Electrical contractors will need to educate consumers to make Smart Buildings and Homes a success

EuropeOn has recently organised internal discussions on the opportunities that lie ahead with the uptake of smart houses and buildings and the ensuing ‘Smart Living’ for consumers. There is a clear business opportunity for electrical contractors, who carry out the installations that make buildings smart. There is also lots of potential for consumers to improve indoor quality of life and their energy consumption as well as the linked emissions.

On top of the added installation work needed for smart technologies, the latter will lead to new business models that electrical contractors can tap into to increase their service offering as well as to capture more added value for their work. Smart devices generate more data, which can be used by many actors of the value chain. This includes electrical contractors who can use this data to develop predictive maintenance services, which will be increasingly important as our homes become smarter and need more frequent updates and maintenance.

But the uptake of such buildings does not only depend on what electrical contractors can install. Smart and connected housing entails a significant shift for consumers as well. The latter will need to become accustomed to smart capabilities and adapt their interactions with their home and its installations.

Consumers will need to be reassured that they are still in control of their homes. With home automation systems, it can be disconcerting for users to live in a house that takes actions without being directly prompted to do so. A balance needs to be struck between automation and the level of manual control that can be exerted by the occupant. For instance, you could fit automated lighting systems in a smart house, that dim the light according to current luminosity, but you still need to fit a manual on/off switch for the user to know that he/she has final say over what the lights do.

Smart devices can also be aimed at energy consumption and work to increase efficiency, and in this sense consumer education is even more important. Consumers need to learn to trust smart systems and let them work smoothly. For instance, automated heating could work well to keep the temperature within an acceptable range according to the time of day, but if users keep using portable space heaters, the sensors will think it is too warm, cut the heating and the user will think it is not working.

Finally, sharing data can also be a hurdle for some users who are uncomfortable with the idea of having their right to privacy violated with their data being shared across platforms without their consent.

In this context, electrical contractors, or at least the most forward-looking ones, should keep in mind that consumers might need some extra information, not to say education, to make the most and understand the added value of smart systems, or Smart Living. Smart home installers will need to take the time to show to users how to best use their systems and how to trust them as well. They need to make users feel in control, even if the smart system still does most of the work. They need to explain how the users’ data will be used: that it is not personal, where it is going, and what the uses will be (and what there is to gain from sharing this data).

Mastering these new soft skills will open the door to new business opportunities for electrical contractors, that imply more white-collar work and a shift to more services, with higher added value.