By Samuel Smith
Published: Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Think back to when you were a child. If someone asked you to picture what a home in 2021 would look like, where would your mind have teleported you to?
Perhaps your vision of the future would have involved Jetsons-esque robot maids and flying cars, or maybe it would have been darker, more Orwellian, with all-seeing surveillance and mind control.
But now, we’re here in 2021.
Gone are the flashy gimmicks, so popular in retro visions of the future – think mass-produced hover cars, self-clearing robotic dining tables and kitchen vending machines.
In their place, we’ve embraced innovate, sustainable, eco-friendly tech, aiming to improve quality of life and minimise our impact on the Earth.
As the years progress, we’re likely to see significant changes to the way our homes are designed, how they’re powered and how they interact with the natural environment.
Homes are transforming at a rapid rate, to suit our ever-changing lifestyles. Looking to the future, we’re likely to see houses become even more flexible and adaptive – attuned to our needs.
Automation and artificial intelligence are already the norm on the road and at work – now, our humble abodes are catching up.
Here are just some of the ways in which our homes are evolving and will continue to evolve in years to come.
Homes of the future may look a little different to the mechanical behemoths depicted in retro sci-fi movies, but they’ll be smarter and more agile than our ancestors ever could have imagined.
Gerald Matthews is the Managing Director and Senior Architect at Adelaide-based, Matthews Architects. In a world increasingly saturated with technology, he believes modern architecture is about creating a buffer between our fast-paced, plugged in work lives and our inner lives at home.
Increasingly so, our homes are becoming our sanctuaries.
“The biggest psychological trend that’s being expressed in the design of homes has everything to do with the ability to change pace,” Gerald says.
“When you’re in work mode, everything happens fast and there’s never enough time. When you come home, you think ‘I need to re-center, I need to reconnect and be with my family’.
“The space you’re in will have a huge impact on whether you succeed in that transition or not. You need a buffer space that allows you to change gears – the creation of those in homes is so important.
“It takes effort to shift from one intense train of thought to a state of being relaxed. But all of that is very much expressed in the design of modern homes,” he adds.
“Currently, we could quite easily be building transforming, robotic homes,” Gerald explains.
The reason we’re not is less about cost and more about not wanting complexity.
“In a way, what we want now is simplicity,” he says.
“Everyone who’s grown up in a technological age, being fascinated by what you can achieve with technology, is also ingrained with a deep understanding of how easily technology goes wrong. If it can work, it can stop working too.”
Maximising the benefits of technology will help us create sanctuaries where simplicity reigns, but it will need to be 100% reliable.
So that begs the question, what technology is worth our time and investment?
Today, we rely on electricity for most day-to-day tasks, and that probably won’t change any time soon. What’s different though, is we’re now exploring renewable sources that don’t require the use of harmful fossil fuels.
One of the most obvious places to harness power from is the sun, with many homeowners investing in solar and battery storage. In fact, solar panels blanket more than 304,000 South Aussie homes, already.
But how exactly do they work? RAA Solar Expert Kerry Bowles explains.
“A solar system uses solar panels to convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity, which is then converted by an inverter to alternating current (AC) electricity, for use in the home.
“A home battery storage system allows you to use stored solar energy when the sun isn’t shining, so it’s a great option if you use the bulk of your energy at night,” Kerry says.
Solar panels and battery storage can slash your power bills, drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eventually save you more money than the cost of installation.
Based on our sums, a household using an average of 15kWh of electricity per day with a 6.6kW solar system installed, will spend about $1700 less on energy bills per year.
In this case, the solar system will pay for itself in 3 to 3-and-a-half years.
Peek into the garage of the home of the future, and you’re likely to find yourself face-to-bonnet with an electric vehicle (EV).
According to an RAA survey conducted last year, more than 40% of South Australian motorists would consider buying an EV as their next car. Many of these prospective EV owners were driven by a desire to reduce pollution – most notably, greenhouse gas emissions.
Depending on battery size, it takes an EV at least 18 hours to fully charge from a regular home power socket. Owners can fork out for a Level 2, 240-volt wall-mounted charger which will fully charge an EV in less than half that time. For part charges, they’re even faster. You can even use solar power to charge an electric vehicle.
