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Are Health Amenities Becoming Apartment Perks?

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This article was originally published by The Boston Globe, written by Janice O'Leary.

Lighting in tune with your body clock, a vitamin-infused showerhead, on-demand aromatherapy, custom blackout shades, filtered tap water, air purifiers that remove pollen, pet dander, and your neighbor’s unwelcome cooking odors ...

These amenities are all part of a wellness pilot program at a new apartment building in Cambridge. The developers want to see whether renters come sniffing around or just sniff at it.

Fuse Cambridge, a 244-unit apartment building in the Fresh Pond neighborhood that opened June 22, is offering options that go beyond the usual standards associated with “healthy” buildings. For an extra $125 to $225 per month, occupants can select wellness-technology packages and have them installed in their units. The first tenants to choose these amenities, Ronan and Ivy O’Connor, relocated from Back Bay and moved in July 1.

“I love technology and anything new, especially as it relates to health,” said Ronan O’Connor, 29, who works for a global research and advisory firm. But there’s another reason the couple opted for the wellness package: their baby, Natalia, who is 5 weeks old.

“I’m up a lot more often in the middle of the night now,” O’Connor said. “The lighting in the bedroom is motion-sensitive at night and won’t interrupt your circadian rhythm. The alarm clock simulates the dawn, which is the best way to wake up.”

The bathroom also has energizing lighting for the mornings. “It’s supposed to have the same effect on your body as caffeine,” O’Connor said.

The blackout shades were also a must for O’Connor. “Doctors recommended that the best way to get Natalia on a schedule is to have it quieter and darker at night so she will get used to that as the time to sleep,” he said.

Sean Sacks with Hines, the developer, said that if the wellness technology proves popular enough, his firm will consider installing it premarket in other buildings under construction, like its latest in Quincy, Meriel Marina Bay.

“Cambridge is a center for innovation,” said Sacks, Hines’s director of development in Boston. “We are piloting it here.”

The wellness technologies were developed by Delos, a New York-based firm that has also devised spaces that incorporate innovative health and wellness features for corporations, hotels, and residences. Paul Scialla, founder and chief executive officer, said the lighting option is popular. “It can affect sleep at night and energy levels during the day,” he said.

With the wellness upgrade at Fuse, motion-sensor lighting — it’s warm, dim, and long wave — turns on under the bed if someone swings his or her feet over the side in the middle of the night. That light will not disturb the melatonin (sleep hormone) balance in the body, Scialla said. “It’s less intrusive.”

In the morning, occupants are greeted by an alarm clock with a light that brightens slowly, mimicking the sunrise, and a blue light throughout the home that is shorter wave — meant to energize and accelerate the reduction of melatonin, he said. “Light is medicine.”

Dr. Charles Czeisler, chief of the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, applauds the promise of lighting advances. “The exciting thing about this new technology is that we can personalize the lighting design for individuals to facilitate their adaptation to the 24-hour day,” Czeisler said.

“There are tremendous individual differences between what time it is in the body, even if two people are in the same time zone,” he said. “There can be a five-hour difference in the onset of melatonin between two people on the same schedule.”

“The stronger the environmental synchronization in the home, the more morning types and evening types living together can be in synch,” he said, noting that “sleep deprivation is associated with increased irritability, difficulty focusing attention, and increased emotional lability — none of which are likely to enhance a relationship.”

And this might help the O’Connors balance their sleep cycles and parenthood. “I’m an early riser,” O’Connor said, “but Ivy is not a morning person, so when I can, I will take our daughter for the first few hours. Now we won’t disturb each other.” He can also control the lighting with his smartphone and Apple watch.

Sacks is counting on this marriage of science and home to appeal to technology and life-science professionals in Cambridge and Boston.

“Everyone wants to be cutting edge,” he said, “and those working in these sectors are asking how they can push themselves mentally and physically. They are looking for ways to fine-tune their health.”

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This filter infuses the shower water with vitamin C, reducing the chlorine.

O’Connor said he is also excited about the other wellness amenities, such as the air purification and the vitamin C-infused shower, which Scialla said reduces the chlorine in the water. “I get dry skin, so I’m hoping it will help with that,” O’Connor said.

“I didn’t care about air purification until the day I got home from the hospital with our daughter,” he said. “In our previous building, we could sometimes smell our neighbors’ cigarette smoke coming up through the vents, so I went out and bought an air purifier. Now I have one built in.”

The wellness package also includes an aromatherapy cube with different scent gels meant to energize or soothe. But why not just buy candles? “Well, you can,” Scialla said. “These aren’t meant to replace candles. They’re meant for convenience, and there is no open flame.”

Fuse is intended to be a fusion of urban and suburban living, said Nathan Lopez, property manager for the building, run by Bozzuto Group. “It offers urban design and luxury amenities but in a setting that is close to nature.” On-site trails connect to bike and walking paths.

The building offers units from studios up to three bedrooms — apartments from 506 to 1,383 square feet. Prices range from $2,300 to $4,000 a month. As of press time, there were three available to rent.

Other amenities include an outdoor pool, clubhouse, fitness room, yoga classes, personal training, organic-food delivery, and valet waste removal. And to keep your furry friends healthy, there’s a K9 Club, pet-washing station, and a dog-walking service.

Delos spent six years developing the technology used at Fuse. With the Mayo Clinic, the firm created a lab in which various building environments could be simulated and where small changes that affect health could be tracked . Delos has installed its wellness technology in many condo buildings around the world as well as at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and six Marriott hotels.

“Health and wellness is becoming part of the luxury amenities,” Lopez said. “It will become standard.”

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Are Health Amenities Becoming Apartment Perks?