Comfort, efficiency and security are driving residential smart home trends that interest many home buyers. What exactly makes a home “smart” differs, but once security systems and temperature or lighting controls are included, by most definitions the home is becoming intelligent. It only accelerates from there.
It’s hard to exaggerate the movement toward smart home devices over the past decade. No less than 90 million U.S. adults own smart speakers and voice assistant technology today, according to a consumer survey by Voicebot. Additionally, the average homeowner already has about a dozen smart devices, and almost 20% are looking for more in the form of smart products focused on comfort and lighting, said Manny Linhares Jr., senior director of product management and strategy at Legrand North America, Warsaw, Ind.
Homeowners are looking for a system that offers high-efficiency performance, worry-free reliability and customizable functionality that fits their family’s lifestyle. Comfort is driving home buyers more than ever, said Jason Wilson, residential controls product manager at Johnson Controls, Glendale, Wis. Wilson sees a continued trend of adoption in whole-home automation that includes smart thermostats and HVAC system controls.
Another trend is a shift toward higher performing heating and cooling systems, which often require high-end controls for the homeowner and provided by contractors to achieve the full benefits of these systems. And the effort is not one size fits all. Each room and resident can have their own setting.
“Homeowners are also recognizing the importance of zoning systems that provide customized temperatures in multiple zones within a home—offering optimum comfort and efficiency,” Wilson said.
Johnson Controls’ York Hx3 Communicating Zoning System is designed to allow each family member to customize their workspace temperature in up to eight zones in a home.
“This offers greater comfort and control and is an ideal solution to increase the efficiency of their systems to not only keep the spaces in which they are using at the optimal comfort level but also save on energy costs by not using energy on the unoccupied spaces,” Wilson said.
Reliable performance is a universal expectation for smart HVAC systems, he said, but in a world where connectivity is present in every aspect of our lives, connectivity has also become essential, especially among younger home buyers.
These generations are the largest block of home buyers today, and they expect a system that can be controlled anywhere with their smartphone and includes whole-home automation and voice control. For example, in the 2019 American Home Comfort Study from Decision Analyst, data shows younger generations are more likely to adopt this technology and are willing to pay more for systems that include or integrate this technology.
“In addition, we see trends toward higher efficiency systems that feed into a more sustainable world, which is also seen in the data to be of higher priority for those in the millennial and Gen Z groups,” Wilson said.
The market for security-based products is also expanding. These products are built to integrate with whole smart home system controls from mobile devices or hubs, Wilson added.
“What will be an interesting trend to watch is the monetization of services offered for 24/7 access to historical security data and homeowners’ appetites to pay for such services,” he said.
While the smart home trend was already underway in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its development. According to a recent Harris Poll survey, 32% of adults are still working from home full-time, while another 21% only go to the office occasionally. The International Energy Agency also projects that working from home could increase residential energy consumption by as much as 23%. This means homeowners will be searching for ways to reduce their energy use and monthly bills, which makes high-efficiency, variable-speed systems a key solution. Modern, top-tier HVAC systems can support these goals while demonstrating the value of first cost versus total cost of ownership over the life span of the unit.
The most important factors for most homeowners are the value proposition and whether they can find value in higher-end systems, Wilson said. Contractors can take a two-step approach when discussing this with homeowners. The first is reviewing the life-cycle cost of buying a higher priced system and the utility savings it will provide. The second is reviewing the improved comfort level that variable speed technology will deliver and the benefits that enhanced humidity control can have on their home.
“As it relates to future products, we see development of wireless solutions as one of the key features. In addition, there are current industry-wide efforts to make products more universally integrated regardless of platform or communications protocol,” Wilson said.
Lighting and audio control
Lighting serves up a wide variety of challenges and solutions. Lighting control is highly scalable, can be done in new builds or a remodel or retrofit application, and can be programmed to accommodate individual needs, said Michelle Guss, director of business development at Crestron Electronics, Rockleigh, N.J. The company has witnessed high demand for home audio/video distribution solutions such as AoIP and AVoIP amplifiers, which can distribute content throughout an entire home, including outdoors.
