At a boutique condo under development in Vancouver, British Columbia, the definition of a smart home goes well beyond dimmers and thermostats.
The furniture in Gryphon Nova’s 540-square-foot unit comes and goes. In the evening, the room’s desk and storage cabinet retract into the ceiling as the bed descends. The bed goes back up in the morning to create a fitness studio. Post-workout, the desk is back for another day’s service.
“Design isn’t simply about how it looks,” says Gryphon Development’s Michelle Lee. “It’s about how it elevates your life and works in tandem with your lifestyle. More than ever, that demands a holistic approach.”
That may be some lofty language for a pulley system that hoists furniture into the ceiling and plunks it back down the next morning. But it’s an example of the innovative advancements creeping their way into new developments as technology advances and upgrades that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars only a few years ago are now within striking distance for most buyers.
With costs down and innovation up, 2022 could prove to be a pivotal year for smart home advances.
“Buyers are so much more educated, and they want speed, power, and ease of use,” says Gina Nixon, an executive vice president at Thomas James Homes. “You can do everything from refrigerators to ovens if you want to—we’re almost living in the Jetsons.”
Here’s how some builders are thinking about smart homes in 2022.
The most important trend in smart home technology is that it is no longer a trend. Buyers have come to expect new homes to come with upgrades to their networks, and items such as video doorbells and automatic home locks aren’t seen as futuristic innovations any longer.
“Consumers are now requesting smart home features built in right out of the gate,” says Michael Williams of Brilliant, a smart home technology company that works with new-home builders. “There’s just a certain level of expectation now. Every single builder even at the lower levels needs to be thinking about smart features.”
Interoperability, security, and ease of use are also essential—systems need to be able to speak to other systems.
“Builders will be encouraged to think more and more about specific new considerations for the buyer in the pre-install smart home scenario,” says Conrad McCallum of the Continental Automated Buildings Association. “These are likely to focus on the time needed to learn a system that was installed before they arrived, cybersecurity and privacy best practices, maintenance agreements and protection against setups that were not done correctly, device compatibility and open systems, and the extendibility of the system to other technologies that may be added in future.”
It’s great to have more devices that are able to connect to networks and allow homeowners to close their garage doors remotely or activate their kitchen’s smoothie maker from the bathtub. But home internet networks can only handle so much traffic, leaving builders scrambling to make up the difference.
“More people are working from home and learning remotely, and, with the average U.S. household having 25 connected devices, the need to provide our buyers with a solid and reliable home network connection beyond what a buyer’s internet service provider may offer has grown,” says Felicia Ratka, president of Toll Brothers Smart Home Technologies.
She says 5G networks may fill some of those needs: “It’s very exciting. If you have a fast home network, you can certainly have a smarter home. And I see many services benefiting tremendously from 5G.”
The Pandemic Effect
Not all technology plugs into the wall. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that humans carry around a lot of germs. Builders are acknowledging this by offering smart systems that ensure homeowners are living with the freshest air and cleanest surfaces possible.
“Today we know that improved air quality matters more,” says Dan Bridleman, senior vice president of sustainability, technology, and strategic sourcing at KB Home. “We are committed to offering the latest technology that can help deliver a healthier home environment.”
That includes the standard smart technology around heating and cooling, but the builder also uses an antimicrobial sealant on surfaces to provide long-lasting protection from bacteria, mold, and mildew.
The Fun Stuff
Fortunately, smart home improvements aren’t all about clean doorknobs and better Wi-Fi. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Show, a slew of new products was unveiled that could allow builders to go full-on futuristic on buyers.
Sunflower Labs unveiled a drone that can fly around a home to look for intruders (or any other abnormalities) while owners are away, while Amazon said it was developing a robot that is essentially a walking shelving unit that can follow a homeowner from room to room.
Builders will need to consider when it makes sense to introduce more radical features.
“We think about how buyers will live in their homes and how technology can add value and conveniences,” says Mark Adcock, senior vice president of purchasing for Century Communities. “We firmly believe it comes down to helping home buyers lead a simpler, less complex, more convenient life.”
In other words, it’ll likely be a few more years before robot butlers become standard upgrades.