Street of Dreams: Smart is the new big
New developments in smart home technology are fueled by competing desires of home owners, according to John Cappuccio, the chief information officer for Street of Dreams 2019, with Everett Custom Homes.
There are three big forces: security, convenience and energy saving.
Home 6, as it's been known for the last six months while it's being built, is now called Pacific Usonia, and it is designed to showcase the best in smart home technology.
Cappuccio says designers today have a goal of "a single pane of glass," meaning everything in the house can be controlled from one screen, usually a tablet-sized gadget attached to a wall in the main rooms such as kitchen, master bedroom and living room.
Pacific Usonia, built by Everett Custom Homes, has a home network platform by Control4 that supports the latest technology integration. A quick look at the glass panel shows music, temperature and blinds can be adjusted. No more running from room to room to cue up the perfect playlist for the correct inhabitant — and no more having to listen to other people's terrible taste in music. (In a two-story, 4,147-square-foot house, that can save you a lot of steps.)
"People want their home controls to be multi-modal now, and intuitive" Cappuccio told the Business Tribune. "They want to control it with their voice and with their phone as well as with a touch pad."
Pacific Usonia's system is professionally integrated, meaning it's not the kind of set up you can do yourself while watching a few YouTube clips. And, if you have a big problem, you have to have a professional come out to fix it. Such systems from Control4 and Savant can cost between $25,000 to $35,000 for a basic installation in a large house.
But it is powerful. Control4 recently announced it is now integrated with 1,300 IOT (internet of things) devices.
"The market for smart homes has exploded because there are more opportunities to integrate more things." That means not just IOT devices like bathroom scales and coffee makers, but window blinds and large appliances.
In the system Cappuccio designed, there are themes to make it easier to remember your settings. One is called Movie Night. It dims the living room lights, puts the pendant lights in the kitchen to 50% power and sets the TV and sound to theater mode. Another possibility is Date Night: again, dim lights, warm bathroom floors, ionizers working overtime. A mode or theme could be set from your phone as you wait at a traffic light. If you just heard you are having a surprise house guest, you can turn on the heat in the guest bedroom and can even activate the (electric) oven to warm up the take-out you are bringing home.
Gen Z is ready
Some of the early pioneering platforms, such as Zigbee's Z-Wave, are now competing with the likes of Amazon, Apple Homekit and Google Home. Z-Wave's wireless system uses high-powered wavelengths. The controller can be buried in a closet and the signal easily reach all corners of the house. Platforms like Apple and Google that rely on lower power home Wi-Fi can have trouble getting through sheet rock, beams and metal studs in larger homes. Cappuccio's job is to talk to homeowners and find out what system works best for them.
He said, "A year ago I would have said it was an exercise in futility, trying to integrate so many devices with the market so segmented. You were not sure if what you would buy was going to work. Now it's different. Those manufacturers are realizing the market has developed into a platform agnostic one."
For example, sensors were difficult to integrate. Adding a CO2 sensor or camera that sends data directly to the cloud, so that the homeowner get pinged on their phone while at work when someone approaches a door or the air quality dips, that is now doable.
"We're seeing leaps and bounds in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning." For example, Amazon has a system called Hunches. If you do your Alexa "good night" routine and it turns off all the lights and activates the security lights, it will notice if, say, the garage door is open when it isn't usually, and asks if you want to close it. "The algorithm is able to provide us the information that we can use."
Cappuccio won't let go of too much decision-making power. He says he might be creeped out by the next generation of conversational voice enabled devices.
"Alexa — as it is — some people hate it. If it doesn't listen, they yell at her. The next generation, where I go, 'Turn out the lights' and Alexa goes, 'Yes John, and is there anything else?' in a conversational manner, people will need to get used to that."
DIY is doable at last
He says we have arrived at the point where a savvy homeowner can install their own home automation.
There are two homes in the show that have DIY systems. Under the West Hills Homes NW brand they are The Meadow (Modern Farmhouse) and La Maison (French Country). They show what store-bought connectivity can do. For example, the outlets are Wi-Fi connected, as are the light bulbs. Cappuccio says smart outlets that plug in are called "wall warts" because they stick out. Now you can buy smart outlets, where the top and bottom outlets are independent, that sit flush with the wall.
"I can see a new job emerging: a mix of professional home automation integration and interior designer. Someone who knows what's available and can design a home with the decor." Such a person would design themes or scenes (homework, date night etc.) as well as make sure portable speakers have the right range and are water resistant, and that the home can still function if the Wi-Fi goes down. (New systems have a backup antenna, a simple dongle, that uses 4GLTE to stay on the data grid.)
Cappuccio says the reliability of wireless speaker systems such as Sonos, which can be dragged outside and have no lag, has changed music appreciation. "Also, streaming services have taken over. Now you just connect to Spotify or Pandora and you're off to the races. They have gotten so much better, with more artists, great catalogs and playlists."
So far, some internet-connected appliances have not taken off: the fridge with a camera that re-orders milk, the oven that "senses" food types. But he does like an internet-connected oven by Decor which has a screen for pulling up recipes. "It does the preheating and will alert me when it's done."
There's are now exhaust hoods connected by Bluetooth which turn on automatically if the air quality in the kitchen drops to a certain level, which can save a cook running around opening windows after burning something.
Remember the other factors that sway decision making? Energy savings and security?
Cappuccio says that the super smart home Pacific Usonia has a Rachio irrigation system which looks at the NOAA weather report and adjusts watering accordingly, which saves on water bills.
Other energy savings come from automatically closing shades on the sunny side of a home on hot days. "It's win for us and for the planet."
Even in a megahome, the savings are real. Cappuccio was shocked to see the electric bill for a 2,600-square-foot model home whose electricity bill was one third less than his 1,300-square-foot home in Hillsdale.
He also mentions Flo, a sensor made by Moen that sits in the hot water tank inlet. It senses vibrations and monitors what is happening with the house water. It can learn in 72 hours which sounds are, say, the master bathroom toilet flushing, and it can report odd activity and alert homeowners.
"That can save on water damage if there's a leak, and that in turn is leading to lower insurance premiums."
They didn't use Flo in Street of Dreams because it does not work with the larger one-and-a-quarter inch pipes yet, but that is coming soon.
Amazon Home Guard can also turn on lights and music at certain times to make an empty home look occupied to deter burglars. Its microphones can also isolate the sound of window pane glass breaking and send alerts. Security and accessibility are coming together as categories.
The fastest growing demographic for home automation is the over 55s. That's because they no longer fear computers (that was the generation before them) and they want to make their homes more accessible and secure.
"If you have mobility issues, voice commands to turn off the lights are really allowing older Americans to live in their homes longer before going into assisted living. And because of the rapid advance in camera technology, families can keep an eye on older relatives more easily."
Cappuccio notes one new development: thieves will disconnect a home's internet system from the outside before breaking in.
"That's why we sunk all the supply lines into the foundations at the time of building this year."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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