Smart Home Concepts – the why’s, how’s and what’s!
How smart is your home?

Smart Home Concepts – the why’s, how’s and what’s!

Now that the growth for smartphones has reached saturation the focus of attention for the tech giants is home automation. More and more smart devices are being created that are intended to make the monitoring and control of your home much more efficient.

However, with this range of expanding home technology how do you know which devices you need? And why would you want to create a smart home, what the benefits? 

What is a smart home?

A smart home which can also be referred to as a digitally connected home uses the latest home automation systems to provide a convenient method of monitoring and controlling a range of electronic devices throughout the home.

The adoption of the smartphone has been instrumental in the growth and development of the smart home. The smart phone, with its vast array of apps, has become the multi-purpose controller for the smart home devices which can schedule and monitor the automatic operation of heating, cooling, lighting, electrical devices and security systems to name a few.

Person controlling a range of home devices with a smartphone
A modern home with its security controlled with a smartphone

A typical modern home has a number of independent functions that normally needs human involvement to operate. Doors need to be unlocked by physically turning a key in the lock, the alarm systems needs to be set by pressing a key pad to enter a code, the heating and cooling systems need to be overridden by turning a dial on a room thermostat, lights are turned on and off with a switch, and the entertainment systems are usually controlled by pressing buttons on a remote control device.

A smart home can automate all these operations by creating a single system that can be controlled by a single device – your smartphone!

With a smart home when you arrive home from work, your garage door will automatically open, your front door will unlock, the lights will turn on, the heating and cooling system will burst in to life and you could even have your favourite music playing to welcome you home – all without touching a button!

This level of convenience doesn’t just happen by magic, it needs planning, consideration when purchasing electrical products and devices, a secure and reliable home network and some knowledge about how to operate the digital system.

The remainder of this article will discuss ‘what is included in a smart home’, ‘how the smart home system works’ and the ‘benefits of a smart home’, but first……..

A graphic showing the planning process

Why would you want a smart home?

Text bubbles asking the question why oh why

For many people the key motivating factors behind creating a smart home are saving energy and saving money. Most smart home-owners start by installing smart thermostats and smart lighting with the aim of reducing the consumption of electricity and thus saving money.

Independent studies have shown that by installing a smart thermostat that optimises the use of heating and /or cooling householders have saved up to 12% on heating costs and 15% on wasted cooling costs!

After heating a lighting another strong reason why people want a smart home is security. Our home and contents are valuable assets, yet we leave them unattended most days whilst we are at work. With webcams, smart door locks, window and door sensors and smart security systems you can keep an eye on your property whilst at work, sat on the beach or from anywhere in the world using an internet connected device like a smartphone.

How well is your home protected? Not only can you monitor your home whilst you are away, you can control it as well! You can ask the doorbell remotely through a video interface, you could unlock the door for a family member and to make it look like you are at home you could turn on the lights and lower the window blinds!

Graphic showing the range of devices being control by a tablet computer

What is included in a smart home?

We have seen some of the reasons why people create smart homes, but what is typically included in today’s smart home?

Nearly every aspect of domestic life has seen the introduction of a smart home alternative:

  • Smart TV's

    One of the most popular smart devices is the Smart TV with its ability to connect to the internet it can stream content from the likes of Amazon, Netflix and BBC iplayer. The latest Smart TV’s can be controlled by voice! With a Smart TV’s you can basically curate your own content, using your voice you can make a request to show a list of action films. The TV will search the internet and return a list of films that match your criteria.

  • Smart Lighting

    Smart lighting systems are very popular, such as the ones supplied by Philips Hue, Hive Smart Lighting and even Ikea. With smart lighting you can fill your room with a range of colours to suit your mood, you can dim or brighten the lighting with voice commands or you can have the lights switch on and off when you enter and leave a room.

  • Smart Thermostats

    You need never return home to a cold or hot house with a smart thermostat. Using the internet and a secure hub you can schedule, monitor and control your heating and cooling from anywhere you have an internet connection. Whilst at home you can change the temperature from anywhere in the house, providing you have you smartphone within easy reach!

