Building the Smart Apartment Home of the Future

Posted on August 16, 2016

Applying smart home technology to apartments comes down to choice. The future of putting the pieces in place into a smart apartment home may be more like ordering ala cart at the local diner. Because preferences of one resident to the next surely will differ, a technology menu may be more appropriate. At least that’s how one of the country’s largest operator of apartments in the United States sees it.

In the last two years, Charleston-based Greystar has rolled out smart apartment home technology at many apartment homes. The company grabbed headlines in 2014 by working with IOTAS to install smart technology at Grant Park Village in Portland. A little more than 200 apartments received wireless connected outlets, lights and locks, as well as motion sensors and others to control water and temperature. The pilot program was set up to determine the viability of smart home technology.

Greystar has since expanded with installations at properties in Denver and Seattle, as well as select locations in its portfolio. About 1,000 units have smart technology, says Pamela Darmofalski, Greystar’s Director, Advantage Solutions/National Accounts and Sustainability.

Menu of devices can be adaptable to property type

A growing list of smart technology devices and appliances invites visions of a Jetsons-like high-rise living experience. Since the most basic and earliest smart technologies – locks and thermostats – were rolled out, a full attaché of devices including outlets, lighting, window blinds, refrigeration, dishwashers and other appliances can be operated remotely from a resident’s smartphone or tablet via an app.

When deciding on how to outfit an apartment with new technology, it is always important to take into consideration the different needs of residents, said Darmofalski.

smart apartment

Greystar has received positive feedback regarding smart home technology and residents have indicated that it is user-friendly and convenient.  The company is aware of the future potential and demand, and is working toward a broader plan.

“Our goal is to develop a program that offers a menu of options for more of our communities,” Darmofalski said. “The program can be adaptable depending on property type and will fit the needs of each owner.”

Greystar actively building a plan for smart technology adoption

Most of Greystar’s owned and managed installations have evolved over the last two years. The company has worked with property owners who have expressed interest in installing a limited number of smart components to evaluate the technology.

The pilot programs have gone quite smoothly and have been well received by residents, says Darmofalski. Residents appreciate having the option of customizing their environment with user-friendly technology.

“I think they are excited about the overall smart home experience which is designed just for them,” she said. “They can tell certain lights to turn on/off at a specific time. They can also use an app to see if any electronics were left on, and turn them off from their phone remotely.”

Since feedback has been encouraging, Greystar is actively building a plan on how future properties will look and operate.

Training staff and residents about smart devices essential

While many devices can be retrofit to older units, it’s the new apartments that are getting the bulk of the technology. Simply, starting fresh to create a functional network is a much easier proposition than adoption in older infrastructure.

Darmofalski said that thermostats, locks, lighting and controls and smart outlets are destined to be the obvious choices for multifamily.

“That goes to the underlying question of how smart do you make the apartment,” she said. “You can outfit it to really do everything for you. I think you have to know your market really well. That will lead you down the path of which technologies you put in, how smart do you make it.”

Also, training staff and residents to understand how the technology and back-end system works, as well as who to contact if technical assistance is needed, is important. Greystar is working with a variety of companies to provide support for residents.

Just as important is providing quick, educational marketing collateral to explain what smart technology is, what the benefits are and how to use it.

Mike Smith, a Cleveland-based technology consultant for the apartment industry at WhiteSpace Building Technology, says working with a vendor to manage the technology will take the burden off the onsite staff when malfunctions and repairs are needed.

“Now you have companies like Embue and Dwello that are kind of turn-key solutions,” he said. “They’ll come in and manage it, they do the analytics, they provide you with the data and you don’t have to be an engineer to understand it.”