Thoughts on the Smart Home

I said I’d discuss in more detail about why I didn’t like the Chicago Smart home. I don’t really want to be too political/critical in my blog but the environment is a really important issue at the moment and it really affected me that it really wasn’t very good. The building itself was designed to be a high technology sustainably built and run building for the future.

My main objection was their inability to provide any serious figures on things, and where figures were given they weren’t in units that could be used to compare to other data. I remember that CAT (the Centre for Alternative Technology) in Wales gave figures when solar panels cost less to make than the electricity they produce which was really important. In the Eco/smart home an example they were able to say how much the home cost to construct ($450,000 to $500,000) but although those figures excluded the price of the land they were unable to provide figures for a standard house with the same 2400 sq ft of space inside. One of my friends in Chicago suggested around $250,000 which is a lot less. They also didn’t give figures of the efficiency of there appliances something that has been required since the beginning of 1994 under EU law for white goods purchases.

When touring the home in the child’s bedroom they had an OLPC. They were describing the project as a success when in fact it has been an abject failure. I wonder how many other times they did that in the house…

Let me explain the OLPC in more detail; it is a project set up by MIT to distribute laptops for $100 to developing countries like Nigeria and Vietnam. In theory it sounds like a great idea to improve access to technology so that rather than having to use an Internet cafe people have their own machines. Unfortunately the laptops now actually cost $188. . To complete the problems they’ve also lost a huge number of senior staff from the project some of whom have come out and described the issues in the organization first hand.

Then there are the homes credentials: the home itself is designed to reduce emissions by 50% over a standard new US home; now that is fairly impressive but in fact the British government has already defined a law to reduce emissions by 60% by 2050 (source). Though to be fair CAT’s suggestions for an eco-house also produce a 50% improvement over current UK building regulations. The problem with that comparison is that a 1930’s US house only uses 130% of the energy of a current building regulations US house whereas in the UK a 1930’s UK house uses 270% of the energy of a UK building regulations house. Furthermore if you take the windows in the smart home they are double glazed with low-E coating and argon centre which follows CAT’s recommendations but their own house is quadruple glazed.

I was also unable to get any serious figures on how long the building would last. It was due to last 25 years without maintenance but how significant the maintenance would be was also unknown. Surely a less Ecologically built building could be better for the environment if it lasted considerably longer.

They do also get some things right the technology for controlling the home mostly works well though the media features need further work and the active cooling system using shafts to the roof to allow air circulation is recommended by CAT.

Anyway that sums up my dissatisfaction with the Smart Home.

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