The Future of the Home!!

What if the entire roof and walls of your house are disguised solar panels that generate all your electricity?

What if your house recognizes you and opens the door to let you enter?

Imagine your new house arrives on site and is erected in a matter of days. And it’s so well designed and insulated, it never needs heating or cooling. Imagine not needing to shop for groceries, either, because your fridge and pantry do that for you.

The technology to do all these things is already here. But the difference is, in 20 to 30 years these things are likely to be commonplace as the technology becomes more affordable and accepted. Futurist Dave Wild says “overnight change” typically takes 10 years to play out, and the only slow-moving aspect of new technology is the speed at which people take it up.

“But over time the social norm shifts. At a certain point the technology becomes the normal thing, and the mobile phone is a perfect example.”

And while it’s easy to get excited about the Internet of Things (IoT) that lets all your appliances talk to each other and do the thinking, ordering and cooking for you, the most significant change to our homes will be the “green” ones, says Andrew Eagles, chief executive of the New Zealand Green Building Council.

“By 2030 we will be building zero carbon houses – every new house will be a passive house – and by 2048 we would expect the majority of our 1.8 million existing houses to be at or near carbon neutral.

“Solar power generation and batteries to store unused electricity overnight will be compulsory in every new house. These will provide enough energy to power not only the entire house, but also our electric cars.”

Eagles says New Zealand is part of a global initiative to have every new house meet zero carbon requirements, which will not only minimise or remove the need for heating, but will save the county $6 billion per year in energy costs, health costs and time lost to illness created by damp and mouldy homes.
“Within 10 years, every house listed for sale or for rent will have a mandatory energy performance certificate (EPC), as they now do in Europe, so buyers (and tenants) can make informed choices.”

Eagles says, as the market gradually accepts the idea, it will demand better energy performance, and this in turn will drive homeowners to upgrade existing homes. Improvements to the building code will be a vital part of the big picture

Of course, it’s the quirkier things that grab our attention when we talk about the home of the future – the Internet of Things (IoT), the interactive kitchen benchtop that can also turn into a cooktop, the facial recognition technology that does away with house keys, and the geo-fencing sensors that send us alerts the moment an intruder is detected.

Refrigerators have been getting more intelligent by the day. In time, most refrigerators will have sensors that automatically indicate when food is low, so the fridge can put through its own order to restock.

Of course, there is always the worry that the IoT makes the home ripe for hacking. Less than two years ago, hackers used inter-connected home devices and appliances to bring down popular websites Twitter, Reddit and Spotify.

Ostensibly, any object in the home can be linked to the IoT, be it a child’s toy or a television. Analyst Gartner estimates that 8.4 billion IoT devices were used last year, which is 31 per cent more than the previous year. And that number is expected to reach 20.4 billion in 2020, which is a lot of “connecting”.

Lighting is not exempt. Pierre-Yves Panis, chief design officer at Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), believes we have hardly touched the surface with lighting technology.

“Any light point could host a number of sensors that could collect data to make lighting much more productive and efficient so we get the best light we need at any particular moment.”

Lighting can be designed to observe and respond to circadian rhythms, so it soothes us, wakes us up and makes us more focused as required. It can gather data so it becomes more predictive and intuitive. We’ll be seeing a lot more playful lighting applications that integrate lighting and music, and mood lighting will be big.

Even paint has IoT potential. Already, companies have developed conductive paint for residential use. Simply touch a paint surface on the wall, and the room lights up. Instead of installing a light switch, you can just paint one on the wall. Wild says the IT boffins are continually working out way to improve the way we interact with technology. “It’s far easier to just talk to something than press a lot of buttons (keys) in a search engine,” he says.

Wild says inexpensive technology, already in place, which allows us to ask Google for a recipe, or a question about an eye infection – just as we might ask a doctor – is the way forward. The futurist says this is a far more natural way to interact with the digital world, and we can expect to a proliferation of apps and devices in the home that utilise this technology.

Wild says artificial intelligence needs further careful study. If our homes start to “learn” and react accordingly, we may find appliances and devices making decisions that we are not happy with – locking us out of the refrigerator for example, because the fridge has learned the foods we eat for a mid-afternoon snack are not healthy.

Again, the technology to do this is already here.

And yes, robotics will be much more accessible. Robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers will be commonplace. Robotics will also feature in house construction, and a majority of new houses will come prefabricated, which will create massive cost and energy savings, and provide many health and safety benefits alongside improved quality.

Architect Chris Moller, Grand Designs NZ presenter and board member of PrefabNZ, is optimistic successive governments will have moved to encourage systemic change in the construction industry that will align us with countries such as Sweden. In that country more than 80 per cent of individual houses are prefabricated, not bespoke.

“Prefabrication is a no-brainer. You would have to be a moron not to do it,” Moller says.

“It’s about learning to limit our choices and be more sensible about the need for change. But it won’t be a single big solution. One size doesn’t fit all. But we will be seeing full digitally fabricated buildings, all manufactured off-site and brought together like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Moller also believes Kiwi ingenuity could see us leading the world in the development of prefabricated housing solutions that work, not only for our country, but also for countries with huge populations, such as China, India and South America.

But it’s not just about the house; it’s also about integrated villages, and Moller says you can’t separate one from the other. We will be taking a leaf out of the medieval towns in Europe, which means more dense housing with services on hand, and much less reliance on cars.

We will have become accustomed to living in much closer quarters, with new houses designed to maximise interaction with the street, while still respecting our need for privacy – this is already happening with the new social housing developments throughout the country.

Moller says houses will also be more earthquake resilient and built from lighter materials, with engineered timbers, such as laminated veneer lumber and cross-laminated timber featuring much more prominently. These materials use a lot less carbon over their life cycle than steel and concrete.

Expect also, houses to be designed for the extended family, not just the nuclear family. Increasingly, there will be three generations living together, and there are many New Zealanders already designing houses that bring the entire family together.

Similarly, co-housing schemes, whereby household items are shared, will be more commonplace.

In summary, the experts agree these changes will help minimise wastage, conserve natural resources, make housing more affordable, and improve the physical and mental health of both our families and the wider community