House & Home

Moving up to a smart home

Posted May 10, 2014
Updated May 28, 2014

Commercial Photography by Michael Baxter & Jeff Noble.

Technology is advancing more rapidly than a speeding train.

In 1946, Dick Tracy used his smartwatch to communicate with headquarters and we considered it pure fantasy. Today wrist watch computers are a reality, linking to your smartphone to view texts, emails, Facebook or Twitter updates.

Judy Jetson touched a few buttons to cook dinner in the 1962 cartoon depiction of a futuristic family living in 2062. Today dinner can be microwaved with the push of a button and be ready in five minutes. In Star Trek, a replicator was used to synthesize meals on demand. Who knows if that will be on the market tomorrow?

Wireless technology is making it possible for homeowners to use interfaces like their smartphones or iPads to monitor and control the technology in their homes. Once wired or connected wirelessly into a central data center in the home, systems including climate control, security, lighting, home appliances, audio-visual systems, even healthcare and assisted living systems can be monitored from any room in the house, inside or outside, or from any outside location.

The homeowner can customize the system to include as much of his technology as he wants—set light levels for entertaining, close blinds at specific times of the day, turn on or off outside lights. Have trouble with cell phone reception in some areas of the home? Technology can tie the smartphone into the home’s landline so that reception is as good as the landline anywhere in the house.

This technology is not just a new toy (let’s face it — it’s the ultimate remote for men!). These systems let you monitor when your kids come home from school, whether or not you turned off the stove, if the baby is still sleeping in the nursery, if the garage door is closed or the front door locked. You can even get alerts when the garage door opens and closes, turn on lights if you are coming home late at night, adjust thermostat controls while away, close window shades, unlock the door to let in guests or service people. Video streaming, email/text/voice alerts, and spoken commands are also available for these systems.

Ideas of home automation and embedded control systems first began to gain ground in 1998 and have grown in quantum leaps ever since. According to a new research report, the number of new smart home installations reached over two million in 2013, an increase of 66 percent from the previous year, and the number of installations is expected to increase to over 12 million by 2017.

Home buyers of all age groups for whom technology is basic to their business and social lives are asking about smart homes. Cost is not a prohibitive issue if they want the technology bad enough. The added convenience to their lives is the deciding factor.


“Home buyers today are certainly more sophisticated when it comes to technology,” stated Ryan Wells, President of Meritage Homes, “but they are concerned with energy efficiency as well. While the demographics are all over the place as to age, price of home, and type of buyer, more and more people use their smartphones as their portal to life. They want remote access to thermostat controls, security alerts, lighting controls, door locks, garage openings and closings, even appliance controls. While the addition of these amenities may add $5,000 to the cost of their new home, the money is returned to them in energy efficiency savings and future salability of their home.”


Duke Energy’s new smart grid helps homeowners to manage energy use and costs better than ever. The new grid will mean the homeowner can track exactly which appliances and equipment are costing him the most in energy use, letting him make changes to save on costs. Plus he'll be able to program his heating and cooling system, dishwasher, water heater and other appliances for greater efficiency. Smart meters will not only provide more instant information both to the power provider and the homeowner but will supply the power company with instant knowledge of power outages. No longer will energy representatives need to come on the property to read meters, only for occasional servicing.


Smart appliances have appeared on the market offering homeowners unparalleled access to their usage. Now with the smartphone one can monitor washer cycle selections, remaining time and finishing alerts, start or pause it from anywhere in the house, and receive texts or emails when wash or dry cycles are over or when the fridge door has been left open. If something’s wrong (like low water pressure to your washer or a power outage at your fridge), you are notified. “Our customers are looking for the touchscreen amenity in appliances,” said Christine Tingen, Showroom Sales Manager for Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery. “We sell smart ovens that when you put in the kind of meat you are cooking and how many pounds it weighs, it will automatically cook it at the proper temperature and for the proper length of time. 

There are smart refrigerators that automatically fill your glass to the level you want. There are bathroom mirrors with a television built in so you can watch tv while you are putting on your makeup.” Some of these features are only on high end appliances but others are becoming standard on all models. Sophisticated buyers are looking for added convenience and time-saving options.


For some technology can be intimidating. Just when one has become adept at using a smartphone, the new model comes out with new enticing features that require user training all over again. However, somehow even elementary school children are able to manage the complex learning curve needed to make use of devices like iPads and smartphones. Younger generations certainly have the advantage over older ones, but everyone has to accept the advent—and the advantages—that technology has brought to everyday lives. If a nine-year-old can figure it out, so can a senior citizen! Designers of these technologies work hard to make the touchscreens or smartphone applications user friendly. Technology should enhance your life, not complicate it.


Future homes will have features that can only be imagined now, that are swimming around in the complex minds of engineers everywhere. Advanced network systems will bring self-diagnostics which warn homeowners of malfunctioning parts of the network, even automatically send out a repair order. Software problems in the system can be healed with downloads or remote support. Refrigerators will list their contents, the expiration date, and suggested recipes, even send cooking instructions to the oven. Pantries will keep an inventory and remind homeowners to restock items, even order them for them for home delivery from local stores.

And who will be buying them? These nine year olds who are whizzing through the features on their iPad or Tablet, whose understanding of the computer and its capabilities is fundamental to their lives, who have no fear about stretching their knowledge and usage of technological applications, who grasp these new devices eagerly. For them the inclusion of these amenities in their homes will be expected and fully understood. For them only a dinosaur stands at the front door with a key.


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