If you have a solar and/or battery system installed, simply plug your car in at home, while the sun is shining. If the amount of solar electricity being generated is greater than the amount used to charge your car, you won’t be using any electricity from the grid.
Recharging might be easy at home, but what about out on the open road?
Well, there are currently more than 40 EV charging stations in Adelaide and soon to be more as the SA Government’s EV charging infrastructure grant fund kicks in.
There are currently 2 Chargefox ultra-rapid chargers in regional SA – in Murray Bridge and Keith. These can power-up an EV in as little as 15 minutes.
RAA, along with interstate mobility clubs, is lobbying the government to invest in more fast-charging stations, especially in rural areas. This, in turn, will encourage more motorists to invest in electric vehicles in the future.
In the not-too-distant past, many homeowners saw novelty electric appliances like 3D TVs as status symbols. Homes of the future are ditching the gizmos in favour of sustainable, energy-saving devices that use less energy and leave a lighter footprint.
But you don’t need a time machine to start saving energy.
There are plenty of appliances with high government-set energy star-ratings available today.
The ratings, traditionally ranging from 1 to 6 stars (though recently, a super-efficient 10-star rating was released) show how efficient an appliance is in relation to other models of the same size.
According to calculations on energyrating.gov.au, each extra star in your appliance’s energy rating could cut running costs by up to a quarter.
While transtemporal travel may not be on the cards just yet, we can get a glimpse of what the future may hold right here, right now, in Adelaide.
South Australia’s first 10-star-rated energy efficient home was completed earlier this year in the suburb of Woodforde.
The 10 Star Home, designed by SUHOstudio, uses a plethora of energy-saving technology and materials in its walls, roof, windows and floor construction to reduce energy consumption.
The 10 Star Home doesn’t rely on artificial heating or cooling. Its air-tight construction means it traps and maintains natural heating and cooling, significantly reducing carbon emissions. It also stores heat from sunlight in winter and disperses heat in summer through ventilation, night flushing, radiative cooling, evaporative cooling and earth coupling.
The aim of the 10 Star Home is to show how clever design and collaboration can create an ecologically sustainable real-life home.
Wondering what the 10 stars relate to? The Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) is a star rating system (out of 10), rating the energy efficiency of a home, based on its design.
More than 75% of homes tested under the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme achieve 6 or less stars, according to the Department for Environment and Water.
One of the most important energy saving aspects of the modern home is actually something quite simple – insulation.
Home insulation keeps heat out in summer and heat in during winter, helping you use less energy and decrease your carbon footprint.
Today, there are a huge range of insulation types to choose from. Some of the most popular eco-friendly options include sheep’s wool, cotton, Aerogel and Icynene.
As our homes become all-important sanctuaries, we’ll seek ways to automate routine tasks such as switching on lights and closing blinds.
Through a set of connected technologies, home automation allows for greater control, convenience, comfort and reduced energy consumption.
In the home of the future, we’ll be accustomed to activating (and deactivating) creature comforts with the tap of an icon. Leaving work on a cold and blustery evening? Imagine being able to switch your home heating and lights on in advance, through an app on your smart phone. Then as you near your home, smart sensors will tell your roller door to automatically open, and your home security system to deactivate.
Or perhaps you’re away on holiday. Instead of relying on your neighbours to perform regular check-ins, you’ll be able to turn your lights on each night for security, and even switch on your sprinklers remotely, so you can water the garden.
When it comes to automation, the future is now. Australian companies like Tecport are already installing information technology systems that control home irrigation, lighting, blinds, security, air conditioning and pool heating.
But automation doesn’t have to come at a high price. Smart light globes using regular Edison screws and bayonet caps can be purchased from hardware and electronics stores. Simply screw them in, connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and you can control your home’s lighting through your phone.
Looking to the future
Naturally, the notion of ‘the future’ is constantly changing. In 10, 20, 30 years’ time, some current design trends are bound to fade away into obscurity. Our desire to conserve, protect and work with our natural environment, however, will not.
While aesthetics will always play a large role in the design of future homes, we’re seeing more and more emphasis placed on sustainability and conservation.
Nature, of course, is the greatest architect. The home of the future understands this, and works with it, not against it.