Smart Homes Get Smarter

The latest, the greatest and how they’re making our lives easier and healthier | Written by: The Post and Courier

Most of us who follow real estate happenings, trends and designs keep up with all the latest gadgets that make our lives easier. We are living in a time where we can replenish items in our home by the click of a but­ton or tell a disembodied voice coming out of a speaker to do so.

Programs on popular networks show­case smart homes and each year, give one away. They include lighting and alert systems with cameras. Apps enable us to remotely check on our homes, our pets, and give access codes to guests to get into our homes if we’re not there. We can turn our thermostats up or down, or monitor them for a potential problem, thereby eliminating costly repair bills. If someone rings our doorbell, cameras capture video clips and we can view at home or remotely. Some won’t allow en­try unless it “recognizes” our face.

There’s even an AI wine fridge that can make wine drinking better by chilling it to the perfect temperature. It can learn your likes and dislikes and then suggest dinner pairings.

“Smart” homes also include leaving less of a carbon footprint. Builders are incorporating specific eco-friendly ma­terials. Some are going beyond that, con­structing homes that are built to not only withstand natural disasters, but have the Department of Energy’s (DOE) rigorous guidelines for Zero Energy Builds (ZEB) structures.

The future is here. Now, with more and more solutions on how to make our homes smarter – both for use of ease and for efficiency, those builders, developers and manufacturers who are embracing the concept are finding buyers are too.

Zero Energy

“The U.S. construction industry is a $1.3 trillion business,” said Steve Bostic, CEO ofinsulsteel of South Carolina.

“Among the many challenges facing it are rising material prices and a shortage of construction workers. The process of mitigating these two issues is by moving to an offsite manufacturing/on-site as­sembly building process.”

Bostic and his wife undertook a new career building custom homes in 2010 after retirement. They began looking for better materials processes, consistently modifying processes in order to improve quality and productiv­ity while lowering the overall cost of building ownership.

“Changing the way buildings are constructed is critically important,” Bostic explained. “Home­buyers today are interested in ‘smart’ homes for several reasons. Foremost are convenience and energy savings. Today’s Advertising Supplement to technology, specifically the prolifera­tion of mobile devices, really enables the convenience aspect. Today’s culture is focused on carbon footprint, energy us­age, sustainability as well as the critical long-term cost of ownership.”

Insulsteel is a national member of the Top 1% of U.S. Builders by the DOE. After building plans and designs are finalized, an EcoShell arrives on the site ready to be assembled. Generating very little waste and cutting down on construction time, the method has won numerous awards including LEED Platinum Certification and the Prism Award for most innovative project. They are EPA Indoor AirPlus Qualified. Their structures are so airtight, they have one of the lowest Home Energy Rating Sys­tem (HERS) scores of any custom build.

 

Software is used to design the exterior and interior spaces and then that data is used to fabricate the build. Steel in­sulated panels are tested and proven to withstand winds up to 220 mph. The “skeleton” of the home uses recycled steel and eliminates more than 50 percent of labor hours and nearly all construction waste. “Homes built this way have 80 percent lower energy usage and cost,” Bostic said. “They are sound, mold and termite resistant and qualify for insurance sav­ings as ‘fortified.”‘ Bostic said his custom builds are lo­cated across the Lowcountry – from Awendaw to Seabrook and Hollywood.

“Our product and processes are de­signed to satisfy owners with an aestheti­cally pleasing, strong, sustainably built, energy efficient building, delivering superior indoor air quality,” he stated. “Our clients tend to be more interested in the many benefits delivered by our products and process, which are far be­yond the mere convenience associated with a ‘smart home.”‘

Bostic said his clients’ project costs are commensurate with traditional builds, delivered a third faster and carry a

25-year warranty. Part of their custom build services are deploying teams of direct manufacturing partners to install HVAC, air exchange and solar systems.

“Our design, manufacture and as­sembly process can be utilized to build anything from a tiny house to a Ritz­Carlton,” said Bostic.

