Healthy, Safe, Accessible and Adaptable Homes

Healthy, Safe, Accessible and Adaptable Homes

The Real Estate section of The Washington Post featured an article that caught my eye and formed the basis of my post today. Builders imagine homes of the future — but some of their dreams are available today, by Michele Lerner, describes concepts that homebuilders are considering to make future homes healthier, safer, more accessible & adaptable, and more comfortable to live in & easier to run.

Ever thought about having a dedicated room with an operable opening on the top to accommodate drone deliveries? Or using a 3-D printer to supply hinges for your cabinets? Or imagined your home’s windows adjusting to light and seasons the way your photochromic glasses do: darkening slightly in the summer to reduce heat buildup and fading to black at night for privacy without shades? … Most of the trends expected to affect house designs address consumer’s concerns about healthier living, affordability and adaptability to future lifestyles.

The author spoke to industry visionaries about their plans for smart home technology, flexible floor plans, sustainability, wellness, and factory manufacturing. I urge you to read her article, where I added the following comments.

As a technologist and futurist, I’m glad to see homebuilders thinking ahead, but home design and marketing won’t likely change much unless they figure out how to create and present a “must have” value proposition. They still emphasize visual things that buyers notice first as they enter model homes, such as marble entries, granite countertops, crown molding, rounded corners, and lever doorknobs. Structural elements like engineered roofing trusses, plumbing, insulation, and network infrastructure are ignored unless a trained sales rep promotes them.

Even the most visionary homebuilders have been slow to adapt to changing technologies. That’s why it took so long to get rid of that large hole built into living room walls for a 35” CRT or rear-projection television, even as the tech industry moved to flat and wall-hung plasma, LED, and OLED screens.

It’s refreshing to see Lennar offer a few flexible floor plans with separate entries for adult children, or grandparents, or even rental tenants, as well as KB’s ProjeKt to offer garages that can convert into bedrooms with bath. Flexibility for our increasingly mobile society will be key, as the duration of jobs and even careers gets shorter and people need to move for their next job. Another trend is the move away from owning physical assets (homes, cars, tools) to sharing and renting, and where more people will pay for a lifestyle than property ownership.

Homebuilders have discussed the efficiency of factory manufacturing for decades, but the buying public still associates this with less quality, like doublewide trailers.

Because of our aging population, with 11,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, I’m glad to see more builders talking about accessibility and smart automation to help them age-in-place. But as they select technologies to install in new homes, they must also push for more interoperability among standards and platforms, so Apple iPhone users, for example, can even consider homes built around Android or Amazon Alexa.

Smart home technologies keep getting cheaper, easier to install & use, and better able to support our aging population, so it’s fun to dream about what’s possible. But we should be skeptical of marketing hype that seems too good to be true, because it often is. A case in point is Smart Home market research that says this is The Next Big Thing. They’ve said that for more than 50 years now. To see what I mean, read The Elusive Smart Home, watch the vision demos of LG and Samsung at the Consumer Electronics Show, and compare them with the RCA-Whirlpool Miracle Kitchen from the 1957 World’s Fair.

Still, there are many smart products in different categories that can benefit seniors and their caregivers, including those that CBS recently told us about.

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