The big ideas

What makes a Smart Home smart? Trends we're watching this year BY CHRISTINE RYAN.






Publication: Sunset
Author: Ryan, Christine
Date published: October 1, 2011

AS WE LOOK FORWARD to the upcoming unveiling of Sunset's 2on Smart Homes project in Palo Alto, California, let's explore what exactly qualifies a home as "smart." We're not talking about pie-in-the-sky vaporware or deep-pocket items that only Bill Gates could afford, but the ground-breaking developments in materials and design that we've been seeing all over the West. Here are the innovations coming together to create the smart home of today - and tomorrow.

INFO To follow the construction of Sunset's Smart Homes and learn how to tour them, visit sunset.com/smarthomes

1 Integrated home-energy systems

We can't pin our hopes on one technology - be it wind or solar or something as yet undeveloped - to free our nation from fossi fuels, but complementary energy systems can provide a smart way to power our homes. For instance, you could use solar thermal panels to heat hot water for your shower and prime the geothermal heat pumps under your house (which heat it in winter and cool it in summer), so they work more efficiently. Or you might installa hybrid wind/solar system, taking advantage of the fact that the sunniest parts of the day (and year) are usually the least windy, and viceversa.

2 Pedestrian- and transit-friendly growth

Denver, Pasadena, Portland, San Diego, Phoenix, Davis: Cities all over the West are encouraging the creation of urban-infill, transitoriented, mixed-use neighborhoods via zoning, tax breaks, or investment in, say, light-rail lines. Living close to where you work, shop, and play lessens your dependence on driving, which in turn reduces your carbon emissions. (According to a 2008 study by the Urban Land Institute, aggressively pursuing smart growth in the next 40 years could reduce U.S. carbon emissions by up to 10 percent.) Plus, you'll have more time to enjoy your home, family, friends, and neighborhood.

3 Greening the inside

The latest generation of sustainable interior materials and appliances - induction cooktops, low-VOC paint, LED lighting, remote-control showers - provides better performance and more benefits to the environment than ever, and at a lower price. Last year, for instance, a low-VOC paint costing $34 a gallon was Consumer Reports' top ShopSmart pick, not only doing a much better job of coverage than regular paints, but eliminating the need for a separate coat of primer too. Add to the mix appliances designed to communicate with those controversial new utility meters (which together can figure out the most energyefficient time of day to do that notso-urgent load of laundry) - and suddenly your house is looking very smart indeed.

4 Digital home interface

Like jet packs and Mars colonies, the automated home has long seemed a mirage, ever receding into tomorrowland. (Try dialing up some old Kitchen of the future movies on YouTube.) But with the advent of smartphones and tablets, the promise is finally feasible. Unlock your front door for an unexpected houseguest using an app on your iPhone. Replace all your home-theater remotes with your iPad. Program your lights so that it looks like you're home - when you're 3,000 miles away. Customize your personal soundtrack, room by room: fresh ylir in the kitchen, your favorite Pandora channel in the bedroom, the audio from Boardwalk Empire in the den.

5 Greening the outside

Maybe you're thinking, I've already traded in my lawn for edibles - what's left to do? How about buying containers made from recycled plastic or salvaged materials, planting drought-tolerant perennials in your borders, and installing permeable - or pervious - pavers in your paths and driveways? Especially useful in the arid West, these materials let runoff water drain into, and be absorbed by, the ground beneath them. Although the pavers themselves can cost more than concrete, installing them is often cheaper because they require less excavation and storm-water piping. And nearby gardens will need less irrigation, saving money and time.

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