When do you think the term “smart home” was created?
Anytime I’m giving a presentation on home automation, I like to throw that question out to the audience. I’ll never forget the grizzled engineer at an innovation conference who blurted out the right answer without missing a beat, down to the month and year. But most people are off by a long shot, guessing 1995, or 2005, or even 2010.
In fact, the earliest mention (at least that I’m able to find) was in 1984, when the National Association of Home Builders formed a “Smart House” task group to explore ways to integrate technology into home design.
Listen as Dan DiClerico, the Home Expert & Smart Home Strategist at HomeAdvisor.com and joins hosts Tom Kraeutler and Leslie Segrete on The Money Pit Podcast.
For most of those 35-plus years, the promise of smart home technology has always been just around the corner. I remember attending my first trade shows in the early 2000s, when smart appliances were being touted as the next big thing. They still are today, which makes you wonder again whether the smart home will ever actually “cross the chasm” into mainstream consumer adoption. But I do truly believe this time is different for the technology, for three key reasons.
March of the millennials
Reason number one: demographics. HomeAdvisor ran a consumer survey a while back to find out who’s embracing smart home technology. Not surprisingly, Millennials were the leaders by a wide margin. Roughly three quarters of Millennials that we surveyed had already purchased a smart home product, compared with 50 percent of Gen Xers and 25 percent of Boomers.
Millennials are the first generation of digital natives to own and operate homes. They’re used to controlling their lives from their phones, and the expectation is that they’ll be able to do the same with their homes. Given that Millennials are the largest home buying cohort, on pace to buy more than 30 million homes by 2030, they’ll be a driver of smart home technology for decades to come.
The second big push behind the smart home is voice control, which burst on to the scene in 2016, with the arrival of Alexa. Prior to that, there weren’t a lot of technologies that advanced the idea of the connected home in the mind of the American consumer. Nest thermostat moved the needle a little when it hit in 2012, but nothing like Alexa, and later Google Assistant.
Today, one-third of U.S. homes with broadband internet have a smart speaker. By 2022, annual sales are going to reach 64 million. Given that there are only 130 million homes in the country, that’s pretty good penetration for a technology that’s only been around for five years.
At HomeAdvisor, we recognized the potential of voice control, and so we were part of the early wave of Alexa Skills. Through the smart speaker, homeowners can now use voice activation to connect instantly with a HomeAdvisor home pro, and be on the phone with them in under a minute.
Imagine that scenario—you’re standing in the kitchen when water starts pouring out from under the dishwasher. In the past, you’d be frantically searching the internet for a plumber, or prior that, fumbling through the yellow pages. Now, you just say “Alexa, find me a plumber” and within minutes a qualified pro is on his or her way to fix the issue.
That’s the promise of voice control, creating a totally instant, seamless experience for the homeowner. There’s a pandemic effect here as well, since voice control also means touch-free, which is part of the new normal we’ve been thrust into as a result of COVID-19.
Check engine light for the home
The third and final reason smart home technology is here to stay is that it has the power to transform the home maintenance experience. Until now, the process has been mostly reactive—your freezer or furnace breaks, you fix it. Through the power of artificial intelligence and advanced diagnostics, smart home technology is able to serve as a kind of check engine light for the home, giving you the heads up before repairs turn catastrophic.
Already, there are sensors that can monitor a home’s plumbing and electrical systems, alerting homeowners to burst pipes, dangerous arcing, and the like. HomeAdvisor is partnering with many of these smart tech brands, which allows us to provide the critical service layer in the connected home experience. So if there’s a burst water pipe or blown AC, you’ll get the alert, as well as a way to connect instantly with a pro who can come deal with the problem.
Sure, there’s a lot of gee-whiz appeal to the smart home, like locks that open automatically as you approach the front door and fridges with built-cameras that let you check if you’re out of milk from the supermarket. But it’s the power of the smart home technology to take the pain and guesswork out of home maintenance, along with key demographic shifts and a pandemic-enhanced interest in contactless voice control, that will finally make it a mainstay of the American home.