This post is the fourth in a series. Please read the main article before beginning this part. Due to the broad scope of the topic at hand this issue has been divided into multiple posts. Each post is centered around a topic related to homes might change as a result of Covid-19. Topics will be linked as each article is completed.
- Home Space Planning
- Construction Practices
- Construction Assemblies
- Integrated Technology (This article)
- Interior Design
- Societal, Operational, and Behavioral Changes
Integrated Technology is often determined by what parts are available off the shelf and what the specifier on the project is familiar with. Architects and building engineers alike do not re-invent or modify the form factors of the industrial designs of the equipment and technology built into a home because it is not their profession. This professional segmentation often results in less efficient and arbitrary form factors optimized for each portion of the supply chain or individual products rather than the final result. Despite the reality that many new and vastly more efficient technologies are commercially available, the construction market is slow to adopt these new innovations. While there are inherent market forces that make new entrants more expensive simply due to lack of volume, the new era of pandemics may see more professionals looking at new technologies more closely to find a competitive edge. As we learn more about the corona virus there seem to be various modes of transmission and new integrated technology will begin to create new ways of interacting with our homes that reduce the risks of infection. This article addresses some of the current or future integrated technologies that more architects, engineers, and general contractors may begin to adopt in response to the pandemic. They may adopt these ideas to make their homes safer, cleaner, and more marketable. As the residential experience is made easier, increasingly automated, and more seamless these technologies will likely proliferate.
Housing is not designed for pandemics
Don’t touch your face because you might have touched a contaminated door handle or light switch while you were out. Try this simple and messy experiment (or just think it through). The next time you go out to do groceries put enough graphite powder in a plastic ziploc bag to cover your hands and the groceries you will buy. Go out and do your normal routine. As soon as you leave the grocery store and while all your groceries are still in the store cart cover your hands and all of the groceries with graphite. Shake your hands off so there is no loose graphite. If you have a car, put your groceries in your car and return home. Do everything as you normally would up until the point where you can wash your hands. Now survey the smudge marks in your car, on your door handles, on your faucet handles, on your keys, in your pocket, on your cellphone, the random smudge on your shirt, in the refrigerator, and all the other unexpected places your hands have touched. This is how many places you have potentially contaminated with corona virus. Even just as a thought experiment you can see why it is advisable to wipe off your groceries before putting them in your refrigerator, and why it makes sense to wash your hands off as soon and as frequently as you are able to when returning from outside. In the past we have operated like this without issue. Unfortunately, during a pandemic these normal procedures do not protect us very well against Fomite transmission. So, what kinds of integrated residential technology are we likely to see in response to this pandemic?
Flat metal keys are not very secure but they are cheap, fairly efficient to produce, and reliable with a proven track record. Unfortunately they require manual usage and during a pandemic provide an additional vector for viral and bacterial spread. Many commercial and institutional have already made the switch to secure RFID for exterior entry doors and interior doors. The technology is proven, widely adopted, readily available, and can be operated without any additional keys or cards simply through one’s cellphone. The reality is that we continually touch our cell phones so grabbing a cellphone to enter is not adding any additional risk of contamination. In addition, with RFID technology we can put a key cards in our wallets and just bump against the sensor to have the door unlocked. In addition this technology enables homeowners to give a tag to someone that only allows restricted access to the home.
In high-traffic spaces such as grocery stores and transportation terminals, automatic sliding doors have become the norm. They have excellent reliability and minimal maintenance requirements even with such heavy traffic. This technology will likely spread to more and more residential properties. In particular, large apartment buildings may install automatic sliding entrance doors that open when the RFID keycard is read. Some single family homes may also have more automatic sliding doors or begin to integrate foot push door openers to make it easier for people to open and close unlocked doors without using their hands.
We are all familiar with voice command services like Alexa, Siri, or Google Home. Despite the privacy concerns, many people have begun using these devices regularly. When systems like this can be run locally without need for sending any data off to the cloud somewhere we may see much more widespread adoption of this technology to control everything from from lights, blinds, and thermostats all the way to door and window locks without the need for switches anywhere.
No-Touch Cellphone Charging
Cell phones are so useful and have become the ultimate technological Swiss Army Knife for so many applications. Because of this, cell phones and smartphones in particular, have become one of the most high-touch items of daily life for most people (other than our faces). Behind this technology is the necessity to charge devices on a daily basis so we can continue to use them. At the moment wireless charging is still fairly nascent but with ease of cleaning increasing in importance wireless charging is likely to become more common. Docking stations and the like probably won’t disappear.
Hygienic Manual Controls
Of course, not everyone will want to use voice activation to control the devices in their home. For the manual controls that remain we are likely to see better industrial design that eliminates crevices and makes the controls easier to clean by eliminating gaps, using more streamlined shapes, and increasing the use of touch screen controls. A single surface touchscreen could become the standard for each room instead of various light switches and fan controls. In addition the power supply is likely to be separated from the control interface such that the light switches can have a much higher level of control over the room. As lighting and fans switch to low voltage dc it will make more and more sense to run these devices through low voltage control wiring such as power over Ethernet.
Automatic maintenance reminders
How many people remember to clean out their air filter every six months? There are definitely a few people who are meticulous about this and some people who hire maintenance to perform the task. But most people forget. Clogged HVAC filters not only reduce the efficiencies of the appliances they serve but also begin to let unwanted dirt, dust, and pathogens through. Homes of the future will likely have sensors instead of timers that automatically notify homeowners when a filter needs to be changed. In addition, in apartment buildings, the owner may never change the filter until a tenant moves out or there is a complaint. In addition to moving access to this equipment to the outside of the unit for ease of maintenance, sensors with automated service reminders for maintenance staff will make this type of maintenance more common. The same idea applies for hot water heater elements, water filters, and any consumable regularly used in home appliances.
Indoor Air-Quality Monitors
Indoor air pollution and CO2 monitors are pretty rare in the residential sector at this point in time. However, during times of pandemic clean air is another form of defense for people to ensure healthy indoor air environment. In the future, sensors may also become sensitive enough to identify the presence of allergens and potential pathogens. In the nearer term future, dirt and dust sensors may indicate to the HVAC system if additional air filtration is necessary and increase air circulation until contamination is reduced and the air is cleaner again.
What other technologies do you think will be integrated into the homes of the future due to this pandemic? Please leave a comment below and I will integrate your ideas into this post with an acknowledgement of your contribution.