Imagine being woken in the morning not by the blare of an alarm clock but by your curtains opening on cue while your favorite music starts wafting through your home, your favorite television station comes on with the early news, and the coffee begins brewing in the kitchen. Or you’re on your way home from work and beyond hungry. From your car, you set the oven to 350 degrees so it will be ready to pop in a frozen pizza when you arrive. Perhaps you’ve just landed at the airport en route to your lake house. While walking to the car, you turn on the air conditioning (or if it’s your ski house, the heat) along with the inside and outside lights. By the time you pull into the driveway, the temperature is perfect and the house looks lived in and safe.
The smart home is no longer the home of the future. It is here now. From your kitchen to your den, from door locks to lighting, every device in your home has, or will soon have, a computer or app as its base of operation.
“Home automation is a big buzz right now,” says Glenn Midnet, President and CEO of Design West, an upscale interior design firm based in Naples, Fla., and designer of the 2015 Golf Dream Home at Talis Park. “It’s a trend with substance that has practical implications to enhance peoples lives.”
There’s An App For That
Nearly all home automation revolves around intelligent technology controlled by a smartphone. “People can’t seem to live without their cell phones,” says Midnet. “The beauty of the new technology is that it makes it easy because they have their cell phones with them all the time. It’s always in their hand.” Rick Montgomery, President of RF Designs in Eatonton, Ga., concurs. “What we are seeing in luxury homes over and over is control with apps on smartphones,” he says. “You can control security systems, the home’s climate, audio systems, and lighting, which is becoming a very big thing.”
While some smart-home technology might seem straight out of The Jetsons, the new technology is pervasive in new homes no matter where they fall in the price universe.
“Smart technology is no longer just for high-end homes,” says Gary Pierotti, owner of Camden Homes in Greensboro, Ga., one of the builders in Reynolds Lake Oconee’s Signature Home program. “Just like you wouldn’t buy a car without Bluetooth technology, it’s getting that way with the home. You are getting the technology whether you want it or not. You may as well take advantage of it. When we install an oven today, it immediately starts looking for a network to connect to.”
Lights! Music! Ambience!
Technology allows us to have nearly complete control of how our home works and feels. “A lot of lifestyle scenes can be created with the new technology,” says Midnet, “all integrated, synchronized, and easily controlled by the smartphone in your hand.”
The two most popular smart systems are distributed audio and controlled lighting. “Lighting control—which solves the problem of a big trek through the home to turn lights on and off—and whole-home audio are what our customers like and comment on the most,” says Montgomery.
Driving both technologies are convenience and reducing wall clutter. “Now you can control lights and music with a device the size of a single switch,” says Montgomery. “Because no one is going to walk around and adjust eight to 10 dimmers, the only time the lighting in a home was exactly how you wanted was when you were entertaining. Now you can select the mode you want—entertaining, day, evening—and have all the lights the way you want them. And because these devices are connected to the Internet and an astronomical clock that automatically adjusts for Daylight Savings Time and seasonal changes in sunset, you never have to manually adjust your settings.”
The same goes for music. “All the music in the world is at your fingertips with audio streaming services,” says Montgomery. Pandora, Amazon Music, Rhapsody, Google Play Music, Apple Music, and countless others allow configuring playlists that match every occasion or mood. And thanks to Bluetooth speakers and Wi-Fi networks, music can play in specific rooms or through the whole house, all controlled by an app on your smartphone or tablet.
What You Need To Know
If all this has your head spinning, take heart. Convenience and simplicity are as important as technology. “Years ago, customers wanted the latest and greatest technology,” says Montgomery. “Now, ease of use is key. We can make it so every TV in the house works exactly the same.” If you can swipe a finger across a smart- phone, you can take control of nearly every system in your home. But there are a few things to know before you get started.
