Smart Homes

Smart Homes
Smart Homes

When you’re not home, nagging little doubts can start to crowd your mind. Did I turn the coffee maker off? Did I set the security alarm? Are the kids doing their homework or watching television? With a smart home, you could quit all of these worries with a quick glance at your smartphone or tablet. You could connect the devices and appliances in your home so they can communicate with each other and with you. Any device in your home that uses electricity can be put on your home network and at your command. Whether you give that command by voice, remote control, tablet or smartphone, the home reacts.

Most applications relate to lighting, home security, home theatre and entertainment and thermostat regulation. The idea of a smart home might make you think of George Jetson and his futuristic abode or maybe Bill Gates, who spent more than $US100 million building his smart home. Once a draw for the tech-savvy or the wealthy, smart homes and home automation are becoming more common. What used to be a quirky industry that churned out hard-to-use and frilly products is finally maturing into a full-blown consumer trend. Sales of automation systems could grow to around $9.5 billion by 2015, by 2017, that number could balloon to $US44 billion Much of this is due to the jaw-dropping success of smartphones and tablet computers.

These ultra-portable computers are everywhere and their constant Internet connections means they can be configured to control a myriad of online devices. It’s all about the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is a phrase that refers to the objects and products that are interconnected and identifiable through digital networks. This web-like sprawl of products is getting bigger and better every day. All of the electronics in your home are fair game for this tech revolution, from your fridge to your furnace.

Here are some examples of smart home products and their functions.

– Cameras will track your home’s exterior even if it’s pitch-black outside.
– You can control a thermostat from your bed, the airport, anywhere your smartphone has a signal.
– LED lights let you program colour and brightness right from your smartphone.
– Motion sensors will send an alert when there’s motion around your house, and they can even tell the difference between pets and burglars.
– Smartphone integration lets you turn lights and appliances on or off from your mobile device.
– Door locks and garage doors can open automatically as your smartphone approaches.
– Auto alerts from your security system will immediately go to your smartphone, so you instantly know if there’s a problem at home.
– Many devices also come with built-in web servers that allow you to access their information online.

The cost of a smart home varies depending on how smart the home is. One builder estimates that his clients spend between $US10,000 and $US250,000 for sophisticated systems. If you build the smart home gradually, starting with a basic lighting system, it might only be a few hundred dollars. A more sophisticated system will be tens of thousands of dollars and elements of home theatre systems raise the cost of a system about 50 percent. Is it worth the money?

Smart Home Benefits

Smart homes may make life easier and more convenient. Who wouldn’t love being able to control lighting, entertainment and temperature from their couch? Whether you’re at work or on vacation, the smart home will alert you to what’s going on and security systems can be built to provide an immense amount of help in an emergency. For example, not only would a resident be woken with notification of a fire alarm, the smart home would also unlock doors, dial the fire department and light the path to safety.

Here are a few more examples of cool smart home tricks:

– Light a path for night time bathroom trips.
– unlock your door automatically as you approach.
– Feed your pets on a schedule with a preset amount of food.
– Instantly create mood lighting for any occasion.
– Program your television so that your children can watch only at certain times.
– Warm the bedroom before you get out of bed so that it’s nice and toasty when you get up.
– Turn on the coffee maker from bed.

Smart homes also provide some energy efficiency savings. Electric bills go down when lights are automatically turned off in empty rooms, and rooms can be heated or cooled based on who’s there at any given moment. One homeowner boasted that her heating bill was about onethird less than a same-sized normal home. Some devices can track how much energy each appliance is using and command power hogs to use less. Smart home technology promises tremendous benefits for elderly people living alone.

A smart home could notify the resident when it’s time to take medicine, alert the hospital if the resident falls and track how much the resident is eating. If an elderly person is a little forgetful, the smart home could perform tasks such as shutting off the water before a tub overflows or turning off the oven if the cook has wandered away. One builder estimates that a system like this could cost $20,000. It also allows adult children who might live elsewhere to participate in the care of their aging parent. Easy-to-control automated systems would provide similar benefits to those with disabilities or a limited range of movement. Smart homes look great on paper, but are they for everyone? We will look at some of the disadvantages of this technology.

Home automation systems have struggled to find a mainstream audience, in part because they require a bit of technical savvy from their users. But these days, the fast proliferations of smartphones and tablets provide an easy way for even tech novices to communicate with home automation gadgets. And those gadgets are more numerous by the day. The Nest thermostat comes with integrated WiFi so that you can control, schedule and monitor your home’s temperatures, from the porch or from a taxi. Nest learns your behaviors and automatically adjusts its settings for maximum efficiency and comfort.

It will tell you how much energy you’re using, remind you to change your filters. Philips’ Hue lights offer some concert lighting effects right in your own home. Screw these LED bulbs into your regular fixtures, install the app to your phone or tablet, and then you can turn the lights on or off, brighten or dim them, or perhaps best of all, change the colour. Then you can even program the lights to perform just about any combination of colour and brightness, and control up to 50 lights on one bridge (which links the lights to your phone). The more lights you have the more fun it will be. But it will cost you — a starter pack with three bulbs and a bridge goes for around $US200.

Where to start?

Do you buy one product initially or do you need several products to make it all work? Answer – You can do either depending on your budget. Most people start out with lighting products (dimmers, switches, etc.). Once you become comfortable with the technology you will probably ask yourself the question, “What else can I do with home automation?”