Houses that have learned what heating and lighting you need, with exteriors that can be changed to suit your mood, and interiors boasting home-help drones, basement greenhouses and pet-sitting robots, will be an option within 20 years.
That’s the prediction of a new report compiled by a group of home and tech experts, who believe there will be major changes to our living spaces over the next two decades, because home and work areas have been forced to merge during the pandemic.
“Our work and home lives will blur, but not in a bad way — more in a way that gives us control,” says architect Piers Taylor, presenter of The House That 100k Built and The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes.
“We’ll be more autonomous than ever, choosing how and where we want to work, and how and where we want to play.
“We’ll need to create different virtual and physical environments for ourselves — we may need to have a meeting at the drop of a hat when we’re in the garden with our kids, and step instantly into a virtual environment. Similarly, we’ll want — at times — to banish the trappings of work, and at the flick of a switch or press of a button, be able to change the character of the walls, ceiling, lighting and atmosphere of our home.”
Taylor has been working with a panel of home and tech experts on the Vodafone Homes of the Future report, which examines the future of homes and predicts how they’ll transform to cater for people spending more time in them, following the pandemic.
A study for the report found more than a third (39%) of the 2,000 British adults questioned felt the pandemic lockdowns had changed their attitude towards their home and the way it should function, indicating a desire for change.
Taylor and tech analyst Ben Wood — an expert on smart home developments who also contributed to the report — outline what some of those changes might be…
Drones will be our home helps, and instead of shouting at the kids to come down for dinner, or ringing them on their mobiles in their bedrooms, drones will be able to pass messages to them, as well as monitoring the temperature and air quality throughout the house.
“In future, we’ll have robot drones that will provide even richer insights from within the home,” predicts Wood.
“Rather than just being limited to areas that can be reached on wheels, they’ll be able to fly around multiple levels in your home.”
Just like new cars which can provide information about performance, technical problems and fuel consumption, houses of the future be able to give useful insights into their condition, status and performance via an app.
“Unquestionably, integration is the future,” stresses Taylor.
“Much like a new car has a ‘brain’ which we can interrogate about every aspect of its performance, so too will houses of the future, via an app.
"We’ll be able to check our energy use, energy losses, if a window’s open, monitor our appliances all in one place — and book an engineer via this app or check if they can fix something remotely, be it our dishwasher or solar panels.”
Fixtures, furniture, lighting and heating will automatically and intelligently adapt to the household’s learned preferences, say the experts.
“In dedicated working spaces, lighting will be automatically optimised according to the amount of natural light on a particular day or the work being done,” explains Wood.
“For example, lighting intensity will automatically change when you’re on a video call to ensure you’re well lit.
Lighting technology will also evolve to deliver a healthier working environment, for example suppressing blue light in certain conditions.”
What we now think of as standard “cellular” rooms are a recent cultural invention, says Taylor, who predicts that simple room designations will soon disappear, as spaces become more multipurpose and flexible.
“Most spaces will do several things,” he explains. “Our bedrooms may need to be our offices, our living rooms also our gym, school room or meeting room.”
As part of this multipurpose approach, it’s predicted that each family member will use smart glasses to arrange the space around them, with their own choice of artwork, virtual clocks and windows into different worlds. And for people still working from home, colleagues will be projected as holograms onto virtual seats for meetings, from anywhere in the world.
Homes of the future will use energy much more efficiently, says Taylor, who explains that heating systems will be clever enough to mean householders will only need to capture the heat from appliances to heat their homes, even in the middle of winter, and energy generated in summer will be stored in an electronic reservoir to be used in winter.
“Power will be generated on-site by photovoltaics that are a fraction of the size they are now,” he explains, “and similarly we’ll be able to share energy with other family members who live remotely from us. Plus, “intelligent” glass will know when to shade and screen out the summer sun and when to let in the winter sun to warm up our homes in winter.”
Worried about how much your dog will miss you when you start working from the office again, instead of at home?
It’s a concern that will be wiped out in the future, predict the experts, as broadband-powered robots will help keep our pets company. These clever robotic companions with be able to entertain, feed and provide company for lonely animals when their owners are out.
Instead of homes looking the same all the time, facades will change day and night and from season to season, and as mood takes us, it’s predicted. “I think, in the future, we’ll have ’smart facades’ that are made of high tech materials that we can change via an app as the mood takes us,” says Taylor.
“Maybe it glows at night to welcome us home, reflects in summer to keep the heat out, becomes partially transparent on the south in winter to let the sun in, and maybe turns orange or pink to cheer us up if we’re sad. We can personalise our home screens, so why not our facades?”
The experts also predict smart tech will be used in the future to keep plants healthy in the dark, allowing fruit and vegetables to be grown underground to maximise space.
Care and health in the home will be a huge feature in the coming years, says Taylor, who predicts there’ll be heat sensors in floors to recognise if someone has fallen and notify carers, as well as movement detectors, and reminders to take medication.
“A home for life will also take on a new meaning, as it’ll have been designed to grow with us and adapt as our needs change, or when we get older,” he says. “The future is tremendously exciting.”