Architects and home technology must mix

Home technology is a topic that architects have heard a lot about over the past 30 years. It’s part of a conversation that has occurred parallel to that of green building and sustainability, but somehow home technology hasn’t gained the same foothold within our residential designs.

Most architects are knowledgeable and conversant on energy-saving design and can lead their clients through a maze of options. The features are well-integrated in our designs and well-documented in our drawings. However, as a whole our profession has left the nuts and bolts of home technology to third parties. It’s reflected in our lack of specificity on implementation in our construction documents.

In today’s custom home design and construction process, it’s typically the technology subcontractor that deals directly with the client, usually during the construction phase. As architects we’ve left that area of design details and specifications to the installer, or others, to deal with during the construction process. Being disengaged in this process means we’re neither learning nor contributing to the final solutions and implementations, which also generally is true of the builder. It’s no wonder architects continue to be less than informed about the latest and greatest in home technology.

This disconnect by the architect has long-reaching effects on the project. It typically results in longer construction time; retrofits and even demolition during initial construction; untold change orders; and a high degree of frustration that can corrode even the best of client relationships. All of this happens before the interior designer shows up with a new wave of change orders, remodels and retrofits, as electrical and lighting requirements are remapped to accommodate furnishings, artwork placement, integration of TVs, window treatments, etc. With proper planning, most of this is avoidable.

It is imperative that the architect insist on bringing in the technology consultants during the design stage and keep them engaged through the construction document phase. Unfortunately, many architects and designers are reticent to bog down their client, already overwhelmed with design decisions, with even more decisions at this stage. But this will produce chaotic results during construction and is the same mistake, as I mentioned in my most recent article, of not bringing in the interior design team member early in the process.

Architects must find the means by which to educate themselves on home technology, bringing themselves current with the options and how-tos so that as informed professionals, they can integrate this information into their plans and specs. This will in turn enable the builder to obtain adequate bids and keep the project within budget and on schedule.

I have found that a good resource for information is the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, which is the trade association for electronics and technology contractors. CEDIA has created alliances with NAHB, AIA/CRAN and ASID to educate builders, architects and interior designers on technology trends as well as the latest information about products and design solutions. One area I have found very handy, in addition to the list of consultants and installers, are the anticipated drawing symbols being developed and approved by the technology industry to be used for identifying locations of components for security, home automation, audio/visual distribution, HVAC controls, lighting controls and more. These symbols are expected to be ready for use in 2013.

By educating yourself about home technology, you can become the resident expert, educate your clients and guide them through the maze of options and complexities inherent in this changing field, and better coordinate your work with the technology design consultants and installers. You can grow your residential practice and become the architect consultant on the latest and greatest in high-tech design. And, you can distinguish your work from that of your peers, building a more secure practice for your future. It’s a win-win for you, for the builder and the interior designer, and for your satisfied clients.