Earlier this year, Plant Prefab, a US prefab construction company, reported its highest ever profit. The company’s stylish homes retail at around $600,000 and saw so much demand in 2020 that they had to turn customers away. Besides being attractive, well designed and eco-friendly, one of the most striking features of these properties is that they are backed by, and fully integrated with, Amazon’s smart home technologies. In recent years we have seen a continual rise in demand for smart homes. But the fact that Amazon is investing in construction companies to build smart homes that fully integrate tech into their designs represents a step-change in the sector.
So, should UK housebuilders be investing in smart home features?
What are smart homes?
Smart homes are properties where systems such as lighting, heating, security and other electronic equipment are connected and centrally managed. Smart home technologies typically connect over Wi-Fi, allowing the user to control many features of their home from a single interface (including on their smartphone). That saves them from moving around the property to manually operate these systems. They can even operate them remotely, without needing to be on the property.
Many different systems can be made ‘smart’. Building a smart home will typically involve including features like:
Operate lights in all rooms or exterior lighting from anywhere. Turn them off or on, or schedule a timed system so that it always looks as though you’re at home.
These systems allow the homeowner to control room temperature remotely (e.g. to start warming up when they’re on the way back from work), and choose the exact temperature in a room.
Many people are familiar with smart speaker devices like Amazon Alexa or Google Nest. Besides providing news updates or radio, these speakers can also be the central hub for controlling other devices and appliances around the home. Residents can use them to give voice commands for things like dimming the lights.
There is a variety of home security devices now available which allow you to do things like view who is at the front door.
Smart smoke/carbon dioxide detectors
Traditional alarms provide a warning for anyone in the house, but if a fire or gas leak begins when you are away, you would not receive any warning. Smart fire and carbon dioxide detectors can send you a text alert wherever you are.
Whether it is televisions, fridge freezers or dishwashers, internet-connected appliances let the manufacturer monitor the health of an appliance. They can then provide alerts to the owner if there appears to be a problem with the machinery. The owner can then send for a technician. Maintenance like this can extend the life span of a product.
At present most smart homes have smart features added after construction. Most of them involve tech enthusiast owners building their own smart environments using these clever devices. But some UK housebuilders are integrating smart technology into the homes they build right from the design stage. What are the benefits of doing so?
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6 smart home benefits for UK housebuilders
Whether you build large volumes of new builds or you design unique custom homes, there are multiple benefits to making them smart:
- Fully integrated smart tech: If the property’s smart features are all planned right from the beginning, the entire system will often work a lot more smoothly and efficiently than if you add the technology later on.
- Smart homes sell faster: Surveys of estate agents suggest that smart homes tend to sell faster than properties without these features.
- Smart homes sell at a premium: Research also shows that customers – especially younger buyers – are willing to pay more for homes that come with smart features.
- Reduce insurance claims: By connecting appliances and home security to the internet, homeowners get alerts of problems early. Research indicates this plays out in a lower number of insurance claims – and potentially lower premiums too.
- More eco-friendly: By giving homeowners greater control over the use of energy and lighting in their properties, smart home technologies could reduce a structure’s energy usage by some 30%. This helps UK housebuilders meet government energy efficiency standards.
- More inclusive: Smart homes are particularly beneficial to people with physical disabilities and the elderly. By being able to see who’s at the door, turn lights on and off without moving or give voice commands, home management becomes much easier.
Issues with building smart homes
While there are clearly many smart home benefits, it is important to consider the challenges too:
- Higher upfront investment: Whether you’re building custom homes or many properties in a development, smart home technology systems can add a significant expense. Installing a complete smart home system can add around 5% to the cost of a build.
- New skills required: Architects and site managers may need to bring in professionals with specialist knowledge of how to build a smart home. That includes giving advice on which devices and software to use.
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- Integration issues: Using smart tech introduces a number of questions around software integration. It is important to use technologies that can easily ‘speak’ to one another. They should also be controlled by a single hub. For example, it would be inconvenient to use multiple mobile apps to control all the different systems in your home. Similarly, whatever system you choose needs to be open to additional connections later. For instance, you may have designed a new build with control of lighting and temperature but the homeowner may want to add a smart doorbell feature later. Your main system needs to be open to this additional connection.
- Security issues: There are serious concerns about the risks of hacking with smart home technology. For example, hackers could see if someone’s heating system had been switched off for a week in deep winter. That might indicate that the property is empty. Burglars could then use this information for targeting unprotected homes. Any smart home system needs to be highly secure.
UK housebuilders should watch this space
The emergence of smart home technologies can no longer be passed off as a fad. Strong sales for this tech show consumers want this technology in their homes. And with major companies like Amazon investing in construction companies like Plant Prefab, there are clear signs that fully integrated smart homes are the future.
Construction companies that build smart homes may gain an edge over the competition by developing expertise in this fast-growing market.
PlanRadar provides innovative software solutions to the construction and real estate industries. Our app is available on all iOS, Android and Windows devices and has helped more than 10,000 customers in over 46 countries to digitise their workflow.