No Garage, No Problem

Driverless cars are potentially in our future and, along with them, garage-less homes. Sean Canady, a principal at U.S. design firm GGLO, sees a day when a car can drive its owner home and then park itself in a space-efficient lot at the edge of town. The space that used to be the car’s garage could be converted into, for example, an on-site water treatment facility.

A Fridge That Fills Itself

Smart refrigerators with cameras that take pictures of their contents already exist. The fridge of tomorrow would not only know what it holds but also recognize frequently consumed items and predict when they need to be reordered and delivered, according to Daniel Rausch, Inc.’s vice president of smart home. All you’d have to do is approve the shopping list. The same sensor- and deep-learning technology could allow it to anticipate and schedule its own maintenance, as well as order parts and filters.

Sleeker Stoves

San Francisco’s ban on the use of natural gas in new buildings, which the city instituted over concerns about indoor air quality and greenhouse-gas emissions, takes effect in June. If such bans spread, more homes may rely primarily on smooth-surfaced induction cooktops and other electric-powered appliances, instead of classic but hard-to-clean gas stoves. Architectural firm Gensler is already designing some of its residential buildings to rely exclusively on electric energy, says Tom Steidl, a global leader of the company’s residential practice.

Airier Windows

In some temperate climates, it may be possible to bypass air conditioning entirely and rely on passive ventilation, which uses natural air flow and temperature differences to move air through the home, saving on energy costs, says Mr. Steidl. Think skylights or clerestory windows above eye level embedded with sensors that automatically open and close based on sunlight or indoor air quality. In the years ahead, these windows may be able to anticipate weather and air-quality conditions and adjust in advance.

All the Light You Need

Bedroom lights would pair with a resident’s wearable device to understand the body and the physical environment, know when it’s time for bed, and adjust the hue and brightness accordingly. Rick Fedrizzi, executive chairman of the International WELL Building Institute, which promotes building health and wellness standards, calls this “buildings as preventative care,” syncing with residents’ circadian rhythms to prepare them for sleep and improve sleep quality.

Walls That Live and Breathe

Plants will be as much inside as outside the home, and they’ll serve a dual purpose of aesthetics and function, says John Hall, a GGLO principal. “Living walls,” or walls covered in greenery, already decorate and absorb air pollutants in many present-day spaces. The green walls of future homes could also filter water from sinks, showers and appliances as part of a more sustainable on-site treatment system. This “gray water” could be redirected to the top of the wall, where it would filter down to irrigate the plants, and then be treated for reuse.

Soundproof Booths Come Home

The past year has revealed that homes often don’t have enough private, quiet space to let residents take calls, attend video meetings and work in peace. As a result, we may see more soundproof booths—which have become popular in open offices—pop up in underused spaces where people can perform uninterrupted deep work, says Matt Hutchins, a principal and founder at the Seattle-based CAST Architecture.

Closets on the Ceiling

San Francisco-based startup Bumblebee Spaces has created a suite of modular furniture that uses sensors and object-recognition technology to increase living space. Their storage boxes, which descend from the ceiling, have cameras that photograph, recognize and catalog the contents, allowing users to search for items by keyword on a mobile app. One day, the boxes might predict what you need and when based on historical usage patterns, says Chief Executive Sankarshan Murthy. They are being installed in three units in a new Manhattan rental building.

A Room at the Push of a Button

A room’s function could be determined less by furniture and more by digital interface: a wall-size screen that would blend into its surroundings when not in use. Mr. Hall sees more widespread adoption of augmented- and virtual-reality technology. Instead of a computer screen, a resident could put on goggles to visit a holograph office, all while sitting in a convertible flex room that also functions as a gym or den at different times, he says.

Insulated on All Sides

In Mazama, Wash., CAST is designing a house made of mass timber and wrapped in airtight insulation on all four sides, built to Passive House standards, protecting and thermally isolating the home from outdoor temperature swings. Additionally, 16 inches of soil sit on the roof, adding more insulation as well as providing a bed for vegetation. Still rare today but with the potential to become common, such a house would require about 50% less energy to cool or heat than a traditional home, Mr. Hutchins says.

Greener Concrete

Concrete production generates a lot of greenhouse gases. Companies are creating alternative, low-carbon replacements. Blue Planet Ltd., based in Los Gatos, Calif., says it has developed a carbon-negative process to make synthetic limestone, a main ingredient of concrete. The process captures carbon dioxide by turning it into carbonate rocks, which can be used instead of quarried limestone, the company says. The material is already in use in commercial buildings, such as the San Francisco International Airport, and is being developed for home construction.

Solar Panels That Blend

On-site energy generation will be more prevalent and more efficient in the coming years, according to Mr. Steidl. Solar panels that are integrated into the design of a building’s windows or facade, rather than being eyesores on the roof, may become more common. Ultimately, these photovoltaic panels could be as clear as windows, while generating the same amount of energy as today’s rooftop models.

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