It’s no longer enough for a new home just to be good looking – it also has to be smart. 

In the same way that granite countertops evolved quickly from an upgrade to standard, smart-home features are increasingly expected by buyers who already manage significant portions of their daily lives with a smartphone and want to do the same with their new home. 

According to a recent report by BI Intelligence, shipments of connected-home devices will rise at a compound annual growth rate of 67% over the next five years – led by energy-saving tools such as smart thermostats and security gear such as wireless cameras and motion detectors. 

This is not a fad the way avocado appliances were, but a true long-term trend that builders large and small should not ignore: Buyers will expect their new home to be as connected as every other aspect of their lives. 

But what exactly does that mean? There’s a lot of confusion among both buyers and builders. Ask an average buyer what makes a home smart and you’re likely to get a blank look. Is it a single device controlled by a smartphone app? Or is it an expensive, complicated custom installation that manages every aspect of the home? For many builders, it has long been the latter or nothing, and that has left a bad taste as a costly and cumbersome addition that doesn’t keep pace with rapidly changing technology becoming obsolete in just a few years. 

Bottom line: A smart home is a technologically flexible home that makes daily life easier, more efficient and more economical. It also does what the homeowner needs it to do – even as those needs change over time. And that’s an important caveat. 

While consumers have gotten used to the idea of upgrading their phone every two years, a home is different. Home – both the product and the concept – is long term.  So when you talk about a smart home, you can’t forget the notion of home. As one of the nation’s largest smart home providers – and the trusted partner to respected builders like Lennar, Shea, and Meritage – Nexia Home Intelligence has learned over many years how a smart home differs from a merely connected one. Here are a few of the key features of a smart home: 

A smart home is integrated. Some people think a light bulb with an app is a smart home, but it’s really just a remote controlled light bulb. People don’t want to jump in and out of various apps to control different features of their home. They want a single app that controls everything and allows devices to work together seamlessly and automatically. For example:
·        When the home senses the owner is five miles from home (using the GPS in her phone), it turns the air conditioner on.
·        When someone unlocks the garage door after dark, the home turns on the kitchen lights.
·        When a child leaves his bedroom window open, the air conditioner automatically shuts off and sends a text message to Dad’s phone. 

A smart home is more efficient. New homes are already great at conserving energy, through insulation and better appliances. Smart home systems should maximize the inherent efficiency advantages of new homes. They give homeowners the ability to control their energy use more effectively through unmatched control over thermostats, lighting and other household devices from anywhere in the world via an easy-to-use smartphone app. 

Nexia, for example, also integrates with Enphase Energy, the largest maker of smart solar micro-inverters, so homeowners with an Enphase system can monitor their energy production right from the Nexia app. 

A smart home allows easy customization. Rather than a hardwired solution that can quickly reach its usability limits, wireless protocols like Z-Wave allow homeowners to easily connect and control hundreds devices within one home as their needs evolve. One of our homeowners, for example, who purchased a new home from a large national builder with six connected devices included as standard now has over 160 different devices connected to his Nexia account. It’s as easy as clicking a button to add many of these devices and provides unmatched flexibility that fits virtually any lifestyle. 

A smart home is secure. Recent breaches of smart home systems make clear that not all are created equal. Security is one of the top reasons homeowners find smart homes attractive. In the same way a builder wouldn’t put inferior locks on the front door, a builder shouldn’t leave the virtual front door of their smart home unguarded. 

Z-Wave technology is designed to be secure, utilizing 128-bit encryption similar to the kind used by banks and other financial institutions. Reliable smart home developers such as Nexia work constantly with leading experts to evaluate and improve security so they stay at least a step or two ahead of the bad guys. Those upgrades, by the way, can be instantly pushed remotely down to customers over the Internet. At Nexia, for example, the amount of money we invest every year on improving security is on par with what we spend on other major support costs such as our fully staffed domestic call centers or on our network operations. 

A smart home knows what to share – and with whom. Privacy is an important consideration. Many people are willing to surrender a degree of privacy with search engines and mobile apps in exchange for the convenience offered, but a home is different. People are not quite as sanguine about the idea of someone monitoring when they come and go via a smart lock.  Some vendors of connected products aren’t in the business of providing consumer services but rather in the business of incentivizing homeowners to provide access to sensitive data to be resold. 

Builders and homeowners alike should want their smart home provider to be in the primary business of developing and improving that smart home experience – not in the business of building ever more clever devices to collect and monetize homeowner data. 

That doesn’t mean a smart home never shares. Our partners at Trane, for example, are about to launch features that allow their smart HVAC system to alert technicians proactively if there’s a problem – potentially saving customers from costly repairs by preventing a small problem from growing into a big one. 

A smart home provides an easily noticeable differentiator. Combined, all these features distinguish a new home from resale homes. Home automation systems easily communicate the technologically advanced living that is only possible in a new home. 

A smart home doesn’t have to expensive. Wireless protocols like Z-Wave are incredibly cost-effective, especially when compared to standard wired systems. We’re talking a few hundred dollars versus $20,000 or more for traditional systems. For around $1,000, a home can be easily outfitted with over 20 connected devices. 

This doesn’t mean it’s “cheap.” Consider the advances in wireless technology – you carry devices in your pockets today that have more computing power than $10,000 computers of a few years ago. The incremental price of a smart thermostat versus a standard thermostat is nominal and does not require specialized installation – all while providing substantial value to buyers. 

Crucial to the way we talk about the smart home is to emphasize the “home” part of it. At Nexia, our research suggests that women are as interested or more than men in smart homes – not as a gadget, but as a way to make their daily life less harried and more secure. If we do our jobs right, a smart home will soon become just a home that makes daily life easier, more efficient and more economical. And that is truly smart.