Americans are interested in technologies that make their bathrooms more relaxing, as well as enhancing their homes’ value, according to a new study published by the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Who are these individuals and what’s on their tech wish lists?
According to the trade group, there’s an even mix of men and women, and they’re spread across the country. The majority are married with $130,000 household income and have two full-time workers in their household. About half are Gen Xers and have children at home. In other words, these are not primarily 20 and 30-something Silicon Valley guys bringing tech toys home.
Given their busy lives, 82% of these potential tech enthusiasts say they sometimes or frequently use their master bathroom for escape; 72% stream or play music in the bathroom. “Technology that allows relaxation is key,” respondents shared in the study. According to the report, “those with kids aged six to 12 are more likely to be using technology in the master bathroom.”
A big priority for those interested in adding technology to their bathroom is improving its appearance, the report noted, and making their homes smarter and safer. “We are seeing an uptick in bathroom technology requests,” shares Jamie Briesemeister, a St. Louis-based technology integrator. “As more people become comfortable with what the smart phone brings, they want to use features everywhere, all while keeping a discreet aesthetic and being as hands-free as possible.”
Smart home systems that can control security from one’s phone or alert homeowners to a faucet left running are of interest to study subjects, the report noted. “In bathrooms, homeowners are loving that you can bring tech from the rest of the house into your bathroom,” says David VanWert, a technology integrator in the Los Angeles area. “Having a smart mirror that can pop up an image of who’s at your front door is very popular,” he notes.
Comfort, convenience and control
Some of their requests are convenience-oriented, like tubs or showers that can automatically adjust water to a desired temperature. Others enhance wellness or safety, including hands-free or touch-free faucets and toilets that reduce germ spread, and plumbing systems that send leak or overflow alerts to mobile devices.
Homeowners are also interested in smart home systems that automatically or thematically adjust the climate and temperature of the bathroom and operate heated floor systems. They want the same convenience with their lighting systems. “Bringing voice control into the bathroom is a big request,” VanWert agrees. They’re also interested in smart home systems that facilitate themed environments. “Being able to ask your house to turn on music, close the shade and turn off the lights all hands-free is very exciting,” the integrator declares.
Entertainment and information
Prospective tech clients want to turn their bathrooms into entertainment and information spaces, the report revealed. They’re seeking Wi-Fi connectivity, charging stations for their devices, built in speakers and screen-enabled mirrors. “Our top bathroom technology requests include lighting control, TV mirrors, waterproof TVs and voice control,” reports Briesemeister. “Digital assistants answer questions like ‘what time is it’ and ‘what is the weather going to be like today’ so the homeowner can stay on track and dress appropriately without having to type into a search window.”
Obstacles on the road to integration
Despite appreciating the many benefits of technology, potential buyers see some drawbacks in adding their wish list items to their master bathrooms, according to the NKBA study. High cost was the largest objection; this can be an even larger issue during a major renovation when the costs of non-tech wish list items might redirect those same project dollars and there isn’t an integrator on the project team. Other barriers include privacy and security concerns and worries about reliability and repair issues.
“Technology is a wonderful addition to your home,” notes Laurie Laizure, founder and leader of social media’s popular Interior Design Community for industry professionals. “You want to sleep in the cold but wake up to a warm bathroom? Temperature control can do that for you. It is when technology becomes difficult to manage or understand, it can be more hindrance than help,” she notes.
While 41% of surveyed homeowners considered tech too costly to add, 60% of designers felt that way. Designers also doubted that their clients would use the technology at double the rate that homeowners did, and were far less likely to see its benefits. Briesemeister sees this in her practice: “Most of my requests come from homeowners,” she says, sometimes after the project is complete and adding those features would be less affordable and practical. “I’d love to see more collaboration between designers and home technology providers,” she shares.
Even designers who are enthusiastic have some concerns when it comes to recommending technology to their clients. These include how much of the project’s time, space and money it might require, whether it will be worth it to the homeowner in the long run, and how many service calls it could generate after installation. “At times, designers may be wary that they become more tech support than designer when selling products they cannot troubleshoot easily,” observes Laizure. “These technologies are in their infancy and have a long way to go to work as well as truly intended,” she notes, adding that she does see them improving all of the time.
Some of her IDC members are embracing technology at smart home expos and training at their own design industry events. They know their clients expect them to stay ahead of the trend curve.