Celebrating National Inventors Month: The Future of Accessible Smart Homes
By 2025, it is projected there will be 8.2 million households in England in which someone who is 65 years and over lives. An increase of 23% from 2015. And the number of households where the oldest person is 85 and over is growing faster than any other age group. By 2025 there are projected to be 1.5 million such households; a huge increase of 54% from 2015. The UK is already dealing with a housing crisis, with a critical lack of suitable homes for elderly people.
However, there are many new initiatives in the pipeline, as society look for the solution to age friendly homes and an effective and timely way to age in place.
The next 20 years will see substantial changes in the home building sector, from the style of housing to more consideration of the community and multigenerational homes. Environmental impact will feature heavily as will a substantial increase in the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). While home building goes through this period of evolution, there are many solutions available here and now, including home adaptations, smart home technology and smart care.
In this article we look at how housing has progressed in the last 150 years, where we are now, and what is to come.
Housing in the Victorian Era
During the last 150 years we have seen huge advances in housing. During the Victorian era, the urban population of Britain leapt from two million in 1800 to 20 million at the turn of the 20th Century. By 1850, London was the biggest city in the world, and consequently such enormous concentrations of people posed the challenge of feeding, watering and housing the masses. At that time, most houses had no running water, toilet, or electricity. As houses were thrown up rapidly to cater for the population explosion, one area of design that was overlooked was the staircase, especially those installed for the use of servants. Made too narrow and too steep, with irregular steps, the servants’ staircase was a deadly construction. Add the weight of carrying heavy items as was often necessary and the complication of long skirts, and these stairs could easily prove fatal.
Explosion of Inventions
The mid-to-late 19th Century saw a revolution in inventions for the home. This included the launch of the refrigerator (1856 – James Harrison), the telephone (1876 – Alexander Bell), the gramophone (1877 – Thomas Edison) and the light bulb (1879 – Thomas Edison and James Swan). As we moved out of the Victorian era and into the Edwardian period (from 1901), housing designs evolved for the better. The Edwardian era marked a peak in British building standards and homes had a reputation for being well designed and constructed using high-quality materials.
Edwardian homes tended to have fewer floors than the equivalent Victorian residences, partly because the middle classes who lived in these homes had less of a need for servants and therefore the steep, narrow staircases to the loft or cellar were dispensed with.
Here and Now
Fast forward to 2021. The UK housing market has seen significant changes over the past few decades which has enabled new and renovated properties to perform more efficiently. One consideration that has been largely overlooked when building new properties though, is the major lack of socially-integrated housing which is suitable for older, less mobile or disabled individuals. As a result, homeowners are looking for ways to adapt their existing property to enable safe, independent living for as long as possible, avoiding the option of full-time care.
As mobility challenges arise, adapting the family home as opposed to moving to a more suitable property can often be a quicker and more cost-effective solution. Basic modifications can be made, for example adding a bath lift or converting the bathroom to accommodate a walk-in shower, adding grab rails, widening doorways, installing outdoor ramps, lowering kitchen worktops etc. Stairs may also become difficult to use and can become a major hazard. According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, (ROSPA), “The largest proportion of accidents are falls from stairs or steps with over 60% of deaths resulting from accidents on stairs.” The danger of a trip or fall on the stairs can be avoided by installing appropriate products, such as a homelift, which ensures safe movement between floors.
As an example, a homelift from leading manufacturer Stiltz Home Lifts can be installed quickly and efficiently by a specialist team of builders and installers. Once the building work is complete, the lift can be up and running within a day. A Stiltz Homelift may look ‘space age’ but they are very much a product for today as well as tomorrow.
Smart Home Technology
In a similar vein to the home lift innovation pioneered by Stiltz, smart home technology has seen huge advances in the last ten years, and the global pandemic has further accelerated demand. The benefits of smart home technology and smart care are vast and can ensure safe, independent living whilst reducing face to face contact with domiciliary carers. Some examples of the latest smart care technologies include;
The Elsi Smart Floor is a unique system that can be installed under practically any flooring and senses the movement of the homeowner around the room. It immediately detects if they fall and acts as a remote monitoring device, raising alerts to carers or family members.
Many systems are designed for simplicity and are a simple ‘Plug and Play’ device. The assisted living solution from IoT Solutions Group is a revolutionary approach to helping vulnerable people maintain independence through simple and discreet behavioural monitoring. A single sensor, placed in the kitchen, monitors key activities of daily living, such as boiling the kettle, going to the fridge, cooking a meal etc. It raises alerts when behaviours deviate outside of pre-defined norms.
There are a number of hyper-intelligent systems designed to future-proof homes. IPBuilding designed a system that combines various technologies including an emergency call system, integrated zone heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (which fully monitors energy consumption resulting in a lower energy bill), care and service platforms, home automation, active sunscreens, camera surveillance and access control to provide safety and security.
Wearable devices are also very popular which provide wellbeing analytics. One of the leading devices designed by My Sense uses the power of IoT hardware and AI to understand, predict and ultimately, pre-empt a person’s wellbeing needs. A MySense dashboard and app allow carers and family members to easily view a person’s health status and identify stability, improvements and any patterns of decline.
Homes of the Future
There’s no denying that technology is progressing every day and that VR, AR and smart technology is continuing to have more of a presence in our lives, and a hugely positive impact on how we live well at home. But how is this going to change over the coming decades and what will the future of living spaces actually look like? ‘A Public Vision for the Home of 2030’ highlights a wide-reaching public engagement exercise designed to provide new insight into what people need from their homes. The report found people want homes which are able to adapt to their changing needs, allowing them to live at home for longer and remain in their familiar communities. This is why assistive products such as homelifts from Stiltz are such effective solutions.
The RIBA Home of 2030 competition held in 2020 encouraged designers to develop a prototype concept for what affordable, healthy and energy-efficient homes could look like in 2030. One of the winners, Open Studio Architects created a concept which showcases a customisable build system based around the ‘Connector’ – a flexible vertical unit that can accommodate stairs, a homelift, workspaces, storage and even garden access from the upper floors. All internal layouts within the housing units can be adapted to suit multigenerational living and age-friendly setups.
Futurology, the new home in 2050, commissioned by the NHBC Foundation, looks ahead three decades and foresees radical adjustments to house building design, inspired by new technology, population shifts and climate change. The report suggests that demographic changes, such as a rapid increase in the number of elderly people and the growing issue of young people unable to afford to leave home, will drive demand for multi-generational accommodation. More homes will be designed with flexible layouts to suit different generations, which can be adapted as families’ needs change. More innovation will be used when designing “third age” homes for people over 65, reflecting demand for accommodation with personal homelifts, level access and age-diverse communal activities, whilst retaining privacy and a sense of ownership.
Stiltz Home Lifts continues to progress its dynamic R&D programme to develop product enhancements as well as the next generation of domestic lifts for a more diverse range of users, lifestyles and properties.