Choose wired. Pierotti and Montgomery agree it is better to be wired than wireless, something best done when constructing a home. “It is more important than ever to have a strong, wired network in your home,” says Pierotti. “The network is the conduit to all the devices. While there are still some limitations with bandwidth, there are no limitations with wired.” Montgomery adds that pre-wiring doesn’t cost big dollars, either. “Even though everything is wireless, when you start talking about 4,000-6,000 square feet of space, it gets difficult to run everything through Wi-Fi. We prefer TVs wired to a platform.”
Pay attention to bandwidth. We’ve all experienced excruciatingly slow service on home computers. With so many devices using bandwidth to run your home, it is more important than ever to have enough speed—or more than enough. “From a new construction standpoint, we are seeing the trend of planning for bandwidth capacities of the future,” says Pierotti.
Look for smart devices. “You’d be remiss if you didn’t ask, ‘Is there a smart version?’ when installing any device or appliance in your home,” says Pierotti. While you don’t necessarily need to hire a tech consultant, at the very least, in every aspect of building your home ask how you can take advantage of smart technology.
Entertaining Indoors and Out
Golf communities are usually located where you can play nearly year round. “Outdoor living is such a big category now, especially in Florida, Arizona, California, and anywhere the weather is conducive most of the year,” says Midnet. “It’s not just barbecue. You can be dining on the patio and control the music and turn on the Jacuzzi without ever leaving the table.”
The TV is moving outdoors, too. Gus Rubio, of Gabriel Builders, Custom Home Builder of the Year in Las Vegas for 2015, says outdoor living areas featuring retractable screens hidden in the walls and operated by remote control are becoming popular. In cold-weather climates, you can wait indoors while you open the cover to an exterior spa with your phone and walk on a heated pathway to the tub.
Back indoors, television watching has evolved. “Media rooms that you can watch two to three football games at the same time on multiple flat screens are the big thing,” says Montgomery. “These rooms are as much for sports as movies.” Rubio says it is not unusual for owners to spend $200,000 on rooms that rival movie theaters and have a projection system hidden in the walls.
Going Into Vacation Mode
“Vacation mode” is an important aspect of smart technology’s practical use. For many, golf homes are second homes that are only occupied part of the year. But available technology allows owners to remotely check the weather where their homes are located, use climate control systems to shut a home down or get it ready for arrival, check if a refrigerator door has been left open, and be alerted when temperature and water-intrusion sensors detect a problem.
For Keith Kelly, architect and principal at Kelly & Stone Architects based in Truckee, Calif., who has designed more than 30 homes at Martis Camp high above Lake Tahoe, climate and location heavily influence the use of technology. The ultraviolet rays are so strong at Martis Camp (elevations at the community range from 5,900 to 7,100 feet) that Kelly’s firm installs many technology-controlled, integrated shades. “Up here it’s a necessity,” says Kelly. “The shades help with heat control, privacy, and to put the home in vacation mode when the owner isn’t there.” Some systems even track the movement of the sun and automatically react by lowering shades.
Protecting Your Home
In home security, one of the biggest advances is the easy availability of low-cost, high-end cameras that allow the owner to keep an eye on his home and make it appear occupied from anywhere in the world. “Not just cameras, but HD megapixel cameras,” says Billy Francis of Priority One Security in Greenville, S.C. “The average family can use interactive cameras for a couple of hundred dollars. For several thousand, you can put in something like Avigilon’s high-end megapixel camera systems.”
Security options vary with lifestyle. Employing a nanny? “Nanny cams” allow you to check in remotely. Latchkey children need systems they can easily disarm and that send parents a text when the kids get safely inside, says Francis; parents can follow up by checking the security cameras through their smartphones. Away from home for extended periods? Exterior cameras provide both protection and prevention: In the event of a security breach, the cameras document and create evidence.
Home isn’t just where you hang your hat: It’s where you do almost everything. The most luxurious homes are incorporating exercise areas with steam rooms and saunas, kitchens with appliances that rival five-star restaurants, even charger stations for electric cars. Our phones know when we’re not at home and automatically put our house into energy-saving mode. What could possibly be on the horizon? Don’t be surprised. “I have a commode that flushes itself,” says Pierotti. “Do I need it? No. But when you start seeing toilets being smart, there’s no end.”