Photo courtesy of Control4. This sophisticated kitchen shows off its smooth curves and handy home technology.
Ignore this post and proceed on with the way you’ve done business—at your own risk. Some home technologies are simply essential for homebuilders to include in their new home offerings if they wish to interest today’s tech-savvy homebuyers.
We’re giving people the ability to communicate with their homes.” Mike Murphy, Nexus EnergyHomes
Some of the following will seem obvious to many, and some will not. But include these technologies—and do them well—and homebuyers will have a great, connected experience in your homes for years to come. Don’t include them, and your customers will have a low-tech experience and be in for some expensive retrofits. Either way, they’ll remember you for it.
This seems like a given for many of us who have lived with high-speed, or broadband, Internet service for years. But there are plenty of rural areas that don’t have wired broadband access or are underserved. “We’ve seen consumers have an insatiable appetite for bandwidth,” says Amy Westwood, Director of Technology and Principal Technology Advisor with Celebration Associates, which develops and operates mixed-use, master-planned communities. But in many new home developments, she says, there simply isn’t enough bandwidth for home networking, uploading to the cloud, or telemedicine applications in active adult or aging in place communities.
Fact of the matter is, broadband is a number one necessity for homebuyers to enjoy not only high-speed Internet and cable HDTV services, but also emerging cloud-based applications offered from Amazon.com to Vudu. Not just techies are accustomed to having such Internet access, but much of the population as well, young and old.
Builders and developers need to make sure wired or wireless broadband services such as 4G LTE is in place, penetrates into the home, and allows for today’s applications and community-wide networks. For new communities today, fiber to the home is a great idea.
“Fiber to the home is becoming the new building standard,” says Westwood.
Is structured wiring still needed with nearly ubiquitous wireless technologies today? Some builders ask whether they should bypass structured wiring and let homebuyers bring in their own wireless networking.
Not so fast. Today’s homeowner needs the networking of computers, TVs, entertainment systems and possibly home control, which requires a serious infrastructure that has better bandwidth, speed and reliability than many wireless technologies.
Sure, you can stream some HD video via Wi-Fi, but to distribute HD to several different TVs in a house, you should have a wiring infrastructure consisting of RG6 video cable and Category 5e or 6 Ethernet cabling. Wireless audio systems are the rage today too, and some are very good. But if homebuyers want music throughout the house via unobtrusive in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, wire with speaker cabling and control wire as well.
A structured wiring infrastructure is also far less susceptible to interference issues. It also helps to future-proof a home and can deliver Power over Ethernet (PoE) – as in electricity – to some devices.
Besides, a home should be wired properly while it’s being built and the walls are open. This is the time to wire a home properly, not under-equip it.
Builders seeking guidance in providing proper structured wiring should consult the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) TechHome Rating System, which provides guidelines for various levels of technology infrastructure in homes, from the basic wiring for TV and video distribution to multiroom audio, control, security and communications.
Legrand also offers an excellent white paper, The Entertainment Networking Revolution, explaining wired and wireless networking options for homes today.
TecHome Builder recommends that any home have a solid backbone of structured wiring, as well as robust wireless access for all-important smartphone and tablet connectivity.
Photo courtesy of Lutron
Yes, that could mean CFLs. But here’s the thing about compact fluorescent lamps: Most people hate them. Shoot for LEDs instead. They’re even more energy-efficient, they will last up to 20 years or more (if you get decent ones), and they give off better light. Shop lumens for brightness (800 lumens per 60-watt incandescent equivalent) and color temperature of about 3500K for incandescent-like “warm” light. LEDs should also be dimmable. Some LEDs come in beautiful fixtures that can set your homes apart. Colored LEDs can even be programmed into light shows.
Don’t forget dimmers and motion and occupancy sensors for areas like garages, bathrooms, and laundry rooms. Lutron, for one, has C-L Dimmers that can be used with a variety of lighting types. More sophisticated lighting control systems with scene-setting capability can be excellent step-up options. Motion and occupancy sensors used by security systems can be integrated with lighting control to effect hands-free lighting as people move about the house.
Energy Star-certified appliances should be a given, right? Energy Star appliances save energy and water, and will reduce the costs of operating a home. After all, appliances account for about 13 percent of the average home’s energy use.
There are other advanced appliance options that can set homebuilders apart as well—and they range from the seemingly mundane to super-high-tech. Some range hoods have automatic shut-off options and heat sensors to enact higher-speed blowers. More efficient clothes dryers, while not certified by Energy Star, have moisture sensors to stop loads and save energy when they’re done.
Home control platform Control4 can connect to Sub-Zero and Wolf E-series appliances and receive alerts when a pre-heat or timer is finished or a door is open. Even monitoring and managing the energy use of the appliances is possible.
Samsung’s RF4289 smart fridge features a Wi-Fi-connected LCD screen with messaging, weather info, Pandora, and recipes via Epicurious. Its WF457 clothes washer has a smartphone app that allows you to wirelessly connect to it to check status and start or pause wash cycles.
LG’s Smart ThinQ appliances have self-diagnosis capabilities, so it can tell a user via a smartphone when and why it’s experiencing a problem. This year LG even demonstrated appliances with NFC (near-field communications) capability and voice control.
Don’t stop at the kitchen and laundry room. GE has an iPhone-connected GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater that uses heat pump technology to heat water efficiently. And tankless water heaters from companies like Rinnai and Navien offer hot water on demand and save the space and energy required to keep entire tanks of water heated.
This is just a sampling of the connected, smart and advanced appliances becoming available.
Smartphone and Tablet control
Photo courtesy of Control4
Homebuyers today enjoy smartphone apps that control virtually everything, including web cams, lighting, thermostats—even appliances. So why wouldn’t you offer smartphone or tablet control in a home? iPad or tablet control is also a great way to get prospective homebuyers jazzed about technology options—and your homes—by showing them hands-on what systems like home control, lighting control and climate control can do.
“What the customer cares about is that ‘Oh, from an iPhone I can control lighting and HVAC’ for their home,” says Melissa Morman, vice president of Builder Client Experience with BHI (Builder Homesite Inc.).
Some builders, like Frankel Building Group in Houston and Nexus EnergyHomes in Stevensville, Maryland, offer iPads with their homes, along with some home control. “People are looking for technology. iPhones and iPads are proof that people will embrace this kind of technology. It’s a stable platform and people feel comfortable with it,” says Mike Murphy of Nexus EnergyHomes. “We’re giving people the ability to communicate with their homes.”