  • Smart Locks

    With smart locks and garage door openers you can allow or deny access to your visitors or family members without leaving your seat or whilst at work! With geo-fencing your door locks and garage doors will operate when you (your smartphone) arrives home.

  • Smart Security

    With smart security cameras you can check in on your home, either to look at live footage or recorded footage, using your smartphone from anywhere in the world! Your security cameras can send you an alert when it detects some motion – it can tell the difference between family members, pets and unknown visitors.

  • Smart Accessories

    With smart accessories your pets can be feed with smart feeders, your lawn and plants can be watered via a smart connected timer.  There are also numerous smart kitchen appliances such as smart kettles and coffee makers that can be programmed to make a hot brew for the morning start to the day. The smart fridge can order more milk over the internet when it detects that suppliers are running low, it can even send alerts when expiry dates are approaching.

  • Monitoring Systems

    There are household monitoring systems that can detect a surge in electricity and shut off sensitive appliances, and sensors for the water system that can detect and alert you to potential leaks.

How does the smart home system work?

The smart home system can become difficult to operate and manage if a number of dissimilar smart devices and appliance are thrown together without some proper planning.

Not all smart devices made by different manufacturers will work with one another. This may result in the need to operate many different apps on your smartphone in order to control each individual piece of equipment.

The true smart home is achieved by pursuing the ‘holy grail’ of having one system controlled by one device!

A tablet on the wall that is used for a smart home hub

The controlling component in a smart home is the smart home hub. The smart home hub is a piece of hardware that acts as the central device to collect and act on data and communicate wirelessly to the devices, appliances and controllers.

Therefore, at the planning stage it is best to decide which control system you prefer to use – Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, Samsung Smart Things for example. Once you know the control system only purchase smart devices and appliances that are compatible with the controller. This will be the easiest way to create a fully automated smart home.

It is possible to fully automate a disparate set of devices, but it will be a greater challenge which will involve more technical solutions and some programming.

Graphic depicting a smart home hub using icons

What are the downside issues with Smart Homes?

A downside to the adoption of smart home technology is the perception of complexity.

Many people have difficulty with the technology and often give up after the first bad experience. Manufactures are working to make their smart home devices simple to operate and many now offer starter kits.

Starter kits offer all the components in one box to build one automatable system. For example, Phillips Hue offers a number of different start kits for its smart lighting system. The starter kit includes the Philips bridge which acts as the smart home hub providing the secure access need between the internet and your home network – the bridge provides the control.

A broken arrow indicating the downside

Also, in the kit will be a number of smart bulbs which are fitted to your lighting sockets. You then download the Phillips Hue app to your smart phone and follow the instructions to connect it up.

The key is making sure that each start kit you add for the next automatable system is compatible with the previous ones.

A graphic depicting a securely locked smartphone

Another issue for many newbies to smart home technology is security. A recent report suggests that up to 80% of consumers are concerned about the security of their smart home. Would a hacker be able infiltrate the home and unlock the doors and turn off the security devices?

This is clearly an issue for many people as they lack the knowledge on how to make sure that their home network and Wi-Fi protocols are secure. If you are unsure on how to secure your home WiFi system read our article on tips for setting up a Wi-Fi network.

What are the benefits of a smart home?

The benefits of a smart home are convenience, efficiency and savings in time and money.

There is no longer the need to leave the heating or cooling system on all day long, or have a programmer turn your heating on or off at the fixed times. With smart thermostats which learn your behaviour and movements your house will be cooled down or warmed up just in time for when you arrive home.

A laptop being used to perform many different tasks

With smart irrigation system and robotic lawn mowers you’re your garden will be maintained whilst you are at work! The watering system will only water the lawn and plants when needed and with the exact amount of water required saving you timer and money. The automated mower will cut the grass every day as programmed saving your time from this chore.

Some of the other benefits such as smart security that will give you peace of mind over, have I left the door unlocked or who is calling at my house right now, have already been discussed.

What do you think - is the smart home for you?

I hope you found this article helpful and informative. If you have any comments on the article or smart home technology in general, please use the box below.

If you have started making your home a smart home, please let us know in the box below which technologies you use? Which controllers you use? What experiences you have had? And any recommendations you may have? In the box below.

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