Image

About six years ago, I was ensconced as a magazine editor of a new slick newsstand book, The Connected Guide to the Digital Home, which launched at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2004.

Ten issues later, Connected Guide got unplugged. It was a magazine in search of a market, a market that never developed outside of some regular features and departments at magazines such as Popular Mechanics. A trade magazine or two survived, as did this column, which was at first devoted to technology in the new home. Then came the crash, and Tech Spec began to look more into energy efficiency, design systems, and the technologies associated with the building process.

So it was with great interest that I received the results of this year's Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) survey of home builders on the subject of the connected home.

The good news, to CEA at least, is that 28 percent of builders surveyed said home technology was very important in selling a home, and a majority said they intend to continue offering technology options. That was up from 25 percent in 2008 and 19 percent in 2003, when the survey began. But, according to CEA, 25 percent of builders said home tech is of no importance in selling a home. That's the highest number to say so since 29 percent said it didn't matter in 2003. And those who think it is somewhat important fell to 48 percent in 2009 from 60 percent in 2008.

Far and away, the biggest reason why builders are less enthusiastic is lack of consumer demand. By technology, 78 percent of builders said there was not much consumer demand for structured wiring; monitored security, 65 percent; multi-room audio, 72 percent; home theaters, 69 percent; automated lighting controls, 79 percent; home automation, 84 percent; energy-management systems, 77 percent; intercom systems, 79 percent; and central vacuum systems, 70 percent.

A DOSE OF TECHNOLOGY: One out of four builders said home tech is of no importance in selling a home, according to a new survey.Photo: Courtesy Consumer Electronics Association

Despite those numbers, 54 percent said they proactively market structured wiring; monitored security, 49 percent; multi-room audio, 34 percent; home theaters, 32 percent; automated lighting, 25 percent; home automation, 29 percent; energy management, 36 percent; intercoms, 32 percent; and central vacs, 34 percent. Perhaps that is because 25 percent of builders said home tech bumped revenue, with 8 percent saying the effect was substantial.

Though CEA did not provide the actual percentage, it did say “fewer builders say they plan to offer home technologies in the next two years, with the exception of energy-management solutions.”

Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis for CEA, says he believes the problem is consumer awareness. Allowing that home technology remains confined to the high-end home market, which has hardly been robust, he says CEA research shows that at entry level, where almost all new-home building has occurred, wiring is about the only option available. “When you say ‘home automation,' they think you are talking about robots. It's not something that a lot of consumers are all that cognizant of.”

However, Koenig says energy-management systems and devices like the iPad will likely drive acceptance of home technology.

The survey results are borne out at PulteGroup, the nation's largest home builder. Specific products or systems are offered as standards or even options in only a “very few” communities across the company's 30 divisions, according to Russ Wyatt, vice president of homeowner services. He says Pulte mostly offers pre-wiring packages for entertainment systems and will help the home buyer select a third-party company to handle installation of entertainment, control, or security systems on a post-closing basis.

Wyatt says there are no plans to change that approach.