Designing Smart, and Not Just Green
In 2021, homes should be created to make homeowners healthy and happy
By Bill Ramsey
Wellness in the home, home automation and sustainable living have all been topics of conversation over the last few years, but with the impact of COVID-19 there has been an increased focus on how people want to live in their homes. With extra thought and care, we as design and building professionals can deliver homes that better fit the needs of today and into the future. It is no longer just about the number of points on a green rating scale.
We looked at the “everyday entry,” which is an area of the home that the residents use multiple times per day; conversely, it may be several days before they use their front door. The everyday entry is so much more than just a portal between the garage and living spaces. To provide the most functionality, we try to provide a “mud room” but its value is not climate specific. It’s a place for the things people use daily such as backpacks, sports equipment, pets, and the need for coat hooks, shoe storage and more. This space should be easily customized to the needs and lifestyle of the homeowner. It could be used for storage, organization or as a “Costco” pantry. Other uses could include a pet washing station and/or a home security station.
Integrating smart home technology into this space is extremely helpful as it is the first, or last, point of contact with the house. The ability to connect the home to smart technology by voice commands has improved over the years and can often help the homeowner save money on energy costs as well as live better in the home. The internet has given rise to the ability for a homeowner to control the thermostat, clocks, speakers, lights, doorbells, door locks, garage doors, surveillance cameras, windows, window coverings, water heaters, appliances, pet feeders and more. A WiFi-enabled outlet plug that can be controlled by a mobile app and works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri voice commands can help create the necessary links that are not already WiFi-enabled.
For example, I have my entire house set up to work off of Alexa with a speaker right by the door. We do our best to turn off the lights and TV before we leave the house, but telling Alexa to turn these off as we exit the house (with two young, twin boys in tow), ensures that no lights are accidentally left on. We also might tell Alexa to run the Roomba® (robot vacuum cleaner) in our absence. When we get home (or even before we get home), we can use geofencing to turn up or down the thermostat. Alexa has become a “butler” for us at our coming and going point.
Another feature is the use of motion-detecting lights, especially in secondary spaces. These save money and energy in a real-life application. For example, lights with sensors are perfect for the times when kids (or grandkids) leave lights on in the bathroom or closet. Motion-detecting lights can also be very helpful when walking into a dark garage or a pantry when hands are filled with groceries.
“I am confident the concerns surrounding COVID won’t be with us forever, but it has brought to light several concepts that will stick with us.”
I am confident the concerns surrounding COVID won’t be with us forever, but it has brought to light several concepts that will stick with us. One thing that I am sure will remain is the desire for increased sanitation, especially as one enters the home. Think of how easy it would be for the residents to wash their hands before entering the home (or before entering the main living areas) if there was a small sink in the garage near the entry or immediately inside the house in the mud room? Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others, a small thing that can have a big impact on the family’s health for years to come.
Furthermore, we expect to see the acceleration of more “hands-free” technology included throughout the home. Kohler offers both touchless faucets and toilets, for example. Moen has a voice-activated faucet interfaced with Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant to turn the water on or off, as well as dispense precise measurements and temperatures. GE offers Wi-Fi enabled appliances and LG has a smart sensor at the bottom of its refrigerator that projects a “door open” image on the floor and, when you step on it, the door gently opens.
As A. J. Reb Materi said, “So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health.” Therefore, let’s reach for better and create homes that assist homeowners and families live healthier, happier lives.
Bill Ramsey, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, is a principal with KTGY Architecture + Planning. He can be reached at 303.389.6010 or email@example.com.