Smart homes disrupting the construction industry

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There’s a smart home in China that’s pretty advanced when it comes to what houses of the future may be like, which is why it’s called – understandably enough – the Baitasi House of the Future. Architects designed the home especially for Whaley, a Chinese smart home company, to show off not just the developments that will disrupt the industry now but the features that are already changing our lives.

The house is located in Baitasi hutong, a neighborhood in Beijing known for traditional narrow alleys or lanes known as hutong. Homes there are small and clustered around courtyards, and the house was part of the Micro Hutong Renewal Project to show how smart-home technology could transform the spaces which are popular among young Chinese professionals and creatives seeking high-tech co-living homes.

The house is a futuristic example of what homes around the globe already are becoming, all on a plot that previously held a 30-meter-square house and 80-square-meter courtyard. A smart TV controls beds that can be moved and hidden away to reveal daytime office space; the walls themselves move, along with the lighting, the curtains, the security system, and a number of the household appliances.

“Technology should serve people, not the other way around,” said Dot Architecture studio, noting the high-tech expectations of the millennial generation. “Although the House of the Future is equipped with many smart devices, we would like the house to be warm and cozy, with all the tech hidden behind.”

It’s a great example of how smart-home trends are disrupting the housing construction industry – and nearly every other sector that’s associated with it. “Technology is serving people in new and surprising ways,” agrees Tim Bakke, the director of publishing for ThePlanCollection.com, a site devoted to new-construction housing plans. “We’re seeing so much more interest in houses that are connection-ready for the Internet of Things, and that’s as common for mature buyers as it is in our young homeowners.”

Sound systems, security features, and climate controls are among the more popular features in home construction. An NPD Group study released in October found that 15 percent of American homes now use video doorbells, smart lighting, and especially voice-activated speakers. That’s up from 10 percent in 2016, as consumers warm to the advantages of smart-home technology. Those trends include the adoption of energy-saving tech, which is highest among those who identify sustainability as a value and are willing to pay more for IoT products and systems that boost efficiency, comfort, and quality of life.

Real estate builders and developers are expected to build almost 700,000 new units in 2017, with 25 percent of them smart-enabled. Home automation is quickly becoming a top priority for buyers and a feature they will come to expect in any new home, says Colin Barceloux of Axius, a smart-home management company. According to Coldwell Banker Real Estate, he says, 61 percent of homeowners are more likely to buy a smart home than a regular home. Builders including Toll Brothers and Meritage are ensuring that new construction is already smart, as are small cutting-edge builders such as Scogins.

Yet there are a few distinct areas in which the “smart home” is changing housing-related industries, whether it is in influencing the design decisions in new housing as it did in Beijing or – more often than not in this transitional time – simply altering the way people live in the houses they already have. It’s not just shifts in utility companies and communications providers working to compete in the market, either.

Insurance companies are atop the list, because of the clear advantages that sensitive home monitoring provides. Consumers are used to seeing a discount for security-system installation (even if they don’t have one!), but now they’re starting to see smart-home product discounts offered by their carriers – and premiums that acknowledge the protections. When a malfunctioning furnace can be detected in real time or water from flooding or plumbing incidents can be detected immediately, that reflects a value to both customers and their insurers compared with the same scenarios undiscovered for hours or days.

Senior-living and retirement housing is another area that’s been getting a lot of attention. Millennials may be getting the headlines in Beijing and elsewhere for their smart-home adoption and the work-life flexibility it offers, but elders who want to stay in their homes are finding attractive alternatives in smart-home products. Apart from the standard suite of IoT monitoring focused on thermostats and security alarms, they’re looking at wearables, health monitoring tools, and other options that tie into the smart-home system. For those seeking adaptive technologies, even the simplicity of voice-activated lighting, hands-free microwave cooking, or cameras placed low to detect and report a fall are a plus. In some cases, builders are using their own smart design technology to build tomorrow’s homes today.

What’s coming down the road? Vanessa Walker, writing for New Atlas, spoke with futurist Morris Miselowski for insights. The trend toward urban living is likely to continue among young workers and retiring baby boomers alike, and that has implications for how our smart homes connect with our evolving smart cities. In those smaller, more-efficient homes will be fully wired kitchens and surfaces, robotic cleaning systems, robotic furniture systems like Ori, and advances beyond today’s Nest app.

That means consumers are gravitating to ideas like the Baitasi House of the Future, not just in China but in cities across the world – and builders are ensuring that they’ll have the homes they’re looking for.

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