10 Tech Trends for Custom Homes

Custom builders face a dizzying array of products and choices, all changing at a rapid clip. What to do? Utz Baldwin, a speaker at the 2006 Custom Builders Symposium, along with fellow technology experts and builders offer 10 technology trends for custom homes. 1. Home Theater/Media System Nothing has captured the attention of the custom market like the home theater.

March 01, 2007

Say What?

Custom builders face a dizzying array of products and choices, all changing at a rapid clip. What to do?

Utz Baldwin, a speaker at the 2006 Custom Builders Symposium, along with fellow technology experts and builders offer 10 technology trends for custom homes.


1. Home Theater/Media System

Nothing has captured the attention of the custom market like the home theater. At a minimum, upscale buyers demand a family room with a surround sound system and projection TV. But plenty of buyers in the custom segment want a movie-theater experience.

Theaters today come outfitted with the latest hardware, such as the CineCurve screen, along with plush movie-style seats, acoustic paneling and even ticket booths and candy counters. Baldwin, the chair of industry events at the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association and owner of Houston-based AD Systems, says an innovation worth knowing about is that entire theater rooms are now being pre-packaged. Builders can get everything from one supplier. Prices start at about $15,000.

Architect Paul A. Kiss built a home theater that cost $1 million (minus the furnishings and decorating). "An acoustical engineer actually designed the room," says Kiss, principal at Olivieri Shousky & Kiss of Collingswood, N.J. "The experience is like nothing else."

Home theaters are a profitable add-on for builders, says Greg Hoshaw, president at High Definition Systems, a technology systems contractor in St. Charles, Ill. Homes with theaters are worth more, he says, comparing the appeal of a movie room to that of a fancy kitchen with a Viking range.

2. Home Health Care Products and Installation

The population of those age 60 and over is expected to double by the year 2030, setting up home health monitoring to become a huge business. Systems include monitoring devices such as cameras and sensors that can be accessed via the Internet.

Other products on the horizon include devices that monitor health and report the results to a doctor's office. Many of these technologies are still in their infancy, Baldwin says, and not widely available for the home market. But some of the products are being tested now in retirement buildings. Expect this technology to become more commonplace in the next two to three years, Baldwin says.

3. Media Center Computer

Proprietary control and automation systems have been around for decades, but now software programs offer the same benefits at a lower cost. One example: Microsoft's Media Center PC. It's an entertainment center and computer that allows the user to browse the Web, play PC games, use e-mail, view photos, see movies, listen to the radio and watch TV.

Baldwin says other software companies are working on similar off-the-shelf control programs with rich features. Not only will these master control computers become more common in new homes, but the doors will open to the retrofit/remodel market. "More do-it-yourselfers will be in the market," says Baldwin.

Current systems aren't as seamless as the software companies want the consumer to believe, says Baldwin. "Someone still has to install the devices, connect them and service them."


4. Microdisplay-Based Televisions

At January's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sharp introduced a 108-inch flat panel TV. Credit the invention of micro-display devices that pack in pixels to produce a sharp picture at any size.

The demand only grows for the latest TV technology — flat-panel LCDs, plasma and high-definition TVs. "We're putting them in every room," says Matt Kurrle, project manager at custom builder C.E. Wheeler in Upperco, Md. Builder Mark Smith, vice president at Harwick Homes in Naples, Fla., says the new TVs take up so little space that buyers want them sprinkled throughout the house.

Blu-ray Disc or HD-DVD technology provides added high-definition content for everyone who has recently purchased high-def displays, including DLP projectors, plasma screens or LCD screens, says Michael Pavluk, vice president of Frankentek, a technology systems integrator in Medford, N.J. Adding these technologies to homes with HD-DVRs increases content, video quality and the freedom to watch what the viewer wants when he or she wants, says Pavluk.

5. Lighting and Automation

Control simplicity is the No. 1 buyer request, says builder Kurrle. Buyers like the touch screen in the Homeworks Interactive System by Lutron that controls all the lighting in the house from one panel. "It's a way to put everything in one system," says Kurrle. He uses an electronics integrator or contractor to link the lighting system to home automation systems.

At Paul Magleby and Associates, a custom home builder in Lindon, Utah, lighting controls are the technology most commonly requested by clients. "About 50 percent (of the buyers) opt for a whole-house system," says President Paul Magleby. At Harwick Homes, touch pads are put in three to four key locations throughout the house. These control lights, TVs, CDs, satellite radio and HVAC. The pads replace as many as 15 switches, says Smith.

6. Security Systems

A big shift in home security is under way: old systems that tripped an alarm are being replaced with systems offering continuous surveillance.

The advent of the micro-video camera has made it easy to put security cameras just about anywhere. And that's what builders are doing. Multiple cameras can be linked with the video displayed on monitors inside the house. Systems can also be tied to the Internet. If an alarm is triggered, the system sends the owner an e-mail. While on vacation, owners can access video feeds online. Activities inside the home can also be videotaped.



7. Media Servers

Every home needs more storage space, and custom buyers want more places to hold music, movies and photos. The solution: centralized computer hard drives. From a television or touch panel in the room, the user can access anything from the media library. Different movies can be viewed at the same time in different rooms. Pavluk likes hard drive video servers such as Kalaidescape. The device permits DVDs or CDs to be served out to multiple rooms and managed on the TV (no more fumbling through DVD cases in the cabinet). Cover art, movie reviews and other information can be displayed on the TV as the viewer scrolls the audio or video library.

8. iPod Revolution

About 14 million iPods were sold in the 4th quarter of 2005 alone. And now manufacturers are introducing products to connect the iPod to distributed audio systems in the home. In-wall iPod docking stations are typically centrally located to make access easy. "The product definitely has a `wow' factor," says systems contractor Hoshaw. The docking station by Sonance costs about $1,800, he says, but it has to be wired to the audio system.

9. Entertainment: Multi-zone Music Systems

Products are now available that allow homeowners to listen to different music or radio stations in different rooms. Niles Audio has a product with a small keypad in every room to select from a CD, AM-FM radio and satellite radio. Baldwin says the systems cost about $1,500 a room, but the final price tag ultimately depends on the quality of the speakers.

The simplest systems offer multi-zone receiver feeds to two listening areas. If a builder or customer opts for the simple system, contractors recommend pre-wiring all the rooms so a more sophisticated system can be added at a later date without retrofitting.


10. Gaming rooms

The latest spin on the home arcade is a gaming room outfitted for system, such as Microsoft's Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii, and Sony's PlayStation3. "Our clients are getting younger," says Baldwin.

He foresees rooms with swiveling chairs just for gaming in the custom home of the future. In his own home, John Hall Jr., vice president of John Hall Homes in St. Charles, Ill., linked a Blue-ray HD-DVD player to the PlayStation 3 system. "The picture is phenomenal," he says, adding that he expects more of his customers to ask for that.


Say What?

Not sure what an HD-DVR is? Here's a list of acronyms and terms and what they mean:

LCD: Liquid Crystal Display

DVR: Digital Video Recorder

HD: High Definition

DLP: Digital Light Processing

Flat panel: A thin-screened television light enough to hang from a wall.

Plasma screen: A type of screen that sandwiches neon and xenon between two glass panes.

Blu-ray: an optimal disk format

Source: www.flatpaneltv.org

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