Build An "Upgradeable" Home

Wired has a short article subtitled, “How our technolust helped bring down the housing market.” The article is more sensible than the headline, however—it really focuses on new developments in the housing market, and how expensive it is to retrofit even newly built homes with new (or future) technology: “‘[Remodeling] can be done, but you really need to want it,’ says Kermit Baker, a Harvard economist who studies the remodeling market.” What’s needed, the author argues, is an approach to new home construction that treats homes as dynamic spaces that can be more easily reconfigured to meet the requirements of new owners. Not that anyone is building a home right now, but it’s an interesting thing to keep in mind when you’re ready to leave your shantytown and re-settle in the suburbs.

“Home Sweet Gadget: How Our Technolust Helped Bring Down the Housing Market” [Wired]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. I would love to tear down my current house, and rebuild the whole thing in steel. No need for load bearing interior walls, so if I needed a bigger living room, just move the wall. But people call me crazy.

  2. iamme99 says:

    I’d love to build a house into the side of a cliff. Would be a great view, plus minimal heating/cooling would be needed. I also want those super strong metal alloy shutters that come down over the front like in Forbidden Planet for protection in case of nuclear war.

    Anyway, in a few years, most power and signals are going to be beamed directly. Wires will be obsolete as will all of this cable infrastructure that has been and is being built.

  3. mysticone says:

    I’m going for a monolithic dome house when my wife and I build our next home. Gotta love steel reinforced concrete, especially in hurricane/tornado prone areas. It’s more or less fire-proof, termite-proof, tornado-proof (usually can withstand wind speeds of > 300 mph), etc. They’re also excellent for heating and cooling due to their composition.

    Yep, that’s the route we’re going. The only problem is that it’s sometimes hard to find builders, insurance can be picky, and you’re probably going to be custom-building some furniture to fit in wonky spaces.

  4. SexCpotatoes says:

    I like how everybody gets all hopped up on these “hurricane proof houses” and such. The local Dairiette in town got a “tornado proof building.” when they tore the place down and rebuilt it. It sits across the street from a Ford dealership. That building may be safe from tornadoes, but I bet it’s not 100% debris proof. The tornado picks up a car, it’s gonna hurl it right through the building.

  5. @SexCpotatoes: Yeah, the building may be tough, but not Ford-Tough!

  6. badgeman46 says:

    Really we should be building houses in the old school futuristic ala Wetsons, Walt Disney way. Disneys own Contemporary hotel in orlando was built modularly with the “upgradable” being the goal. The rooms were constructed separately, furniture and all, then slid into the main hotel much like a drawer.

  7. badgeman46 says:

    Ha, Jetsons I meant

  8. savvy999 says:

    The title premise of the article is way off base; there is no current technology that cannot be rather easily integrated into any house, of any era.

    Running speaker/cat5/romex wire behind a wall is not and has never been heart-transplant surgery. CFL and now LED bulbs now fit into any light socket. Energy-efficient thermostats and X10-like ‘smart’ modules are all wireless.

    People want new houses because they want bigger, open living spaces and master baths and 3-car garages and to avoid the hassle of fixing the roof or water heater for 15-20 years, not because they can’t wire up their surround-sound system.

  9. econobiker says:

    I’d think about installing a “utility” chase that is easy to get to in each room and run communication wires, central vac, and compressed air.

  10. Sudonum says:

    @savvy999:
    That’s not entirely true. Older houses with lath and plaster walls can be hard to upgrade since it can be hard to fish wires through those walls without cutting them open. But I do agree that it is not impossible and not too terribly costly, depending on what you want done, how many bells and whistles you want. Also, it’s harder in older homes to set up one space as your “head end” without loosing living or storage space.

    And using ICF construction, [en.wikipedia.org] makes running your home automation/entertainment wiring during construction all the more important. As it’s either impossible, or too cost prohibitive to change it later on, at least on the exterior walls of you house.

  11. Learethak says:

    “treats homes as dynamic spaces that can be more easily reconfigured to meet the requirements of new owners.”

    Let’s See…

    Gerrit Rietvald’s “Schroder House” – Built 1924
    Miles van der Rohe’s “Tugendhat House” -Built 1928
    Pierre Chareu’s “Maison de Verre” – Built 1928
    Charles Eames’s “Eames House” – Built 1945
    Miles van der Rohe’s “Farnsworth House” -Built 1945

    Okay I’m stopping there. I found five designed with that principle (at least in part) in the first 100 pages of the first architectural history book I pulled of the shelf.

    Problem is the concept is great whereas the reality not so much. Designs that treat the house like a modular machine are less human and don’t feel like home to most people.

    That is somewhat different from what the article is talking about. Not so much dynamic spaces but wiring the home so that upgrades to cabling don’t require remodeling.

    This is actually a tougher sell then you can imagine since most professional home builders are focused on one thing. The bottom line. Any thing that slows down the building time or adds additional cost is going to be rejected, because they aren’t going to make any money off of it unless they can somehow convince people to pay a premium for the feature. Most people don’t understand the concept of future-proofing.

    Look at how long it’s taken for the building market to adopt simple things like speaker wire runs, and even then you only see them in the higher end homes.

    *1000 word rant about arguing with my last builder over conduit redacted.*

  12. savvy999 says:

    @Sudonum: I have an older house with plaster/lathe, and I don’t have a problem with running anything anywhere.

    It all depends upon the construction of the individual house, I suppose.

    Sure, having raised floors and built-in baseboard wire conduits would be great, but at what effort and cost, when the alternative– a feeler bit, a fish tape, a bit o’ spackle– is so easy? How some can master an HDTV setup, yet shake in fear and trembling using simple hand tools is a personal mystery to me.

    House design is not the issue, homeowner confidence is.