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Live Comfortably - August 5, 2019

There’s No Going Back to the Future

Remember George Jetson? His wife Jane? This iconic animated sitcom was a prime-time cosmic sensation for all ages during the 1960s. Viewers were transported to Orbit City and welcomed into the Skypad Apartment home of George, Jane, Elroy, and Judy (and dog Astro!), only to realize that the Jetson family drama typically mirrored life right here on earth.

While still today we can relate to the Jetsons, their apartment was touted as the “home of the future,” packed with all the gadgets and far-out technologies you could imagine – moving walkways, robotic cleaning help, holograms, 3-D printed foods. And life outside the Jetson home featured drones and smartwatches.

Sound familiar? Today, we don’t have to imagine a tech-supported home. In fact, smart homes are becoming the status quo.

What is a Smart Home?

There is no clear consensus of what constitutes a “smart home,” though most agree it has highly advanced, automated systems to control and monitor any function of a house such as lighting, temperature, security or multi-media options. Integrating all this technology is a big business.

According to the new research report “Smart Home Market – Global Forecast to 2024 by Product, Software & Services, the overall smart home market is expected to grow from $76.6 billion in 2018 to $151.4 billion by 2024, at a growth rate of 12%.

While technology is the obvious element of a smart home, the definition seems to be expanding. Energy efficiency, environmentally friendly building materials and unique design are elevating the status of homes from smart to downright brilliant.

Pouring a Solid Foundation

When it comes to innovative home designs, incorporating adjustments for people as they age is not new. The construction industry has been shifting to a friendlier “smart” design to accommodate the older population regardless of whether they decide to age in place or move to a Life Plan Community such as Goodwin House Alexandria or Bailey’s Crossroads.

“Presently at Goodwin House, we enjoy the advantages of Universal Design — wide hallways and doorway, showers a person can roll in without a barrier, rooms in which a person can turn around in a wheelchair, level entryways, etc.” said Anne Stewart, resident at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads.

Smart design, combined with integrated technology is key to living in a comfortable, progressive environment. Rest assured, you don’t have to build an entirely new house to enjoy the benefits of smart home technologies. You can outfit your current home with several new technologies, such as smart home security, temperature control, voice command and smart smoke detectors.

“I am not in need of accommodations now, but expect that I might be sometime in the future,” stated Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads resident Betty Reinecke. “When I do need them, it would be helpful to have learned to use them before I needed to.”

The Future Home is Here!

One only has to look as far as Blacksburg, Virginia to see what’s on the horizon for home building and in-home technologies. Virginia Tech’s Center for Design Research has worked for years on creating the ideal smart home—a compact living environment that combats global environmental challenges while solving some of the most rudimentary personal living frustrations. The student-based research project is called FutureHAUS and the prototype has been getting lots of national and local media buzz (Click here to view an NBC News segment that highlights the home’s top features). The project also gained global acclaim last November when it won the Solar Decathlon Middle East in Dubai.

The FutureHAUS concept is one innovators like Henry Ford might appreciate. It proposes that we build houses the way we build cars—in mass and in factories. Parts are made from pre-fabricated materials, cut into sizes that are easily transportable on the back of a standard flatbed trailer. Each section is complete with all the home’s wiring, plumbing, and systems intact. Once assembled, which typically only takes a week, the home features countertops and toilets that adjust to your personal height, movable walls to help maximize functional space and a landing cabinet for your drone deliveries.

A Visit to the Future

Recently, several Goodwin House residents were able to tour the Virginia Tech FutureHAUSTM when it visited the annual Solarize Alexandria event. Visitors, including resident Anne Stewart, were able to walk through the home guided by one of the Virginia Tech students who worked on the project.

“It was such an innovative experience to see walls moving, TVs changing from one room to the other, backsplashes in the kitchen turned into screens for recipes or news and entertainment, messages to reorder things in the fridge and that marvelous toilet,” Stewart shared. “The student guide was one of the developers, so she was engaging and happy to tell us how the house could be manufactured in the factory and put together like Legos! It definitely made you think in different terms.”

Some visitors found that the house of the future had some exciting elements, but believed it might need to make more accommodations for the older population.

“I liked the ‘rising sun’ light effects in the bedroom. It’s certainly a less jarring method of being awakened than a blaring alarm,” observed Sally Recinos. “However, other aspects of the bedroom seemed problematic for older people. The Murphy bed is great for space-saving, but it could also pose many accident threats.”

Always willing to get involved, Goodwin House residents hoped to impart insights and wisdom on the students by giving them a real glimpse into needs we all can expect to face as we age.

“It was fun and impressive that it was designed by students!” said Carol Lewis, Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroad resident. “It’d be nice if Goodwin House invited them to see how we live. That might affect their thinking for future projects.” (Author’s note: Virginia Tech Professor of Architecture Joseph Wheeler, who also serves as co-director of the Center for Design Research, is planning for Virginia Tech FutureHAUSTM leaders to visit our communities this fall.)

Goodwin House resident Claudia Blake agreed! “I love the idea of welcoming the Virginia Tech team here. There is a market for their components retrofitting homes like ours, on all levels of living. It would be interesting to hear what they think is possible.”

Whatever possibilities the future holds, Goodwin House is eager to bring those possibilities to everyone. What we observed in FutureHAUSTM has incredible potential for Goodwin House at Home members and Goodwin House Life Plan Community residents alike. And we’re looking to see if we can recruit Judy and Elroy to become members or residents… they should be coming of age soon!

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