ICON — Fall 2014
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Getting Smart<br /> <br /> TODAY’S RESIDENCES USE A NEW GENERATION OF HIGH-TECH DEVICES THAT CAN RUN YOUR ENTIRE HOME<br /> <br /> For thousands of years prior to the 20th century, regulating a home’s temperature was a matter of throwing another log on the fire. To our parents and grandparents, cutting-edge technology meant having a simple bi-metal thermostat that set a single temperature. In today’s homes, however, every operation can be continuously monitored and controlled with the touch of a smartphone — not just managing our needs but even anticipating them.<br /> <br /> Although home automation has existed in the luxury market for many years, a combination of new technologies, easier installation and operation, and lower costs are helping the industry grow to an expected $14.1 billion in worldwide revenues by 2018, according to market research firm ABI, with nearly 19 million devices shipped per year.<br /> <br /> In the past, designers haven’t always been responsible for choosing thermostats or other home technologies (usually the province of electricians and HVAC technicians), but today’s clients increasingly come to designers with questions about how a smart home may fit their needs, dreams, and wallets. To answer those questions, designers are becoming knowledgeable about everything from smart thermostats to appliances that connect to the Internet.<br /> <br /> Thermostats <br /> <br /> Today, budding companies like Nest as well as venerable providers like Honeywell have made thermostat regulation both more intelligent and easy to use, with digital interfaces similar to smartphones or tablets. “Nest has actually become the Trojan horse of the smart home by being a better thermostat,” says Sean Madden, executive managing director of the Portland, Ore.-based industrial design firm Ziba. “When you get a Nest, you think, why didn’t it always work this way?” Introduced in 2011, Nest was the first product that could learn its users’ preferences and set temperatures correspondingly, resulting in an estimated 20 percent reduction in heating and cooling bills.<br /> <br /> Not to be outdone, Honeywell released the Lyric, which doesn’t just predict a user’s temperature needs and schedule but instead tracks individuals by their phones, using a technology called geofencing to signal when the heating or cooling should turn on or of based upon whether or not anyone is home or on their way.<br /> <br /> Security <br /> <br /> In many ways, security led the way to smarter homes in past decades with digital devices connected to online monitoring systems. But now a growing number of companies have taken an extra step: August and Kwikset both sell smartphone-operated locks that replace traditional locks and deadbolts, providing keyless access to homeowners through Bluetooth phone-recognition technology. Residents can customize and monitor who gains entry from their smartphones, and they can even use such monitoring technology to keep track of other activities inside the house, such as Internet and light usage. If your kids are watching YouTube under the sheets instead of sleeping, for example, you can be alerted. Traditional cable and satellite TV providers such as Comcast and DirecTV also provide these services through existing entertainment packages.<br /> <br /> Smartphone-enabled security alarms such as Canary also can be connected to smart lights from companies like LIFX. These lights can change the color of their illumination or begin flashing to alert homeowners of an intruder. Or if you just want to check who’s at the door, products such as the SkyBell doorbell allow homeowners to video-chat with visitors who ring the bell, even if the homeowners are not physically at home. While on vacation, you can pair lighting control and video entry with mechanized shades like the app-controlled Hunter Douglas PowerRise.<br /> <br /> Kitchens <br /> <br /> Not to be outdone, next generation refrigerators are also getting smarter. LG’s latest generation of fridges connects wirelessly to the Internet to help users track expiration dates to let them know when food is about to go bad, even when they’re away from home, through an accompanying smartphone app. LG fridges introduced this year can even order food from an online grocery store.<br /> <br /> While you’re in the kitchen, why not use a screen embedded into the digital-wall backsplash? You can cook along with TV chefs, check a security-camera feed, or help kids with their homework without ever leaving the room.<br /> <br /> Above all, though, the future of smart homes isn’t about any one device so much as the interconnectedness of them all. Take software like Qualcomm’s AllJoyn, introduced in 2011, which allows the spectrum of smart-home devices to talk to one another. And thanks to the popularity of Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, the next trend may be voice or even gesture-enabled controls. Soon a human-sounding voice will be the interface with every aspect of a home, like a maid or butler anticipating your every need.<br /> <br /> The key, says Ziba’s Madden, is to make life easier without taking it over. “There’s this sense that technology can drive the human out of the experience,” he says, “so the question is, how do you drive the human into it? It needs to be empowering.”<br /> <br /> Brian Libby is a Portland, Ore.-based journalist, critic, and photographer covering architecture, design, and visual arts. He has contributed to The New York Times, Metropolis, Salon, Dwell, and Architectural Record, among others, and writes the popular Portland Architecture blog.