jump to example.com

Remember the big hoopla about the Smart Home built and put on display in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry? It made every “Green” tagline in the blog-o-sphere and generally made you feel like a wasteful schmuck. Its floors and walls were made from recycled materials and its gadgets were all built to make life easier, plus something about smaller footprints. The way the media presented it you’d think the only byproduct it produces is sunshine and baby kittens — until now.

Because sitting out in the green garage of recycling and fantasy bicycle storage lives this planter. I call it the “day after the cameras and media left planter.” I was there recently and it got me thinking about the real future of a place like this. You know, in the outside world. The simple fact of the matter is no one actually lives in the Smart Home. It’s just a concept, a literal museum exhibit. The house is packed full with ideas and style, but is no one’s home.

There’s no messy kids room with crayon on the wall. The dog hasn’t gnawed the window sills to nothing because it smells like recycled chew toy. The electric pump that collects rainwater in giant underground tanks for you to drink  (which happens to be juuuust out of warranty) hasn’t broken yet and the entire garage doesn’t smell like ass because the composting unit isn’t actually turned on. In short, the house itself is a great start but it’s only half the equation.

You are the real power behind a home, smart or otherwise. How you support and maintain that home or the one you’re currently in is just as important as what it’s made from. Don’t believe me? Ask this planter in the smart garage.

Smart-Home [Museum of Science and Industry]


19 Responses to Smart Homes And The Real World

  1. Blind says:

    You wouldn’t happen to have more pics of that planter would you? I’ve been meaning to build myself a little hydrophonics set up to play around with and that’s looking really similar to what I’m thinking of doing.

  2. Steve says:

    A concept house is just that, a concept. Even if these things are a PITA, they put them in because they think they are interesting ideas that can be expanded on. I the end, if it makes dollars, then it makes sense. If these things do have a provable benefit, then they will be integrated into homes. The exibit is to inspire as much as educate. advancement is needed. Look at it like this, this house is a step up from biodome.

  3. aaron says:

    Steve OTM.

  4. Ben says:

    That reminds me of some folks that had a dome growing up. A dome is supposed to be the most efficient use of materials for the space it covers or some such. But when they put all their rectangular furniture inside it was cramped with lot’s of wasted space. Sort of classic. On the other hand it seems like solar is FINALLY getting cheaper.

  5. Phil says:

    The only thing really wrong with this house is no one lives in it. Concepts are great, but they need to be proven, and put to use. A lot of ideas either spawned in or adapted to this house are probably working well in real-life, lived-in houses, and make the lives of those people that much better. Things would be a bit better if some people would stop poo-pooing “green” technology and instead embrace some of it and improve on the concepts.

  6. Tony says:


    Yeah, a dome is the least amount of building material for the volume under it.

    Doesn’t help when trying to fit a square cabinet in a round hole though.

    Yurts etc are a bit of a compromise, but squares are easier to draw. We’ll be living in little boxes for a while yet.

  7. Bob says:

    It looks like the museum failed to do any maintenance. I think this says more about decreased museum budgets than green tech.

  8. Deelow says:

    The problem with “Green technology” is that in most instances although the idea and end result is nice, the cost and practicality of it make it unreasonable. Like Ben posted above. The biggest advantage we’ve seen out of the “green” movement is the increasing affordability of Solar power. However, look how long solar power technology has been around and it is only just now becoming affordable enough that the average Joe like you and I can even fathom it as an energy saving alternative.
    If the advancement of the technology progresses then in a few years more of these “green” products will be more affordable and there for practical to use in building situations. It’ll just take time. Right now you can’t get a recycled anything cheaper than the actual product. Why? Because it has extra labor figured into the product, it costs money to reclaim a building product, recycle it, re-from it into it’s final product, package that it’s recycled and then priced at a premium so you have a good conscience about using it. What’s the alternative? A product that was harvested, produced and packaged all at the lowest possible cost so the manufacturer can turn a profit. In construction, lowest cost will win out everytime.

  9. Fong says:

    Many good points have been made. It’s definitely a combination of variables that hinder the forward progression of green tech or any tech for that matter, especially when it forces us to change how we already do things. Human behavior, whether it serves our best interest or not (that’s a whole series of books written by much smarter people than me) is rarely simple to change.

