Next Conservatism 5: Case Study — The Smart House

If your tastes run to mid-20th century design, check out this house in Knoxville, TN. The listing says “This airy two-story, four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 3,006 square-foot house sits on one of Knoxville’s highest hilltops and offers spectacular, panoramic views that are bolstered by floor-to-ceiling windows. It also makes for a great entertaining space — think swinging parties and endless martinis — with its cathedral ceilings, outdoor terraces, two fireplaces, and 40-foot pool.” White couches, George Nelson light fixtures; “the mod factor” in this piece of history a celebrated Knoxville architect, is on the market for $359,900. (

Nice, but not necessarily a bargain: this house lacks the technologies that a 21st century user is going to want. Absent broadband connectivity and smart hardware from 2016, this 1960 piece of history is merely that, a relic. Retro-commissioning it for our time and for a present-day user’s needs might be as simple as new cable and appliances, or it might take a new roof for a solar array, insulation in the attic, a wall of batteries in the garage, and new energy-efficient windows. Everything added to it will need to be “smart” — computerized devices programmed to work together. For this to be up to the needs of a Next Conservative householder, the house and the owner are going to have to communicate tomorrow in ways that this one and its former owners couldn’t do before.

From now on, more important that design features like outdoor terraces and fireplaces has to be how well it conserves — its operating performance. The day when pennies could go out up the chimney or out the windows isn’t over; but it’s just possible now for an owner to find those mistakes and stop them instead of blindly tolerating and paying for them year after year. Ownership will be rewarded by how well the homeowner runs the facility, and by how good the return is on every penny that the house uses. The Next Conservatism starts there, with a new paradigm of the house and with proficient operation of one.

With money on the line, any operator will optimize her facility’s performance if and when that can be done easily. That’s exactly what’s happening. Proficient facility management used to be for professionals. Now it’s possible for any homeowner to know from a Smartphone display where and how money’s being spent from the roof to the cellar, which is Next Conservatism in practice: measurable, free market, self-interested self-regulation.

These smart devices are among many on the market now:

· Hubs that integrate and control home systems

· Thermostats that optimize heating and cooling and minimize waste, and that learn the patterns so they can program themselves

· Video monitors and speakers for security, voice activation of devices, and voice web browsing

· Batteries and smoke/CO detectors

· Garage door openers

· Home locks

· Electronic cookware

· Water monitors

· Humidity monitors/fans

· Light bulbs

· Smart home controlling systems

· Beds that track sleep and make suggestions for getting better rest

· Refrigerators

Using them together makes a house into an information ecosystem that gives the operator useful intelligence for personal betterment — leading a better life, saving money, and security. With some capacity for self-generated power, they create better valuation for the property. Their connectivity permits remote work and learning, networked collaboration, telemedicine, etc. Every hour of driving time that the home obviates saves the homeowner gas and wear on his car, cuts the traffic on the roads, and optimizes their maintenance. Every workday from home permits a parent to stay with a child, or a remote employee to serve employers anywhere.

These changes are quintessential Conservatism, personal choices made by individuals in the free market. The motives need be nothing more than immediate self-interest. No one living on a Riverside, California cul-de-sac needs to be making a moral statement when they install solar on the roof and smart air conditioning in the house, cut their idle load, and use a home energy management system to lower their operating costs. They don’t have to want to save the world. There isn’t any sacrifice required for the greater good; in fact these steps are competitive when they make the property more valuable compared to the ones that don’t have it. That’s exactly why this Next Conservatism is happening so fast: motives don’t matter. These new technologies permit rational self-regulation. The decisions are empirical and apolitical. The data for energy use, water use, waste diversion, carbon emissions, and cradle-to-cradle sustainability of materials are codified into key indicators, so it’s possible now to score performance on an objective scale. And these improvements add up, aggregating rapidly into billions of dollars and millions of tons of CO2 saved.

Given the house’s place at the foundation for wealth-building, it’s easy to see why home ownership is turning into a hard science. It only takes one person in one house on that cul-de-sac in Riverside to set an example. That owner makes a common-sense decision for his own benefit, and raises the value and utility of his house as he makes his family more comfortable on a Mojave summer day while he cut his energy bill. Put that commonsense self-interest together with the market opportunities, the falling prices for the new technologies and the cost/benefits of rational self-regulation, and Next Conservatism rolls house to house, street to street, as the neighbors follow along.

Next Conservatism 6: Five Myths Falling is at