In last month’s Trend Spotting, we looked at smart home technology for kitchens and bathrooms. But, as we all know, remodeling projects often encompass additional rooms, which means that the technology being planned for the project also needs to expand.
The experts who weighed in last month return to share their insight, plus one:
- CEDIA’s senior director of technology and standards Walt Zerbe
- National Kitchen & Bath Association research director Tricia Zach
- Home Technology Association’s CEO Josh Christian
- Independent technology specialist Ian Bryant
- Builder support consultancy and conference organizer TecHome Advisors principal Joe Lautner
- Build with Ferguson (formerly Build.com) design manager Glenn Rush
- John Burns Real Estate Consulting’s DesignLens director Jenni Nichols.
Smart home technology is showing up in every room of the house, from garage doors you can close from your phone to savvy clothes washers that know how much detergent to dispense to grills that alert you when the steaks are perfectly cooked.
There are also whole house systems that tie everything together. The challenges of selecting the right options can include upgradability and obsolescence, client privacy concerns and interface preferences and, of course, budget. Like any innovation, prices tend to come down as a technology becomes more widespread. And, like any project, it’s best to bring in an expert early in the planning process to coordinate the appliances, fixtures, lighting and all of the other details with the home’s digital backbone.
“Reliable network connection is key to all devices,” Zerbe states, but he suggests a client- centric approach in selecting components. “Focus on every person who lives in the house, then put together a system that improves their lifestyle. Are there any special needs? How do they work? Play? Rest? Entertain? Do they need quiet spaces? Telecommute? The list is endless. Ask these questions correctly and the rest will fall into place,” he advises.
There are several entities seeking to provide interoperability across brands and categories to make smart home planning smarter. Citing one of them called Matter, Zerbe predicts, “This will really change the game as the consumer and the installer won’t be locked into a particulate eco system.”
Smart home technology is designed to provide safety and security, convenience and health. That became even more crucial as COVID-19 emerged.
WHOLE HOUSE WELLNESS TECHNOLOGY
“Home wellness was a growing category, and then along came the pandemic, bringing even more interest,” HTA’s Christian remarks. He points to improved air and water quality systems that not only monitor for impurities but can actually help remove them. “This is becoming must-have technology,” he declares.
Bryant is bullish on these advances. “We are getting close to having water quality systems in the home that can detect contaminants in real time, notify you, make changes to the filtration system or shut the water off altogether to keep from contaminating the home’s system.”
“The most popular features for consumers are water monitor sensors and smart ventilation. Both improve the livability of the home,” Nichols says. She warns, though, that these systems require buyer education. “We found that these ‘smart maintenance’ products only resonate after being explained.”
Lautner suggests that, when properly installed and used, these systems can also reduce pipe pressure to prevent bursting during freezing events and alert homeowners or property managers to issues. This can be especially helpful for vacation homes.
Another wellness technology innovation is human centric lighting, also called circadian lighting. “This can be very beneficial to your sleep quality, emotional well-being, energy levels and much more,” Bryant says. It can also be tied into other systems. “Program the lights to wake you up instead of a loud alarm, have them at a very low and warm level when on before dawn and after dusk as not to disrupt your rhythm. Installing controllable shades in parts of the home can not only help with controlling natural light but with regulation of temperature in your home on sunny days.”
New generation security systems use artificial intelligence and cameras that can read license plates, open doors and gates, monitor who’s coming and going to the home and give access to babysitters, pet walkers and tradesmen. The idea is to prevent issues before they arise.
“AI and machine learning are changing how we think about home security,” Bryant points out. “These new systems have the ability to not only provide facial recognition, package recognition and even threatening movements, they also provide options to send video clips directly to local authorities immediately to help solve cases or confirm an alarm.”
Cyber security works toward a similar problem prevention goal for your data: “Making the home’s network and WiFi as safe and secure as possible from hackers,” Christian clarifies, adding, “a qualified home technology integrator will suggest enterprise grade networking components that not only perform much better than standard grade network and WiFi components, but can also be set up to be much more secure.”
The technology executive also cautions against popular DIY technology because of privacy issues. “Some clients are leery of voice control from big tech companies because, as we all know, they make their money selling information about people. There are better voice-control platforms that home technology integrators sell that are much more secure and easier to use,” he notes.
