In fall 2014, Granite Ridge Builders opened its NextSTEP Innovation Home Gallery in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The home is packed with hundreds of gadgets and tools that allow homeowners to control or automate everything from lawn irrigation to lighting through wireless apps and remotes.
The “STEP” in the name stands for smart technology and energy performance, and the structure is also what’s known as a net-zero home—meaning it produces as much energy as it uses. This is accomplished through the use of electricity-producing solar panels, as well as energy-efficient appliances and heating and air solutions.
The NextSTEP home took three years to build, and since opening, it has attracted tens of thousands of people from all over the United States who have come to look at the vast array of smart technology solutions the homebuilder continues to update as the industry evolves.
“The whole house itself is meant to create awareness of some things that people may not know are available,” said Luke Hoffman, Granite Ridge’s Vice President of Construction.
Outfitting the home of the future
The process of finding those state-of-the art elements that make the home shine was a company-wide effort, and can be credited to owners Tony and Carma Reincke’s constant focus on education.
“Anything we can do to educate our customers, potential customers, or even all of us as employees is of No. 1 importance to them,” said Matt Sheumann, Granite Ridge’s property manager.
As the NextSTEP home was being developed, Tony Reincke actively encouraged all staff members to go out and find ideas for innovative solutions that could be placed in the home, even offering a financial incentive to anyone who brought him a viable contribution.
“Really, I think everyone in our office had some part in building that house,” Hoffman said. “Everyone takes a lot of pride in it.”
That pride was amplified when Granite Ridge staff traveled to the Las Vegas Home Improvement and Outdoor Living Expo shortly after the NextSTEP home opened. Here, at what many see as the nation’s preeminent home show, they toured a smart home meant to set the standard for the industry.
“Everything they had out there, we had in our house, plus we had more,” Hoffman said. “Usually they say the coasts are the places where things start. We were pleased with what we were able to build here [in Fort Wayne, Ind.] because it can stand toe-to-toe with anybody else’s smart home.”
Plants Map plays a role
Of course, a home that is supposed to usher in the future of connected living can’t have a landscape filled with old-school hand-written plant labels.
Sheumann, who manages landscaping for all of the homes Granite Ridge builds, was looking for a better way to label and manage plants when he discovered Plants Map.
Plants Map’s interactive plant signs and tags can be found in the NextSTEP home’s impressive outdoor living area. The look of the tags and their ability to link anyone with a smartphone to an online profile via a QR code printed on the tag made them an attractive addition to this home of the future.
“It linked our specific collection of plants, and brought up all the information,” Scheumann said. “Just through a plant, you can steer people all the way through our website and connect them everywhere.”
Scheumann is working with his staff to load more plants onto Granite Ridge Builders’ Plants Map profile so that it can serve as an educational resource for clients or others viewing their homes.
Many other aspects of the NextSTEP home’s outdoor living space will be of great interest to plant enthusiasts. The entire irrigation system is controlled through a wireless sprinkler control system called Rachio. This 16-zone irrigation system, which includes drip irrigation for plants in containers, can be controlled wirelessly from anywhere, and can be adjusted based on recent precipitation patterns.
Not your typical model home
Overall, the home provides a place where all kinds of people—from potential buyers to those studying the industry—can get a hands-on look at state-of-the-art solutions for energy efficiency and automation.
Hoffman has taken all kinds of groups on tours. He said it takes an hour and a half to tour the whole house, and that doesn’t even hit every gadget it contains.
“Unless people can physically see it and operate it, it’s hard to imagine that it’s something that’s going to be valuable in their house,” Hoffman said.
The NextSTEP home has helped some buyers to select the right pieces of technology for their own homes, but on a bigger level, Hoffman says it helps convey an important message about the way Granite Ridge approaches homebuilding.
“It gives people reassurance that Granite Ridge Builders is progressive, that we’re willing to think outside the box and lean into what the future has in store,” he said. “It gives people confidence in us building their dream home.”
Follow Granite Ridge Builders on Plants Map.