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What the Sustainable Smart Home Really Means

Sustainable living - 3d illustration with ecology icons on brown wooden background.

The first big event of 2022 was CES, where the world gathered in Las Vegas to witness the new and innovative technologies being developed. More so than in past years, there was a heavy focus on how technology can help solve personal and environmental health issues that we are currently facing. 

COVID-19 has forced us all to slow down, take inventory of our health and that of our planet, and reflect on our relationships and our place in a rapidly evolving world. In light of this, it was inspiring to witness how the next generation of technology is making our homes better for our pocket books, our well-being and the environment. 

Why is it important to incorporate sustainability technology into homes? 

As defined by the UN Brundtland Commission, “sustainability” is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  

The convergence of sustainability and the smart home is being driven by a desire to live a healthy lifestyle that also lessens one’s impact on our planet’s natural, finite resources. The U.S. residential sector —  made up of 132 million households that mainly burn fossil fuels for energy — is said to be responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions. If we don’t make drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, our Earth’s average temperature may cross 1.5 degrees Celsius above average pre-industrial levels over the next decade. While this difference might seem small, scientists have warned us that we must stay under that temperature to avoid catastrophic impacts. The benefits of a sustainable smart home can extend beyond the walls of a home, helping to reduce our carbon footprint and combat climate change. 

Is sustainability important to people? 

Parks Associates’ most recent quarterly survey of 10,000 broadband households revealed a clear demand for sustainability and clean energy services and devices. Over 40 percent of responders would prefer to live in a community powered by solar energy, and 35 percent are willing to pay more for clean energy.  

Green Builder Media reported that at least 80 percent of home buyers and homeowners of all age groups reported that they would pay more for a healthier home. 

A Forbes study showed that 77 percent of consumers want to learn more about how to live a sustainable lifestyle. 

How is the market reacting to people’s interest in sustainability? 

Sustainable smart home projects are still an emerging market, but they are continuing to draw consumer interest and are on an upward trend. For example, Peggy Smedley —  a widely recognized expert and influencer in the tech space — is launching the Project Sustainability Living Lab. This program aims to showcase a home integrated with advanced products and ecosystems that include smart, healthy and sustainable offerings that restore and regenerate natural ecosystems. Non-profit trades organizations, industry publishers and builders are also teaming up to champion sustainability initiatives. The Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA), in partnership with Thrive Home Builders, Charis Homes and Pro Builder Media, launched the Ultimate Z.E.N. Home and the Showcase Home in the past year. 

What are some of the sustainable and healthy smart home features being showcased? 

Smart and Clean Energy 

Thermostats have shown to save around 10-20 percent on energy costs by automatically turning off when there are no occupants in the home. This helps reduce energy waste and carbon emissions from fossil fuel powered systems. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind in conjunction with a home battery allow for a further reduction in carbon emissions while also providing resiliency in case of a grid outage. Cities across the country are joining the electrification movement and banning gas in new construction. A new, electrically-run world is on the horizon with homes that will offer full grid-to-plug power management, and it will one day progress into the net-zero and even net-positive home of the future. There are many challenges to overcome, but setting ambitious climate goals is crucial for warding off the worsening impacts of climate change.  

Water Intelligence 

A study by Michigan State University revealed that 10 percent of homes in the U.S. waste more than 90 gallons of water per day due to leaks. In five years, almost a third of the population will lack affordable access to water if this trend continues. Smart water devices can address some of these issues by giving users an idea of their water usage and where they can improve. These devices can detect leaks and protect against catastrophic flood damage by shutting down the main water line upon detection. Discovering leaks early on can prevent mold conditions that can have a very negative impact on health. Insurance companies are now offering discounts for homes that have these devices installed and activated. Water filtration units display pre- and post- filter water quality levels, providing peace of mind that one’s water is above bottled quality. 

IAQ Automation and Optimization 

Most don’t give their breathing air a second though, but in fact 90 percent of people are taking in unhealthy air. The WHO has classified air pollution as the number one environmental health threat to humans and holds it responsible for almost 7 million premature deaths each year. Holistic, real-time indoor air quality solutions that track, notify and automatically trigger filtration, ventilation and humidity control hardware are available in the market today. When the home is not occupied, the system reverts to energy-saving mode to reduce waste. 

Human-Centric Lighting 

Just by swapping out incandescent bulbs for smart and efficient LED bulbs, smart lighting will reduce energy consumption and waste production over time by automatically turning off when a room is unoccupied. Taking things one step further, we are now seeing LED technology that not only delivers magnificent illumination solutions but also supports our biological circadian rhythms, which enhances health and wellness. This is important because proper light levels and precise color rendering are beneficial for our daily functioning, and negating blue light after sundown significantly contributes to our sleep cycles. 

Smart Appliances 

Features that keep track of goods and notify you when a fridge door is opened allows you to maintain good energy efficiency while also providing safety features that can prevent fires. There is discussion among major manufacturers to allow for intercommunication among appliances; this could help energy guzzling appliances to recognize lifestyle behaviors and automatically optimize for comfort, reduction of energy use and peak demand management. 

Where do we go from here? 

The future of the sustainable and healthy smart home will be human-centered, data-driven and tech-enabled. Its related products, solutions and services present an enormous opportunity for custom integrators to add high impact value for families in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable and wellness technology is continuing to redefine daily life for people and will continue to play a role in the fight against climate change and regenerating wellness within the home. The ultimate smart home is one that is able to contribute to both people and planetary health. 

Michael Don Ham is the co-founder and president of RePure. RePure is a leading supplier of best-in-class health and wellness solutions for residential applications available through custom integrators. www.repure.io 

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Connected Design.