Home Truths Post COVID!

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Home Truths  Post COVID!

Home Truths Post COVID!

01 May 2020 Long Read
The smart homes market globally was expected to reach $53.45 billion by 2022, pre-COVID. And in India, it was expected to witness a twofold increase, from $3 billion in 2020 to around $6 billion by 2022.

Pandemic after-effects

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. And while home automation is often neglected compared to workplaces, Shveta Jain, Managing Director (Residential Services), Savills India, believes “a major event like COVID-19 will enforce the value of technologically sound and automated homes.” The pandemic is changing the way we experience our homes. 

This recalibration is likely to result in long-term changes, “be it in the design of housing projects, the adoption of technology for comfortable living or the wellbeing aspects of self-sufficient homes,” notes Amar Tendulkar, Chief of Design and Sustainability, Mahindra Lifespace Developers.

Such changes will range from the layout of residential buildings to space organisation in apartments, with homes needing to multifunction flexibly. “Common areas and shared amenities will come under the scanner, with stronger attention to details such as anti-bacterial paint, door knobs and other frequently touched surfaces.”  

The new normal after COVID-19 will involve more work-from-home situations. “Smart homes help primarily from the ability to provide more touchless options to control devices,” avers Dr Narendra Bhat, President, BuildTrack. “Electrical devices can be controlled via voice assistants or smartphones, thereby minimising touching of surfaces. Even locks – the most commonly touched surface for entry or egress – can be remotely opened after viewing the visitor from video door phones.”

Abhi Bavishi, Founder, Smartify, too, anticipates many people investing in touchless experiences. “In the long term, we anticipate the market will be dominated by smart security companies.” 
Indeed, COVID-19 has created greater consciousness about hygiene and security. “We expect a surge in demand for security products; products that can enable access control inside homes, technologies that can warn about gas leakage or smoke inside house; products that ensure our children or elders are safe at home,” observes Dinesh Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director, Panasonic Life Solutions India. He expects products like smart switches, sockets and locks, video door phones, remote controls, smart cameras and doorbells and energy monitoring and control systems to gain higher traction. “Post-COVID, immediate demand will essentially come from renovation projects.”

Homes designed for work

After the pandemic, it is evident that homes will be designed differently, taking into consideration the need for personal, family and professional space. 
In metros or Tier-I cities, Tendulkar expects the focus to be on multifunctional spaces; for instance, a corridor or dining table in the kitchen that can be repurposed as a workstation. “However, in Tier-II cities and smaller towns, where space availability is not as much of a concern, we will need to reconsider the need for more isolated spaces.” At the core of the ethos will be a juxtaposition of simplicity and functionality. The pandemic might also serve as a catalyst for decentralisation. “There could be a shift in buying markets, with homebuyers looking to secondary cities and less populated locations that offer them more space,” he adds.

Office spaces could become an integral part of any new home design. “In a standard sized home, measuring 800-1,100 sq ft, there will be provisions for smart, clutter-free office spaces,” notes Jain.

According to Aggarwal, “People will be keen on optimal utilisation of space available within a part of the house, which can be completely modified as an office area, devoid of the normal distractions you face when working from home.”

A nook as an office could be the design mantra, believes Architect Gaurav Sanghavi, Co-Founder, Pentaspace Design Studio. “Spaces will have to be multifunctional.” He believes users will demand an office space at home in newer apartments.

Architect Siddhina Sakla, Founder, 

The Arch Studio, always insists her clients include a study desk in any one room. “It could be a foldable one too, but it defines the study area. A task light will add to the ambience with a nice bookshelf. A living area must include a reading corner or a nice lounging chair. Terraces and balconies will be more beautiful.”

Indeed, the importance of balconies that ‘bring the outside in’ is being rediscovered. “Balconies can be repurposed for indoor gardening, play areas for children, individual spaces for ‘me time’ and the simple pleasures of sunlight and fresh air,” says Tendulkar.

It is more likely that spaces will be more transformable via innovative furniture design. The same physical space could serve as an office for part of the day and as a gathering and living space for another. Some office features may enter the home, such as underfloor wiring to make power supply more accessible from various points rather than being restricted to certain wall areas, says Dr Bhat. “The layout of walls and spaces will most likely take into consideration the ability of Wi-Fi and phone signals to be more accessible without the creation of dead zones in the home. Another aspect that will be woven into home design is spaces where phone conversations can be conducted; layout changes and new sound-absorbing materials will probably have to be considered in the design of some spaces.”

Bavishi anticipates people will invest in a good workspace with multiple monitors, sophisticated networking equipment and powerful computing power. “They will also invest in a personal or family space inside their home. Further, we anticipate that people will invest more in smart gear to keep their home sanitised and organised.”

