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How housebuilders can learn from the car industry

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Cortina Mk IHouses have been around for a lot longer than cars, but, like the latter, their essential function (safety, shelter, warmth for houses, the ability to transport humans from A to B quickly in the case of cars) hasn’t changed much. However, there is a crucial difference, namely that houses last a lot longer than cars (usually).  You might live in a house that you bought in the 1960s, at the same time as you bought a Ford Cortina, one of that decade’s most popular cars, but while you still live in the house, you will almost certainly not be driving the Cortina.

The differences between a Ford Cortina and almost any new car today are massive, especially inside the vehicle.  From inertia-reel seat belts to Bluetooth to airbags and self-driving cars powered by electricity or hydrogen, the world of motoring has changed out of all recognition.

Moreover, like cars, what’s inside your house has changed significantly over the years. I don’t just mean changes in furniture fashions (hands up those with mahogany wardrobes, pine tables and Ercol chairs?), but rather the introduction of technology into our homes.  The much lauded and politically sensitive 5G roll out has already begun and the internet of things is promising to revolutionise the ways in which we live. While in themselves these things may not seem important to the construction industry, they will bring new challenges in the ergonomics of building houses, offices and industrial facilities  - and in the way they are marketed. 

Currently, home/office/industrial unit designs are predicated on how humans interact with and live inside these buildings.  While that will still be the prevailing orthodoxy, the rise of the robot and the need for more connectivity will govern much future thinking. The materials from which our homes and offices are constructed are changing too, as can be seen from the development of smart paints that are not just tough and long-lasting but also wipe-clean.

The internet of things will bring smart ovens, fridges and the like, all ordering our lives.  VR will bring the far-flung world into our living rooms, while robot waiters (on the go from 2006 in China) and cleaners will bring order and comfort to the mess and untidiness that we humans seem to like so much.

Even in the bedroom we’ll not be immune from technological change. Rather than having to drift off to sleep to the noise of passing cars and planes overhead, the introduction of directional audio, beaming sounds with laser-precision, offers the opportunity for one partner to nod off to the sounds of an immersive, self-sculpted 3D soundscape – with tropical waves lapping at their feet and soothing birdsong in the background, while the other person might prefer a cooling summer breeze or the bucolic sounds of an English meadow.  Then there are Bioadaptive lamps which tune into your body clock to gently lull you to sleep, or wake you gently.These already exist and were recently installed at the Technology & Innovation Centre of the University of Strathclyde. 

No room is immune from the impact of technology, with firms working on smart toilets that can analyse your excrement to alert you to any health issues. You might also want to use skin scanning device in the bathroom (with the inevitable iPhone app) to help keep your skin looking at its best. 

The sources of energy that power our homes are changing too.  We’re all familiar with PV/solar panels, but with climate change the need for super-reflective tiles for those living daily in scorching temperatures will become obvious, while roofs generally will work much harder – for example, with more use made of biosolar roofs that combine habitat for pollinators with energy-generating panels.

There are, literally, hundreds more ideas being developed for changing the way we interact with our homes. Simply living in them is no longer an option.  And to return to my car analogy, those housebuilders who recognise that their customers will increasingly want not simply four walls and a roof but a host of gizmos will be the ones who continue to prosper.

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment






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