The family who found fresh energy from life in the future

Michele Perera. Photo: Channel 4
Michele Perera. Photo: Channel 4
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From a talking fridge to a lawnmower which drives itself, Sarah Freeman reports on the Yorkshire family who moved into the house of the future.

With six children, four grandchildren and two dogs, Tony and Michele Perera’s home is rarely quiet.

The couple, who met in a nightclub more years ago than they care to remember, moved into their South Yorkshire semi in the 1990s. Having grown up on a Sheffield council estate, having her own four walls was more than Michele had ever dreamed off.

“I couldn’t believe it when I woke up and found I could see fields and hear the birds,” she says. “My sisters called me Mrs Bucket for a few years.”

The peace was soon shattered as the family grew. The couple’s four sons were joined by two adopted daughters and while only three of the children still live at home, on weekends the entire brood often return.

It’s a pretty traditional set-up. Michele describes herself as the heart of her home, taking on much of the responsibility for the cleaning and cooking, while Tony works as a mechanic. However, in recent months, the Pereras found their suburban home transformed into a house of the future.

The new property came with all the latest cutting edge technology, from a bin which shames those who fail to recycle enough to robots which can be controlled from the other side of the world and a waterless washing machine.

Their experiences were filmed for a new television programme which explores the likely changes to how we all work, rest and play in the next 25 years.

For Tony, who already has something of a reputation as an energy-saving enthusiast, the idea of having home designed to allow the family to save on household bills was one of the main reasons he signed up to the project.

“People don’t believe me when I say in the future water may be scarce, electricity and gas may be scarce, but it’s true,” he says. “My first job when I come home from work is to check no one has left a tap running and there are no unnecessary lights on.

“I don’t like to waste anything. In fact, one of the reasons I could probably do with losing a few pounds is because I always eat the leftovers. I always tell my children when they boil the kettle to only to use the amount of water they need and every TV in the house is on a timer, so it switches off after 60 minutes if no one is watching. All the children were wasteful when they were little, that’s just the way kids are, but as they have grown up they have gradually come round to my way of thinking.”

Home of the Future looks at how changes over the next few decades, from the rise of home working to an increase in multi-generational households, can be helped by technological developments. During their time in front of the camera, the Pereras were overseen by Chris Sanderson, co-founder of the trend-forecasting consultancy The Future Laboratory.

“I spend my time hypothesising about the future so it was fascinating to be able to test the theories with a family and see how quickly they adapt,” says Chris. “The highlight, for me, was definitely the moment when the 3D printer arrived at the house. It was like the moment a TV came to a village for the very first time.”

However, for all the Pereras’ family home was transformed by touch screen panels and slimline gadgets, the biggest change was the energy system on which the property now runs.

“Walking into the house for the first time, what was really strange was how familiar everything was. I recognised the 3D televisions, the touch screen wall panels and could just about work out the new age kitchen gadgets,” says the show’s presenter Maddie Moate. “When it comes to technology, it takes a lot to surprise us nowadays, but it’s impossible not to be impressed by the BlueGen, which is effectively a power station the size of a washing machine.

“Converting natural gas into low-emission electricity, it’s a system so ahead of its time that it really belongs to the dream world of teleportation devices. However, it’s more than just a gimmick, it has a purpose and, more importantly, longevity.”

Several months after moving into their new home, Tony is still checking the lights are switched off, but now he can check the whole house is energy efficient at the touch of a single button.

“It’s changed the way we live,” he says. “Actual keys? You can do it with your fingerprints. Keys seem so old fashioned now.”

Home of the Future begins on Channel 4, February 12, 7pm.