Builders introduce new wiring concept

August 18, 1991|By Edward Gunts

The Smart House, a new breed of residence that enables owners to gain better control of their surroundings through a revolutionary built-in wiring system, has finally hit the market.

Private builders began work on the first Smart House homes Aug. 1, and the mid-Atlantic region is among the first places where they are available, according to Smart House Limited Partnership. The partnership includes more than two dozen companies and organizations that have been working on the project since the early 1980s.

"Builders, electrical contractors and architects have long been awaiting the day that Smart House hits the market -- and that day is finally here," said Leon Weiner, director of the consortium, which is affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders and based in Upper Marlboro. "August 1, 1991, will go down in history as the date when automated home management became a reality instead of a luxury for the very few."

Smart Houses look like traditional houses, but they offer innovative features that had not been available through mass-production builders. The key is the first new wiring system in the 100 years that houses have been wired.

Wiring in a Smart House allows residents to watch cable TV or a videotape from one VCR, on any TV set in the house. Smart Houses also can support four telephone lines, including a line designated for a facsimile machine or computer modem. The system's built-in answering machine allows residents to receive messages from inside the home, with touch-tone phones used as a whole-house intercom, as well as outside calls.

In addition, dimming controls allow owners to change lighting levels throughout the house. Safety features include ground fault and power surge protection, which helps prevent damage to appliances in case of lightning or power failure.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., one of the first companies to join the consortium, built a prototype Smart House last year at Rolling Road and Windsor Boulevard. The prototype house, which has special electrical, communication and gas distribution systems, will be used for special demonstrations of the system beginning this week.

Maryland builders who have signed up to construct Smart Houses include Wallace Haywood Baker and Walter Palmer, according to Patti Montague, a spokeswoman for the Smart House partnership. Each builder can decide how many houses to build -- from one at a time for already-identified buyers to an entire subdivision.

Smart House Limited Partnership is a consortium of 29 manufacturers and more than 40 representatives of utility companies and trade groups involved in electric, electronic, telecommunications and gas-fired products and home services.

Smart House models similar to the one in Baltimore will become available in Southern California and Las Vegas next month, and will go on the market in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina in October. After that, the sales effort will gradually broaden to include 150 metropolitan markets in the United States and Canada by the end of 1992, officials said.

* Net housing costs in Baltimore are expected to increase less in than in 1990, according to a survey by the Chicago Title and Trust Co. and its network of title insurers. Chicago Title predicts that housing costs will rise 4.5 percent during 1991, down from a 7.2 percent increase in 1990. By contrast, Chicago Title predicts a 3.7 percent increase in housing costs nationwide during 1991.

The survey tracks changes in net housing costs by adding the change in local borrowing costs to the inflation rate of existing houses in 17 markets.

According to John Obzud, president of Chicago Title Insurance Co.,, the change for Baltimore is due to lower mortgage rates and a leveling off of sales in the real estate market. "Baltimore is holding its own with other metropolitan markets across the country," he said.


Around the region:

* Trafalgar House Residential Maryland has opened a community center and swim club at Summit Chase, a town house community Trafalgar House is building in the Pikesville/Greenspring area of Baltimore County. Seventy-one of the 73 homes in Trafalgar House's first phase have been sold, with prices starting above $160,000. A total of 224 are planned.

* Builders recently began construction on new condominium and detached home communities in Owings Mills New Town. The projects are Spring Mill Condominium, a 204-unit project with prices starting around $85,000, and the Meadows, a community of 45 homes with prices starting above $200,000. Initial residences at both projects will be ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

* Baltimore's housing department has set Sept. 20 as the deadline for bids from groups interested in developing four city-owned parcels in the Oliver Urban Renewal Area. The properties include 1200 to 1216 N. Central Ave., 1201 and 1203 N. Central Ave., 1600 to 1624 N. Aisquith St., 1551 Holbrook St. and 1550 Aisquith St. All are zoned for residential use. More information is available from Richard Byrd of the housing department's land disposition office at 396-4121.

* Frederick Contractors Inc. has started construction of a new branch of the Middletown Valley Bank in Jefferson. Designed by architect George C. Harne, the building is slated for completion by early December.

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