A few years ago, I thought the Smart Home was going to be a big deal, and even started a series covering it on sister site MNN.com. Tech buffs and companies promised huge energy savings, great convenience and more. Then it sort of went quiet, and for a long time it seemed like all we were getting were thermostats and security systems.
But now Amazon has made a deal with Lennar, a big American homebuilder, to build "Alexa-enabled smart homes" where you can do a lot more than just adjust your temperature. According to the press release,
Customers can simply ask Alexa to control the television, lights, thermostat, shades, and more. The model homes showcase how customers can use Alexa in their everyday lives. Customers can experience just how easy it can be to reorder household essentials with a press of an Amazon Dash Button [do you sit there on the toilet until the Charmin is delivered?] listen or watch Prime content with Fire TV or schedule on-demand home services through Amazon Home Services.
Lennar has opened Amazon Experience Centres across the country. Amazon notes that "as one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, Lennar offers the potential to enable this experience within easy driving distance of millions of customers.” Homeowners with this setup can:
Control smart home devices with just their voice: Customers can experience the simplicity of adjusting the thermostat, seeing who’s at the front door without leaving the couch, and trying routines such as “Alexa, good morning” to have Alexa turn on lights, read the weather, and provide an update on commute times based on traffic.
But perhaps leaving the couch occasionally is a good thing.
You burn 2.5 calories every time you get up to flick a light switch.
This is one of the biggest problems with all this smart stuff. Nobody has to do anything, nobody has to get up anymore. Every time you let someone in with the video doorbell and smart lock, you are not getting up. Every time you let the Roomba do your vacuuming, or tell Alexa to flip a light switch, you are not getting the exercise. As Melissa noted on MNN, Every single minute of physical activity helps health, new study shows. And that is not even getting into online ordering where you don't have to walk to your car or across the parking lot or push a shopping cart.
It's even a bigger problem in a Lennar subdivision, all of which have a walkscore of about 5 and where you have to drive to get a quart of milk or anything; it is much easier just to order from Amazon Prime, the subdivision, the planning and the house design all conspire together to keep you on the sofa.
I looked at this a few years ago at MNN before there was all this smart tech that Amazon is pushing now. in Will a smart home make you fat? I calculated that it took six seconds to walk to the dining room light switch before I got my Hue bulbs, and that I did this four times a day. It added up to a quarter pound's worth of calories not worked off per year. Running up the stairs to answer the land line totalled 3.3 pounds.
A smart light bulb burns 9.6 watt/hours of electricity per day while it's off just waiting for instructions.
Every single smart switch, light bulb, doorbell or smart shade is using electricity, even when it is just sitting there listening for a signal to turn on. I did a calculation at my dining room table and found that my three Hue bulbs used more energy in a day in off mode than they actually burned while they were on, just talking to the hub. Then there is the hub talking to the router, Alexa talking to the internet and all the stuff happening in Amazon's server farms and pretty soon you find that all your smart devices are sucking a whole lot of vampire power. Individually it's not much, but every little bit adds up. As I noted in my earlier post:
With the exception of smart thermostats in crappy houses, none of this saves energy. It just wastes it, in the name of convenience. Asking Alexa to turn off the lights is fun, but we would be better off in terms of energy and exercise if we got up and flicked a light switch. Rather than saving energy, the Smart home is going to be a great big energy suck.
I have long promoted dumb houses that just sit there and stay warm instead of smart thermostats and vents. When I look at what Amazon wants to do with their Alexa-enabled smart homes I think that perhaps we should be thinking twice as well. Getting a smart fitness watch to tell us to get off our butts won't make much of a difference; a 2016 study in the Journal of Sport and Health Science noted:
There is also reason to assume that domestic mechanization of daily tasks (with the advent of labor-saving devices such as washing machines and dishwashers) have reduced energy expenditure over the years. Indeed, it was recently estimated that in women, daily housework-related energy expenditure has decreased by 360 kcal in the US since the 1960s. The authors of the study concluded that such reductions in housework-related energy expenditure might have been substantial contributors to the rise in prevalence of obesity in women in last 5 decades....
So many labor saving devices. Listening to your Apple Watch when it tells you to go walk for 30 minutes isn't enough.
On the other hand, participation in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) has progressively increased over the years; however, it appears that on a secular basis, this has not been enough to offset increased sedentary behavior, as total physical activity is declining rapidly across the globe.
Perhaps it is time to reconsider all these new electronic labor saving devices, talking to Alexa and Siri and Google, and remember that every switch flicked, door answered, and stair climbed makes a difference. You will probably save a couple of watt/hours of electricity and a few pounds of Carbon Dioxide too.
And we haven't even got started about security and privacy.