Smart Technology For a New Home: What Features Should You Ask For First?

A living room with trendy Lutron lighting, which dims the room and brings out a warm feel.

Lutron whole-house lighting control systems can be combined with audio, video, security and HVAC, and can be operated from a hand-held remote, wall-mounted key pad, tabletop control, iPhone, iPad or Android.

The array of smart technology for a new home can be staggering and confusing, including technologies for security, safety, comfort and convenience.

Not to mention the mysteries of structured wiring, broadband Internet, Wi-Fi hubs, iOS and Android monitoring and the cloud-based “Internet of Things.”

Making Sense of It All

So, where do you start? What do you look for when buying a new home?

With higher-end production homes, there are certain smart home categories that home buyers should look for, according to David Humphries, chairman-elect of the Consumer Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) and principal and president of Atlantic Integrated in Rockleigh, N.J.

“One is a lighting control system,” says Humphries. “These have been around for some time and are direct retrofit, which means you fit the wireless dimmer where the light switch would go. There’s no special wiring required. 

“Another thing I would certainly want in a new home would be some sort of control of the HVAC system,” Humphries says. “A lot of people now are gravitating to (smart thermostat) Nest, but you may want a more sophisticated system that you can operate from an Android or iOS device to control the heating and air conditioning, especially in multi-zone systems. The third feature I would want in a high-end home would be surveillance, such as security cameras and DVR (digital video recorder).”

You’ll also want some sort of fire alarm or smoke detector system, Humphries adds, but these are often required by code. Wireless, multi-zone audio distribution systems are also very popular. As for smart appliances, he says, the problem is that no one, as of yet, has been able to develop a universal protocol so that all the diverse items can talk to each other.

Even more important than these features when it comes to smart home technology, according to Humphries, is the backbone of the home. “The home,” he says, “has to be completely wired with CAT 6 or CAT 7 wiring or fiber-optic cables. This is the single most important part of a [smart] house. If the network doesn’t work, nothing works.”

Making Sure It All Works

One of the big mistakes made by consumers and builders, Humphries maintains, is that they put in a consumer-grade network system. Today’s streaming video and streaming audio requires a lot of bandwidth. So, he says, it’s absolutely essential to have an enterprise-grade network system installed, both wired and wireless, because of its bandwidth speed. Moreover, the price of control systems has come down dramatically in the last seven years. Now, he says, you can put a control system in your home at an affordable cost.

But, Humphries adds, for people who are buying these types of homes and are educated on smart technology, cost isn’t the major concern. The problem is confusion. “There are too many systems out there that do so many different things,” he notes. “That’s why it’s vital to involve an electronic systems contractor or integrator. This is the professional with knowledge of all the different product lines and with the ability to explain them to the consumer. Most of these smart products are not DIY products. You need somebody that’s qualified to make things work and keep them working.”

Study Documents What Buyers Want

Almost 90 percent of new homes now have a broadband connection and half provide a dedicated home office, according to the recent Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) 
14th Annual State of the Builder Technology Market Study. The study covers both custom and production homes, single-family and multifamily.

The most popular technologies installed in new homes, says Chris Ely, CTA senior manager, industry analysis, include structured wiring (in 48 percent of new homes), monitored security (29 percent) and pre-wiring for home theater systems (17 percent). In addition, there are several technologies the study indicates that are commonly offered by builders as options. These include stand-alone surveillance systems (offered by 77 percent of home builders), home automation (67 percent of builders) and energy management systems (64 percent).

Builders also reported that 64 percent of homeowners said they wanted to control their smart home remotely, either with a touchscreen or an app on a mobile device.

Ely also notes that more than one-third of U.S. home builders (36 percent) say they have experienced revenue increases over the past two years due to home technology installations.

National homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc., for example, has long since turned smart technology into a continuing revenue stream. The firm’s wholly owned subsidiary, Westminster Security, has been providing alarm monitoring for Toll Brothers homebuyers for more than 18 years, including response to security, fire, personal emergency response (PERS) and environmental and interactive services such as two-way voice and remote video, along with home automation.

With smart technology features both in demand from buyers and developing as a profit center for builders, you can only expect growth in home tech to continue and even accelerate.

Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.

Related Articles

Sign up for the Home of the Week

New Home 101
New eBook Available

Expert Advice on Buying & Building a New Home

The eBook will be delivered to your inbox. We will not share your email address.