As time has evolved, so has technology. From the days of the first telephone to crowding around a television to get a glimpse of a historical event or favorite variety show, the possibilities have become endless as to what can be found inside today’s homes.
“I think one thing that people need to understand is that the technology is changing all the time,” says Scott Murphy, president of Silvercrest Construction Group.
“Everything in convenience technology is huge,” adds Nick Kampo, president of P&J Kampo Electric, who has seen technology integration become popular within the last six years, but especially within the last two as phone and tablet options have been rolled out. “Everybody has their cellphone in their hand at all times.”
From thermostats to sound systems to TVs to appliances to lighting to security systems and everything in between, home technology integration is now within reach of today’s modern families as we prepare to move into 2016.
From the outside in
For Tim Suess, president of Suess Electronics, technology starts on the exterior of a home as seen with their design center. It can be as simple as a speaker camouflaged as a rock to a door station where you can see who is standing on your front porch via a camera. A keypad at the station also can be be programmed to allow access to the home via a code that is connected to settings inside and out such as activating lights, turning off an alarm system, adjusting window treatments and more.
“In a true smart home, we’re not touching all of these things, we’re setting a ‘mood,’” Suess explains. “The whole concept is let’s simplify, but not give up performance.”
Because the systems Suess Electronics works with are meant to “talk” to each room, they can operate independently or together with the use of electronic check boxes to control settings from audio to the thermostat to video to music to lighting to security — both in the home and remotely. The system can be set to activate based on motion, touch or time of day. Verbal commands also are an option, but most clients opt for touch control of the interface that works on a TV, touch screen, tablet, phone or portable screens.
While individual systems are “smart” on their own, having an integrated system allows everything to work together and make recommendations, along with increasing efficiency within a home.
Let there be light
As LED lighting has evolved, so has the applications for its use, says Kampo. While homeowners will pay more for the bulbs on the front end, the savings over time pays dividends.
“LED is just that much more durable,” Kampo adds of the average seven-year bulb life. “You don’t have that maintenance as often.”
Lighting also can be adjusted to create “scenes” or varied levels of light for different times of day. Programming the lights to come on at certain times also eliminates fumbling in the dark to find switches.
Window coverings also are getting touched by technology as motorization brings infrared or radio frequency technology to creating coverings that not only add to lighting scenes, but efficiency, safety, privacy and ability to cover multiple, and high and out-of-the-way windows.
“When you go cordless, that adds an element of safety and security for kids and pets, and adding motorization adds another element to that,”`shares Jeff Rakestraw, owner and president of Budget Blinds of the Fox Valley.
Battery, low-voltage and hard-wired options exist on the market today. The later two are recommended most often for new construction. There also are solutions available for both indoor and outdoor coverings.
Motorization eliminates wear and tear as well, along with the need to re-cord or restring coverings.
“People like to bring their own touch and feel,” Rakestraw says. “Drapery will never go away. It is the way to add softness and color to a room. To me, it is the icing on the cake.”
Today’s appliances aren’t without their own set of technological advancements. From washers and dryers to refrigerators and ovens, consumers are now being enabled to operate their household in an efficient manner.
“Some of the washers and dryers are allowing you to interact with your smartphone and self-diagnose problems,” says Dave Frittitta, electronics buyer and Oshkosh store manager for Van Vreede’s. “For people who do a lot of laundry and aren’t that close to it, you can still keep an eye on it.”
Brands like LG and Samsung now utilize apps that connect with their products to let customers know when a load needs to be readjusted, a door is ajar or the machine isn’t operating correctly. Some washers also will walk consumers through how to remove certain types of stains and have the ability to contour controls for the way they do laundry.
Gone are the days of TVs in refrigerators, but audio is now gaining momentum. Placing wireless bluetooth sound bars on top of the fridge has gained popularity and some brands are looking at adding ether net ports as well.
Certain refrigerator lines also allow for flexibility of zoned cooling and determining how compartments are used, including for freezing. Shelving has received a revamp based on consumer needs as well, while manufacturers have looked at air filtration, prep space, better illumination with LED lighting and the ability to open cavities, such as beverage drawers, without having to open the whole refrigerator.
Wall ovens also are becoming more consumer friendly.
“Essentially, they’re putting smart technology into that touch pad so you no longer have to look up how long you have to cook that pot roast for,” says Frittitta. “They’re putting literally hundreds of recipes in the brain of that computer.”
“For the person who always wanted the big TV in their room, but didn’t think they could, this is the solution,” says Frittitta of 4K TVs that are high-definition times four.
While Suess Electronics offers 4K as well, the business also recently added Dolby Atmos. The surround sound system incorporates five or seven regular base speakers, but also includes additional height speakers to enhance the sound of movies, for example.
“It’s no longer just a special effect, it feels like you’re there,” says Suess.
Plasma and LCD TVs have been phased out in favor of OLED models that can create a true black and have a display panel of only a ¼-inch thick. Models are available at both Van Vreede’s and Suess.
“For a lot of people, their TV is their window to the world,” Suess notes, adding he thinks 80-inch TVs will be common household items in the future.
Before adding any technology into a home, it is important to make sure that a home is built to withstand the environment and run as efficiently as possible, says Murphy.
Once the backbone system of a home has been installed, upgrading is easy to do, he adds. Murphy would like to see more discussion with his clients about technology integration right away in the new construction process just like any other conversation. Area experts agree and add that costs have come down on technology integration.
“Now in spec homes, they’re even putting pieces of things in so (homeowners) can get a taste of it,” Kampo notes. “It’s not just the higher-cost homes anymore.”