To get a clearer picture of the future of smart home technology in the new home building industry, we chatted with Bob Finnigan, the COO of Acquisitions & Housing, Heathwood Homes, and past president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA).
Heathwood Homes built the Green House in 2011/2012 and Finnigan actually uses smart home products in his personal home, so it was great to have the opportunity to pick his brain.
Working alongside Ryerson students, Heathwood’s Green House was like an early version of an energy efficient smart home. The home was built to ENERGY STAR standards, and then they took it to the next level with solar panels and a greywater system.
The Ryerson students installed a monitoring system in the basement to measure the home’s gas, electricity and water use. Six years ago, it cost $50,000 to equip the Green House with all its energy saving and monitoring features.
The interesting thing was that the home turned out to be less energy efficient than a standard ENERGY STAR home.
“It was a lifestyle thing,” says Finnigan. “The homeowners worked from home and left windows open when the A/C was on. You can have all the energy saving gadgets you want, but your lifestyle determines so much. The only item that was better, was the water use with the greywater system.”
Today, a Nest system costs no where near the amount Heathwood spent on their monitoring system. Finnigan uses Nest at home and he has a smart lock and security system. He also monitors his water use. He says he was able to cut back on the water he was using with his sprinkler system in half. While he still monitors this type of home activity, he realizes that the smart home features people want extend beyond monitoring behind the scenes action.
“People have moved from monitoring our homes to wanting full control over our lighting, front door locks, our thermostats. Those are the things people want now. Almost everyone expects to have a programmable thermostat they can control from their phone these days, and video monitoring systems are easy to do.”
But, it doesn’t look like the everyday buyer is asking the builder for these smart home upgrades. If people want these features, they add them later on. It seems like we haven’t reached a point where buyers expect builders to make smart home products an option.
“In the market we’ve had in the last two to three years, it’s been such a frenzy. Such a different sales process,” says Finnigan. “In the initial stages of buying, smart home features aren’t that important. When buyers come to select their extras, that’s when they may ask about it. But people still care more about the hard finishes; countertops, cabinets, flooring, tiles, etc.”
In order for Heathwood to feel comfortable offering smart home features, installation will have to be simple and affordable, and all the features have to communicate seamlessly and be controllable from one device.
“The time when this is possible is not that far down the road,” he says. “As a builder of high quality homes, we want to make sure we give our buyers tech with a long lifespan. Once we feel confident in the technology, it will be easier to offer these products. We don’t want to put stuff in the home that will be dated in two or three years. The products we use need to be good for at least 10 years.”
That’s one of the largest obstacles when it comes to including smart home features in new home projects. The home won’t be built for at least two years, and technology advances so quickly that the smart features the builder includes could be outdated by move-in time.
Until we hit a stage where only software needs to be updated, builders probably won’t include smart home features as standard.