Future-Proof Your New Home
Take Steps In the Building Process to Plan for Tomorrow's Technologies
The Cyber Room in the Colonnade creates a fun and hip gathering spot. By ELAD in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Your new home can be a very entertaining space with ultra-high definition video, interactive gaming, 90-inch flat-screen TVs and more. And it can offer the latest in home automation. Everything from lighting, home security, climate control and more can now be controlled remotely from your iPhone, for example.
Many of these options weren’t available just five years ago, so the obvious questions are:
1. Where are we headed next?
2. And how do I future-proof my new home, so it will work well with technologies that haven't even been invented yet?
Clearly, we’re not going to become any less dependent on (or addicted to) technology. The pace of change and innovation will only accelerate. While you may not be able to fully imagine the next big thing (unless you’re the next Steve Jobs) you can pre-wire a new home in flexible and robust ways.
Ensuring that conduit and wiring (think of it as plumbing) for data and video is in place when you build a home is by far the most effective way to plan for the future. It will always be more expensive to upgrade a house for technology once the walls are put up. Building a strong infrastructure now for data will pay off in countless ways over the many years you’ll live in your new home.
“I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘Man, I just pulled too many wires in this house,’” says David Pedigo, senior director of learning and emerging technology for CEDIA, the Consumer Electronics Design and Installation Association. “We’re starting to get to point where builders, architects and interior designers understand that it does take proper planning and consideration. If you’re going to incorporate a digital experience, do it at the front.”
The abundance of wireless components on the market may make it seem like pre-wiring a house is a waste of time and money. Not so.
Wireless works great for some applications, such as printers, but it “just really doesn’t work very well with high-definition and ultra-high definition video and speakers,” Pedigo says. “Video bandwidth is accelerating at a much faster pace than wireless capabilities. And speakers will always need wires. There are wireless speakers, but they still require a power source.”
Chris Pearson, president of high-end home theater provider Service Tech in Austin, Texas, agrees.
“You need to hard-wire the data connections to all the electronics,” Pearson says. “Gaming systems are interactive, tying in families. People are Skyping. There is a ridiculous amount of content available. A lot of the apps you might want on a TV might not be 100 percent effective on a wireless network. Imagine a highway with no lane dividers. It’s just chaos.”
Beyond the need to pre-wire a house for current and future technology needs, architects and designers are recognizing the need to ask their clients about their entertainment choices.
At one time, a video game only provided exercise to your thumbs. Now, there are Wii and Kinect systems that have players jumping, ducking and dancing around the room. That means more open space in front of the unit.
Then there are the TVs.
“If you don’t plan for big TVs, you’re up a creek,” says Tony Crasi, a custom home builder and architect in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and a past chair of CEDIA’s custom home builder committee. “If there’s a fireplace, it has to be offset or you put the TV on top of the mantle. If you don’t wire for it, forget it.”
While entertainment applications might be the most exciting area of home technology innovation, home automation is another area that’s expanding rapidly, now that the iPhone or Android smart phone in your pocket lets you handle everything from securing a dinner reservation to making a bank deposit.
“In the next couple of years, people will expect automated lighting control, heating and security,” Pedigo says. We’re getting to the point that the cost will make it significantly more accessible. So many people have smart phones now. They don’t have to buy a separate device to control each system. They’re walking around with a $600 controller in their hand.”
Crasi says his customers are seeking a lot of home automation applications, particularly in the area of lighting and audio controls. What he sees becoming widespread next is climate control, done remotely from a smart phone or tablet.
In fact, it’s already happening. Nest is a digital thermostat created by former Apple executive Tony Fadell, known as the “father of the iPod.”
Designed to help reduce power bills, Nest “learns” how and when you use energy – when you make breakfast, take showers, head out the door for work or school and when you go to bed. As Nest learns these patterns, it makes automatic adjustments to maximize energy efficiency. It will even send you an e-mail reminder to change your furnace and air conditioning filters. Your home can be monitored and adjustments made remotely from a number of platforms – including, of course, iPad and iPhone.
AT&T recently announced its plans to roll out Digital Life. This Web-based system lets users do everything – from changing the thermostat to unlocking a door for a service technician – from a laptop, tablet or smart phone anywhere in the world. (Well, now they’ve got our attention. Who hasn’t wasted a day sitting around waiting for the cable guy to show up?)
And soon, homeowners can expect their appliances and HVAC systems to send alerts when they need maintenance or repair, Crasi says.
Home automation can also help aging or disabled homeowners via motion sensors that turn on lights as they go down a hallway, reminders to take medication, or alerts to a family member that a loved one has fallen.
“At our last CEDIA meeting, we started to see commercials about turning lights on from your phone from 100 miles away,” Crasi says. “There’s some cool stuff coming, practical stuff. That’s what I really believe is coming.”
And that’s just what the professionals are talking about now. It’s hard to imagine what might be the next innovation. Whatever it is, it’s going to need wires, Pedigo says. The best place to put those is inside the walls when your home is being built.
“The only one way to future proof a home is to pull conduit to certain parts of the home,” he says. “That way, if a new technology comes out in three to five years, you’re ready for it. I’ve taught that for a decade, and no one has ever challenged me. It’s a lot cheaper to pull the wire now than go back after the fact and reinstall it.”
Pat Curry is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who specializes in housing and real estate. Her articles have appeared in magazines and on websites including Professional Builder, REALTOR Magazine and BobVila.com.