Intelligent Houses


One of my clients has asked me to think about life 1,000 years from now. What can we say about the way things might be so far into the future?

It seems perfectly safe to expect that we will not be burning fossil fuels to make electricity. Further, it is probably true just 100 years out that all devices will have some form of ‘intelligence’. Likewise, the Internet experience strongly suggests that all things will be networked and thus dynamically controllable via the web. The idea of a ‘stand-alone’ device, be it a house, car, or cook stove, will be a curious relic of the late 20th century.

How could these changes in conditions change housing?

  1. Electricity will come from Co-generation systems built into each building and the real time energy markets their interconnection develops;

  2. All devices in the house will have ‘intelligence’;

  3. A key aspect of Community becomes the shared, co-dependent, network of houses and devices.

Intelligent Houses should have these attributes:

Properly engineered Intelligent Houses could be mass
customized, thus allowing a substantial range of

Why should we be thinking about the Intelligent House now?

Consider that currently most 'stick built' houses are dumb, poorly engineered, and have life cycle costs which are too high while being energy gluttons. Today we are, for the most part, building industrial age relics. In more than a few states these ‘homes’ do not even qualify for insurance. Can we any longer afford to build such dinosaurs?

Another question we must ask is: How much longer can we sustain the current industrial system for generating energy with very large scale, centralized, carbon burning power plants with their inefficient distribution grids?

There are a lot of reasons for finding an alternative energy system:

Imported oil is bad for economies

We must reduce greenhouse gases

Centralized mega plants are national security risks

Mega plants and their grids are at least 50% inefficient

Mega plants are hard to site

Mega plants are capital intensive

Mega plants may never be NET energy contributors if all life cycle energy inputs/outputs are considered

Mega plants will not be built for the 40% of the world's population currently without electricity. UNESCO estimates that there are 600,000 villages with no electricity.

The world's carrying capacity will not support a carbon-based solution for bringing the pre-industrial world to a post industrial economy.

A further consideration is the likelihood that a 'green' economy is going to be key to the development of successful and sustainable:

The first major economy which goes 'green' may well:

This may have the effect of locking older industrial economies into their oil dependencies as well as creating barriers, cheap oil, to their making the transition to 'green'. 'Green' trumps 'Black Carbon' and leaves it in the dust bin of history.

So what might a few of the features of a green Intelligent House be?

I envision the scaleable CO-generation at the core of the Intelligent House as being a mix of photovoltaics, fuel cells, small gas turbines, small scale hydro, wind ... in locally appropriate mixes.

The expectation is that in the Intelligent House every energy consuming device will be web enabled and able to actively participate in the local real time energy market. If the price on the local community network goes above $X, to be individually determined by each owner, then some, or all of, the units would shut off and SELL their now released energy to the community. Below $Y, then the units would turn on. Of course each device could have different time and value windows set to determine their participation in the market.

In this view, each Intelligent House is plugged into all of its neighbors. The Network is the Community! Just as with any network, the more members the more value the network has. The Internet and the telephone networks have shown that this increase in value is a nonlinear function.

In the future, electric cars, when they are not in use on the road, will also be plugged into the house/car/community network grid! Amory Lovins, amongst others, have been thinking about this. See the work at:

One alternative choice to the above positive, but not utopian, view of the future of housing and energy is the distopian view put forward by the Conservatives. They tell us with great authority that the only way to curb green house gases is to ban back yard barbecues, lawn mowing, and tax gasoline so severely as to eliminate all pleasure driving in the family automobile.

For myself, I choose the positive over the distopian.

Just some ideas I am currently exploring. Any thoughts?



PS: An Altavista search on smart houses yields over 200 references. In general, these earlier concepts are grid dependent and so not include Co-generation in the core design of the solution.

A public source of fuel cell progress is fuel cell 2000's home page:
This only lists those teams reporting their intentions publicly, but shows some of the serious interest in development of the technology and eventual products.
[Thanks to George Kamburoff]

Please send your comments to Jock about this piece.

Read other readers' comments about this essay

File Date: 16 Aug 97

View this pages's StatTrax user access statistics