With a slowing Chinese economy, an unpredictable presidential campaign and our stock market off to one of its worst starts in history — the Consumer Electronics Show, the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and the International Builders Show all burst onto the scene with refreshing confidence in January. And at each exhibition, the unifying factor was that smart home technology was the major focus. There were no shortage of innovative home products promising that our homes will be destined to become even smarter, safer, greener and overall more interactive. Smart home technology is not a trend. It’s a development with advances being made exponentially. Where function regularly and spectacularly trumps form.
A survey conducted by Coldwell Banker Real Estate found that nearly half of all Americans either own or plan to own smart home technology in 2016. John Webster, Director of Residential New Construction for Lennox Industries explained that by 2020, there may be as many as 30 billion products that will be connected; he even goes on to claim, that every product above $100 will be developed as a “smart” product. And don’t think that smart home technology is just for early adopters and millennials. The demographic who currently uses or plans to use smart home technology ranges from the highly educated to the average Joe, as well as those from various socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups. The verdict is out: Smart homes are the future, and the future is now.
Smart appliances are changing the way people invest time in the kitchen. While cooking is very much a hands-on activity, smart appliances allow homeowners to allocate their time more efficiently while providing detailed control, energy-conservation and self-reliance. Samsung, Whirlpool and Bosch all have created smart appliances that connect both via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth… allowing users to control flexibility and long-term cost. The Samsung Family Hub, a smart fridge, comes with an internal camera and a 21.5-inch touchscreen that can be loaded with apps which connect family calendars across devices. What’s more, the appliance can play music via Pandora or Bluetooth (through built-in speakers), display pictures and broadcast television. Samsung also released a Wi-Fi oven that allows users to remotely monitor the cooking process, allowing the homeowner to turn on and off, or to change temperatures with timers and notifications received directly to their phone.
Whirlpool teamed up with Nest, Amazon and Procter & Gamble to bring users a smart kitchen and laundry suite that can be controlled remotely. With the integration of the Whirlpool mobile app featuring “Works with Nest,” Amazon can estimate when an account is running low on supplies and the dishwasher, washer and dryer can all automatically order detergent through a direct ship replenishment. The innovative brand also allows users to donate a pre-determined amount of money to Habitat for Humanity with every load washed, if they so choose. To top it all off, the Swash (a partnership with Procter & Gamble) can de-wrinkle, refresh, restore fit and preserve clothing — all in 10 short minutes. Bosch also has introduced a suite of smart appliances that can be controlled remotely via a smartphone or tablet… each communicating with one another to ensure efficiency. And the product range is not limited to a mere refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, washer and dryer. There’s even a smart blender and lawn mower.
Smart Home Security
Smart home security is one of the fastest-growing areas in the building products industry — allowing homeowners intimate control and surveillance of their homes from anywhere in the world — making it easier than ever to connect and control various devices from one central hub. Smart locks can give one the ability to remotely lock and unlock their home while monitoring entrances and exits… even allowing the assignment of codes that can be tailored to operate only during certain times. Both Brinks (Array) and Kiwkset (Premis) debuted smart locks that connect to Apple HomeKit or Google Brillo and Samsung’s SmartThings. And keyless entries are just the beginning, as users are now empowered to create fully integrated environments, including programming lights and HVAC to turn on automatically when the front door is opened. Lilin Smart Home Surveillance has smart locks that come with a camera that allows users to view who is at the door from any smart device. It also has a trip-wire sensor that provides users the ability to draw lines across the camera’s image that will be triggered when crossed.
FirstAlert released its Onelink and Carbon Monoxide Alarm, a HomeKit-compatible smoke and carbon monoxide detector that allows users to monitor events in the home remotely… including testing the device, silencing alarms and receiving notifications. Perhaps best of all, it hosts a 10-year battery life.
Saving Money Can Be A Smart Luxury
A one-time investment in smart products promises long-term return-on-investment with savings on various utilities. Hunter Smart Fans are now able to connect with Apple HomeKit so that homeowners can remotely program their fans or lights to turn on when arriving home, and turn off when leaving. Or via a smart thermostat that automatically helps to keep the cost of heating and cooling down. Speaking of thermostats, Lux/Geo has designed a smart device that can be controlled via Android or iOS. This new product comes in around $100 (Note: less than Google’s popular Nest). Frigidaire Cool Connect Room Air Conditioner is another device aimed at money savings that connects to wi-fi for the flexibility to be controlled remotely. From the Frigidaire app, users can turn the unit on and off, change temperature or create custom schedules and adjust fan speeds
Plumbing fixtures were certainly no stranger to the smart revolution. Rheem’s EcoNet Water Heater found another unique way to save homeowners money by allowing controls to place the water heater in energy-efficient operating mode, or by choosing “home” or “away” settings by remote app. Even showers are now being re-designed to save homeowners money. Consider the Hydrao Smart Showerhead that has been designed to save water by changing colors, indicating how much water has been used. In fact, the light itself is powered by water running through the showerhead. The original Hydrao reduced water usage by 25% and the brand’s next-gen smart showerhead is expected to save as much, if not more.
While on the subject… never underestimate the power of a good shower, especially if it is the Kohler DTV+ Shower. This interactive smart shower brings together water, sound, steam and light to create the ultimate shower spa experience. With a touchscreen interface that records preferences, users can control every aspect: precision temperature, timing and even coordination between shower components that target energy, well-being and relaxation.
Albeit with a bit less fanfare, TOTO offers one of the world’s most luxurious self-cleaning toilets. The Toto Washlet features a lid that opens automatically, heated seat, deodorizers that gradually absorb odors, and a water nozzle as well as a dryer. What makes the Washlet even more significant is that it delivers ”ewater+” and ”actilight” technology to clean the toilet after every use.
I predict it won’t be long before toilets will soon be so smart that they will measure our waste for medical testing and wellness much like a FitBit — and with Big Brother just over the horizon — to even integrate with your doctor or insurance carrier!
While the possibilities are endless, one thing is clear: Smart devices will continue to allow the ability to create customized and fully integrated experiences for homes and their owners.
Take the Laundroid for example. Seven Dreamers Laboratories, Panasonic and Daiwa House have teamed together to bring to life a laundry-folding robot. Amazingly, it takes the Laundroid approximately five minutes to fold a single shirt. By 2020 the Laundroid is projected to evolve into a fully integrated home solution. Imagine dirty clothes chutes throughout the house, where soiled garments can be dropped off. Then the robot will wash, dry, fold and place the clothes back in the closet.
Smart Home and Building Products will continue to emerge that promise to make life easier. From saving money to saving time, smart homes will evolve to give homeowners more control than ever. The market momentum is growing as homeowners see the possibilities and advantages attached to these various innovative products. The demand is here, and companies everywhere are striving to get ahead of it. Smart homes aren’t the future. As these three trade shows punctuated, smart homes are very much the present.
Yes, we have finally morphed into the world that the Jetsons cartoon show promoted would be the future, from its 1962 vantage point. Minus the flying car—at least, for now.