The smart home: How technology is infusing domestic life

By the end of last year, roughly 45 million smart home devices were in use in U.S. homes. The home automation industry in the U.S. is showing a 22% annual growth rate year-over-year, totaling approximately $20 billion last year.

And, yet, only 12–16% of U.S. homes have smart devices. Baby boomers and Gen X’ers may be slower to adopt smart home technology. Millennials are perhaps the most likely consumers of smart home devices, but they are buying homes in record-low numbers.

Smart homes still seem to be a glimpse into our future, though. Just like how touch screens slowly phased out traditional button-pad phones, intelligent and customizable technologies will eventually be integrated into every aspect of our home lives.

What’s the appeal?

Smart home technology exists to simplify and automate domestic activities. Want to microwave a baked potato while you’re chopping onions? Get a voice-controlled microwave. Want to listen to the latest political news while you’re getting dressed in the morning? Get a smart speaker. Want a security system that lets you monitor your home from almost anywhere? You’ve got options.

Smart thermostats

For those looking to reduce utility costs or build environmentally friendlier homes, smart solutions abound. Smart heating and cooling systems are an obvious choice, and have been on the market since Nest (now Google’s Nest) was unveiled in 2011.

Today you can find at least a couple handfuls of smart thermostat models, some for as low as $130, with a range of features including system-specific apps, built-in smart speakers, geofencing, air-quality sensors, humidity monitoring, and machine-learning capabilities that help the device/system adapt to your lifestyle and schedule.

Most smart thermostats have sensors you can place throughout the home, which monitor and make adjustments to the climate in various areas within the home. Why fully heat a room like a library all day, when you might only use it at night? It’s more efficient and cost-effective to consume only the resources you truly need to maintain and enjoy your home. Google’s Nest was the first smart thermostat to be certified by Energy Star, with others sure to follow soon.

Smart lighting

Foray into the world of smart lights, and it’s all about art and the luxury of convenience. Smart lighting systems can be wired in to a home or portions of the home as it’s being built, or as a retrofit project. There are also plenty of options that are more plug-and-play. Smart lights can:

  • Be automated. Schedule on/off/dim/fade actions that align to your routines.
  • Work with sensors. Have lights turn on immediately as you enter a room, hallway, or living space. Have lights turn off after a set period of, say, seven minutes, after you leave a room or area.
  • Offer flexibility. Adjust brightness with a smart bulb or smart plug, even if you don’t have dimmer switches. Most bulbs also change colors (Red for darkrooms? Green for Halloween? Purple for an accent light?). Control your lighting with the sound of your voice or through an app on your phone.

The automated home for aging individuals

It’s inarguable that smart home technology offers potential benefits for aging and differently abled home dwellers.

Voice command capabilities are available in most smart home devices, and greatly reduce the need for manual touches. A robotic vacuum can make it much more feasible to live in a large, clean home if there are mobility issues at play. Similarly, there are robotic lawn mowers now available from established manufacturers like Husqvarna that alleviate the manual burden of living on acreage.

Smart cameras can ensure proper caregiving, smart appliances and smart door locks improve safety, smart TVs make entertainment easier. And of course, there are wearable devices that fall within the “Internet of Things” (IoT) category that can complement smart home technologies.

Are aging homeowners up for navigating the learning curve, though? That remains to be seen. Even though smart home products can ultimately make day-to-day life easier, they take some getting used to. Troubleshooting can feel more intimidating.

Choices and integrations

The biggest hurdle may be experienced quite early on, when selecting smart home devices. Where do you start? What should you prioritize?

If you’re building a home with a company like Bluestone, you can ensure the design and build will support your smart home preferences and goals. For example, we work with a lot of homeowners who ask for multi-room audio systems that are smart and/or compatible with online services such as Spotify. Getting great sound and good design, at once, is easier when your homebuilding team can get involved and offer solutions.

Apps that control the heating and lighting of the pool, geothermal, radiant and electric in-floor heating, in house lighting and window treatment automation, elevators, chandelier lifts, security cameras, lighting control, and a vast array of smart appliances are just a few of the technological features Bluestone Construction has installed over the years. Some builders might shy away from complicated infrastructure because of the unknown costs involved in working with something new. We revel in it. Design environments that push the envelope are our specialty.

As a luxury home builder, we often install technological upgrades that most builders would not consider, like leak detecting water flow meters that use a cell phone app to warn both our home owners and us if there is a water leak in your home. Water damage from ice makers or washing machines are not uncommon and can be catastrophic. We recommend spending a little extra to be on the safe side.

A word to the wise: do thorough research when smart home product shopping or hire someone who is trained on the latest systems. If there is one major downside to smart home technologies it’s that they don’t always integrate easily or “talk to each other” fluidly. This puts the burden back on you, the owner, to translate or mediate — which removes all the benefits you were looking for in the first place. Smart home enthusiasts may opt to look into a solution like IFTTT (“If This Then That”), which is a free platform that offers pre-made and custom solutions to improve integrations between connected devices.

We’re here to help

Whether you’re no-tech, low-tech, or ready to jump on the smart home bandwagon, Bluestone is here to help you build your custom home. Check out our Houzz page and other social media accounts to get inspired.