WHEN I was a kid, I used to watch The Jetsons and dream about what our homes would be like in the future.
For those who never saw this cult cartoon series, it was a Space Age counterpart to The Flintstones.
While The Flintstones lived in a world with machines powered by birds and dinosaurs, the Jetsons lived in a futuristic utopia in the year 2062 of elaborate robotic contraptions, aliens, holograms, and whimsical inventions.
You could say that The Jetson family lived in a "smart" home, with their daily chores taken care of by Space Age inventions and 101 gizmos to make their everyday life easier.
Today we are fast moving towards the "smart" home, as well as the "eco" home, driven by both government and private initiatives.
We talked to some of the experts about where we’re headed and where we are now.
Sam Zaher, an architect based in Federal, sees several developments in housing between now and 2050.
First, he believes there will be a lot more modular construction, in which homes are built in a factory and assembled on site.
And the actual construction of a house on site will become more automated, Sam says.
"The cost of labour now is almost as much if not more than the cost of materials. Automation and robotic assembly will reduce that cost."
Second, he says, a house’s ecological virtues will be more visible.
So for instance, "the walls might not be walls anymore, they might be solar panels and the roof will not be tiles with solar panels on them. The roof tiles ARE solar panels.
"You’ll be able to tell just by looking at a building its intent – which is not just to house people."
And he thinks developments in materials will play a big part in buildings looking very different in 30 or 40 years.
"As well as being solar panels, walls could harness heat and power, storing them and radiating heat in winter and keeping things cool in summer.
"Everything will have a dual function."
Recycling of water and waste will be more common, even in urban areas, with compact pre-designed systems that householders buy and have installed.
Third, houses will increasingly start to have a futuristic look, he says.
"With advances in technology and materials, we may have a new array of ideas in terms of form. People will start accepting different forms from a pitched roof or a flat roof, for instance.
"It’s like when you see concept cars, they look almost like spaceships. Houses could start to go towards that sort of futuristic form."
This will be a result of both environmental demands and the dictates of fashion, in which current ideas are reflected in the architecture.
Smart homes are already here but, at the moment, they’re more focussed on entertainment technology than robots that do the dishes, says the owner of Living Entertainment North Coast Dan Crandon.
Most of the clients who call him want access to sound systems from every room, without a whole lot of cables around the home.
Dan installs "wirelessly controlled home networks" that can run the stereo, the television and video, the internet and the security but cautions that you still need to connect to a 240-volt power supply.
You can, however, control everything via an iPhone or iPad – there are downloadable apps available that fit with the technology – or have control panels built into a wall or centralised area.
"A smart home wiring network uses the latest in data and TV cabling to deliver and distribute phone, data, internet, video, audio and TV signals from a centrally located enclosure or room," Dan says.
"A more advanced cable network allows for the introduction of a whole home control system. Sub-systems such as lighting, heating, air conditioning, audio-visual, security and telephone can all communicate using simple touch screens and key pads."
The cost for a smart system that controls your entertainment and security appliances ranges from about $1400 to $3000 plus, depending on what is included.
Among groundbreaking gadgets unveiled by both LG and Samsung at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show was the internet fridge.
Samsung’s smart fridge will feature an eight-inch touchscreen and specially designed apps including a calendar, notebook and photo gallery.
LG’s internet fridge will feature THINQ technology that will keep track of food that is running out and food reaching its expiry date.
The company also plans to add internet connectivity to whitegoods including washing machines and ovens.
Other new devices in development by LG that were foreshadowed at the show, according to www.smarthome.com.au, including those that allow users to adjust, diagnose, update and regulate their white goods at home or online via a smartphone or tablet PC using a new internet-based technology platform called Thing.
For laundry products, the feature gives consumers the choice of using "recommend time", which does the washing at the nearest, most cost-effective time or immediately if there are no off-peak electricity options available anytime soon.
In cooking, LG ovens will offer three cost options – low, middle and high – that take into account both the duration of the cooking cycle and varying costs of electricity.
LCD displays on LG’s smart appliances shows daily, weekly or monthly reports detailing the products’ overall levels of energy consumption and associated costs. Daily totals for electricity usage and subsequent charges will be accessible on smartphones and tablet PCs.
Meanwhile, a robot vacuum is already on sale. Check out Robomaid, $599, at www.robomaid.com.au.
Since the NSW government introduced BASIX (the Building Sustainable Index) setting water and energy reduction targets for homes and units, we’ve all become more conscious of "green" features.
Out of every 100 homes now in development it says:
Every home has a rainwater tank, the average size being 4000 litres and the majority of which will be plumbed to the toilet and laundry, as well as providing water for the garden;
One in four has a solar hot water or heat pump system;
More than 30% of homes have included performance glass and double glazing;
All homes are opting for efficient shower heads and tap fixtures, reducing water use and costs; and
Eaves, shading, insulation and other simple design features are making a welcome comeback.
Town planner and eco-consultant Steve Connelly, of Lennox Head, says those building new homes are definitely concerned about taking advantage of winter sun and blocking out hot sun in the summer (passive solar orientation), flow-through ventilation without the need for air conditioning, and using less energy and water.
"Some are even starting to think about the embodied energy in the materials they use. For example, a brick uses much less energy (to make) than aluminium or metal."
Other common features in "greener" homes include solar panels, energy rated appliances and LED lighting.
No home - the HOME PROJECT
More than 100,000 people in Australia are homeless, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The majority of homeless people are single (55%), while 26% are families with children.
This year Northern Rivers Performing Arts and South Cross University’s School of Arts & Social Sciences will join together to create a xxxx that draws our attention to the plight of homeless people.
The HOME project is designed to explore homelessness on the Northern Rivers and throughout regional Australia.
The three-year research project aims to raise awareness of issues around homelessness through a range of creative explorations and stories.
NOPRA director Julian Louis hopes that the project can help inform services and assistance for people who are affected by homelessness where we live, as well as in other regional areas.
The launch of the HOME project coincides with an initial HOME project event, to be held during National Homeless Person’s Week, August 1-7, in Lismore CBD.
This year, the theme for the week is "my place".
This is linked to the national theme of "My Address: Diversity in Homelessness".
During this week, NORPA and SCU will invite a range of people including homeless people, people in transitional accommodation, and people who work with the homeless in support or advocacy roles, to visit a "film set" in a shop front in downtown Lismore, and tell their story.
Participants will be asked to reflect on the notion of home and address, either in verbal form, or through physical interaction with objects provided on set.
Members of the public will also be invited to drop in to our "film set" located at the SCU Gallery at 89 Magellan St, and contribute to the exploration.
"My place" contributions can be physical, virtual, geographic, cultural, social or other and can be expressed in many forms. It might be a personal story, or you could talk about your role in service that help people or provide shelter.
You can tell your own story by talking to the camera or using props - ones we provide, or your own Show and Tell objects.
You can provide a sound bite or a longer show. So let’s hear it from you!
Reflections on the meaning of home will be filmed and edited, and, with permission, will be exhibited at the SCU Gallery in November.
Dates: Tue, Wed and Thurs August 2 -4, 2011Times: Tue 11-2, Wed 11-2 Thu 11-2 + 5-7pmWhere: SCU next Art Gallery, 89 Magellan Street, Lismore