Rajendra Joshi, CEO-Residential, Brigade Group, expects the demand for large-size units to increase, particularly in established locations. “People in the mid and affluent segments will look for larger spaces. For example, one may need to incorporate a study in a standard two-bedroom unit.” 

He also believes the demand for gated communities will increase, as support systems are much better in such communities in a crisis.

Innovations in home automation

With work from home becoming the new normal, future home developments will have to look into both design and automation elements with technology and thoughtful design playing a major role in the post-pandemic home.  

‘Contactless’ is yet another new normal and nowhere is this more important than in the delivery of essential products and services to our homes. According to Tendulkar, “Residential projects will incorporate (or repurpose) existing spaces as designated areas for dropping off packages; this might even emerge as a standard offering across projects. A 24 x 7 pharmacy and emergency ambulance may also be stationed in building complexes.”

In homes, contactless doorbells, motion sensors, facial recognition and elevators operated by smartphones are some innovations likely to witness greater adoption. “We will have to think about creating spaces that are conducive to teleconferencing and video meetings, with adequate support in the form of wireless charging devices for phones, tablets, etc. Noise-cancelling window panes and glass doors might emerge as norms for home offices that demand a modicum of quiet,” adds Tendulkar. “We will also grow to appreciate ways to conserve resources through added technology, like solar panels, battery charging stations and water meters.”

Bavishi expects categories such as smart speakers, door locks or bells and ambient lighting to get an uptick. “Lighting has a major effect on productivity and we expect customers to invest in HCLD (human-centric lighting design) that follows the circadian rhythm of the body to maximise productivity.”

Many home office requirements will revolve around easy access to power at various points in the home and elimination of dead zones for Wi-Fi. The usage of power will increase significantly and heavy power usage equipment such as air-conditioners will be monitored more closely for daily consumption. “So, access to control existing ACs over the Wi-Fi network using smart apps to manage the daily spend on energy will likely become a need,” says Dr Bhat.

Also, there will be a complete shift in the way the automation system is viewed because of social distancing norms. “Thus, controlling lights, doors, audio and video equipment without any physical interaction, ie through voice or a gesture, will become an accepted norm,” believes Aggarwal. “Incorporating health monitoring in automation will become the mainstream.”

Joshi highlights the ability to control the working of appliances while sitting at your work desk at home, monitoring people movement, and the ability to monitor the home while one is away for shopping or other chores. “Energy management will also be a key feature.” 

Smart homes with reliable high-speed Internet and a display device will be a necessity for working from home, notes Sanghavi. “Technology will be of utmost importance to make this dual combination work.” 

Undoubtedly, technology will be the underlying requirement for smart homes. Disruption will push real-estate developers to innovate outside their comfort zones. Builders will have to leverage technology to market, connect to, transact with, and sell to homebuyers. Any company that wants to remain viable in the future should not only embrace technology but encourage innovation and change.

What dominates the home automation market in India? 

Home automation in India has traditionally meant video door phones, CCTV cameras for security and various lighting controls (IR-controlled lighting fixtures from China) and group lighting control for living room. In the past few years, awareness and acceptability of connected systems inside homes (largely for a living room) has increased. These systems are integrated and include door access, break-in alarm, lighting controls (mood lighting) and, at times, AV and AC control. 
In more high-end systems, scene creation and setting is possible. 
One widespread application of home automation and ‘smart’ technology is security, encompassing surveillance systems, access control and motion detection. The #LifeslicesByMahindraLifespaces* study by Mahindra Lifespaces revealed how the most popular smart-home element was the smart lighting system (74 per cent). Voice-enabled devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo were owned by 58 per cent and 41 per cent of respondents respectively. Other popular smart devices included wireless charging devices and VR equipment.
According to Dinesh Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director, Panasonic Life Solutions India, there is little awareness and consciousness about energy management and control system in the home segment. “While people are buying various appliances and devices with lower power consumption, it is purely for the commercial reasons of saving on the power bill. 

We hope to pioneer the thought of energy management in the residential segment, and we foresee that in coming years, security systems, along with lighting controls and energy management, will rapidly dominate the home automation market.”

Security systems form bulk of the market, observes Rajendra Joshi, CEO-Residential, Brigade Group. 
“As customers are increasingly becoming aware of the energy crisis, energy management and lighting controls are getting more popular.” The group has also partnered with home automation company Oakter to provide smart home solutions to its future residents. 

As part of its Brigade Plus Easy Home packages, customers will be able to leverage the benefits of Amazon Alexa, through which they can control home devices such as lights, fans, ACs, TVs, cameras and geysers; listen to the music of their choice; get news updates, make shopping lists and much more – just through voice.

Abhi Bavishi, Founder, Smartify, anticipates that lighting and control will remain the most dominating home automation category, as the number of lights, fans and devices a person has in their home outnumbers appliances. “While people tend to invest in security as well, they need fewer cameras or sensors than they need actuators or relays. So, if you ask me, there will be a huge demand for smart touch panels, lighting panels, bulbs, actuators, relays, snap-on plugs, and so on, in the next few years, as more people look towards automating their homes.” 

The home automation market continues to be driven by two distinct segments: One that covers both comfort and safety-related needs (the higher-end segment) and one largely focused just on safety and security basics. Apart from this, there is also a market that dabbles in home automation for some one or two isolated items in a home, either out of curiosity to explore these technologies or from targeted and pointed needs within the household. As Dr Narendra Bhat, President, BuildTrack, elaborates: “The first higher-end segment usually encompasses items related to lighting control, indoor comfort control via AC or fans, sensors like smoke, gas leak or panic buttons for safety, and motion and intrusion sensors for doors or spaces related to security. Typically, these homes also have video door phone for monitoring guests; sometimes, these are building-level video door phones. The basic needs segment focuses largely on sensors such as door intrusion and smoke and gas leak sensors that can either inform the owner or are sometimes connected together to form a complete building or community-level system that can be monitored, often functioning without Internet also, as these relate to critical safety issues.”

Most Trending Components

What do users – architects, builders, homebuyers – usually ask for, in terms of the most trending features or components in the home automation space? 
“Comfort, comfort and only comfort,” responds Architect Siddhina Sakla, Founder, The Arch Studio. “It should be completely customised to suit each household’s requirement, still keeping ordinary switches for easy access at any time.”

Security is the most sought-after feature, followed by appliances, and lighting, reckons Architect Gaurav Sanghavi, Co-Founder, Pentaspace Design Studio. But after COVID, he thinks the list will be longer. His studio’s research department is working on flexible spaces and other technology integration into next-generation homes, which will become a safeguard and go-to solution.
Several architects are going for clutter-free walls; switches should be functional and minimalistic in design, according to Dinesh Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director, Panasonic Life Solutions India. 

Alexa-enabled/voice-controlled devices, smart security systems (remote monitoring), anywhere control (even while outside the home), touch panels (architects, IDs), white-labelled solutions (builders) are some trending features that Abhi Bavishi, Founder, Smartify, highlights.

Smart home security systems, including smart locks, videos, voice-controlled remotes, automated curtains and smart home systems that allow management of all home appliances and electronic devices from a single hub are few trending smart home components, according to Shveta Jain, Managing Director (Residential Services), Savills India. “These provide ease, convenience and efficiency to the occupant.”

Another aspect not attributed to automation is ‘fashion’. “But there is a trend where users expect physical switches connecting to automation to provide a bespoke look and feel that complements functionality,” shares Dr Narendra Bhat, President, BuildTrack. 

Smarter Offerings for Smart Homes 

Typical offerings of a smart home include control and sensing devices. Control devices usually provide remote access to lighting, AC, fans, locks, water heaters and plug points. Sensing devices are usually intended to sense smoke and gas leaks and door or window intrusion or motion. “Newly emerging smart appliances also allow control of operation of certain types of appliances remotely; these include washing machines, ovens, coffee makers and more,” shares Dr Narendra Bhat, President, BuildTrack. The emerging area of voice assistants is an added user interface in addition to smart apps. 

In smart home automation, Panasonic Life Solutions India offers wired and wireless solutions. Its wireless series includes India’s largest range of smart doorbells and plugs, connected water heaters and switches under the IOT Vetaar platform. This range will soon include smoke, gas and motion sensors and IP camera for monitoring. Its wired Thea IQ Home Automation System has an open, globally accepted KNX protocol, an open platform that allows integration of many third-party products. “Our products and solutions include lighting control (including dimming), control of fan speed, setting of AC temperature and blower speed,” says Dinesh Aggarwal, Joint Managing Director, Panasonic Life Solutions India. “A combined working of these controls can enable scene creation and optimised consumption of energy.”

Smartify offers wireless and wired home automation solutions from over 25 leading brands. “We sell all kind of smart systems, from smart lights, locks and cameras to networking gears,” shares Founder Abhi Bavishi. 

Forward plans

BuildTrack has launched its unique line of Smart Touch Switches. “Through it, we have provided an app that allows architects and homebuyers to create their own switch through a combination of various facets of the switch, both the physical look and feel as well as the functional configurations that best meet the needs of every room,” says Dr Bhat. 

With the acceleration in Internet penetration at affordable rates, Aggarwal expects a rise in demand for affordable smart and high-tech products. “We are working to introduce a wider range of IoT-based products for home and commercial applications that are cost-effective and will fulfil customer requirements.” Panasonic Life Solutions will launch a new Switches series for project clients, with innovative features such as toggle-type mechanism and flame retardant, which is also an eco-friendly range, besides its new exclusive range of switches under the Ziva brand in the current fiscal.
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