What’s new in home technology?

What’s new in home technology?

Today’s homeowners can control a host of innovative home technologies from their tablets and smart phones, and if you aren’t yet acquainted with these innovations you are in for a pleasant surprise.

The list of possibilities includes entertainment such as home theatre or distributed audio that lets you enjoy music throughout your home.  Making day to day life more convenient is another way technology can improve the quality of your life, allowing you to control many of your home’s functions from wherever you are on the planet, while at the same time assuring your home is more secure when you are away.

Some of these technology upgrades are simple, requiring little in the way of DIY ability, while others are best left to the pros.  Regardless, the good news is that as the technology becomes more sophisticated it frequently becomes less expensive, and in some cases may actually be significantly cheaper than it was just a few years ago.

Will technology impact your home’s resale value?  In some cases the answer is clearly yes.  In others it may depend on when you sell and what comes on the market between now and then.  An HVAC system that is state of the art today may be considered old and inefficient even five years from now.  Even if you don’t get your investment back, you can, in the meantime, enjoy all the convenience and lifestyle enhancements the different technologies have to offer.

Energy Savings

Technology can make a major contribution to the quality of your life via energy savings.  A good example is solar panels which have received a lot of attention in our area thanks to the Solarize Charlottesville program spearheaded by LEAP (Local Energy Alliance Program).   Homeowners can request a free energy assessment and if solar panels are appropriate, can choose to have them installed at a reduced cost.  Low interest loans to pay for them are available from the UVA Credit Union.

“Solar is a big conversation,” said Charif Soubra, Sales Manager for The Woods at Burnet Commons, a Southern Development Homes project near the downtown mall.  Homes in this development are pre-wired for solar and Soubra said that for three recent homebuyers, solar installation was a “must.”

Returns are immediate with solar systems, he explained, because they are “net metered.”  This means the system is directly plugged into the electric meter and the client is only billed for net energy use reducing their monthly power bill.

Another energy saving technology is the hybrid heat pump hot water tank.  These tanks have an extra component on top, Soubra explained, which removes heat from the surrounding air and transfers it to the water.  In times of high demand the system can revert back to a conventional water heater as needed which is why it is called a hybrid tank.  “These hybrid hot water heaters are as efficient as the tankless ones,” Soubra said.

Programmable thermostats are also a popular technology that offers significant energy savings.  However, Sinisa Maricic with CvilleInstallations.com described an even smarter option called a learning thermostat. “The learning thermostat is one step above a programmable one,” Maricic said.

The thermostat’s website explains that it is for the 90 percent of people who install a programmable thermostat but never get around to programming it.   When you install a learning thermostat you teach it in the first week what your preferences are by adjusting the temperature for when you are away during the day or at night.  After a few days the thermostat learns your schedule and programs itself to match.  Expect to save about 20 percent in energy costs when you use one. The other good news is that you can control it from your phone and for most people installation is a DIY project.

Ben Davis, Sales Director for Craig Builders, said “we’ve seen a large push for technology surrounding the energy efficiency of the home.”  Some energy saving technologies his company has incorporated recently include variable speed fans as part of the heating and cooling system and multiple programmable thermostats zoned for different parts of the house.  “These give the new owners more temperature control in the areas where they’re spending the most time,” Davis said.

Technology Enhances Home Entertainment

Technology can vastly expand and improve home entertainment options.

Wireless systems are available that make music available throughout the house and even outdoors, Maricic explained adding that “it’s like having a separate boom box in every room that you can control with your phone.”  This means you can have the same music playing throughout the house, or something different in each room.  It also means “parents can turn down their kids’ music if it gets too loud,” he said.

Full home entertainment systems with surround sound are popular, but may not suit everyone, Maricic explained.   Many people instead choose a sound bar which “simulates big sound and can be controlled from a TV remote,” he said.

Improved functionality is a big part of what technology adds to a home’s audio visual systems.  Ben Feiner with Prolink, LLC explained that today consumers have access to online content allowing them to stream videos or access music via internet radio.  They also experience better sound and a much enhanced video experience.

Increasing your home’s ambiance through lighting is another life enhancing technology.  LED bulbs are available today that not only save energy and have a very long life, but are WiFi enabled allowing you to control their color from your smart phone.  For example, Maricic described programming your lights to give you the orange glow of sunset even on a dark day.  You can also program your lights to be dim first thing in the morning, gradually brightening as you awaken.

Technology Enhances Convenience

Home automation, with all of its convenience, is a big part of why people choose to install new technologies in their homes.

“When customers do upgrade, we’re seeing it go toward surround sound, home audio and home automation packages…it’s incredible what can be controlled from a smart phone these days,” Davis said.

A fully automated home means it is all connected on one platform, explained Nick Salzman with Appalachian Home Technologies, LLC.   “One app controls everything including window shades, the HVAC system, lighting and music.  You can even access your oven to have it start preheating before you arrive home,” he added.   

Keeping track of the different systems in your house can be challenging.  Did you remember to turn off the stove?  Lock the doors?  Salzman described an incident when he was drifting off to sleep one night and suddenly noticed one of his kids had left the bathroom fan on.  Instead of getting up and walking to the bathroom, he turned it off from the comfort of his bed using his smart phone.   

Salzman has been in the home technology business since the late 1990s and said that not only are there many more options available today, but they are much less expensive.  Compared to when he started in business, the cost to upgrade your technology is sometimes as little as 10 percent of what it was back then.  He added that universal remotes are also an option for controlling multiple technologies and are still in use by people who aren’t comfortable with today’s apps.

Comfort features are a big reason people like the new technologies.  As an example, Soubra described a popular item—touchless faucets for the kitchen.  To fill a pot with water just hold it in front of the faucet to turn it on.  When the pot is full, move it away and the water turns off automatically.

Home Security

Automation lends itself well to home security options of all kinds.  Feiner listed some of these, which can include burglar alarms, fire, carbon monoxide and flood sensors, all of which can be controlled from a smart phone.  Surveillance is also an option and allows you to keep an eye on doors, driveways and pools.  “Log in anytime 24/7,” he said, “to see what is going on.”

With the right technology you can control what happens in your home when you are away. You can set your system to have lights go on and off at different times during the day or evening or to lower and raise shades or open drapes making the home look much more like one where someone is in residence.  And of course if you forget to set this up or want to make changes you can do that from wherever you are.

Home Wiring

While some technology upgrades are simple and lend themselves to a weekend project, others require professional installation.

Even though many innovations are wireless, “there are access points that have to be hard wired,”  Salzman said.  The most important wire, which Salzman called the “Swiss army knife for the home,” is the Ethernet cable. This means for many installations it will be critical to seek the advice of a professional, even if your home is relatively new.

However, upgrading even a very old home is not difficult.  “Most technologies are not out of the question,” Salzman said.  “Today we can do what we couldn’t do even five years ago, and it’s not so expensive.”  He did say that it costs more to add these technologies in an existing home because of the wiring that will be required, but it can be done.

Resale

As home technologies become more known and accepted, buyers will look for them when out shopping for a home.  Even today, while they may not increase the value of the home, “they increase its perceived value,” Salzman said, which can translate to fewer days on the market.

New home sales may more accurately reflect the value of some technologies that may eventually impact how appraisers value resale homes.  An example is Craig Builders, where “technology upgrades are included in the final purchase price of the home so that real estate appraisers can track what’s added in each home,” Davis said.

If you are considering technology upgrades, research the options and consult a professional if you have big plans.  Then evaluate whether the extra convenience and safety features are worthwhile for you and your family.  If you are like many homeowners, you may well decide the answer is yes.

Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.

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