Growing old comfortably

A lot of space and smart technology in futureproof homes

July 4, 2017

A house where you can grow old in comfort; what does it look like? A lot of space for future modifications, particularly when it comes to the hall and sanitary facilities. And easy digital contact with the outside world. Patrick Koch, sustainability and energy adviser at Heijmans, describes a futureproof home.

If you consider wheelchair-friendliness as an underlying principle in your design, you get a home that is popular among almost everyone, says Patrick Koch. Because wheelchair-friendly homes are more spacious and luxurious. For example, wider corridors and doors. If you are not in a wheelchair, the extra space in the hall can be used for a sturdy shoe rack.

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Concept for a Heijmans flexible home, designed for ZOWonen.

Patrick: “You can see it as extra living quality. The word ‘lifetime-compatible’ tends to frighten people a little, while every square metre counts for home buyers. Every home is a compromise between necessary spaces like bathrooms and storage rooms, and living areas. The larger the living space, the more popular the homes. It is thus a matter of marketing: lifetime-compatible homes are actually homes with a lot of space and flexibility.”

Connection with care providers

If you need care in your own home, then, besides extra space, you will also need a digital connection with informal carers or home carers. Patrick works on the Smart Living programme at Heijmans. Heijmans’ new single-family homes feature standard home controls, whereby buyers have the option of a working internet connection as early as at the moment of delivery. Matters like lighting and heating can be controlled remotely via an app or remote control. The main aim is to improve comfort and security, and to monitor and possibly modify energy consumption.

Home automation can also be used by people who are confined to their homes, as well as their informal carers. “The Smart Living package is easy to expand with monitoring-based residential care technology. And residents don't even notice it", explains Patrick.

"For instance, a range of notifications are sent if people are inactive for too long. For example, if the lights are left on for longer than twelve hours, if the smoke alarm is activated, if the toilet light hasn't been switched on for a long time or if the hob or coffee machine have been on for too long. Or sensors that report flooding in the bathroom or a mat under the mattress, which sends a signal if people do not leave their bed after a particular period of time.”

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Invisible and fast

The advantage of this digital assistance is that residents do not have to carry or reach any form of warning buttons, and that care providers are quickly informed of potential accidents. Patrick: "A smart watch can, for example, also serve as a fall detector or as a heart-rate monitor, but also as a direct means of communication in case of emergencies."

“Things are now developing very quickly”, says Patrick. “Smart technology, which makes it possible to live longer in your own home, is an interesting field of research for universities and companies. We are keeping a close on things together with Smarthomes Eindhoven, which registers and shares all relevant developments. I expect major progress in the next three to five years.”

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Producers of such products will become more innovative once private home owners embrace home controls en-mass, adds Patrick. “Implementation is ongoing, but not on a large enough scale.” He believes it would help if insurers would promote the benefits of home technology, via e.g. a lower building premium or a more favourable healthcare insurance.

Once again, it is a question of marketing: “You should not sell home operating systems as something that allows you to live longer at home, but as something that improves residential comfort. Even people who are in their seventies aren't persuaded by products featuring the word ‘care’. So do not associate the added value of home controls to age or the target group.”

Heijmans’ decision to already invest in home operating systems, and thus bring them to the attention of home buyers, offers benefits to constructors as well as consumers. Patrick: “By offering it as standard, we can learn how home buyers use home controls and how we need to design processes for accompanying data. We now have an advantage. For their part, home buyers must be prepared to pay a little extra for Smart Living, but it will benefit them in the long-run if they wish to add care applications to their home operation packages later on.”