Home Ownership 2.0

Author: Paul Mullet

I’ve owned property twice in my life, each in different countries, and both experiences could certainly be described as ‘needing improvement’. Aside from the mind-boggling bureaucracy associated with the purchase itself, a familiar challenge for many homeowners is understanding exactly what you own.

My current house is relatively new, however the extent of information provided when I took ownership was a set of, being frank, quite rudimentary drawings. I consider myself lucky as most property purchasers will get nothing except a title deed and a survey report. If I want to understand anything about the property I have to dig a hole, remove or break something, or ask a specialist to investigate. Even then it can be incredibly difficult to find out exactly what things are. What is the specification for the windows, who supplied the door handles, which walls are structural, what model is the air conditioning system? Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with the endless game of fixing random broken or worn-out stuff.

If we think of property as a consumer product, then the industry is far behind. Purchase a new car or electronic device and you will have access to online specifications, detailed user guides, help desk staff and user forums. Purchase a home and you are on your own.

So, it’s interesting to visualise a digitally enabled future where these challenges have been overcome. Imagine you have just received the (digital) keys to your brand-new property. Before you even set foot in the house you know exactly what to expect. Via a web portal you have access to a fully interactive, data-rich 3D model of your property, containing all the information you would want to know about the property and its component parts. You’ve toured the rooms, checked out all the built-in kitchen appliances, reviewed the solar energy system, walked the garden and taken in the view from the decking in both the summer and winter months. You’ve also been able to import 3D models of furniture from suppliers to check for fit, and try out different wall colours, curtain patterns and flooring styles. You’ve even measured up for curtains and carpets to pre-order before you move in.

When you do move in you can use your smart phone to verify all the fixtures and fittings correlate with the 3D model through unique digital tags that provide data on their source and specification. Want to know if the glass in the kitchen cabinets is safety glass? Just wave your phone at the door panel and it will tell you. Want to know the energy consumption rating of the built-in refrigerator? Open the app, point your phone and you will know. Want to put up some shelves and are worried about hitting a water pipe or electricity cable? Locate the wall in Augmented Reality and the app will show you.

What’s more, the data in the model is dynamic. The model is part of a digital twin of your property. Sensors placed throughout the house, embedded in its components, systems and appliances continually feed performance to inform when products are faulty or nearing the end of their life. With knowledge of the internal and external environment via internal sensors and access to national weather data, The model recommends the best way to manage energy usage for the coming day; what setting to use on the thermostat, what windows to open and when. It will remind you when you leave lights on, advise you when building systems are running inefficiently and let you know when its time to service your heat pump. Coupled with a virtual personal assistant, like Alexa or Siri, it will check your calendar and ask your permission to book the appointment for you….

Welcome to home ownership 2.0. Coming soon to a housing development near you.

Paul Mullett, Chartered Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and registered Professional Simulation Engineer with NAFEMS. Group Engineering and Technology Director at Robert Bird Group, with over 25 years' experience as a professional consultant in a variety of technical and managerial roles, Paul has a proven track record of providing sound, considered advice to clients based on a practical, technically grounded approach to engineering with a commitment to quality and risk management. Paul’s project portfolio is highly varied including advanced structural analysis, high-rise buildings, bridge strengthening, forensic engineering, delivery of mega-projects and complex construction engineering.

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