Todd Stabelfeldt is a quadriplegic entrepreneur, digital tech guru, and community advocate. When he and his wife Karen couldn’t find a home in their price point that they could easily retrofit for increased accessibility and aging in place, they decided to design and build on their own. To meet their current and future needs, the pair implemented a wide range of smart home tech that Todd can operate using just his voice, making independence and accessibility at home a reality.
After they added a covered outdoor living space to the property, Todd and Karen discovered Infratech and our Universal Control Panel, a voice-activated system that allows users to control their outdoor heating through devices like Siri. We spoke with Karen about the devices and apps that they’ve found best meet their needs, why they’re now Infratech fans, and how smart home tech is opening doors for families where accessibility matters.
Can you briefly take us on your journey towards rendering your home accessible?
“Briefly” will be a challenge but I’ll give it a go. Todd and I were married in 2013 and by the beginning of 2014 we knew that I would retire from active duty Navy here. That is when the house hunting started. The market was fairly diverse and I truly believed that we could find a house at a price point we could afford to retro fit to meet our needs. After touring seventy homes over a six month period we (rather I) admitted that building would be the best option for us. We shifted gears and I took all that I learned in the hunting journey to design a rather universally designed house. I didn’t know that was what I was doing – I just wanted a house that was accessible for Todd and one I would be able to age in place in. After moving every two or three years for my career I was ready to not have to do it again – ever. We incorporated low to zero threshold doors, custom wide doors throughout the house, radiant concrete floors for durability and air quality. Every door has a graded/ramped concrete path to the sidewalk surrounding the house, and while in the building process we ran electrical and such to areas where we could foresee a need in anticipation of adding more technology when the field caught up to our dreams.
What major challenges have you experienced along the way?
Honestly the biggest challenge is patience and waiting for the industries to come out with integrated products and apps. While in the process of building we wanted natural gas fireplaces that could be controlled remotely by a smart phone. We asked all the “right” questions but the industry wasn’t there yet – the fireplace has a Bluetooth remote but isn’t yet smart phone controllable. That was three years ago and so much is changing and advancing. We know at some point it will be in a price point that makes sense to change; so we are waiting.
What are the key components of your existing smart home system?
The ecosystem that was coming online in 2015 was HomeKit and Todd was already vested in Apple products using switch control. So we predominately use HomeKit as our ecosystem to control our smart home with some other thirty party apps via switch control. It will be exciting to see how the Siri Shortcut, recently announced, will enable Siri to control some of those functions. The addition of having HomeKit coming to the Mac system will further enhance the experience for greater control from more platforms/situations:
- Apple – iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, HomePod
- RTiPanel – original control system we brought the house online with for doors, TVs, security and camera systems
- Lutron Caseta – for lights, lamp plugs, shades, and the new Infratech heaters
- Phillips Hue – lamps (light bulbs), light strips
- Koogeek – lamp/fan plugs and power strips
- Schlage Sense — dead bolt locks
- Onelink Home — to monitor temperatures and environment
- Westinghouse – outdoor patio light string
This is just a limited sample of products that are out there for folks to try. We love that you can easily add items as they come online.
What is your outdoor living lifestyle like in the Pacific Northwest?
I have literally lived around the world and while no place is completely unique no place is really like the PacNorWest. (I should tell you it rains all the time and is miserable so we can keep the secret between us.) It does rain, that is true, but we have our sunny days, too; the part I am fond of is the short hot season balanced with next to no extreme winter season. It is a mild 50-70 degrees almost year round. In our house, we designed a covered outdoor living space but realized, to maximize the use, having a heater would extend the time we would sit out there. This spring we added two Infratech slimline heaters and will complete our natural gas fire pit in July just in time for the summer picnic season.
How did you connect your Infratech heater to your smart home system?
We just (by chance) came across the Infratech heaters while we were searching for a firepit accessory. The heaters were installed in the show room with information about how you could integrate them into your smart home. I must admit I was a sceptic since we thought our fireplaces would be [integrable], too. So I did more homework and placed phone calls and the end result was through [the Universal Control Panel], a product Infratech sells enabling you to control the heaters through HomeKit/Siri by installing Lutron switches.
How do you control your heater? Voice (smart home assistant), mobile app, etc?
The heaters could have been installed without the Universal Control Panel and operated with a physical light switch. To accomplish the accessible feature, you need the Universal Control Panel from Infratech and a light switch that is accessible. For us we were already vested with the HomeKit and Lutron product/bridge so we used that option. The heaters can be controlled multiple ways; from the light switch with hands, through the Lutron app with hands or accessible “switches,” or most easily by asking Siri to make it so. I use the physical switches on the wall mostly and Todd engages Siri.
What is your vision for the future of your smart home design?
Whew… the sky’s the limit, or really the budget is. Every day it seems new products are being introduced that we could integrate. We are watching some of them with more interest than others to prioritize the needs over the wants. We could bring the garage doors online but are waiting for a universal remote so we don’t have to replace a virtually new door just to bring it from RTi into HomeKit. There are sprinkler timers, security cameras, security systems… all these are coming on the accessible scene and it’s really exciting to see how companies are not only embracing smart home design but accessible smart home design, making it truly universal.