“What both lighting and audio control have in common is their scalability, something users have clearly shown a desire for,” Guss said.
In terms of general home automation preferences, respondents to a recent New Home Trends Institute (NHTI) study expressed interest in scalable whole-house solutions that grant users control over systems such as security and AV control. Crestron Home is an example of a platform that grants this type of control, Guss said, because it integrates with Crestron smart home products and with third-party products such as video doorbells and keyless entry pads. Respondents to the NHTI survey also indicated a preference for intuitive functionality over space-age design and improved installation and educational support.
“These preferences, along with other supporting data points found in the report, would seem to point to the idea that consumers are willing pay for a unified high-quality solution rather than a patchwork system of self-installed products,” she said.
Young singles and families are looking beyond the more commonplace solutions too.
“It seems safe to say younger, more digitally native homeowners will be huge adopters of home automation technology moving forward, as these demographics have an expectation that technology will feature as prominently in their homes as it does in their workplaces,” Guss said.
Voice control and a unified automation experience are key priorities for these groups, and the gravitation toward these features have continued an existing trend toward a more streamlined home control process. What once required 10 separate remotes and then 10 separate smartphone applications is now accessible through a single app. Crestron has one known as Crestron One that unifies control of every home automation device on the network.
Attracting millennial home buyers
This elevated home automation demand from younger generations should be durable, but is dependent on young people being willing and able to purchase homes. Due to their appeal to younger demographics as an affordable alternative to houses, the multifamily market has increased their demand for home automation products to further entice millennial and Gen-Z buyers.
In every application form, homeowners are seeking automation to make their home do more in less time. By removing the need for homeowners to be present in a given room (or even the house itself) to adjust lighting, temperature, audio or almost anything else, home automation gives them some time back.
Installers and integrators also ought to keep in mind that because younger and future generations of home buyers will have a desire for home automation systems, “it is worth getting involved early whenever a new build occurs,” Guss said.
This will allow installers to provide AV and automation expertise so smart home product integration is done with a new-build environment designed specifically to facilitate their use, though home automation is still viable in retrofits.
Looking ahead, Crestron also sees technology for wellness on the horizon—with automation products that improve air and water quality, programmable Circadian lighting control and even whole-home audio for soothing soundscapes. Concealed AV will likely proliferate as well, whether that means more space-efficient form factors for devices such as the 2RU Crestron DM NAX or streaming.
Integration is necessary
The challenge is around single integrated systems, because too many disparate systems create friction, Linhares said. In fact, many technologies offer multiple solutions: think intelligent lighting’s comfort and security.
“The ability for more interoperability among smart devices such as smart security solutions and smart comfort and lighting solutions are raising the bar for easy and seamless user experiences,” Linhares said.
Almost half of millennials live in the suburbs and their migration continues, with 10% more over the past year. They are focusing on monitoring and controlling their home to heighten the security and provide smart comfort. According to Linhares, a system with staying power is likely to integrate features such as smart lighting for these multiple experiences.
Legrand’s solutions are focused on the easiest installation and setup of its smart products—even when the network isn’t yet available, which happens often in new construction projects. Ultimately, it’s about the homeowner’s needs.
“We recognize that product style or design and ease-of-install aren’t everything. At Legrand, we focus heavily on the user experience,” Linhares said.
The company’s solutions are designed to enable homeowners to not just turn lights on and off, but to set scenes with light levels for different events.
“We also want to enable our customers to save money and reduce their carbon footprint by turning off unneeded lights and devices plugged into outlets,” Linhares said.
At the end of the day, good user experience means the product is reliable and compatible with other smart devices, regardless of manufacturer.
“This has to include all of the leading smart home assistants on the market, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit,” he said.
To meet homeowner expectations, manufacturers and installers need to align around standards-based ecosystems that drive simple, secure setups, broad interoperability, and high-quality user experience without compromising ease of installation and integration in the home, Linhares said.