Cool Tech for the Smart Home

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Susan Boyce

The saying goes that home is where the heart is. But in today’s wired world, it increasingly feels like home is where the technology is. A built-in kitchen island for dumping groceries and perhaps a briefcase now raises eyebrows not as innovation but as a rather quaint antiquity. These days, homebuyers demand multiple-USB charging stations, ever-faster Internet connections and instant access to whole-house home automation they can control from their mobile devices. In short, our homes are getting smarter every day.

Talk to Me

Many “coming soon” advances might still sound like something out of a science fiction best seller. But within a year or two, you might be having conversations with your appliances.

Kitchen heavyweight Miele recently wowed consumers at the London Design Festival with an integrated kitchen panel that provides an instant read-out on your vitals including body/fat ratio, heart rate, cholesterol level and whether you should put that last piece of leftover pizza back because you’ve already maxed out your carbohydrate/protein intake for the day.

One frontrunner designer even suggested holographs of your favourite celebrity chef creating tasty, healthy dishes from ingredients you have on hand will soon be just a touchpad away.

And how about toilets that not only raise and lower the seat automatically, applying everything from deodorizer to air-drying and even checking for pregnancy, diabetes or drug usage via on-the-spot urine analysis which is then displayed on the mirror with audio read-out while you brush your teeth? Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Like many developers, Eric Andreasen, Adera’s vice president of marketing and sales, says he’s also keeping close watch on the next generation of intelligent thermostats, such as NEST technology. Now in the second generation, these products “learn” a homeowner’s habits.

“Imagine your home not only knowing precisely when to turn the heat up so it’s at your preferred temperature when you arrive home after work, but knowing you have a late meeting every Thursday and your weekend schedule includes late brunch,” says Andreasen. “I believe features like this are the way of the future.”

It’s a Green, Green World

No question going green is interwoven with advancing technology — if you doubt it, just ask any five-year-old about recycling and water conservation. What started with motion activated lighting and EnergyStar appliances has become a construction philosophy. And savvy multi-family developers like Adera and Cressey are stepping up to the plate in a big way.

Often, though, the greenest features are ones you can’t even see. In North Vancouver, Adera’s seven35 development was the first private residential building in North America to incorporate a system-wide waste-water heat recovery system — just one of the dozens of über-green features that contributed to seven35’s multiple environmental stewardship awards.

Andreasen says the trendsetting system saves owners up to 75 per cent on the cost of preheating their domestic water by recovering heat from wastewater that traditionally goes down the drain — like the shower or laundry — through a complex heat exchange process that requires two, totally separated sets of water lines.

Then there’s air quality, because living in urban environments means paying attention to the quality of your home’s interior health — just one of the reasons Cressey is on the front lines incorporating technology that rises to the challenge. Cadence, Cressey’s newest condominium tower in Richmond, includes occupational grade air filters that cleanse air to 98 per cent purity and integrated, non-electric water filtration systems as standards. There’s also a state-of-the-art heat recovery ventilation system that draws fresh outside air directly into each suite and use a counter-flow heat exchanger between the inbound and outbound airflow to temper incoming air — fresh air, improved climate control and reduced energy consumption.

Digital Tsunami

For Marilyn Sanford of Connected Spaces, a robust, hardwired network connecting discreet, strategically placed wireless interfaces is still a fundamental component of the truly tech-savvy home.

“The demands we make on our homes are increasing exponentially — gaming, high-def television, streaming video. You need bandwidth — lots of it — to accommodate the sheer volume of data that flows through the average home.”

This cabled backbone is the only way to ensure that important connectivity with the myriad smartphone, iPad, or other mobile devices is there when homeowners need it — which is 24/7.

There can also be a social element to all this connectivity. At the Midtown low-rise condo complex in Mount Pleasant, developer PortLiving has added bazinga!, a social network and utility for condo buildings that keeps owners connected with their neighbours, property manager and developer, and helps organize all their  home essentials like warranties and appliance manuals.

Clean, Lean TV Screen

As the trend to larger but ever slimmer TV screens marches inexorably forward, techies are searching for new ways to conceal their viewing surface when not in use. One twist is Bosa Properties’ recently introduced LIDOvision — a mirror installed in the bathrooms of its LIDO development that transforms into a high-def TV/movie/internet screen at the flick of a remote.

Art lovers are also embracing customizable “paintings” to preserve the aesthetic integrity of their homes. “Digital files of classic masterpieces or an image of your choice are converted into giclee prints on art canvas [that covers your TV],” explains Wes Morris from GrayTek. “When you’re ready to watch TV or a movie, a motorized control rolls your art piece up and out of the way.”

Sometimes, of course, the TV is still front and centre. In the downstairs bar/media area of one Shaughnessy mansion, Tavan Homes created a TV screen from two sheets of tempered glass that appear to float above a display wall separating the lounge and bar. Images are viewable on either side and controlled via any mobile device.

Virtual Valet Parking

Still with a ring of pure science fiction, automated car parkades are reputed to have originated in Paris over 40 years ago. In Vancouver, Bosa’s Jameson House is so far the only residential tower to incorporate this cutting edge technology. Owners simply drive into a secure transfer station beside the building elevator, swipe a fob-style control, and an automated system moves their vehicle to the correct level and stall.

Benefits include significantly reduced space requirements (no need for room to open vehicle doors or maneuvering space like ramps) and enhanced security for both vehicle and drivers who no longer need to walk through an empty parkade.

On the downside, the question remains: what happens during a power failure or technological glitch?

© 2014 Real Estate Weekly

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