Home of the future will include an array of electronic gizmos

Brainy House

December 14, 2003|By Rebecca Boreczky | Rebecca Boreczky,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When it comes to the home of the future, experts often refer to the "smart house" that consumers will want to buy - one that will have wireless computers and elaborate security systems.

Real estate and technology experts predict various gadgets will become standard features in residential construction by 2010. As more people work from home and technology continues to dominate today's lifestyles, companies are racing to build more-efficient appliances, better air filtration systems and wireless security systems so homeowners feel healthier and safer.

Costs to add such features can range from $300 to several thousand dollars.

Real estate experts said homeowners increasingly are asking for such amenities. Homebuilders have taken notice and are starting to incorporate these features into their models.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of a technical error, the byline of freelance writer Rebecca Boreczky was omitted from an article about smart homes in today's Real Estate section.
The Sun regrets the error.

The National Association of Home Builders has built a smart house of the future in Bowie to showcase construction ideas. Technology companies are perfecting systems they say will help consumers better communicate with health and security professionals with the push of a button and through wireless Internet connections. And utility companies expect even higher consumer demand for electric, cable and telephone lines to satisfy energy-hungry computers.

"With home offices, computers, Jacuzzis and need for more electrical outlets, consumers are looking for newer technologies in older homes," said Wayne Davis, a real estate agent who recently upgraded his home to include extra phone lines and more capacity for electricity. "It is easier to sell a pre-existing home if it is technologically modern."

Real estate appraisers said the technology does not necessarily add value to a home unless a buyer is specifically looking for such amenities. There are many consumers who don't want to be bothered with such gadgets and question whether they'll ever need them. But most experts predict their use will continue to grow.

"Even though the appraisal sheet does not currently list such things as a home being wired for Internet access, multiple phone lines or smart-house technology, an appraiser might make a note of it," said Michael Cassell, a Baltimore appraiser and real estate broker who heads the state's Real Estate Commission. "Houses compete against each other. More features make it more attractive. These future technologies are definitely going to become a part of a home's value."

Battelle Memorial Institute, a technology company that is developing new systems for houses, said air quality has become the No. 1 concern for consumers because of the time they spend at home. The company has designed sensors that can test a home's environment for dust, mold and other things that can trigger allergies.

The National Institutes of Health report that asthma and allergies are on the rise and often are linked to improper home ventilation. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that indoor air pollution includes cleaning fluids, smoke, dust from furnaces and building materials.

Gary and Renae Thompson of Virginia decided to purchase a home this year because of its air filtration system.

"Knowing that the air is clean and some of the bacteria is being killed is a real plus for us," Renae Thompson said.

Mitchell Linman, field manager for Blue Dot Services Co., has seen a lot of changes during his 21-year career in the plumbing and heating industry. He said a complete ventilation system includes ultraviolet light to sterilize ducts, dust filters and dehumidifiers. The systems can cost about $3,000, he said.

Because of the country's recent power outages, Battelle is concentrating its technology toward upgrading electricity use. Battelle's Stephen M. Millett believes that as many as 65 percent of homes in the country do not have sufficient electrical capacity for today's appliances and electronic products.

"Rewiring of older houses is a major business opportunity," Millett said. "In the future, our home electric demand is more likely to increase than decrease."

Interest in wireless home networking has soared now that about 32 million of the nation's households are equipped with high-speed broadband Internet access, according to the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, Va.

Worldwide shipments of wireless networking equipment, also known as Wi-Fi, were expected to more than double to 8 million units this year from 3 million last year, according to market research firm In-Stat/MDR.

The increased demand for computers, networking equipment, appliances and other amenities has changed the way homes are being built.

John Kortecamp, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said builders have their eye on the changes in technology and are adapting their homes to include the changes.

"Builders are starting to offer upgrades in power, ventilation and security systems as a part of the new-home package," he says.

And home and health security remains a growing trend among consumers.

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