The Internet of Things and the advent of smart little helpers like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and Apple Home have brought the concept of smart design out of the pages of science fiction and into our daily lives. Yet for many of us, the idea of a smart home stops with a Nest thermostat or phone-activated floodlight over the garage.
Instead, imagine this:
You wake up in the morning, stretch, and walk into your bathroom. Instantly, the motion-activated lights come on at the level you prefer. At the same time, the seat warmer on your motion-activated toilet ensures your comfort and the auto flush ensures you never have to touch the handle.
Your motion-sensor faucet runs water for you while your phone-integrated medicine cabinet mirror shows your calendar for the day and gives you the latest news. You call out to your shower to come on, and by the time you step in the water is perfectly programmed to your preferred temperature.
That’s the smart bathroom setup envisioned by Katrina Rice, an interior designer with 84 Lumber’s 84 Design Studio. She works with a variety of residential bathroom designs, from single-family residential remodeling and renovation to new construction and multi-unit developments. Smart bathrooms “change the way you use your basic bathroom fixtures,” Rice said. “The sink isn’t just a sink. The vanity isn’t just a vanity.”
Getting Down to Details: ROI on Smart Bathroom Installations
What kind of return can you expect from installing smart features in a bathroom on your investment property? As with much of the population of the “Internet of Things,” return on investment (ROI) is difficult to project when it comes to smart bathroom upgrades. Consider your buying audience. Will the upgrades provide a substantial improvement to their quality of life? Are they generationally predisposed to rely on smart-home improvements or, on the other hand, to be suspicious of or timid around them? These considerations should shape your decision to install such upgrades in a flip or other home to be sold at retail.
On the other hand, installing leak-detecting smart-pipes in a rental property could literally save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in maintenance and repair costs over the life of the leak detector. However, like a smoke detector, a leak detector may only prove its worth intermittently, despite providing you with ongoing peace of mind.
When asked what one smart home feature offers the most bang for the buck, Rice chooses lighting, whether in the bathroom or anywhere else in the house. “It’s just so nice and convenient. You can choose a voice activated light bulb for $40 or hardwire to your light switch for less than $200.”
If Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, then a Smart Bathroom Could be Heaven
Though you may think of smart home design in terms of environmental benefits or accessibility needs, Rice sees the primary benefits as convenience and cleanliness. Because you’re not touching the fixtures, everything stays cleaner than in a traditional bathroom, including the user. Of course, for an investor, these benefits translate to improved quality of life in the home and, when installed in the right properties, may result in higher returns and better rental rates and resident retention.
If you’re not ready to go all-in with a total smart bathroom makeover, you can retrofit existing fixtures at a minimal cost, said Rice. “For the motion activated flushing system, you can get a retrofit for under $50. They’re pretty accessible. A basic, voice-activated showerhead costs less than $200.”
Preventative Maintenance Options
Smart bathroom design doesn’t stop with the things you can see in the room. Leak detectors for under the sink, smart water shut-off valves, and smart home water monitors can detect and prevent leaks, saving you time and money – and preventing water damage – in the event of a leaky pipe or connector.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about smart bathrooms, according to Rice, is that the fixtures will look too commercial, like those you’d find in a public restroom. On the contrary, “They’re integrated into a variety of styles with a tiny sensor so it’s not going to look like a commercial sink.”
There are smart home options at a variety of price points. For example, that smart showerhead that costs $200 on the low end can cost as much as $6,000 on the high end. Of course, a high-end smart shower comes with full integration of temperature and pressure settings, audio and video capabilities, high-tech gadgetry, and other bells and whistles.