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Multi-Family Market: An Opportunity for Smart Home Devices?

Paige Leuschner
May 12, 2017

Smart home devices are catching on in homes around the world. Nest has claimed installations of its Learning Thermostat in 190 countries, Google announced the availability of its Home in the United Kingdom, Amazon expanded Echo’s US sales to the United Kingdom and Germany, LIFX connected bulbs are selling in more than 80 countries, and Smappee is selling in 85 countries. However, most sales are occurring among consumers in single-family homes. The multi-family market is largely untapped, leaving opportunities for vendors to gain traction and market share.

Possibilities Abound

There are a number of reasons for this untapped market. First, ownership of devices in multi-family dwellings can get complicated. Should landlords or consumers install and own the hardware? Landlords and building managers have little incentive to purchase such devices because they do not enjoy the benefits of energy savings or remote access, though they do have the option of charging higher rent for the added luxury. For occupants, it may not make sense to own these devices if the property is a rental, especially since renters in the United Kingdom are moving 8 times more than homeowners and since surveys show that 56% of US tenants plan to move within the next year. When devices are installed in multi-family units, some are not used to their full potential. For example, smart thermostats often cannot participate in demand response programs due to the complexities of directly controlling load in multi-family dwellings, where each unit often does not have its own central HVAC system. In fact, many pilot programs that utilize smart thermostats are unavailable to renters or apartment dwellers. On top of this, it can be far more expensive for utilities to implement demand-side management programs in multi-family dwellings than in commercial or single-family residential buildings.

Despite the complexities associated with this market, renters are interested in smart home devices. According to a recent study conducted by Wink, 36% of renters would pay more in rent to have smart home products or amenities in their homes. Given that 37% of Americans are renters, this means the multi-family dwelling market has a lot of potential.

Some companies are beginning to tap into the opportunities available in this market. IOTAS is a company approaching the market with a business model focused on selling landlords and building managers hardware packages that are installed across from apartment complexes. The solution includes tenant accounts that store personal device preferences and follow tenants between apartments as they relocate. This reduces issues surrounding device ownership and creates an opportunity for landlords to charge more in rent for the devices as well as a monthly fee for ongoing services—like monitoring and controlling. While these types of solutions are just emerging, the trend shows hope for Internet of Things and smart home solutions in the multi-family sector.