For the 21st-century homeowner, it’s all about trends and products that simplify life

The futuristic, automated abode of the Jetson family may have seemed cartoonishly fantastic and far-fetched to television viewers back in the 1960s. But fast forward four decades to the ultramodern home of now and you’ll see that many of those crudely animated high-tech amenities gradually are being incorporated into today’s residences.

As evidenced by the increasing popularity of home theater rooms, multi-zone music systems, media centers and innovative lighting and security systems, the modern home has an eye on emerging technology.

“The hot buttons for today’s market are smart house infrastructure, media rooms and home theaters systems,” says Jeannette Steeves, president/owner of Timely Manor, a housing design firm in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “It’s home theaters and whole-house music systems that are probably the most popular technology-driven design features among new home buyers.”

Homeowners always are looking for new and innovative products, services and technology to simplify their lives,” says Amy Hansen, director of product management for Culligan International, Northbrook, Ill. “A lot of new home-appliance and technology trends revolve around trying to create inspirational spaces within the home. Some examples include spas, yoga rooms, outdoor rooms, game rooms and gourmet kitchens.”

Indeed, when it comes to areas of the home benefiting the most from new technology, the kitchen leads the pack, according to some experts. Steeves cites flush/wall-mounted espresso machines, ultra-modern refrigerators with interior space that can be easily converted to extra freezer space, cabinetry with built-in recording devices that can instant replay countertop activity (to retrace your step in a recipe, for instance), and new range/ovens that chill and heat food as just a few examples.

“The biggest trend I’m seeing now is moving from the ‘smart home’ approach to the ‘intelligent home,’” says Herb Hauser, president, Midtown Technologies, LLC, a New York-based real estate consultancy. “Smart homes are focused on entertainment amenities and some temperature and security controls. The intelligent home takes this a step further and incorporates both green and adaptive features for different life phases.”

Hauser says intelligent home features include lighting systems that adapt to the aging eye, movement sensors that can alert family members or offsite caregivers if there is a radical change within a house, and “digital mixers” for shower and sink faucets that pre-record and adjust to each user’s water temperature preferences.

Integrated voice-activated systems for heating and air conditioning, lighting, fireplaces, media systems and telephones are no longer the stuff of science fiction – the technology is already being applied in upscale homes, says Richard Arthur, an agent Prudential Network Realty, Atlantic Beach, Fla. Other futuristic systems that he’s seeing installed in new homes include indoor sensors that turn lights off and on according to motion detected in the room.

“Homeowners today are looking for systems that are one-switch operational – easy to use and to maintain operations,” Hauser says. “Wireless capability also is an important feature, as it streamlines systems and liberates homeowners from cords and plug-ins. Cool examples of this include shade control systems, climate control systems based on room occupancy, and sound systems that easily access libraries of preferred music.”

Another developing tech trend is the embedding of self-regulating “brains” inside devices like furnace systems, enabling proactive management and maintenance that can save money down the road, Hauser says. Such a system, for example, would send out an alert to a repair company notifying them of an impending malfunction before it occurs.

Two more in-demand trends related to improved home materials and technology are green building materials and systems, designed to make a home more energy efficient, and universal design, a home design approach to accommodate all occupants regardless of age, ability or circumstance.

Green building materials, such as bamboo flooring, that can regenerate and do not pollute the living environment will be considered highly preferably and more valuable than more traditional alternatives, Steeves says. And a geothermal system that employs underground piping to utilize the earth’s constant 55 degree temperature can more efficiently heat and cool the home.

Universal design, meanwhile, “is a concept with broad appeal that provides for safe, convenient performance of home-based activities by the largest amount of people,” says Steeves. Beyond features like no-step entryways and wider doorways, universal design can incorporate high-tech home automation and smart home technology systems to make it easier to control appliances and devices – just the kind of forward-thinking amenities that will appeal to aging baby boomers.

Hauser says that boomers are today’s technology vanguards – the segment of the population that will drive the home-tech market.

“Previously, young people were considered the bellwethers of technology,” he says. “But boomers not only will use technology later in life, they will drive innovation as they incorporate technology into everyday life to extend their active, healthy lifestyles.”

Ultimately, homeowners need to focus on creating enjoyment, energy savings and comfort for their home while they are in it, says Hauser. However, “as fast as technology is evolving, any system they put in today will probably be yesterday’s solution when they go to sell their home, and will command yesterday’s prices. If owners want to add to their home’s value, they should look for tomorrow’s technology, which they can recoup at today’s prices when they go to sell.”

Remember, however, “that the quality of your life is what counts,” Hauser says, “and it’s okay to have a home you can enjoy today and that will adapt to your needs as you engage in forward living.”

The most important thing any homeowner should keep in mind is that their home needs to be ready to receive a special gadget or upgrade, Hansen says. “Ideally, these infrastructure considerations should occur during the initial design phases of a new structure, but there are many good solutions on the market that can be installed to ensure the success of a new appliance, help make it more environmentally friendly, and improve the quality of life and health of its residents.”

© CTW Features