    For green an LEED endeavors to really take hold, a few critical things need to happen. The general population need to be educated enough about what’s available and what’s realistic so they can help vote accordingly. Technology needs to be proven in some way outside of just museums and concept homes (a concept well described in the book “Small Bets”) before it will be accepted by the mass market. The tech itself also must be comparable in affordability (or better) to the non-green alternatives for the environmentally neutral folks to adopt without hesitation.

    I’m all for paying more to eat healthier, save power and the planet but only to the limit of what I can afford. What we need for real change is for everyone to do it and there are quite a few challenges to overcome before that’s possible. Sorry Al Gore. We’re trying.

  10. Joe says:

    I was thinking a whole different world of “Smart Home” than the “uber green, net zero home” while I think there is some overlap, I was thinking about electronics integration and automation.

    The only “Smart” pieces in my house right now are a timer for the pool pump and a programmable thermostat. Oh, and a Harmony remote (I LOVE that thing!!!). At some point I will put in more automation and wiring to network stuff together, but for now my home is still pretty dumb.

  11. browndog77 says:

    IMHO, the best kind of green is the kind w/ deceased commanders-in-chief on the front! Being energy-smart & saving money can run hand-in-hand. I read an article in the Raleigh, NC Observer today (only saw it because we are vacationing in NC) about a company that is offering free energy monitor software to help with tracking your electric usage, and also to recommend upgrades to reduce your costs.
    Check out plotwatt.com

  12. Mark says:

    If you’re interested in green homes occupied by real people, check out the houses built for people in the 9th ward of New Orleans after Katrina:

  13. Brian Dolge says:

    @ Deelow:
    Actually one of the biggest things raising the relative cost of green, and esp. recycled matierials is thier lack of government subsidies.
    Which sounds odd, because you are used to hearing about the MILLIONS of dollars the government spends on X, but this is chickenfeed compared to the BILLIONS in tax credits and exemptions that lets say, oil companies, who pay zero taxes on multi-billion dollar profits year after year, get. Thus you pay taxes to lower the cost of plastic feedstocks. Imagine what people would say if congress wrote a law exempting solar cell producers or plastic recyclers from taxes for the next 10 years!
    Similarly, utilities pay zero for all the pollution (not even including CO2) they emit, thus they do not even have to compete against the biggest advantage that renewables offer.
    The government builds free roads for loggers to clearcut old growth forests but grants no special favors to sustainable tree farms. And so on.
    Polluting industries spend lots of cash to secure prferential treatment from the government, money which green industries cannot yet afford.

  14. Deelow says:

    @ Brian Dolge

    Brian, I’m sorry but I’m not going to feel bad for Green industry. Al Gore has made a fortune by propagandizing, pimping and fear mongering people into believing that we are going to destroy this planet. Mean while Gore is flying his private jet back and forth to his 9 or more different properties. The only reason green industries don’t have the tax breaks and backroom deals that “big business” has is because their lobbyists aren’t doing as well of a job spreading the gospel for the religion of “Green.”
    We need more government subsidies like we need more national debt. Oh wait both of those continue to grow day to day as it is.
    I honestly can’t fathom how you make the jump from Green technology being costly as having anything to do with government subsidizing. The truth is that “green tech” is a relatively new technology and as is with all new technology when it’s still in it’s infant/adolescent stage it is relatively expensive versus it’s alternatives. I think everyone can remember when flat screens came out they were relatively expensive compared to the standard tube TV. Now there are so many options and newer technology for flat screen TV’s that you can get one for cheap and it’s hard to even find a tube TV. Like I said before it’s just going to take time and further development of the technology not government subsidizing.
    I think deep down inside all of us lies the potential to be more conservative, but we live in a nation of consumers. Fong says it best above: “I’m all for paying more to eat healthier, save power and the planet but only to the limit of what I can afford. What we need for real change is for everyone to do it and there are quite a few challenges to overcome before that’s possible.”

  15. IronHerder says:

    Just a couple of points that the commenters (thank you again for your generous donations of time, effort, experience & wisdom: they are invaluable to me) brought up.

    Government subsidies can lead the way from policy to implementation. But they come perilously close to bribing people with their own money. And the subsidies have to be phased out before any genuine market viability can be determined.

    Second, it strikes me as terribly confining to be limited, as Tony said, to living in boxes. Boxes are easy to draw and easy to build, if only because of custom. I have tried to think outside the box, but in the end, the box was triumphant. (I apologize, the double meaning for “box” comes awfully close to being a bad pun.)

