Amber MacArthur gives P.E.I. historic home a high-tech makeover

Tech guru Amber MacArthur is hoping to combine the best of both worlds with her new home renovation project in her hometown of Charlottetown. The 140-year-old house taps into MacArthur's P.E.I. roots, but will also integrate the latest in smart home technology.

'It's kind of fun, but at the same time a little bit terrifying'

MacArthur and the renovation crew check out some of the new parts that have arrived for the kitchen. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Tech guru Amber MacArthur is hoping to combine the best of both worlds with her new home renovation project in her hometown of Charlottetown.

The 140-year-old house taps into MacArthur's P.E.I. roots, but will also integrate the latest in smart home technology

"I've been away for many many years and I really wanted to own a piece of Prince Edward Island that my family could come back to," MacArthur said. 

"We have a 10-year-old son and I wanted him to be able to cherish those memories from P.E.I., like I have for so many summers."

MacArthur checks out one of the walls on the upper floor. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Sharing on social media

MacArthur is an expert on cutting-edge technology including artificial intelligence, digital marketing and internet safety. She's also a popular keynote speaker and has published two best-selling books.

She will be sharing her home renovation experience on social media with her two million followers.

"Buy a really old house, it's a 140-year-old house, an historic home and take it into the future," MacArthur said. 

"Use all of the latest smart home technology and put it in this beautiful historic home while maintaining the integrity of this historic space."

She even has a hashtag for the project: #mactothefuture.

Structural challenges

MacArthur admits there are challenges to adding smart technology to a historic home compared with new construction.

"There are many parts of the home that aren't really conducive to some new technology that we're planning to introduce," MacArthur said.

"For starters ... many of the floors are not even, so if you wanted to do heated tiles in the kitchen, how do you maintain that knowing that you can't really re-straighten the floor."

The new smart technology will allow MacArthur to monitor the house for water leaks, even when she is in Toronto. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

There are other challenges that they've discovered along the way.

"We also have a staircase up to the loft that is almost straight vertical and definitely not to code that we have to rebuild," MacArthur said.

"Just the structure of the house and having to tear down some of the parts of the home in order to enable some of those new elements that we want to bring into it."

Smart technology

MacArthur has been researching the latest in smart home technology to add to the house.

"Starting in the basement, where we have all of the plumbing, we are going to put in a system that allows us to monitor if the pipes are freezing, if there are any type of leaks in the home," MacArthur said.

"That's really important since we will be away for most of the year in Toronto, that we're able to know that the house is OK."

This steep stairway is one of the challenges still facing the design team. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

They are also installing a mesh Wi-Fi network, which helps ensure wireless signals are strong throughout the home. 

"With a 140-year-old home, there could be some dead spots when it comes to Wi-Fi connectivity," MacArthur said. 

There will be smart appliances in the kitchen, many controlled by an app. They're installing a smart door lock, with a keyless entry that she can send access codes to, also through an app.

MacArthur's partner Chris Dick has been filming the progress since the renovation started. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

MacArthur is also looking at sustainable technology; for example, being able to control the water volume coming out of the shower.

"So I think it's a high-tech angle but there's also a green and sustainability angle as well," MacArthur said.

'Beautiful old space'

MacArthur said there has already been a great deal of interest in the project.

"I think people love these stories about restoring homes, but to add this angle where we're adding the technology piece to it," MacArthur said. 

MacArthur and designer Damien Packwood head upstairs to discuss the plans for renovation. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

While she will be able to monitor the house with different apps on her phone from Toronto, MacArthur said she also has her parents living in Charlottetown to check in on the house. 

It will cost more, MacArthur said, to invest in some of the smart home technology, but she said they're hoping to keep the renovation to $100,000.

"I think it's really important to have that latest technology in the home in terms of being able to monitor what's going on," MacArthur said.

MacArthur is hoping to keep the renovations under $100,000, even with all the smart home technology. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

She was hoping the house would be finished this summer, but expects construction will continue into the fall. 

It will be rented out over the winter, then MacArthur and her family will stay there next summer.

"I think this house is going to be a phenomenal house as far as the smart home features," MacArthur said. 

"But also I want to be able to showcase Prince Edward Island and show people the beauty of this Island, the beauty of Charlottetown and how you're able to have a place that has this great history but also has this real futuristic trend."

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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