Dvele Gives the Smart Home New Meaning

It is not such a dumb idea.

Dvele Home

Dvele

When we first wrote about Dvele, the prefab homebuilder's CEO Kurt Goodjohn told Treehugger that he would be building to Passive House US standards using healthy materials and smart technology, with sensors in every room and even in the walls. He noted that "the cheapest car has a 'check engine' light; your kid's bedroom should monitor the CO2 levels."

I have long been a smart home skeptic, and one of my most popular posts in the green building community was "In Praise of the Dumb Home," where I noted that with the efficiency of a Passive House, a smart thermostat would be bored stupid. I also suggested that for it to really understand what's going on in a house it would need a lot more information, and that raised questions of privacy.

However, I may have to rethink my skepticism.

Dvele recently released DveleIQ, described as "the first whole home solution built from the foundation up with artificial intelligence to promote the health of its occupants, the health of the home, and the health of the planet." It takes the idea of a smart home to a whole new level – Level 5, an intelligent system, to be precise. Smart thermostats and integrated systems like Alexa or Google Assistant are Level 3. Dvele President Matt Howland explained in a press release:

"When we evaluated the market looking for a smart home partner, nothing aligned to our core tenets of occupant and planet health, so we decided to move the industry forward and build the first 100% integrated, intelligent, software-defined home, complementing our self-powered home product. Delivering our promise of quality of life through integrated intelligence.” 

Remaining skeptical and still praising dumb homes, dumb boxes, and even dumb cities, I spoke with Howland and Goodjohn about the DveleIQ, and it's not such a dumb idea. Howland, with his 20 years in the software biz, makes a good case.

The DveleIQ system relies on 300 real-time data feeds from a sensor array that measures carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulates, and formaldehyde. When it detects unhealthy changes it boosts the fresh air delivery. "The systems also will learn what is causing this over time and preemptively cycle air so that it doesn’t get to an unhealthy level in the first place."

This raises all kinds of interesting possibilities. CO2 can rise significantly in bedrooms at night; the system can crank up the fresh air accordingly. I have often complained about the VOCs and particulates that are emitted when cooking; now they can be monitored and warn the cook to turn on the exhaust fan or even be interconnected and do it automatically.

CO2 is also a useful proxy for coronavirus levels, and many people took Joseph Allen's advice for Thanksgiving to crank up the ventilation. But even after the virus is beaten, recent research has demonstrated that CO2 affects us at far lower levels than previously thought; "This early evidence indicates potential health risks at CO2 exposures as low as 1,000 ppm—a threshold that is already exceeded in many indoor environments with increased room occupancy and reduced building ventilation rate." Howland noted that these levels affect our cognitive abilities.

Houses built to Passive House standards are pretty airtight and are equipped with a heat or energy recovery ventilator to deliver fresh air, but having this much data can help ensure that CO2 and other pollutants are kept at safe levels. Then there is the question of outdoor air quality, especially in California with all the wildfires. I asked Howland if they monitored that and he told me they hadn't thought of it, but that "it would be trivial to make the change and see what the exact impact is."

Monitoring VOCs, particulates, and formaldehyde are also critical to having a healthy home. The Dvele homes are built with low VOC and low formaldehyde materials, but how people use their home and what they bring into it can make a big difference. Whenever I send my sustainable design students on a tour of a so-called "green" building I tell them to look in the utility cupboards and under the sinks to see what cleaning products they are using; you can fill a home with VOCs in minutes with the wrong ones. Bathrooms are cesspits of formaldehyde and VOCs from beauty products combined with usually lousy ventilation. There is so much information that could be gained from 300 sensors.

if this then that
Air too dry? Crawl space too damp? Dvele will tell. Dvele

Humidity management is also critical in a healthy home. You want it to be between 30% and 50%, but in cooler climates it can be a problem if it gets too high, to the point that condensation and mold can occur. This isn't likely in a California Passive House, but you don't want it to get too low either; it needs to be monitored. If the Dvele home drops below 40% it will actually investigate if there are windows and doors open, what the occupancy is, when did anyone cook last.

Then, of course, there is energy efficiency, where all this smart house stuff started. "Dvele homes are the most efficient homes on the planet, but we’ve taken it a step further with the circuit by circuit energy monitoring that allows the home to learn your usage patterns and offer suggestions for the most efficient and economical usage of power." In the course of my 1.5 degree lifestyle project where I have been trying to measure all of my carbon emissions, I have found it almost impossible to figure out where our energy is going; where I used to think this level of data was silly at a household level, I certainly see the value of it now. And what detail; Matt Howland explains:

Monitoring data
Dvele
"This image is of our internal data platform that our R/D team uses to track building performance. This runs in the cloud, but is only enabled if an owner opts into our performance management and tracking (otherwise all of the above will continue running inside the home), privacy was very important to us when designing the system so owners have 100% control of their data, limiting it to only reside in the home if they'd like."

Matt Howland is concerned about privacy, but also with just monitoring useful things, telling Treehugger that "the world doesn't need a connected toaster." (Although the Indoor Chem study found that making toast generates particulate levels of almost 4,000 micrograms per cubic meter, so the world and the Dvele homes certainly need toaster particulate monitoring.)

Dvele Interior
Dvele

Of course, the DveleIQ system will do all the usual smart home stuff, like orchestrating your lights and monitoring security. It will even program your shower so that you don't have to wait as long for hot water. And it's "upgradable and 'future-proofed' to allow owners to update homes as new technology evolves."

After a year where I have had so much trouble doing detailed measurements of water and energy – where I have been carrying around my Flow air quality monitor because of my obsession with particulate pollution, and after writing so many articles about the importance of ventilation to control the coronavirus – I am no longer a skeptic about the smart home, if it is as smart as the one Dvele is building.

View Article Sources
  1. Jacobson. "Direct Human Health Risks Of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide"Nature Sustainability, 2020, Accessed 8 July 2019.

  2. "Three Signs Your Home Has Poor Indoor Humidity". Lennox, 2020,

  3. Leake, Jonathan. "Toast Is More Toxic Than Traffic Fumes - Indoorchem". Indoorchem, 2020.