Homebuilders are making homes smarter but it's all getting so complicated.
According to Jacob Atalla of KB Home, “The best way to predict the future is to make it.” So he and others in the building industry often build model concept homes to test out ideas. Michele Lerner of the Washington Post talks to a few people in the industry to get a sense of what’s coming next.
“When we imagine the home of the future and look at innovations, it’s important to answer two questions,” said Matt Power, editor in chief of Green Builder media in South Portland, Maine. “Just like you ask yourself about relationships, you should ask, ‘Does this make your life better?’ And if the answer is yes, then ask yourself from an ethical point of view, ‘Does this reduce my impact on the Earth?’ ”
Alas, when you look at what they are actually proposing, it doesn’t have a lot to do with reducing impact on the earth. They pay lip service to energy consumption, but it is all about adding stuff.
“We need to look at energy efficiency, water efficiency, smart-home systems and healthy homes together,” Atalla said. “For example, everyone recognizes the importance of sleep to people’s health. Connecting all your devices to turn down the lights gently and adjust the air temperature as it gets later in the evening can help restore your circadian rhythms. You can have white noise turn on while you sleep and then in the morning your home can automatically mimic sunrise, and your tankless water heater can warm up the water for your shower.”
But energy efficiency is not a big seller, as we have known for years.
Despite the plethora of sustainable products for the home, consumers are becoming more skeptical of the benefits of upgrading to energy-efficient systems, Herro [of Meritage Homes] said. “Buyers tend to look at the price tag more than operating costs,” Herro said. “We need to be transparent about showing the cost-effectiveness of building more energy-efficient homes.”
So instead of building it in, they are adding on options like batteries, solar panels and energy monitors, because “if you want people to use less resources, you have to make it a game.” So they keep piling more tech onto the house.
It all reminds me of something Philadelphia builder Nic Darling said when he was trying to build cheap green houses like the 100K house. He couldn’t understand why most builders charged so much more for energy efficient green homes until he spoke to an acquaintance who gave him a piece of her grandmother's wisdom in explanation . . . "It is because they're polishing a turd."
OK, so it's a bit harsh. Turd is, maybe, an unnecessarily rude word to use to describe what are often pretty nice homes, but the concept is sound. Most of the builders are still trying to build the exact same home they have always built. They are simply adding features to make that same house energy efficient, healthy and sustainable. This addition gets expensive....
So, they polish the turd. Rather than redesign the house that has been successful for them in the past, they add solar panels, geothermal systems, high end interior fixtures, extra insulation and other green features. The house gets greener, but it also increases significantly in cost. Since the features are add-ons and extras, the price rises as each one is tacked on.
There are some subtractions. They are building fewer parking spaces, and are looking at smaller, more adaptable floor plans. There are growing concerns about wellness and air quality. But generally, they still seem to be polishing the turd.
But wait! There is that critical aspect to modern living that we have all been waiting for:
KB Homes is also addressing the trend of e-commerce by preparing a landing pad for a drone on top of a house, with a chute leading into a dedicated space for deliveries that can be refrigerated for food items. “The delivery pod can be accessed with a code given to a delivery person and by communication between the drone and an app on the homeowner’s phone,” Atalla said. “The homeowners would also have access to the pod from the inside of their house.”
Right. How about a dumb home, please.