    In better economic times for me, I drew sketches of my version of a better-constructed dream house, starting with the foundation. I figured that the basement walls should not be straight, but bow outward slightly so that inward pressure was better distributed and better resisted. In fact, it occurred to me that the flat walls of an ordinary basement had to be over-built just to keep from caving in. Perhaps because of my lack of real-world experience in construction or maybe a lack of imagination, I couldn’t figure out how to build a house on top of that foundation. I eventually moved onto projects that were affordable, but I still would like to have the slightly curved basement wall problem solved, even if it’s just someone else’s theory piled onto my theory of bowed basement walls. At least my dream house would accommodate square furniture.

  16. jeff_williams says:

    When it comes to buildings and green technology I think the easiest and cheapest things to do that offer a huge return are more in the building science area. Build an airtight envelope that has adequate insulation including the basement and or slab. Orient the building in such a way that can utilize things like passive solar, shade trees, or natural lighting. Use efficient appliances (seems tough to buy inefficient ones anymore). The air can still be exchanged through an erv/hrv.

  17. Brian Dolge says:

    @ Deelow

    My point was not to advocate for subsidizing green, but for de-subsidizing dirty. If we removed the various tax benifits that oil and similar companies recieve and taxed/fined auto and power companies for the pollution they caused (based, say, on the cost of excess medical care and pollution cleanups), then the price of oil, cars, and electricity would rise, BUT the cost would be borne by those using them and they would have more incentives to use green technologies, which cost more upfront but reduce costs over the life. The problem I am talking about is that our tax dollars are heavily subsidizing industries which pollute, if green tech was on a level playing field I would be fine with that.

  18. Discobubba says:

    While it does seem a shame nobody is actually using the museum, or keeping it up, I’d have to agree with most of the comments above. What I’d add is that a lot of technologies trickle-down. Similar to how engine technology might be tested on race cars and then a few years later will show up in luxury cars. Few more years and it’ll be standard on economy cars. As long as consumer demand for efficiency increase and production ramps up costs will decrease.

    On a similar note I ran into a separate problem with regards to replacing my leaking (direct) water heater. Having a nice newer efficient boiler put in recently I figured on switching to an indirect system. But what would have been even better would be an indirect solar water heater. Not needing two tanks or more than 30-40 gallons I looked into dual coil tanks (one coil being plumbed into the solar collector with a non-toxic anti-freeze, the other into the boiler). The smallest size I could find was 55 gallons, with 60 being more common! That’d be twice what I really needed, sort of defeating the purpose of being more efficient. Especially on cloudy days or during winter.

    So IMO there’s certainly a lack of some products being easily available to consumers. Sure I could have had something custom-made, but I needed a solution ASAP.

  19. Dustin B. says:

    I’m shifting towards more “green” practices more because it suits my habits and/or wallet.

    I use CFL’s since the spectrum issue doesn’t bug me, and it’s a net savings (calculated then measured with an actual half year of bills). I traded my upright fridge for a rolling chest type (I dont keep much food on hand so just going down to smaller cu.ft was a good move).

    In winter I turn the heat down a few degrees when I’m playing video games or watching the TV since both curn out a moderate amount of heat while in use.

    I have great night time sight so I’ll often wont turn on lights at night since the led nightlights I have tend to provide enough light.

    I air dry my laundry. This started off doing this since my dryer was a POS that took 6hrs or more to dry a medium load. So I’d hang everything up before work, by the time I get home, clothes are dry, and didnt have to burn massive amounts of cubic meters of gas to do it.

    The more interesting thing (read as most people would refuse to do) is take “Scottish Showers” with only one alternation between hot & cold (3-5min vigorus scrub in warm, 5-7min soak in strait tap cold). The long soak in cold has the side benefit of improving my sleep, and tends to work better on my periodic insomnia better than most Rx’s.

    Fall, winter and spring I walk to/from work (summer gets hot/humid enough that heat stroke is a serious concern.

    As for smart homes. My big gripe is they’re just concepts. I’d like to see the people that make these arrange it so some one actually lives in them after a few months of flaunting their design.

    I am pleased as punch though that solar is starting to creep into the relm of easy to get/pay for. I’ve wanted a house I could run off grid since way back when I was a wee thing drawing evil lairs from which I’d take over the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *