Robots aren’t making our beds or cooking our dinners (yet), but technology has moved into the mainstream in the last five to 10 years. As a first-time home buyer, there’s lots to discover, and some of it may surprise you.
This article will give you the information you need to know about smart home devices such as smart speakers, home security systems, smart lights, smart home hubs and smart home systems that control things such as your garage door. You’ll learn what’s changed since you moved out of your parents’ place, what are some of the most popular smart home features on the market today, and some of the eye-popping smart home products that are on the horizon. Robot vacuums? Not quite – more like Amazon Alexa, Sonos and Google Assistant.
But incredibly cool devices that can be controlled via a smartphone app using homekit nonetheless.
Some old, some new smart home products
If you’re a member of Gen Z, you may have grown up with smart locks on your front doors or a thermostat that could be set to run at certain times of the day. It was and is helpful third-party technology, but things have changed a lot in the past decade in the world of smart devices.
We’re now able to create entire systems that sync up our smart locks, lights, and other technology through our phones, or by using the touch panel inside the home. Some technology is for pure entertainment, as well — like permanent LED strip lighting along the edges of your roof.
So, what can a new homeowner expect from smart home technology today? Livabl spoke to Brad Conlon, the vice president and director of national accounts for D.R. Horton, about the current and future smart home automation in the builder’s homes and what they are doing to include smart connectivity into their homes.
What types of changes has D.R. Horton seen in home technology in the last 10 years?
It’s still rapidly changing, like the space of technology in general. What you had in the early 2010s was a lot of siloed products that were integrating communication. It may have been a smart feature that was controllable in some form or fashion, sometimes locally, sometimes remotely.
There was automation but much of it was clunky, and what was out there was very expensive. Fast forward to where we are today. There’s a lot more open-source relative to the languages that things speak. Some might speak just a specific language, for example, a door lock or a particular doorbell camera. But they’re all feeding into a system that speaks a multilingual language and it can bring everything up under one umbrella.
How educated are first-time buyers about home technology? Does anything surprise them?
Many first-time homebuyers have most likely grown up with some type of home technology, perhaps in the back half of their adolescence. Maybe when they were in high school, their parents already had a video doorbell. They’re used to it. Technology such as remote thermostats has existed for quite some time. This generation has an expectation because of what they’ve seen so far while growing up.
There are first-time homebuyers that are in their 40s as well, but it’s expected that their home is more than just a local manual type of process. We’ve likened it to the automobile industry during the 1990s into the 2000s. Prior to that, we had crank windows and air conditioning was substandard. Then we began to see automatic windows, standard air conditioning, automatic locks, and remote sensors.
New home construction has seen that same type of shift in the last five years. Every builder of decent size is including something tech-related in their homes, and it speaks to both how buyers are educated and what they’re expecting.
As far as what surprises them, I think it’s how advanced tech has become. They’re also surprised by the automation. This trend started a decade ago, and at that time it was called “home automation.” And that name has since shifted to “smart home.” What’s been lost in that for a lot of consumers is the automation aspect.
For example, another capability that surprises them is something called geofencing. You’re able to go into an application, identify on a map any location that you want to put a fence around, and it a circle that you draw how big or small, whether it’s around your home or your place of business. And as you and your personal device come or go from those bubbles that you’ve placed on the map, your home can automatically begin to behave in particular ways based on that movement.
Many buyers have no idea how smart or how automated their house could be. We install a product called “Deako.” It’s a brand of lighting devices and switches. If you back up just about two years, we always put one light switch that was z-wave and communicated to the entirety of the system. It was tied to their front porch or garage lights, and they could do different things with it. They could create habits for it to turn on every evening and turn off in the morning.
But with these, if they wanted to expand and have more switches that they can control, they would have to call an electrician to take out the switch that wasn’t smart. Then they’d install a smart switch, and most customers don’t want to go through all of that.
But with the Deako system, you don’t need to turn the power off. There’s a little pull tab on the switch and the switch pops out of the wall. It’s that simple switch, as we refer to it, with a smart switch. The customer plugs it in and it’s going to appear in their app. Then they’re going to know they’ve got a new switch that can be added to the system. They’re able to do it themselves, and I think those features tend to surprise them.
What kinds of cost savings are owners experiencing due to technology?
It’s all based on the user. If they’re not utilizing it, then they’re most likely not taking advantage of the savings. Any good builder that’s putting in a system like this will include a service where they send a service representative upon moving in to help the owners integrate the system into their lifestyle. They can control it from their phone, or they can use the panel on the wall.
Those that take advantage of that, especially when you start talking about things like the geofencing side of it, can begin to save money. It can be as little as automating the outside lights, so you don’t forget to turn them off in the morning. The bigger savings come when we take advantage of the thermostats and the ability to add schedules so that you’re not running your heat or your air unnecessarily when the house is unoccupied.
When you get into geofencing, you can set it up so that everyone in the family with a smartphone can use it. Then the system knows when those phones are outside of the geofence of your home. It can set your thermostat so that while you’re gone, it’s not running the heat or the air and costing you additional money.
How easy is it to maintain technology for an owner who provides the upgrades and what kind of costs can owners expect?
Maintaining it isn’t that difficult. There’s no maintenance, so to speak. Like with anything, devices can just stop working. It just depends upon what the device is and what the consumer’s comfort level is with a repair or any maintenance.
But many times, maintenance falls into the category of simple connection issues. For example, if you lose connection with a light switch that you’ve added to your bedroom. There are step-by-step guides that help the owner get that light switch reconnected to the system.
If for some reason, it’s completely failed and they’re not able to figure it out. T, then they’re going to already have been introduced to a representative by their builder. They can reach out to the builder or the supplier and they’re able to either walk them through it over the phone or if something needs to be replaced, or if they want to upgrade the same thing.
Like the light switches, the consumer can very easily plug and play, and change out as many of their light switches as they want. They’re able to do that on their own. They can do that with other devices. For example, we provide one lock at the front door, but if they wanted to put one on the back door and the door that leads from the garage to the hallway, they would be able to do that themselves. Then they would be able to easily integrate it into the system themselves. Again, if you can work a phone and a typical application by just pressing the buttons, the program will walk you through what to do, and when to do it.
As for the question of cost, it’s really going to depend upon the consumer. You can spend thousands of dollars getting a richer, more robust system. But if you just wanted to add a few more locks, a couple of additional light switches, and things like that, people can easily get their systems to the next level for under $500.
What kinds of innovations does D.R. Horton expect in the field in the next five to 10 years?
I think you’ll see things more along the lines of the Deako product. At some point, they’ll go beyond just light switches, light controls, fan controls, and maybe some nightlight kind of features. Once you’re into that of plug and play space. The possibilities start to become endless.
If you begin to make the home more ready for those things, I think you’ll see the owners’ ability to continue to let their home advance along with the technology even though their house was built in the past few years. You’ll see things become more future-proofed.
Obviously, with the onset of alternative energy sources, whether it be solar systems and vehicles, solar panels, electric vehicles, and battery storage — you’re going to start to see energy come into play in a big way. There’s a lot going on in the phone space thanks to wi-fi, relative to power generation and power storage.
There’s the full integration of all of that, including the EV chargers that are coming to market today — we would call them “smart chargers.” You can plug the car in, and they set it and forget it when you’re there. It’s not going to run and charge that car until they know what’s the most affordable time to do so, and they can do it at different paces that also make it more affordable to charge a car.
The same things are going on in the solar panel space with battery storage and how the house can really begin to become even smarter relative to its energy consumption as well.
Cool tech tools – current and upcoming
The amount of tech in today’s new homes runs the gamut. You’ll regularly encounter keyless entry systems, smart thermostats for energy savings, security camera upgrades, and lighting options that are controlled from your phone.
But there’s some unexpected and upcoming technology out there that’s sure to surprise you. Here’s a short list of some of the coolest tech that’s available or coming soon.
Gryphon Nova is a boutique condominium in Vancouver, British Columbia. This development is seeking to meet the demands of the most discerning tech home seekers with the creation of the “Gryphon Nest.” The Nest is an innovation that includes a smart furniture system that can disappear depending on the homeowners’ needs. If the resident requires more space, say, to do yoga, a quick click on their smartphone will retract the bed into the ceiling, and the desk into the wall.
It seems mindboggling that Toncelli debuted their Prisma kitchen in 2012, yet the technology is still making waves as cutting-edge at recent International Builder Shows. This high-tech kitchen includes a screen embedded into the glass countertop.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Tesla has entered the tech market. One of its most notable products is its solar roof shingles. The shingles are constructed from glass and steel and appear like traditional roof shingles.
Powerwall is the other part of the Tesla solar roof system. Powerwall is a compact home battery that is bundled with the solar roof, providing homeowners with 24/7 energy security. It stores the energy produced with the solar roof so you can power your home anytime—at night or during an outage.
Powerwall can also be paired with traditional solar panels for the same benefits.
The Span 2 Gen Panel won the award for Best Energy Efficient Product at the 2022 International Builders’ Show.
The SPAN Smart Panel is a smart electric panel that serves as an energy management system for the home. It replaces the standard electrical panel to become the control center for connected power, simplifying how homeowners can control home energy and streamline clean energy upgrades like solar and storage.
SPAN serves as the “brain” of a home, letting homeowners track how much energy they are using, optimizing their energy use, and, controlling individual circuits, all from the SPAN Home App.
While the robots aren’t in every home yet, there’s plenty of technology that can make first-time homebuyers’ life easier, more streamlined, and maybe save them some money in the process. Don’t hesitate to ask your builder questions about the technology in the home you want to buy — they’re willing to help you and will explain which additions will benefit you and your family the most.