During our school days, most of us did that task where we imagined and drew the homes of the future, but how close are we to the futuristic homes that we scrawled down on our exercise books?
While most of Britain’s present housing stock is a mixture of period property (Edwardian, Georgian, predominantly Victorian), tower blocks, new-build flats and suburban homes built in the great housebuilding booms of the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, there are a number of contemporary, ultramodern and almost space-age homes dotted across the country.
Is this a sign of the future or just a niche part of the market for those who can afford to make their homes look like something out of Blade Runner?
What can be said with some certainty is that our homes are increasingly smart and innovative, regardless of how they appear on the outside. A beautiful Georgian home, which wouldn’t look out of place in an 18th century period drama, will often contain all the mod-cons, smart technology and clever innovations that make modern life more convenient than ever.
But what could homes of the future look like? Will we continue to see a trend for Lego-style buildings constructed in and on the outskirts of towns and cities, or will new architectural styles emerge?
With changing demographics and changing priorities, will the makeup of the traditional house change? And just how tech-led will our homes be, say, 100 or even 50 years from now?
Smart homes are already a thing, with AI voice recognition devices such as Alexa switching lights off, playing music and offering up diary reminders if instructed by a human voice. The technology isn’t flawless, but can be highly (and scarily) effective.
You can also use apps to manage, and turn on and off, your heating, as well as sensors, plugs, lights, cameras, hubs and accessories that can be controlled and monitored from your phone.
While most people still use a key to enter their homes, smart locks on doors and keyless entry are becoming more popular, particularly in modern developments targeted at tech-savvy young professionals.
Keyless entry enables people to lock and unlock a door remotely via their smartphones, which allows you to give access to guests while you’re away without the need for a spare set of keys. It also allows you to enter your house even if you’ve lost/forgotten your keys. Who hasn’t locked themselves out at one time or another, or forgotten/temporarily mislaid their keys
Well, keyless entry could be the saviour.
We haven’t quite reached the stage where showers turn themselves on and off automatically, or the housework gets done by itself, but with the advances in AI in recent years who’s to tell how much more hands-free our homes will get in the not too distant future.
Whether it’s the war on plastic, the Extinction Rebellion protests or David Attenborough's stark BBC programme on the consequences of climate change and global warming, environmental news is rarely out of the headlines these days.
And, with the attempts by us all to cut out emissions, be greener and reduce our carbon footprint, it stands to reason that eco-friendly homes will become more popular.
Already a number of homes, particularly in coastal locations, have solar panels on their roofs to generate energy, but could personal wind turbines and bio-fuel synthesisers (yep, me neither!) be the norm in the future?
Could we all be going waste-free by recycling appliances and rainwater, employing advanced compost systems and swapping disposable items for reusable ones?
With increased awareness of green issues and a desire from consumers to be as environmentally-friendly as they can, the idea of homes of the future being greener than ever isn't hard to fathom.
Developers and housebuilders will be keen to follow public opinion by creating more energy-efficient and sustainable homes, using green building materials, triple glazing and high-performance windows and doors to improve thermal efficiency.
Eco-homes have higher than normal levels of insulation and airtightness, while also aiming to be carbon-neutral, low energy and low impact, often using only natural and recycled materials. In many cases they offer the incentive of lower energy bills.
Although green homes and green housebuilders are still in the minority, it's likely that in the future all homes will be built with the environment in mind.
Black Mirror style homes
In Charlie Brooker's hit show, episodes often focus on a modern world (not that far in the future) where new technologies can have dark consequences. Very often, ultramodern homes with various clever tech devices and gizmos are part of the story, offering an image of how smart our homes could be in the future.
And tech experts believe the next generation of technology will bring homes where, for example, a mirror could assess your health (using facial recognition to examine your mental wellbeing while also checking your breathing and blood pressure). There’ll also be scales that analyse your fitness levels, toilets that can analyse, ahem, their own contents, smart fridges that can suggest meals, automatically make orders for things you’re running out of, and alert you when food is going off, and smart toothbrushes that can send data direct to your dentist.
What’s more, air purifiers that can ensure clean air in your home and prevent viruses, allergens and bacteria from infesting your property, voice-controlled smart fans and indoor positioning systems could all be taken for granted in the near future.
One story recently highlighted how much tech could be aiding our lives in the future. There could be a toilet which analyses your wee, a blender which mixes the right balanced smoothie based on what the wee analysis says, before the drink is then put into your hand as you walk out the door, with Google Maps then telling you your journey and how long it is to your first appointment!
A growing trend
The UK smart home market was worth £900 million in 2017, according to the GfK Smart Home UK Survey 2018, making it the second largest market in Europe. Additionally, it was also the fastest growing, rising in value by 19% between 2016 and 2017, and up 35% in volume.
The research by GfK also revealed that there were 336 brands offering 3,777 smart home products in the UK during the year to April 2018, an increase of 30% year-on-year.
Interestingly, some 85% of the UK’s online population now own at least one smart product, while the number owning four or more increased from 35% in April 2017 to 44% in April 2018 – and has in all probability risen again.
The most commonly owned smart devices, meanwhile, are smart routers, smart TVs, smart meters, fitness and activity trackers (often known as wearables), and smart set-top boxes.
Interactive speakers are also becoming increasingly popular. GfK’s survey found that routers and smart TVs tend to be gateway products, while smart lighting and thermostats are plumped for by those who already own a portfolio of other smart home products.
There are various barriers that could stop smart homes from becoming mainstream, though. Price being one of them, security being another, and personal privacy being another still.
A lack of connectivity and link-up between smart products is another potential sticking point, while a lack of awareness and mass commercial appeal could be preventing people from knowing that they can control their home remotely from their phone.
While everyone living in a smart, highly connected home is still some way off, it’s now much closer to reality, fuelled by the rapid advances of new technology and AI as well as the rising influence of PropTech. (In fact, PropTech Today editor James Dearsley has written extensively on the topic and how smart technology could transform the residential sector, if you fancy a gander).
Just look how far our homes have come in the last 100 years, who knows how futuristic they will look in 2119?
Until next time...
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.