How to make your home smarter

MADRID -- With Spain's construction lifeline choked, young architects look for ways to rehabilitate, like the eco-friendly app eHome.
Written by Jennifer Riggins, Contributor on

MADRID -- Your home has a lot to tell you, if you're willing to listen.

With another 11.5-percent decrease in construction last year, the Grim Reaper looms over Spain's most important industry. With the housing market on its deathbed, leaving fewer and fewer jobs in its wake, Spanish engineers and architects are pushing past four walls to create their own jobs.

Recent grad Ignacio Ferrer asked, instead of designing homes, how can he help each person make his or her home more efficient? He came up with eHome, an application that offers advice for the energy of life.

"My project is to develop a mobile app in order to save energy at home by following some advice," Ferrer says of his eHome, which is set to publicly release in the next couple months. "The advice is specific for every person because it depends on your location and weather, climatology. That's why this is fast and you get information that you need in that moment and any other time."

Using the layout of a house or a newer apartment where the tenant has control over their heating system, the app user can plug in information as to the location of windows in coordination with outside variables, like home location.

"You must define when is it that the sun comes through your window and when it ends. With those parameters, we can calculate the locations of your windows and we can calculate how much energy you can use," Ferrer says.

His team wants the application to be interactive and simple, including alarms for modifications, like change of seasons or daylight savings. In the summer, it's more efficient to cover the windows from the strong Spanish sun, and in the winter, homeowners want to gather that solar heat.

"In your home, when it goes under five degrees centigrade [41 degrees Fahrenheit], you need to put the heating one degree higher and that's enough," he said. "When the temperature goes over 35 degrees [95 degrees Fahrenheit], you know that by opening your windows and shades, you will get cross ventilation."

Ferrer thinks his app will be particularly useful in Spain because "you don't get the same building in Germany and in Spain, or in the northern Galicia as in Granada," where eHome is based. He says, "In Spain and also I think in the U.S., it will be useful because of the range of climates" and seasons.

One frustration Ferrer shares with many architects is that, once the home is built, there's a complete disconnect from the project. "There's a point when we don't have anything [more]. We just design the building and then give it to the user. I wanted to have some[thing] to give as advice when the people leave to use their building."

This product could be used for home-shoppers to check the estimated electricity of their new casa or piso. It could also be used by interior architects and designers to plan more efficient homes, with a possible future application in public buildings, schools, malls, and so forth. Of course, with Spanish unemployment at 23.6 percent, people may be more focused on pinching pennies, than saving the earth, but the result is the same and low-risk at one or two euros per app purchase.

The app eHome is "so you can get to know your home. Right now, no home comes with a guide for this, (and) it is meant to be like a guide" to personalized energy efficiency.

Ferrer says his app is "just a step forward. You will save energy by following the advice, and you will also know how much energy you can receive from the sun," while finding the weakest points in the house. The eHome user "gets to make the decision. If the user doesn't use it properly, it can waste as much energy" as before, he says. Like many green things, it's left to the consumer to make the change.

The Spanish architecture community also needs to make a change.

"In the architecture school, we are given the idea of a business model. You get out of school, you go to a studio, learn for a couple years, then go out on your own," Ferrer says. In Spain, architects don't usually study specialties in school, but rather the curricula is extremely math-intensive and covers all areas. As generalist architects, "we are very, very technical and we are known for that. In other countries, like Germany and Belgium, the architect just does the design. In Spain, once you get out of school, you are fully able to design a house, able to calculate a structure, but [you] usually delegate those parts to engineering teams."

Ferrer says there is an evolution in the industry and he is looking for his place in it.

He got the idea for eHome at a government-run conference. "Their thing is to promote rehabilitation and renting because new buildings won't be as needed not nearly as they were ten years ago. For new buildings, there isn't really a market, but there is energy rehabilitation," Ferrer says. "Right now, for example, the Spanish government is evolving into this energy-saving mood. It's promoting changing home appliances. It's paying a part of home appliances that are more efficient."

SmartPlanet met Ferrer when he was one of ten of Spain's jovenes -- youths aged 18 to 30 -- to compete at Banesto's YUZZ conference. Each attendee was given 8,000 Yuros -- kind of like Monopoly money -- to "invest" in the shoeboxes of tech projects. The top three, which included eHome, were given the chance to present to a panel of business angels and successful e-business people. The winner received training, investment advice and an iPad.

This is the moment Spain must be investing in the ideas of their youth because there simply aren't many jobs for them. Less than half of the under-25 crowd have jobs.

One of the speakers Mauricio Prieto, cofounder of the eDreams European vacation site, talked about how the U.S. invests ten times as much as Spain into entrepreneurship, and Europe about seven times as much. "We live in an enormous epoch of innovation," Prieto said, in front of a background of a photograph of a Spanish paro, or unemployment, line. He spoke of how young people, and all people for that matter, have access to new funding sources that didn't exist in his time, including crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing and incubators.

Certainly, they will have to come up with new ideas, as the Spanish economy leaves more and more people with the sole options of leaving the country or creating their own business to assure their employment.

Screenshots/video: eHome

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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