Every night at bedtime, Jeffrey Chen puts his whole house to sleep with a “goodnight scene” he activates from a keypad on his nightstand.
The press of a button turns off all interior lights and electronics. Garage doors close. Window shades come down, doors lock themselves and a security system is armed and ready to detect any intrusion into Chen’s Snohomish residence.
With all of his home’s automated systems at his command, the self-described “lifelong tech geek” is totally in his element.
A few years ago, before he and his wife, Sarah, launched their Home Techonomics business, he programmed a “good morning scene” where bedroom lights and ambient music gradually came to life starting at 6:15 a.m. — a gentle, warm welcome to the day ahead.
“My body would gradually wake up to the light becoming brighter, simulating the natural behavior of the sun,” he says.
The coupling of technology and daily life has been a constant fascination for Chen, and was the driving force that led him to want to help homeowners with everything from Wi-Fi improvements to integrated smart-home technology.
Homebuilders know that the latest technology has always dazzled consumers. Many of today’s new homes already include the latest in technological connectivity and convenience.
D.R. Horton, a national developer with communities throughout Washington, includes a suite of smart-home features called Home is Connected in all of its new houses.
The system features:
• A Skybell doorbell that lets homeowners see, hear and speak to visitors at the front door.
• A Honeywell T6 Z-Wave Thermostat that controls heating and cooling via voice touchpad, voice command or smartphone.
• A Kwikset 888 SmartCode Electronic Deadbolt, which locks or unlocks the front door via a personalized code or from a smart device.
• The Qolsys IQ Panel, a central wall-mounted hub that bridges all of the home’s automated functions.
William Boucher Jr., D.R. Horton’s marketing vice president, says those are the features homebuyers want today, and the technology suite has been included in all of the builder’s homes nationally since January 2019.
According to Chen, demand for home technology is growing steadily, mirroring the rollout of new products and technologies. Here are some of the trends Chen has seen as he helps clients navigate their choices.
People want the ability to remotely control all of their lighting, access lights from their bedside and program their lights to make it appear their home is occupied when it is not, Chen says. Lighting solutions at the professional level include Control4 and Lutron. Popular consumer-level brands include Philips Hue and Caséta.
Chen says the biggest advantage of smart lighting is its ability to control fixtures in multiple rooms, as in his “goodnight scene,” to make life simpler.
This crowded market segment is comprised of subcategories such as home theaters, streaming audio, TVs, sound bars, whole house audio and more. Chen says home theaters (or TV upgrades) and streaming audio are experiencing peak demand right now.
“Theater experience and quality in the comfort of your own home makes lockdowns a little bit easier on everyone,” Chen says.
Chen says smart locks are so convenient, he never even carries house keys anymore. A code unlocks the doors and a simple tap locks them back up. Other advantages: granting access to friends and family, and assigning codes with limited timeframes to service providers. Top brands include Yale, Kwikset and Schlage.
The biggest advance in security is that traditional sensors on doors and windows can be armed and disarmed remotely, as well as being tied in with the rest of a smart home’s automation.
“If the alarm is set off, all lights in the house turn on to 100%, and all the exterior lights flash on and off to attract attention,” Chen says. “Maybe the music in the house turns on to 100% as well. The sky is the limit.”
LiftMaster, Chamberlain, and Genie all offer smart garage door openers that can be remotely operated.
“Ever drive out of your neighborhood only to drive back by your home to check and see if you’ve closed the garage? Now you don’t have to,” Chen says.
Electronic shades (Lutron and Levolor are popular brands) offer convenience and safety. They can be programmed to open and close at sunrise and sunset, or follow the sun as it moves around the home during the day.
And there are other benefits: “Never again will you need to deal with those blinds that don’t pull up correctly or don’t close all the way,” Chen says. “Also, all those strings that are strangle hazards are now gone as well.”
When he isn’t installing and integrating smart-home components, Chen is visiting clients to troubleshoot and improve their Wi-Fi service. He estimates that Wi-Fi improvements account for about half of Home Techonomics’ business.
“All the working and schooling from home, and all the time spent at home, is driving a lot of upgrades in that sector,” he says. “People are getting a taste of what life would be like if you had to do everything from home. I see this trend continuing, which will reveal cracks and weaknesses in [people’s] technical life.”
To remedy a common complaint such as “my Zoom is freezing up,” Chen says, he often installs what’s known as a mesh network, adding a series of small radio devices that spread the Wi-Fi more evenly through the house.
Google Wi-Fi, Eero and others offer mesh network components, as singles or in multipacks, priced in the $200–$500 range. Chen says he finds three units sufficient to blanket a home of 2,400 to 3,000 square feet.
Chen says that most of his clients seek his service because they are overwhelmed by the pace of technology.
He notes that the sheer variety of TV sets available at any Costco is mind-boggling enough, even before considering streaming sources, sound and gaming systems, universal remotes and ancillary devices.
“Tech should make life easier and more convenient, not induce headaches,” he says. “So my overarching goal is to create a tech-life balance for clients, where technology enriches their lives rather than becoming a frustration point.”