Thinking about the Smart Home and Smart Cities

house of the future
© Fred McNab 1956

We have shown many ideas for The House of the Future in the past on TreeHugger, and it's back with a vengeance as engineers try to put the internet into everything and build the Smart Home. Last year, when everyone was crazed about Nest and the smart thermostat, I wrote In praise of the Dumb Home, and have been thinking about this ever since. I have been doing a series on MNN, looking at smart technologies; some are silly, some are counterproductive, some are invasive and some are going to make a real difference in the way we live. Here is a roundup for TreeHugger readers:

What is the smart home? It's too soon to tell

hoover adHoover ad, 1961/Promo image

This is a riff on my earlier post, where I note that the smarts should be in the building of the house, not stuff that you add on.

In a Passivhaus, or Passive House, there is so much insulation and such high-quality windows that the temperature doesn’t budge. A smart thermostat would be bored stupid; it would have nothing to do. In fact, a smart thermostat works best in a leaky house where the furnace or the air conditioning needs to run all the time.

Building on the earlier post, I look at how the small electric motor changed everything in our houses, not just making the vacuum cleaner possible, but also the circulating pump and fan that let our houses go horizontal instead of vertical. How nobody knew how it would change our lives, but it did. That's where we are today; it's too soon to tell.

More at MNN: What is the smart home? It's too soon to tell

Are smart vents safe?

ecoventEcovent/Promo image

Smart vents were a big deal at CES this year, but closing off vents can be a really bad idea, leading to iced up air conditioners and possibly cracked and deadly furnaces. And really, like the smart thermostat, they are band-aids for badly designed and poorly balanced systems in leaky houses.

More: Are smart vents safe?

The home of tomorrow will run on direct current

wall wartLloyd Alter/ wall wart/CC BY 2.0

In fact for most of us it already does, with our lights and our computers and stereos running on DC delivered by those little wall-warts and rectifiers in the bases of our light bulbs. There really is no reason to have AC in our houses any more. A riff on an earlier TreeHugger post.

More: The home of tomorrow will run on direct current

Small fridges make good cities, healthier people

I have been saying the first half of that title for years, but there is also evidence that small fridges don't also make good cities, they make healthier people: "In general, the larger the refrigerator, the more we tend to keep in it. And the more food options there are, the more likely something is to catch your eye as being tasty."

Yet all these new smart efficient fridges just keep getting bigger and bigger.

More at MNN: Small fridges make good cities, healthier people

Why the Google car could change everything

broadacre cityFrank Lloyd Wright: Broadacre City/Public Domain

In 1935 Frank Lloyd Wright listed the three preconditions for Broadacre City, his vision for the future of suburbia and the end of the city as we know it:

  • The motor car: general mobilization of the human being.
  • Radio, telephone and telegraph: electrical inter-communication becoming complete.
  • Standardized machine-shop production: machine invention plus scientific discovery
  • .

And indeed, that is the scenario we appear to be on the cusp of realizing: The Google car to get us around, the Internet of Things to connect us to everything, and digital fabrication to make what we need close to home or even at home on our 3-D printers. The fact is, all of the conditions Wright envisioned are coming into being.

As an urbanist, I worry about this.

More in MNN: Why the Google car could change everything

Philips Hue LEDs take smart bulbs to a whole new level

hue bulbsLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

My wife was so mad at me for spending $200 on three light bulbs, but she loves them now. Other families have thermostat wars; we have color wars.

More on MNN: Philips Hue LEDs take smart bulbs to a whole new level

Whirlpool introduces the smart washer and dryer

whirlpoolWhirlpool/Promo image

Now here is a place where internet connectivity makes a lot of sense. Washers and dryers use a lot of energy and water. In homes with smart meters it makes sense to have them talk to the meter and run when power is cheap. They pump a lot of hot air out through the wall; perhaps they should talk to the furnace and the HRV.

More: Whirlpool introduces the smart washer and dryer

Related Content on