Think tech: Giving your home a brain | Athena Advisers

Think tech: Giving your home a brain

When most of us think of technology in the home we think of our TVs and sound systems, our laptops and phones… others think of a live connected system of equipment all ‘talking’ to each other and connected by one ‘brain’. Brothers Matthew and Charlie McCourt from Equippd are pioneering the way for art-worthy tech designs that work seamlessly in our homes.

Images: @ryanwicksphoto

Upon completing his university studies in Environmental Science, Charlie needed to find work fast. “At the time I didn’t think my degree was ever going to be relevant to anything that I did, but the relevance has come through.”

What started with him helping his mother’s friends out with their computer problems, grew into a self-appointed technical assistant role in his local community. But what he found were deeper issues involved in design and in functionality that needed addressing. With a background in mechanics, having worked at Formula One brand McClaren for several years, older brother Matt always had a tendency for anything technical. Eager to apply this in a new industry, a natural partnership formed between them and Equippd was born.

Charlie: “Where it started and where it is now are completely separate entities that couldn’t be further apart. I’ve always loved media of all sorts and having the opportunity to create media systems in someone else’s house with high-quality equipment so they can enjoy watching films and TV and listen to music and then sell it as a service – that was the turning point for me.” 

So what is it you identified needed addressing in the home?

Matt: “We were looking at the way that people were building houses or fully renovating houses and as we were getting exposure on the site, we were seeing that there was no real communication between any of the different house building trades. You’ve got a general contractor who’s constructing the house, and this is how they want it to look in the end, but what the plumber’s doing is not really talking with how the electricians are working who are not really talking with the way that the joinery people are building the internals. And they’re not really working with the way the lighting designer is trying to deploy lighting in the house. So you’ve got all these guys, all these different trades that congregate in building or renovating, not really talking about how one thing is going to work alongside another effectively for the person who’s using it. 

We identified then that it’s actually technology that brings all of these different services together and gives the end user, the person who’s living in the house, an easy point to be able to access any of those different areas or be able to control them. We look at how the homeowner is going to actually use the house, how their life flows and then how that’s going to affect the heating or it needs to affect the lighting or the security, how their audio visual needs to be hidden behind what the interior designer wants the house to look like.”

Charlie: “I’ve always used the analogy of giving a house a brain. If you look at a house as a body, for example, the plant room is the heart and all the structures and cables are the veins and arteries, but most homes don’t have a brain, instead they have a series of separate subsystems. And so we put a brain in the property that knows exactly what’s going on at all times.”

You work closely with architects on brand new developments, how important is it to integrate technological plans into the design phase of a home? Do you believe that the modern home is made to fit technology, or that technology fits into the home design?

Matt: “One of the big problems is that when we’re not involved in a project from the very start to the very finish, you end up with this all being rushed toward the end and people thinking, ‘oh, I need this and that’’ and it all just started getting slapped on walls. You end up with what we call wall acne – you walk into a beautifully finished hallway and on the wall you’ve got five different control panels all doing their individual thing around the house and none of them are either matching or talking to each other or even looking like they should be there. So we’re finding a technological way to bring what is actually quite an archaic industry and process together by using technology.”

Charlie: “Technology is synonymous with interior design. I truly believe that technology is something that should be hidden, but ready to work for you in an instant, just when you need it. It can be built into the fabric of the building and into the systems of the house. It’s important to build technology to complement the vision rather than contest with it.”

When it comes to the number one thing that none of us can’t live without… 

Matt: “It’s WiFi. A stable up and running connection, extensive across the house.” 

Charlie: “It’s the first thing that people want. It’s also the first thing people ask you when you walk in their front door as well. ‘What’s your wifi code?’”

COVID-19 has changed the working environment with many of us now working from home or working remotely, what trends are you seeing because of this shift?

Matt: “One interesting thing that we’re that we’re actively pursuing at the moment is a specialised home office. We take over and change big open-plan spaces by building a room inside a room. We use our home cinema experience to create a soundproof environment with its own separate stable WiFi that’s needed to be able to work efficiently at home as if you were in your office.”

Charlie: “Conferencing across the house tends to be a big one. People want webcams built into the joinery so they can walk between different rooms of the house while hosting meetings. But essentially, requests for home office conferencing and uber reliable connectivity are now commonplace. And of the proposals we put together in the last six months, that’s been a feature of pretty much all of them.”

Matt: “It’s connectivity as well as security. Quite a few clients are working with highly secure things and so one point that we focus on is the security of the house and internet security to stop outside threats coming in. That’s another part that we play.”

Other than the standard house alarm, what other ways can technology help in keeping a house and its residents secure?

Charlie: “People don’t realise that in integrating a house you can get different systems to trigger different events. So for example, we can link the burglar alarm to the lighting and shade systems, so if someone breaks into the property and the alarm goes off, we can automatically program all the lights to come on, all the blinds to go up, outside lights to flash and all the key pads on the wall to lock so people can’t turn them off. Also, in the event of a fire, you can light pathways up automatically.It’s the beauty of bringing all the different systems together."

Matt: “It all stems back to that brain. We’ll only program that to happen if the residents are away from the house. So when they leave the house, they’ll press a button to activate that security program. But if they’re at home, we’re doing something much more subtle. We might light up the ground floor and just give the master bedroom a very small amount of light and down the hallway so they can then react appropriately to wherever the threat is within the house or where it’s being triggered from. It comes down to us understanding how that family live.

Given how far advanced technology in the home is already, is there anything else we could possibly need or want to have in our homes? What future bits of kit are we likely to start seeing more of?

Matt: “One thing we’re seeing is based on energy and efficiency, because the amount of energy we use at home is unbelievable but we’ve got some really cool technological ways of addressing that. For example, we’re upgrading a house in Holland Park in London from its original lighting system to a new LED modern lighting system, which saves around 15 kilowatts of energy every moment (the equivalent of six kettles boiling), which in turn has saved the homeowners £4,800 a year.”

Charlie: “What I think is going to be one of the most important technological integrations in the next five to ten years for residential new builds, especially in cities like London, is air purification systems. This will be integrated with all heating, cooling, lighting and shading systems so that when the air quality in the room drops below a certain level, we can then use that information to trigger the air purification system and start extracting air or heat recovery to move air through the ventilation system.”

These types of air regulation systems are already found in home cellars to regulate air flow and temperature in order to preserve or mature wines, but they are set to be making a more regular appearance throughout the rest of the house in the coming years.

While technology has often been an after thought in building new properties, it’s clear that the need and demand for technology to not only work seamlessly but to also play an integral part of the house design is increasing. What were previously considered accessories and luxuries are now indispensable and crucial to the workings of the home. In the past few years, these systems have been type casted to play roles and functions in the lavish homes of the wealthy, but with the help of individuals such as Matt and Charlie, these systems will become commonplace in the new builds of the near future.