So far, the door separating your homes from a flood of new technologies has been only slightly ajar. Now it's about to be thrown wide open. Get ready. By BUILDER Magazine Staff

Not all home builders are techno-philes. But like it or not, new technologies will complicate all builders' jobs. We drew that conclusion in mid-May after attending Connections, an annual get-together of companies that manufacture, sell, and install home technology equipment.

Attendees included big names like Compaq, CompUSA, and Earthlink, as well as a slew of lesser-knowns who deal in everything from home theaters to home gateways. Each has a vision of what the home will look like in five, 10, or 15 years. While the details of their visions differ (each company's vision includes more of whatever it sells) most share some key assumptions.

One of these is more telecommuters. "In at least 40 million households the home has become an arm of work," says Tricia Parks, president of Dallas-based Parks Associates, the company that sponsored the conference. While that number will only grow, a potentially bigger trend is that entertainment will assume even more dominance in most homes. If neither trend is news, their broad acceptance reinforces the notion that indoor environment is where the action is.

Few home builders have embraced these trends: Connections' 510 attendees included just a handful of builders. One was Randy Luther, Centex Homes' vice president of construction technology. Luther says that while many builders see little relevance in new technologies, they will eventually have to begin thinking about how their homes can accommodate these technologies. It's already happening. "Many people in their 20s won't buy a home where they can't get broadband," notes Parks. "And many buyers already view a home as less valuable if it doesn't have [a structured wiring] infrastructure." Other technologies could follow suit.

Photo: Stuart Bradford

The fact that most consumers still hyperventilate at the thought of networking two computers means that home technology will remain a service-intensive business for several years. Builders will continue to need skilled installers, and new-home buyers will increasingly want builders to help them make technology choices. And new hardware may be just the beginning. Technology vendors are readying a proliferation of services to the home: everything from video-based security to subscription HVAC. While buyers will likely want help sorting these out, too, Luther sees a more important issue for builders. "Behind a lot of these technologies is the desire to have access to the customer," he notes. "But how much more intrusion do people want in their lives?" Because vendors see builders as a way to access home buyers, builders need to educate themselves on those vendors' offerings and business practices, says Luther. Only then can they protect their interests and the interests of their buyers.