Lautner agrees. “Privacy is a big issue! Each connected appliance is another portal into your home’s network and each app is a password hack risk.” Nichols recommends that manufacturers and specifiers figure out ways to make products and networks more secure and build trust with potential buyers.
None of this technology will work if the power grid goes down for a day, week or longer and the home does not have a backup source of electricity. The good news is that this is easier than ever to acquire, and something builders and contractors should be incorporating. “Power management, creation and storage is growing rapidly,” Bryant notes. “All new homes should have an electric vehicle charger [and] power management capabilities to allow the homeowner to manage where power goes in an emergency,” he says. This will also help with efficient allocation between car, appliances and other needs. New federal legislation includes financial incentives for homeowners to add energy-saving features.
“This involves managing when appliances run based on time of day electricity pricing and other factors around renewable energy generation and storage,” Lautner explains. That’s not going to help when you need to wash your wine glasses before a dinner party, but when you have flexibility to run the cleanup load while everyone sleeps, you can save on your electric bill with smart management. Energy and water efficiency are particularly important to Millennials, Zach says. The National Kitchen & Bath Association did a comprehensive study on this generation’s technology interests.
Laundry rooms often multi-task as hobby stations, storage centers, utility rooms and pet facilities. This increasing array of roles means increasing technology, too. Leak detectors have become popular for these spaces, Zach reports, as laundry hoses and connections can develop slow leaks, creating damage that can remain hidden for weeks behind the appliance until the damage becomes an insurance claim. Gas leak detectors are also helpful if there’s a gas dryer in the home.
Bryant points to these spaces’ use as utility rooms. “Cleaning technology is all about the robots! We have seen robot vacuums for years now, but with new LiDAR technology they are much more accurate in mapping and object detection.”
Among the most popular features for these rooms are connected laundry appliances. “Homeowners appreciate a real-time notification signaling the washing machine load has ended. This convenience is a simple solution to prevent moldy laundry smells,” notes Rush. So is smart dispense, so you clean your clothes with the right amount of detergent.
“Outdoor entertaining is becoming much more popular!” declares Christian. One essential for its continued enjoyment is comfort. “Motorized bug screens and awnings are gaining in popularity, as are outdoor patio heaters. Even though these have been around a while, controlling it all from a single app for convenience is a growing trend,” he notes. Technology is also controlling light for ambience and effect, as well as managing landscape irrigation. ‘It has never been so easy for clients to control their outdoor entertainment and technology systems as now,” the tech expert adds.
Outdoor living includes outdoor entertainment systems. Clients want weatherized flat-screen TVs or are even stepping up to outdoor home theaters. No system would be complete without music, either. “A trend in outdoor music is to either hide the speakers completely in the landscape or go the other way and have the speakers become functional sculpture,” Christian says. “You can cover large outdoor areas with multiple speakers that are very hard to find but evenly fill [them] with high quality sound.” Another feature you want to have fill large outdoor areas is WiFi. If your client has taken her laptop out to work on the patio, she needs her network to work there, too!
Outdoor living also includes cooking, of course, and technology has expanded into that realm as well. “For the busy homeowner, these enhancements eliminate the stress associated with continuing to monitor the grill while stepping inside for a minute,” Rush says. Outdoor maintenance has gotten easier with technology, too. Lautner points to robots that can do lawn mowing and pool cleaning. Can any of them clean the grill?
“Technology that makes deep impacts on people’s lives is becoming more mainstream, and the average consumer has more than 10 [connected] devices in their home,” shares Bryant. Interoperability between devices and systems can accelerate the mainstreaming of home tech, he predicts, by creating simpler consumer-friendly processes. “It is up to manufacturers to put the standard into their products. This has never been done before in the U.S. and will be a monumental moment for technology in the home, especially for the lower to mid-market lines.”
Lautner sees it as key: “The lack of standards is what has hampered the home automation space since its inception. If successful, these standards will create more affordable opportunities to get the true promise of a smart home.” Is your brand up for it? Are your clients? ▪
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is an award-winning author, wellness design consultant and industry speaker. You can learn more about her design industry presentations, books, Clubhouse events and consulting services at jamiegold.net.