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What Does Smart Technology Mean for Builders?

The NAHB takes a closer look at emerging trends in connected-home technology and potential liability concerns for builders. How do builders make sure they are installed correctly? How do builders satisfy their supervisory obligations? 

Home owners and purchasers will no doubt be asking builders more and more about smart homes and devices, and will expect builders to be knowledgeable, Embry said. How builders answer home owners’ questions is a not just an issue of customer relations, but may also carry some legal risk avoidance ramifications as well.

In fact, a builder’s best protection against exposure may be what they are able tell home owners about these devices. One challenge we have with smart homes and the “Internet of Things” (IoT), however, is that there are not yet standards governing these devices. To the extent that there are some standards, they are not necessarily consistent and the law is not well developed.

To truly deliver a smart home to a customer, a builder needs to consider a number of different factors, Love added, including installing a smart home hub and devices such as door locks, light fixtures and appliances that can communicate over the same protocol as the smart home hub.

What are some of the risks associated with smart home devices?

Some of these risks are presented by the hardware — the device itself, Embry explains. Some are presented by the software that runs them. And some are presented by the massive amounts of data generated and collected. So there are several concerns:

  • There are no real consensus standards governing design, manufacture or performance of these devices. UL and other bodies are just beginning to look at these things.
  • To the extent there are laws and regulations, they are being enacted by all sorts of different agencies, leaving a hodgepodge of rules with no consistent regulatory or legal direction. And there are very few cases outlining liability and how judges and juries may treat liability questions.
  • Some of these devices are poorly designed and made. Often we don’t know the useful life of these devices because there is little independent product assessment of anything. This means that there could be lots of potential failure modes that exist for a long time, with results that range from annoying to catastrophic.
  • Often there is no commitment by the developer to patch and update the software. Think about how often you must update the software of your laptops, tablets and smart phones. These updates provide security from vulnerabilities and problems that are discovered. In the case of smart devices, we often don’t know how long the company plans to support a product with software security upgrades or what a consumer must do to install them.
  • Some devices are being designed and made without considering the risks of the devices being exploited or, in common parlance, hacked. This can result in devices like baby monitors or TVs being hijacked.
  • Finally, and importantly for builders, there are few if any installation quality controls or standards for the qualification of subcontractors installing these things. How do builders make sure they are installed correctly? How do builders satisfy their supervisory obligations? Most reported problems result from home owners — who don’t understand the security implications — trying to install devices based on limited, nonexistent or unread instructions.

The best answer to all of these risks and unknowns related to smart home technologies, Embry and Love agree, is to have a good knowledge of the products you are installing, choose the products wisely, and diligently inform and educate your home buyers.

This article is originally published by NAHB and has been edited for formatting purposes. You can read the full version here

DPIS is here to help educate your team on the proper installation of smart technology. We know the ins-and-outs of codes and regulations, and can boost buyer confidence in building practices through certification by our Guardian Inspection Program.

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