The LakeHAUS project utilized pre-built high-tech panels that were shipped to the jobsite.
Hauscraft The LakeHAUS project utilized pre-built high-tech panels that were shipped to the jobsite.

Home technology will soon morph from learning thermostats like Nest and intelligent personal assistants such as Siri to devices that are as smart as—or smarter—than human homeowners. This accelerated rate of innovation is changing the way homes are built, according to two presenters at the 2017 BUILDER Hive Design symposium held in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 14.

For instance, Joseph Wheeler, co-director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Design Research, predicted that homes of the future will be dependent on smart panels that he calls “cartridges.” These panels contain the technological guts of the home, including AV equipment, plumbing, convertible furniture, and electronics. “All of this sophisticated technology is installed in a factory into a panel that’s deliverable,” he says. “The house is gift wrapped and ready to go.”

His program taps into the university’s architecture, computer science, and engineering expertise and dozens of national manufacturers to put students’ cutting-edge ideas into existence. For instance, the team’s LakeHAUS project near Charlottesville, Va., encompassed factory-made components that were transported in 12 cartridges to the building site. The process simplified the construction process by eliminating coordination of tradesmen on site, reducing construction time and costs, and improving quality, sustainability, and safety practices, according to Wheeler.

Although a recent fire at the program’s warehouse destroyed $1.5 million worth of research, Wheeler says the Virginia Tech team is “starting over” and planning to compete in the Solar Decathlon Middle East event in 2018 in Dubai. The team is also developing quick-construction disaster relief housing based on the cartridge model. “We showed it to HUD a few days ago, and they were interested,” Wheeler said. “They thought it was way better than a FEMA trailer.”

Dan Swift, president and CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based BSB Design, urged the audience to consider how technological innovations will change home building in the years to come. For instance, he said that aging-in-place and multigenerational design will increase in popularity.

“This means the kit of parts approach to home building needs to be changed,” he said.

Other future-focused ideas from the pair included:

--Garages will feel more like a part of the house. What Swift calls “thoughtful garages” will be used as an owner’s entry to drop the keys, “grab a snack and transition to being home.” He talked about a home he designed with a window in the garage that passed through to the kitchen pantry so groceries could be loaded directly from the car.

“We call that housing ergonomics,” he said. “Think of ways to integrate and layer spaces in the house to save time and steps.”

--Countertop touchscreens built into kitchen islands and protected by impact-resistant glass will allow homeowners to surf the Internet while cooking. “They can either search the Internet or chop onions on it,” Wheeler said.

--Induction cooktops will come with a glass panel that slides over them when not in use for more kitchen workspace.

--Refrigerator shelves will monitor the freshness of produce and UPC scanners in the pantry will keep track of shopping lists.

--With 28% of couples sleeping in separate rooms, many homeowners use a guest bedroom for this purpose, but Swift said forward-thinking builders should offer small “snore rooms” as part of the master suite, so the disruptive sleeper of the house doesn’t feel overlooked.

--Coffee makers will activate when the master bathroom shower turns on in the morning.

--Ethnic buyers are looking for small spaces that make them feel at home, such as a prayer room or spice kitchen so homes of the future will offer floor plans that can accommodate them.

--Bathrooms will recognize each family member via touch identification and adjust the vanity height accordingly. Sensors in the floors will automatically weigh each resident and provide a readout via a screen behind the mirror.

--More laundry stations will be located in the bathroom.

--Swift said that pets are part of the family and Americans don’t mind spending money for them so offer upgrades and options to keep them safe and comfortable. For instance, last Halloween, pet owners spent $330 milion on costumes for their furry friends.

--3D printers will create an integrated sink, faucet and countertop.