Smart plus energy efficient equals eco-friendly

“If a feature can save folks time and money, it’s usually worth the pursuit of having it,” said Adam Copenhaver of Cope Grand Homes. “We’re using auto­mation through technology and pairing technology with sound building science principles.”

Guy Ackerman, Director of Sales at Lennar Homes agreed. “Families are living a connected lifestyle and they’re entrenched in that lifestyle like never before. Streaming, smart TVs, home security and controlling energy costs are top of the list in home automation.”

Ackerman stated Lennar’s homes are all WiFi certified, which means there are no “dead spots” in the home.

“Our homes are using commercial grade wireless connectivity, just like Wi-Fi systems that connect hundreds of hotel guests all at once and it’s built right into the home,” he said. “In ad­dition, our homes include Ring Wi-Fi doorbells with built-in cameras, Schlage Wi-Fi deadbolts, Honeywell Wi-Fi ther­mostats and Amazon Echo Dots to control it all.”

And, you can bet there’s an app for all or most of that. New builds, more and more, are incorporating home automation as standard options. Builders offer more options to upgrade more of that automation – on a larger scale – for a price. Homeowners now are seeking to make their homes smarter through home automation installation, whether to entice buyers when selling, or to make the home they bought a de­cade or so ago more energy efficient or convenient.

Copenhaver said a “smart home” can begin in part with a simple hundred dollar investment such as installing a programmable HVAC system.

“It’s not difficult to spend tens of thou­sands upgrading smart features, but when you are doing it to create significant annual energy cost savings, it makes a lot more ‘cents’ to do so,” he said.

 

Copenhaver advises clients on the best builds for their budgets and says he feels good about making decisions to make our planet a better place to live, especially for future generations. While working in Virginia with another builder, he and his team were building more certified Earth Craft energy efficient and eco-friendly homes than anyone else in the state. They kept their building costs to a specific, average expense per home. Having a role in decisions to make the planet a better place to live was an “in­credible feeling” he said.

“There is a tremendous amount of technology that’s available and coming available to homes,” Copenhaver reiter­ated. “Some of the newest technology is lifestyle learning and detecting. We can program a home to run the lights on and off based on your schedule and also, using gee-positioning of your cell phone. The same technology can also manage the temperature within a home to maximize demand and energy con­sumption.”

Copenhaver, like most builders, recog­nizes the ever-increasing cost of build­ing, but still believes it’s one of the best investments a buyer can make.

“Building materials are a commod- ity and they track the market demand while prices fluctuate up and down. They are certain to follow the growth of our economy and most specifically, the cost of real estate,” he said. “Building and real estate remains a great near and long-term investment strategy.”

Homebuyers recognize that invest­ment as a lifelong one and those who can build or renovate a home to incor­porate smart features are doing so and according to Copenhaver, these features make a big difference – safe, enjoyable and overall lower cost of ownership are realized quickly.

“Two systems we have recently begun using are for water security and moni­toring, and a new system by one of the largest manufacturers of switches and power controls,” Copenhaver said.

Flo by Moen is installed in the line to the home’s water supply and moni­tors usage. If the system identifies an unusual demand, it sends an alert to the homeowner’s cell phone. It has a built-in capacity to shut off the water supply to the home to avoid flooding and install­ing it in a home reduces insurance rates.

“The Leviton Load Center offers us­ers the ability to monitor power and energy consumption per breaker at each breaker within the panel box,” Copenhaver explained. “All of this information and capabilities of turn­ing on and off individual components is now happening also at the breaker panel.”

This system, one of the best in the in­dustry, can be wired easily – the entire panel at construction rough-in. The “all plug-on design” is less time consum­ing for builders. Since time efficiency is also becoming a priority, these time and energy-saving features trickle down to the building process as well.

Ackerman said Lennar’s home auto­mation is in most of Charleston’s com­munities throughout the tri-county area.

“While home automation will never replace the tried and true – location, location, location – it’s becoming a must have for more and more homebuy­ers. We plan to continue to pioneer and evolve our connected home program to meet the ever-changing needs of buy­ers,” he said.

Reach Brigitte Surette at bsurette@ postandcourier.com.

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