Connected or Green?
Earlier this year, Connection Research surveyed more than 1,000 new home buyers around Australia, asking them to rate the importance of certain features.
Respondents were asked about connectivity and entertainment technologies, and also about sustainability and ‘green’ technologies. They were asked to rate them in importance, on a scale of 1 to 5. A comparison of the rankings tells us which types of technology, on average, are most desirable. Table 1 shows the 21 features measured.
The data is expressed as the total number of people rating each feature ‘important’ or ‘very important’.
A quick glance at the chart shows that green features are rated as much more important, on average, than other features, and that home automation features rate the lowest.
The only communications or automation feature to rate as strongly as most green features is the ability to get broadband Internet – pretty well a given in today’s connected world.
The findings should provide some salutary lessons to connected home suppliers. It is obvious that most new home buyers put sustainability and doing the right thing by the environment way ahead of home automation.
Note in particular the much higher rating given to ‘energy efficient lighting’ (more than 80%) compared with ‘smart lighting’ (less than 50%). The disparity in the two responses indicates that most people do not equate smart lighting with energy efficient lighting.
Energy efficient lighting has been an Australian success story over the past few years. Households across the country have installed millions of compact fluorescents in place of the old incandescent bulbs.
Over the same period many home automation suppliers have been pushing smart lighting as a luxury or convenience item. The survey data suggests they should have been stressing the energy-saving aspects of the technology instead.
To people in the home automation industry, smart lighting means an integrated system of lighting controls with several control consoles, usually attached to a structured cabling system.
But to many consumers, it means nothing more than sensor lights or lights that can be turned on or off remotely. In any case, smart lighting is not equated with energy efficiency in many consumers’ minds.
Note also the higher ratings given to reverse-cycle and ducted air-conditioning compared with integrated climate control. Again, the specific feature rates far higher than the home automation terminology.
One particular surprise is the low rating given to ‘dedicated room for home cinema’, which is important to just over a quarter of new home buyers.
When the results are examined by age of respondent, we see that only 10% of over-60s regard it as important, compared with nearly one-third of those aged 20 to 40.
Yet even among younger respondents, home cinema was not a particularly popular feature – a surprising result when most project homes feature a home cinema or ‘media centre’ room.
The survey asked several questions about building technology, such as insulation, choice of materials and passive design principles. These features rated highest, being seen as a lifelong investment in home comfort and heating and cooling efficiency.
Also, more than three-quarters of all survey respondents favoured rainwater tanks, nearly two-thirds solar hot water and more than half greywater plumbing.
Only about one-third rated most home automation features as important.
Data networking and structured cabling were rated as important by only about one-third of new home buyers. More than three-quarters of Australian homes now have PCs, and about half of those have two or more, invariably with the same Internet connection.
The low rating here seems to indicate that many people believe wireless networking can solve most domestic networking issues.
True home automation features – such as the physical control of curtains or the ability to control or monitor lighting and household devices from afar – are not on most people’s ‘must have’ list.
Those that are familiar with the technology actually love it, but it is of marginal importance to the great majority who have never experienced it.
In line with other research conducted by Connection Research, this survey shows that home automation is not on the radar for most people. People love entertainment technology and want a fast Internet connection, but the automation of routine household functions is simply not desirable.
When home automation was first talked about in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, energy saving was one of its big selling points. Over time this emphasis has disappeared, and convenience has been stressed instead.
Given consumers’ love of all things green, it’s time the home automation industry returned to its roots, revisiting sustainability and reduced energy consumption as a feature of the technology.
That is what people want.