Contest Winners: Technology Caters to E-Lifestyle

Contest Winners: Technology Caters to E-Lifestyle

By John Filippelli

But designers, too, are quickly learning that high-tech amenities can't just be technically advanced to appeal to today's tech-savvy clients they have to make the home more efficient to live and work in, as well.

Jason Knott, editor-in-chief for Framingham, MA-based TecHome Builder magazine, believes that recent technological advances are going to have a huge impact on home design. Some of these new technology trends were illustrated by the winners of the 2004 Innovative Housing Technology Award competition, co-sponsored by the Upper Marlboro, MD-based NAHB Research Center, a subsidiary of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and TecHome Builder.

Knott explains: "The goal [of the competition] was to recognize building technology that builders use to improve their efficiencies while making homes themselves more efficient."

This includes various home products, from Smart thermostats and touchscreen Internet access in the shower to structured wiring and closed circuit security capabilities.

One such item, he notes, is an online design center catalog that a builder can use to load product photos onto his or her own Web site. Consumers can then select amenities they want in their homes.

"We're seeing builders create password-protected Web sites that homebuyers can visit to minimize the amount of time a designer/ salesperson needs to meet with a homebuyer on his selections,"
he says.

He adds that the competition which had seven category winners who were announced at the International Builders Show (IBS) held here in January aimed to focus on issues facing design professionals. "The categories were essentially broken down into two areas the technology that helps the builder improve his efficiency within his company, as well as how he [works] with the consumer, and the technology that is actually installed," he points out.

Distribution center
According to Knott, the use of distributed audio products, or built-in speakers in multiple rooms in the home, is one of the fast-growing trends in terms of home technology. "People want audio, not only in a media room where they are watching television, but they also want to have music built into the walls, such as in kitchens and the bathrooms," he offers.

Knott also notes that this trend has led to an influx of home automation and lighting-control innovations as well. As an example of this, he cites a submission from Home Automation, Inc., which allows a user to control the home lighting, air, heating and blinds all from a remote location.

"It is a complete home control product that allows you to work lighting, window shades, heating and air conditioning using key pads," he notes. "The user could also control the built-in audio and home theater with it, as well."

He continues: "If you're leaving work and know that it will be hot when you get home, you can via the phone or the Internet program an exact time to turn the air conditioning on and turn on the outside lights. This is all coordinated under one control mechanism. It can do the same with your home security system," he adds.

To that end, Knott also cites the iCEBOX Flipscreen box that combines cable-ready television, DVD, CD broadband Internet access and home video monitoring capabilities.

Safe at home
Home security is also an issue in new construction, Knott notes. "One thing I see as a trend is residential Closed Circuit TV and video applications," he says.

"Builders will also put a multi-port jack in homes, like on the porch and in a kid's room to act as a front-door cam or nanny cam," he adds. "There is also a system that enables you to have a camera in your home that can be accessed by outside monitors but cannot be activated unless an alarm sounds."

Building efficiency
For builders seeking to speed up field work, Knott suggests that the winner of the competition's "Back Office and Field Productivity Product" category may reflect one new trend. "The product allows the in-the-field person to ensure a completed punch list of the things that need to be done," he says.

This technology will allow builders to use a palm pilot-like device via codes to track what is unfinished with the project.

"When the person gets back to the office or back to the laptop, he or she can send that information back to the headquarters and it will generate the parts that are needed. It will also generate an additional invoice for all extra items," he adds.

Whether in the office or at home, technology is key to future growth. As he concludes, "Technology is part of the 'electronic lifestyle,' where everything is connected for entertainment purposes but it also makes things easier and safer."