A News Consumer Technology — 17 June 2014

Special to American News Report

smart home appWe’ve seen technology radically change the landscape of communications, business and entertainment in the last decade, where all things have turned to digital revolutions. Ask any 16 year old if they know how to use a fax machine, and they’ll reply, “What’s a fax machine?” Heck, Instagram is not old enough to be in kindergarten.

We wanted to see how technology has affected what most consider baseline industries, where digital tools may or may not seem to be important:  Specifically, we looked at the home improvement industry, where things like HVAC, roofing and windows don’t appear to be tech-influenced, as well as security, which the general consumer recognizes as being tech-influenced.

Our findings were sometimes quite surprising.

Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Industry

The HVAC market is a $200 billion-a-year industry and the second largest source of energy consumption in the US.

Has technology impacted this marketplace, and have advances made a difference to consumers?

The answer is a resounding, YES!

The most recognizable innovation in HVAC systems is ductless heating and cooling.  This allows individual rooms to be controlled, which means homes and businesses need not heat or cool an entire building – just the rooms that are occupied.

Consider a hot summer night, when everyone is asleep in their bedrooms.  The energy used with a central system is significantly greater than just cooling a few bedrooms.  That cost savings is driving consumer demand, which is driving innovation. Companies like Carrier, have developed residential and commercial ductless HVAC systems that are high demand.

According Gordon Holness, immediate past president of American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the future will see far more modular systems vs. central systems.  He noted that regulations are also driving increased efficiency requirements, which in turn drives more technology innovation.

Smart_Home1The HVAC market is also part of the smart house revolution, where heating and cooling controls can be operated from smart phones.  That’s significant innovation that contributes to enormous energy savings.

Roofing industry

Past innovation in the roofing industry came from better communications, i.e., cell phones, which created great efficiencies in conducting business. But, it didn’t impact the actual roofing work.

Then, the software revolution came and enabled roofing contractors to better estimate costs, better manage their accounting and in production.

The latest innovation is one that is dynamically changing the roofing industry and bringing better accuracy to estimates, and more importantly, is creating great efficiencies to contractors.  The software technology takes aerial roof measurements, which means contractors do not have to scale ladders and waste time with manual measurements.

The technology comes from a company called EagleView.  Chris Barrow, the company’s president says, “Instead of roofing contractors spending thousands installing software and maintaining crews in-house, they simply place an order on the internet for a roof measurement report and they are ready to estimate the job in hours.”

Windows Industry

Is there such a thing as a smart window? Yup.

Windows can now change colors, which can block out, or let in sunshine.  This translates into energy efficiency and lower energy bills.

How do they work?

A smart window has a layer of electrochromic material, which can be adjusted to allow varying levels of light through.  Electrochromic material can change color when an electrical current is applied because it creates a chemical oxidation reaction.  A power source is wired to the two conducting oxide layers and voltage creates the reaction.

So, do you need more power to run these windows compared to the power savings gain? The answer is no.  According to Sage Electronics, you can run an entire house full of smart windows for about the same amount of money it takes to power a 75-watt light bulb for an hour.

Home Security Industry

Security systems – particularly home security systems – have been around for a long time.  Innovations in home security have tracked directly with internet and smart phone innovation.  The concept of a “smart house” began in 1984 when the American Association of Homebuilders first coined the term.  Since then, technology, obviously, has exploded with logarithmic advancements.

Once considered something for only the hobbyist or the ultra-rich, smart homes and Internet-based security systems are rapidly coming of age for the average American.

Approximately 20% of homes in the US have traditional security systems. About 50% of those stop using their security system due to the hassle of turning it on and off manually, says Peter Rogers, founder of FrontPoint Security.

Enter…. iPhones, iPads, Droids, streaming video, fast-Internet connectivity and 4G networks… and we have security systems that have morphed into full blown home automation.

Lights?  Check.  Camera?  Check.  Action?  Check.  From any location in the world many home owners can turn on any appliance, security system, lights and anything that is connected to an outlet (or not). And when any action is taken in a house, such as a child entering the front door after school, an email alert can be sent to the parent – along with video clip to make sure the child has not entered with friends.

Today’s security systems have wireless cameras that can be mounted inside and outside the house, giving homeowners “eyes” on their property, pets and family.

It’s no surprise that the smart home market will grow to $51.7 billion by 2020.

Home improvement and the building industry have been radically changed through technology. This is translating into greater energy saving, greater security and reduced costs for consumers.

It’s difficult to predict what innovations will come next, but surely if you asked yourself that question in 1984, you would never had imagined turning on your front porch lights using a phone while on vacation.

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Special to American News Report

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