The Future is Now: Tech in Communities

tech in communitiesBy nature, Mainers are traditionalists. Images coming to mind include Bean rubber boots; grey shingled fishing villages; and plaid flannel shirts. Though these iconic elements reflect Mainer’s practical side, Maine’s condo communities are not immune to the beneficial changes building science and technology have to offer. Let us consider some of the new features and amenities being offered in new and updated condominiums.

Smart Homes and Communities

As one would expect, these changes reflect the modern national trends of ultra-connectivity; convenience; and sustainability. And not surprisingly, many of these require the universal availability of smartphones. New condo unit systems are now routinely controlled from a distance with apps used for unit climate control, energy conservation, safety, and security. As you enter/ egress your unit, the alarms will be turned on and off; the proper room temperature will be set; current weather will be reported; and building updates will be provided.

With the rise of pandemic induced in-home online shopping, phones are being used to screen deliveries at the door with audio/visual doorbell cameras. In multi-family buildings, vestibules can be designed with secure, automated parcel delivery systems. Upon arrival of the package, the system notifies your phone of its arrival and secures it until your pickup. Large buildings with ‘fob’ tag systems are being replaced with automatic pass-through security for elevators, common rooms, and other secure spaces through use of smart phone coding. Other amenity features will include free Wi-Fi in common spaces, remote office/Zoom meeting spaces, and dedicated pet waste disposal stations. Even the garage door will open when sensors recognize your license plate.

Parking and Cars

And speaking of the parking garage, changes may be coming there. Though mechanical lift parking has been around for a while, for the first time in Maine, a semi-automatic vehicle parking system has been installed in a condominium.  A new 29-unit condo building on Federal Street in Portland has had this mechanical lift system successfully installed. It is capable of parking 43 vehicles in the same space normally allocated for 13 vehicles. The rationale for the system was to not only more efficiently use the available urban space, but also to avoid the cost of a dedicated parking garage building.

The unit owner drives into an elevator cage-like space capable of handling an SUV or pick-up truck of up to 5,800 pounds. The driver steps out of the cage and enters a code listed outside the elevator door. The lift system deposits the vehicle in a secure space until summoned by the phone. A separate space in the garage is used for loading and unloading passengers and parcels.

Another future parking garage change coming is the growing population of electric vehicles (EVs). A recent AAA survey found 20% of today’s vehicle owners plan to replace their current vehicle with an electric vehicle. Coming is the very real change in the automobile industry with virtually every major auto maker re-tooling to offer many different EV models. Tomorrow’s condo parking garage will need to meet this future charging need of these vehicles needing charging almost every day due to their limited fuel range. This will not be as difficult as it sounds. Companies are available to offer the installation of EV charging stations in almost any type of parking arrangement with federal tax credit assistance of up to 30% of the cost. These companies work with either the homeowners or the association to develop a payment system of monthly service fees including the cost of electricity in which the association is reimbursed for any costs.

The condo board will need to establish rules and standards for the addition of EVs to the community. There are three types of charging stations to consider:

  • Level 1: 120-volt standard 20-amp (AC), charges about 4 miles/ hour (standard household outlet with dedicated branch circuity).
  • Level 2: 240-volt (40-100 amp) (AC), charges 20-60 miles/ hour (like a clothes dryer outlet).
  • Level 3: 480-volt (DC), charges 50-200+ miles in 20 minutes (used for commercial charging stations).

Typical charging stations are certified by Energy Star and have warranties of 3 years.

EVs are coming or in some communities they have already arrived. Change is coming and boards will be learning new names like Blink, ChargePoint, and EVgo as well as Standard 21772 connectors. Change cannot be ignored and can be good, and in fact, can be electrifying.

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED-AP, Criterium Engineers
Published in Condo Media July 2021 edition
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