How could technology benefit new build homes?
Technology has changed how we drive, making driving safer, less costly, more environmentally friendly, easier, more pleasurable. It has reduced fuel consumption and the amount we spend to get from A to B, carbon emissions have been reduced and it is less likely that we will be injured or die in an accident or that our cars will be stolen.
Innovation in the car industry
Look back over the last forty years and think about how many innovations and changes have been made to the car you drive.
Probably the biggest change is how much technology there is available from your wing mirrors being motorised to checking your engine when anything goes wrong. Your car can tell you when a tyre’s pressure is low, how much petrol you have left and how far you can still drive, if you left your door open, when you need a service. Some cars can parallel park themselves. Most cars have USB or Bluetooth to pair your phone. Voice commands allow you to verbally give directions to your car.
Automative manufacturers have made changes responding to the driver’s requirements that make cars safer, reduce fuel consumption, made them more environmentally friendly, have made the cars harder to steal and generally made them easier and more fun and entertaining to drive.
In short, features and technology have been added that consumers want and that convince them to pay a premium to own the very latest and greatest new cars.
Safety has become a major differentiating factor for car manufacturers (think Volvo). Simple things like seat belts have become standard. Most cars have ABS braking and at least four airbags. Some cars are prototyping exterior airbags to prevent collision damage and injuries to pedestrians. Cars have accident avoidance features such as radar based cruise control, collision warning systems and blind spot recognition.
As a result, the annual figures for people dying in car crashes in England and Wales have fallen dramatically from 7,499 deaths in 1970 down to 1,782 in 2018. Injuries have also fallen from 356,000 to 160,378 despite the fact that the number of cars on the road and road traffic journeys have increased.
Fuel economy and the environment
Fuel economy didn’t matter 10 years ago. The average price of petrol and diesel was lower, so having a car with a high mpg rating wasn’t considered so important. As energy prices have increased, and the impact of climate change has become more apparent, so cars have become more fuel efficient to meet consumer demand and preferences. Fuel economy and climate change have become such a major factor that electric vehicles have emerged as a rapidly growing market segment with new electric only entrants challenging the established manufacturers (think Tesla).
There has been a 32% decrease in fuel consumption on petrol cars from 2000 to 2016. Most air pollutants have more than halved since 1990, while particulate matter has reduced by 40%. Consumers are actively and rapidly moving to electric vehicles with new registrations of plug-in cars increasing from 3,500 in 2013 to more than 223,000 by the end of July 2019.
Security and Theft
Cars have burglar alarms and built-in immobilisers as standard. Some cars have GPS tracking systems integrated to track them when they are stolen. The result? Official police-recorded figures for car theft fell from more than 1.5 million a year in 1992 to 407,000 in 2017.
Ease of use and Convenience
Our cars are easier to use than ever before. Most drivers only know what it’s like to press a button to raise and lower the window in their cars, but before 2000 electric windows were still a luxury. Ford introduced a feature called Quickclear that used heated elements to clear fogged or frozen windows and now all car makers have the functionality as standard. Drivers are used to having a remote fob to open their car remotely. Key-less ignition has been used in luxury cars for some time, but even smaller cars now have the system.
Entertainment and Multimedia
Cars have had entertainment systems as standard for a long time but cassette and CD players and analogue radio are being replaced in favour of USB and Bluetooth connections, digital radio, apps and wireless technology. Navigation systems were once considered a luxury option. Ten years ago, having a navigation system in your car cost £2000. Today, the majority of new cars have a navigation system that comes as standard.
Innovation in the house building industry
Now think about how our new homes have changed over the last 20, 30, 40 years. What technology is available in our new homes today? More importantly, what could be added that would make our homes more environmentally friendly, would reduce energy consumption and mitigate the ever increasing energy bills, would make our homes safer, make them less likely to be broken in to, make them more comfortable, easier to use, more fun, more entertaining?
Sure, there are changes that have been made over time such as better insulation, double glazing and new boilers that have made houses more efficient today than they used to be.
But these changes have been driven by regulations and legislation rather than innovation in its own right or addressing consumer needs and preferences.
There is a lot more that could be done.
What could our intelligent homes be like?
Our homes would run on electric, low energy heating systems and will know when we are away and automatically turn off lights and heating to save energy, without us having to do anything. They would be gas-free ‘net-zero’ homes that generate as much energy in a year as they consume, effectively reducing energy bills and carbon emissions to almost nothing.
Burglar alarms would be fitted as standard. We would open a home without having to get a key out. We would use video cameras to see when a delivery person comes home, no matter where we are, and provide a one time code for them to safely deliver our shopping. Our home will give us a warning when we have left a window open and turn on lights and close blinds automatically when we are away, reducing break-ins.
Smoke detectors would have advanced features like turning on the lights in the event of a fire at night. Carbon monoxide and air quality detectors would automatically warn of danger and open windows and sprinkler systems that put out fires automatically would be installed reducing the number of deaths due to fire and smoke.
We would use our voice to turn on the lights in the kids bedroom in the morning (and off at night), to adjust the temperature, to order pizzas or taxis, get the news or weather forecast. We will be able to listen to music via speakers built-in through-out the home, making our homes more fun and entertaining.
An opportunity for forward thinking house builders?
All of this technology and more is available today and could be added to homes, delivering the same sorts of benefits as we have seen in cars in terms of reducing the number of deaths, reducing break-ins, reducing energy consumption and costs and making homes more convenient, fun and entertaining. And given the fact that consumers are buying this technology already, there is clearly a latent demand for it to be built in to new homes.
Car manufacturers innovate by offering the technology as standard in higher end models or optional in standard models and look to see what consumers want and are willing to pay for. It allows them to differentiate their offering and command a higher price based on the value-add to the customer. Everyone knows a 7 series is better than a 3 series and that they have to pay more to buy it. Is there any reason why this could not be applied to homes with higher end house types offering more advanced features and benefits and selling for a higher price?
Some car manufacturers build their brands on specific differentiators like having the safest cars, or the most fuel efficient cars, the best electric cars, the best driving cars or the most technologically advanced cars (I am sure we could all recognise at least one or two of those brands). Would any of us be able to say who has the safest houses, the most efficient houses or all electric houses?
Opportunities exist for forward thinking house builders and property developers to take a similar approach to innovation in the home and differentiate themselves, their brand, their developments and their homes from the rest of the market by offering features and functionality that buyers want, expect and are willing to pay for.