that may answer questions of how different aspects of the home environment impact health outcomes,” says Dr. Roger. “We’ll also discover what people really need to know, what they can absorb, and how they can put knowledge to work to make more informed choices, ones that can impact not just their physical health but their cognitive health as well.”
KB Home’s partnership with Delos and Mayo Clinic is the second such large scale commitment by a homebuilding enterprise to pioneering applied advance health technologies as a solution in home engineering and connectivity.
A year ago, Japan-based Sekisui House announced an ambitious partnership that includes MIT’s Department of Medical Engineering, whose goal is to offer “a sensor-centric early-detection and split-second ambulance response solution that triggers at the onset of acute health events such as strokes at home.”
“A healthy home,” says KB Home’s Bridleman. “Especially since the pandemic, it means something different to everybody. We’re working on our project with the Well Living Lab and Delos as a way to demystify what it means. At this Santolina home in Phoenix, people can touch it. They can see what it means. They can learn to ask for it; to expect it. That’s why we’re excited to be part of this.”