Carrier makes Web-enabled thermostats that can be monitored and controlled remotely, and programmed to follow set temperature patterns. That’s a first step in building a home that can relax and go to sleep when you’re away. An Italian company, called Wr@p, is pioneering the development of smart, networked appliances that can take turns drawing electricity to minimize peak-hour consumption.
Efficiencies extend into appliances themselves. For instance, when you open and close the refrigerator door around mealtimes, your fridge goes into a tizzy as its control system fights to maintain a steady cool temperature. A smarter refrigerator (a few exist) tracks the opening and closing of the door and knows enough to sit quietly and sweat it out during periods of use. After things have quieted down, it calmly brings the temperature back under control without wasted effort-cutting energy consumption in half. That’s significant: the fridge typically accounts for about one-fifth of a home’s electric bill.
Whether they are within an appliance or across a household network, when your home computer is able to manage your home, efficiencies could compound into synergies. If that happens, the home could begin to counteract some of the consumer’s sloppy, lazy behavior.
In design, too, behavior is still the root of the problem. Although most forward-thinking architects envision homes with sensible systems, many people feel that home architecture is for the wealthy. Substantially redesigning a home has been beyond the means of most. But an MIT research team called the House_n project would give consumers access to intelligent architectural design and to the gamut of other building services that have been manageable only by teams of architects and contractors. The researchers argue that such services are increasingly online, available to all who would like their homes to work better.
Commodity, firmness and delight: those are the three ideals of virtuous architecture espoused by Vitruvius more than 2,000 years ago-as engraved on the Pritzker Prize, in Henry Wotton’s 1624 translation. It was, after all, the Romans who put the “arch” in “architecture,” and their values have not faded. Vitruvius’s order was firmitas (buildings should be sturdy, structurally sound shelters), utilitas (they should accommodate human needs) and venustas (like Venus, they should be beautiful). To which we could add: sensitas. Buildings should be sensitive, even wise. Architecture is destined to absorb intelligent technologies, and buildings ought to be smart enough to do the right thing on behalf of their residents.