As the use of smart home products and systems grows, so, too, must the infrastructure to support them. The task of installing wireless routers has long been left to homeowners. Now, however, builders are taking home Wi-Fi to the next level by including access points in their homes from the get-go.
The result is wireless coverage that can support smart-home features like garage door openers, lighting and thermostats, as well as day-to-day streaming and usage.
An alliance is formed
The Austin, TX–based Wi-Fi Alliance is moving in on the smart-home trend with its Wi-Fi Certified Home Design program. This program enables builders to incorporate pre-installed, turnkey Wi-Fi just as they would electric and gas utilities, for example. Additionally, the builder can optimize the Wi-Fi network setup based on the size and layout of the home.
“It's taking the best regular practices the Wi-Fi industry has learned over a decade, delivering high-performing, mission-critical networks in the enterprise and bringing that into a residential home environment so that you can get that ubiquitous, uniform coverage within the home,” said Kevin Robinson, vice president of marketing for the Wi-Fi Alliance. “It’s more of a natural evolution of the increasing role of connectivity in people’s lives.”
National homebuilder Lennar is the first company to use the programs. Their homes will feature integrated home automation and voice control with Amazon's Alexa device. Ruckus Wireless will power Lennar’s Wi-Fi Certified homes.
“To be able to badge homes as Wi-Fi Certified gives consumers peace of mind to know their home has been engineered with wireless in mind, that it has corner-to-corner coverage, that there are no dead spots," said Lennar Ventures’ President David Kaiserman. "It opens up this world of opportunity for the home to start to operate very much like the car and other really high-tech pieces of people’s lives."
Following the trend
The increase in the prevalence of Wi-Fi connected devices in homes was key factor in Bellevue, WA–based Quadrant Homes' decision to offer pre-wired houses.
“We have been keying on some of the statistics and the research that is out there,” said Chris Pallemaerts, vice president of operations and purchasing at the company, which is part of the TRI Pointe Group. “We always try to be customer centric in that regard. Every time I walk into a Best Buy, [I] see the amount of products flooding the market and the popularity and the buzz that they are getting.”
Quadrant answered the call by adding a smart-home package to its LivingSmart portfolio of home features that focus on reducing energy consumption; improving interior air quality; minimizing the home’s environmental footprint; and saving water.
Quadrant’s homes already include features like compact florescent lights, formaldehyde-free insulation, recyclable carpets, recycled-content drywall and insulation, and WaterSense fixtures and Energy Star appliances.
Its newest addition, HomeSmart, will provide buyers with a house that has been pre-wired with network data and outlet combinations on every floor, making room for future access points and network extenders. Good Wi-Fi coverage is ensured with an access point on every level. USB chargers throughout the home acknowledge the prevalence of mobile devices and other smart tech.
“We wanted to make sure we had an access point on each floor for coverage,” Pallemaerts said. “It’s essential to making sure all of the connected devices work.”
That groundwork of connectivity serves as a canvas on which owners, though Quadrant, can layer Internet of Things home technologies, including a smart doorbell and security camera, a digital door lock, a Nest thermostat, Caseta lighting controls and a Liftmaster garage door opener. Owners with the HomeSmart package can use Alexa or Google Home to control their features via smartphone or voice control.
Is pre-wiring worth the cost?
Making homes Wi-Fi-ready is a way to pique buyers’ interest and perhaps meet growing demand for residents to be able to use their connected devices at home more easily. But there are additional cost to building homes with wireless access points.
Tom Kerber, director of IoT strategy for Addison, TX–based research firm Parks Associates, says there’s potential for a strong return on investment to adding Wi-Fi from the start because there is a market for it, especially among younger buyers. The firm’s research show that homeowners under the age of 35 are a key category for smart-product ownership, with 47% of that demographic owning a smart product.
“They are the category that is leading the field by a long shot, and that group is certainly key and a builder would certainly want to cater to that group,” Kerber said. Demand isn’t only at the high-end, though it’s those homes that are typically the ones being prepped for Wi-Fi. With smart-product adoption so high among younger generations, builders shouldn’t overlook the fact that this might be a feature younger buyers are willing to pay more for.
Participants in a traditional product adoption life cycle consider having that feature built into their homes to be a key benefit because that means they won’t have to worry about it themselves later.
“Where a customer would have to space out converting their home to a smart home, if you were able to put it into the mortgage [from the start], that is an option that is now viable,” Kerber said. “There are security companies that are taking the same kind of tactic, allowing consumers to finance their products so you can upgrade the door lock and thermostats and lighting all at once and have that [payment] spaced out over a couple year period.”
Understanding the return
As more pre-wired homes roll out, builders will be able to better gauge their ROI. For now, however, success lies heavily in sales, interest and, most importantly, meeting customers’ expectations.
“Whether it’s at home or an NFL stadium, consumers expect robust, high-performing connectivity no matter where they go,” Robinson said. People spend a lot of time in their homes, and so the ability to provide strong connectivity from the start can be a tremendous value-add.
“Like any feature in a home, we try to do our research on what the customers are looking for,” Quadrant's Pallemaerts said. “We try to anticipate what they are going to want in the future and at least try to include those in our homes.”