Imagine that your home could communicate with you, telling you, for example, that your refrigerator was about to fail or that your teenage daughter had arrived home from school safely. Imagine that it could learn your habits — the times of day you are home and away — and adjust the temperature and lights accordingly.
So-called smart homes may sound like science fiction, but they are becoming reality with technology that is now standard in some Chicago-area homes.
"We want to make our homes future-ready," said Deborah Beaver, vice president of operations for William Ryan Homes' Chicago division, based in Schaumburg. "Technology is coming to our homes, even though not everybody can afford it right now."
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Lindenhurst, IL, USA
Elgin, IL, USA
Bolingbrook, IL, USA
Prospect Heights, IL, USA
West Town, Chicago, IL, USA
Logan Square, Chicago, IL, USA
Wicker Park, Chicago, IL, USA
Humboldt Park, 1400 N Humboldt Dr, Chicago, IL 60622, USA
Schaumburg, IL, USA
In July the homebuilder began wiring its new homes in communities in Lindenhurst, Elgin and Bolingbrook to take advantage of smart home technology. Buyers can get modules that allow them to control lighting, temperature, entertainment systems and security before move-in day, or at some later point when their budget allows. Systems can be turned off and on with remotes, switches or with a digital tablet or smartphone.
Beaver said the company's latest offering helps differentiate it from the competition — other production builders and brokers selling existing homes. And customers have been quick to embrace the offering.
"We thought we would have to do more education, but people are eating up this concept," she said.
The technology's potential seems amazing: Light a path from your garage to your bedroom with the flick of a switch — and then shut everything back down by flicking another one. Use your tablet to turn on your favorite song as you pull into the driveway or avert a flooded basement when you get a text alert about high water levels in the sump pump.
Chicago-based Smart Tech Homes closed sales on 19 energy-efficient and smart technology-wired homes in 2011 and is on track to close 45 sales this year, said Staci Slattery of North Clybourn Group, who is the listing agent for the properties, along with Karen Biazar. The homes, mostly in West Town, Logan Square, Wicker Park and Humboldt Park, are from 2,400 to 3,200 square feet and cost from $379,000 to $619,000.
Buyers love that they can afford a new home with forward-looking features, Slattery said, driving strong sales even during a housing slump.
Another builder that has embraced the technology by wiring all of its homes is Weiss Building & Development of Elgin. Owner Brandon Weiss, who emphasizes green building practices in his business, sees energy efficiency as one of the technology's chief benefits.
By buying modules that communicate with the infrastructure he includes in his homes, customers can dial back their lighting by a small amount — 15 percent, for example. This tiny change goes unnoticed by the eye but means real energy savings in terms of cost and natural resources, Weiss said.
Smart home technology also makes it easier for buyers to save on heating and cooling costs, he said, with thermostats capable of learning homeowners' behavior and adjusting accordingly. While programmable thermostats also can adjust temperature throughout the day, many homeowners don't take the time to program them. Smart technology makes it simple, Weiss said.
"Technology is not always user-friendly, and not everyone is a tech guru," he said. Customers can spend anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 to equip their home, he said, depending on their selections and square footage.
Weiss, who builds homes ranging from $250,000 to more than $1 million, estimates about 60 percent of his customers buy modules before move-in. The percentage gets even higher with upper-tier homes, he said.
Tom McCaffrey, owner of Ultra Smart Home in Prospect Heights, which sells and installs smart home technology, said customers most frequently request entertainment applications.
His products make it possible for homeowners to "cut the cord," storing their DVD players, game systems, DVR and cable boxes in a basement or closet and accessing them remotely from another area.
Security is the second most popular feature, with customers choosing cameras and electronic door locks to keep an eye on the comings and goings of kids, nannies, cleaning crews and others.
While it's easier to include wiring in new construction, existing homes can also be outfitted in a matter of days, he said, with costs that start at about $700 for one room.
"Fifteen years ago, power windows and locks weren't standard on new cars," McCaffrey said. "Today, you don't even have a choice. Sometimes technology just makes sense."