The Digital Home: Senior Living Trends from the International Builders’ Show

Mar 1, 2019 | Industry Trends

By Tom Mann, Principal and Chief Marketing Innovation Officer

The 2019 International Builders' Show emphasized technology, and our own Tom Mann thinks that there are some key takeaways as it relates to the digital home for senior living.

On behalf of our LeadingAge clients, I went to the 2019 International Builders’ Show (IBS) looking for building trends. Interestingly, what I found was a show dominated by digital technology. And while there was some talk of boomers and active 55+ communities, discussion revolving around Life Plan Communities was virtually nonexistent.

Most of the technology wasn’t new, but nonetheless it’s still exciting to see great ideas finally coming to fruition. Each industry adopts technology at its own pace and home builders, particularly developers of Life Plan Communities, have been late adopters. Aisle after aisle on the conference showroom floor was filled with vendors promising to tie your house’s appliances into a virtual smart home. Everything within new homes will now be connected to the smart hub: lights, refrigerator, stove, HVAC, washer and dryer, security system, doors, music and entertainment and more. In fact, no appliance has gone unnoticed by the techies. And this brings important implications involving our field and the digital home for senior living.

Your voice, their gadgets

What was amazing to me was the number of companies and vendors fighting for control of your home’s voice control system, many of which were small startups and were companies that I had never previously heard of. I had assumed this would be a battle fought exclusively by Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon, Apple, Samsung, and GE. And, while I admire the technological prowess of these young startups, I still believe that the role of the gatekeeper is far too valuable “real estate” not to be controlled by these digital giants.

In addition to the companies fighting to be the “brains” of your smart home, countless others are looking to provide add-ons that will plug into your home’s new technological ecosystem, like gear from companies such as Ring, Noon, and Nest, among others.

This seemingly overnight proliferation of digital smart home technology companies punctuates the fact that these new technologies are here to stay and will soon be the new norm within all new housing developments. If your organization is planning a blue-sky Life Plan Community, an addition, or even a renovation, it is imperative to your success that you incorporate these new offerings.

Innovations in lighting, power delivery and laundry

One important consideration in regard to smart home technology and how it can assist us with the aging process is lighting. Brighter lights assist our aging eyes with contrast, so for new home tech, proper lighting becomes more and more important. Companies are now coming out with floor-level lighting that senses movement. For example, when you get out of bed, a sensor will light the pathway from your bed to the bathroom so that you don’t have a late-night fall.

And while I didn’t see many truly new innovations, two interesting offerings did catch my eye. The first has the potential to change how homes will be wired. The wireless charging industry is united behind a global standard – Qi (pronounced “chee”) – developed and managed by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC). This group, which includes giants such as LG, Google, Canon, Dell, Ikea, Sony, Samsung, Bosch, and Philips, is essentially creating a wireless power standard for appliances to run without plugs. For example, I saw a demo where the transmission of power ran through a kitchen countertop. A user could put the blender anywhere on the countertop without plugging it in, and the wireless blender successfully juiced. Imagine placing your cell phone on the counter and having it charge automatically! The appliance manufacturers will need to catch up, but I assure you, this won’t take long.

The second item that attracted my eye was a potential niche solution for some of our older Life Plan Communities that don’t have washers and dryers in every unit. Appliance manufacturers have come up with a new appliance that prolongs the freshness of your clothes by sanitizing them and taking out the wrinkles. This small closet-like appliance does not require any plumbing and only costs about $2,000. And while it doesn’t completely eliminate the need for a washer and dryer, it does reduce the number of times you need to do your laundry, thus, potentially making the occasional trip down the hall to the shared washer and dryer room less painful (and less of a sales impediment).

I should note that there are some communities that are already capitalizing on smart home technology, for example, Royal Oaks, a community we work with in Arizona is always ahead of the curve. In fact, they give every new resident an Alexa Show.

To explore more senior living trends for 2019 and beyond, feel free to check out some of the more recent articles on our blog. And if you’d like to take an even deeper dive, feel free to get in touch! Simply click here or call Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013.

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