Smart homes are going mainstream. The nation’s #2 homebuilder, Lennar, is introducing new smart homes that are “Wi-Fi Certified” and ready-to-go when the buyer clicks to open the front door. While Lennar and others are cutting the cord on wires, critics say they are making a big mistake.
Lennar says it is pre-wiring homes to provide a robust wi-fi signal in every room, and that smart devices are also pre-installed, including Amazon’s Alexa as the voice controller. The certification comes from the Texas-based Wi-Fi Alliance which is a network of companies working to meet standards of quality and compatibility.
The Alliance calls this new smart home program “Wi-Fi Certified Home Design” and Lennar is offering it in 12 new communities across the country, including three in California. Lennar says it will expand to other communities in the near future as part of its “Everything’s Included” approach to home building.
Wi-Fi Certified Home Design
So what do you get with a Lennar “Wi-Fi Certified Home Design”? Lennar says that homes are designed and built with the Wi-Fi network in mind. Designers take into consideration materials used to build the home and whether they will affect the Wi-Fi signal. The goal is to make sure the Wi-Fi signal is robust and reliable in every room with no dead spots.
Floor layouts are also analyzed to determine the best location for the installation of commercial -grade access points by “Ruckus Unleashed”. They are built into the home and also meet the standards set by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Amazon Alexa is used to operate the network.
Lennar Ventures president, David Kaiserman, says of its partnership with Amazon that: “Engineering a home for the connected world is a natural for Lennar, but bringing it to life with Amazon Alexa is a game changer.” Another pat on the back came from Amazon’s Smart Home Vice President, Daniel Rausch who said: “With Lennar’s new homes, customers can start asking Alexa to turn on and off lights, adjust thermostats, and more, from the start, making the smart home experience simpler than ever.”
Devices that come with the home include smart front-door locks from Baldwin and Kwikset, “Ring” video doorbells, Wi-Fi thermostats from Honeywell, smart lights and window shades that can be controlled remotely, wireless music in every room with the Sonos sound system, and seamless control from iOS or Android devices.
Whole House Smart Energy
Lennar isn’t the only one going down the smart home road. Quadrant Homes is also offering homes that are pre-wired for Wi-Fi and come with several standard smart home features. The website says homebuyers will get “Ring” video doorbells, “LifeMaster” Wi-Fi garage door operators, “Schlage Connect” front door hardware, “Nest” learning thermostats, “Caseta Lighting Control”, and plenty of Wi-Fi capability. Homes will get CAT 6 network jacks, a 36” Smart Panel data hub, and USB chargers in several areas.
Brookfield Residential also recently announced that it will offer the Apple HomeKit in homes as a standard feature. It would use Siri as the voice controller and include other smart devices for lighting, temperature control, and other systems.
Wired vs. Wireless
The Wi-Fi Certified initiative and Lennar’s use of this standard is getting a lot of kudo’s in the industry but there are some concerns as well. Industry insiders and experts say it’s a great first step but they are worried about what “might” happen when everybody and everything is operated by Wi-Fi in one home and/or one neighborhood.
A publication for custom electronics professionals called CEPro reported that Lennar’s plan to reduce or eliminate hardwiring may be a mistake. The senior director of the trade group CEDIA, that represents home-technology experts, says: “I’m concerned that ‘certification’ gives builders some kind of ’permission’ to exclude wiring altogether.” Walt Zerbe says: “Even if Wi-Fi works fine today, it may not do so well when new products, services and applications like 4K video enter the home.”
Zerbe told CEPro that the Wi-Fi spectrum could get very crowded, and that RF interference, which is produced by the Wi-Fi signal, could overwhelm the network. He says the use of Wi-Fi could become so pervasive that the signals inside the home will be “crippled” by all the interference. He said that when the Wi-Fi signals get overwhelmed, people will likely install more powerful access points, but he says in the CEPro article that, “It’s a race to zero” because everyone else will do the same.
Zerbe says ethernet can handle streaming content much better than wireless, especially when you want to see things in high resolution. He also criticizes the elimination of hardwiring for home offices saying that: “Telecommuters use video conferences, webinars and other demanding services that don’t do well with quality of service over wireless. When it comes to doing business, you really can’t afford Wi-Fi dropouts.”
In addition, a lack of in-house wiring for speakers, due to the use of wireless, CEPro says Lennar is not anticipating the need for access points outside. It says that the use of outdoor technology is the 7th fastest growing product category for people who install home technology — such as music systems. As CEPro points out, some products will “require” an ethernet connection. So you will be limited in how you can use those products in a home that’s predominantly wireless.
The blog says that Lennar believes wireless is robust enough right now to handle the capacity, and CEPro agrees that wireless today is much more powerful than it was five years ago. It also says that wireless is designed “to increase convenience at the expense of performance.” It argues that any reduction in wiring infrastructure will limit the kind of technology people can use in the future.
Last but not least, there’s the “security issue.” Wired connections provide more security than wireless ones. Although he applauds the use of this new Wi-Fi Certified network, Zerbe says “over-reliance on wireless technology is a big disservice” to home buyers.
Smartening up your home is great fun, but you may also want to think about what you might be giving up, if you go all wireless. If you want to see one of these new Lennar smart homes, and decide for yourself, see link with a list of the new “Wi-Fi Certified” communities below: