What is a Smart Home?
Smart home for energy, air conditioning, temperature and more.

What is a Smart Home?

Smart Homes have been talked about for a while!

Home technology is rapidly expanding and some major players in the form of Apple, Amazon and Google are developing smart home products. It is now possible to control your heating, lighting, security devices like webcams and door locks from your smartphone from anywhere in the world!

A person with a smartphone operating a number of smart devices

However, to answer the question, in my view, a smart home is a home with digitally connected devices that can be automated in order to work together and controlled by a simple device such as a tablet, smartphone or smart speaker!

Therefore, the smart home devices need to be integrated to create a single system. In simple terms these different devices need to be able to play nicely with one another.

The foundation for a smart home is the network.

Without a secure and reliable network throughout the house it will be difficult to develop a fully connected smart home.

The home network will have a variety of wired and wireless devices connected and configured to work together. To produce a fast, reliable and secure home network I would suggest that those devices that rarely move location, such as smartTV’s, desktop computers, network printers, network speakers, should be connected by CAT 5e Ethernet cabling.

Rear-view-of-a-router-showing -the=ethernet-cables

The devices that move around the home from room to room, such as laptops, tablets, portable speakers, smartphones etc. should connect to the network via WiFi (e.g. a wireless connection).

This will help to even out the load on the router which will be able to route some data along the wired system and some data through a secure WiFi signal.

More detailed information about planning building and configuring a home network is covered in another article.

Be carefully not to buy just a load of random smart devices

Once you have created a good network you can layer in the smart devices. However, you may end up having to control each device with a different app if you don’t buy smart.

I would suggest a good place to start your smart home journey is lighting. With certain products you can create a blaze of colour in your rooms. Smart lighting can be controlled with sensors and when you open a door the lights will turn on. (you will programme the daylight hours so the system will know which times to turn them on and which times not to bother!)

You can also use specially design switches to control a number of lights with one button press, you can also change the colour temperature and dim or brighten them. You can even control your smart lights by voice command if you add in a smart speaker from either Amazon, Apple or Google.

Another popular smart device to add to your comfort system is a smart heating thermostat, once installed you’ll be able to control your central heating and hot water, depending on your system, with your smartphone. You never need to arrive home from work to a dark cold house.

What about Smart Security

There are now a number of smart products that will help to keep your home secure. You can install external and internal webcams so you can monitor any activity in and around you home whilst you are away. You can even keep an eye on your pets whilst you are at work.

There are window and door sensors that are easy to fit to your windows and internal and or external doors. How many you install depends on what you want to monitor. These sensors can send alerts to your smartphone to let you know a door or window has been opened.

Smartphone being used to open a smart lock
finger print being used a security

Another popular device that can help with safety are smart plugs. These plugs plug in to an electrical socket and you plug your appliance, like for example hair straighteners in to the smart plug. You can control these plugs remotely turning them on and off. Therefore, if you have left for work and are unsure if you turned the ‘straighteners’ off you can check on your smartphone.

How about entertainment and lifestyle?

If you install a Network Accessible Storage (NAS) drive in your network you will be able to access all your music, videos and photographs all over the house via Smart TV’s and smart speakers.

A smart tv displaying an image of London

When you have gotten to this level of smart sophistication, with lighting, heating, security and smart TV’s and smart speakers you can enter the world of home automation! For example – with a voice command to Amazon’s Alexa such as “film night” – Alexa can turn on your smart TV, set the heating to a nice comfortable temperature, change the lights to a soft amber glow, set your sound bar and lock the external doors, how cool is that?

However, I think the icing on the ‘smart home cake’ is having a robotic hoover clean the carpets whilst sitting on the patio with a Gin & Tonic whilst watching the robotic lawn mower cut the grass – now that is what I call a lifestyle change.

A robotic lawn mower cutting the grass

A digitally connected smart home summarised

I created the diagram below to depict a layered approach to creating a digital Smart Home.

A table showing the layers that make up a smart home

The foundation layer is the home network. This layer consist the router, network switches, power line adapters, WiFi extenders, Ethernet cables, NAS Drives, network printers, etc. This base layer provides the connection to the internet and the ‘plumbing and wires’ to your static devices dotted around your home as well as a connection to your central in-home data store.

A pair of wi-fi extenders
A router depicting the network cables

The integration layer contains all the devices you use around the home and maybe outside the home to access your home network and the ‘internet’ (the network outside your home). The typical devices in this layer will be smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart speakers and smart TV’s.

An imac desktop computer with keyboard and mouse
Apples smartphone

The ‘icing on the cake’ layer is the top layer of smart devices that will control your comfort – lighting, heating and window blinds, your security – webcams, door locks, window and door sensors, smart plugs etc and those that change your lifestyle such as robotic carpet cleaners and lawn mowers.

Putting all these layers together so everything works nicely together and performs as one single system will take some planning and will be the subject of further blogs.

If you have any comments or questions about ‘what is a smart home’ please enter them in the box below.

If you have a specific question about home networking or smart homes, please use the form in the contact us section.

Infographic for a smart home

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Smartphone technology that affects other devices that is an interesting way the big

    companies are going. I have become aware that everywhere I look on the streets,

    supermarkets, and train stations you’ll see many folks using smartphones. But, smart

    devices being controlled by smartphones anywhere! Smart devices working together

    now how can we go about this? Another question if we use wireless technology is it

    secure from hackers trying to pick up the ‘smart tools’ wireless connection, in order to

    steal information? One more thing I love the way you’ve enlightened me on this new

    wave of high tech gadgets, but I think if you use a darker font it may be easier for

    others to read.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Linda its much appreciated. I agree many people seem to have their faces glued to their smartphones theses days. Maintaining security and control over your data is a major consideration and an issue not to be taken lightly. Controlling your home devices from anywhere can be carried out securely providing you have set-up a secure connection. The secure connection is often established using a piece of hardware known as a ‘bridge’ that connects to your route via an ethernet cable. You then configure the bridge using a smartphone for example, which then allow that device to access your network and its associated smart products using a secure encrypted connection. I’ll take a look at the text colour and see what I can do. Regards Malcolm

  2. When I worked as a trainer I had clients showing me such smart devices and how they can both monitor and control their home with their phones. I was amazed at how far technology has come, especially in the last few decades and that it’s all coming to this.

    I think this trend will indeed continue, so long as it can stay secure and ward off hackivists, because we all know they will be out there. But with the way technology has been going I can see a bright future and that the bad guys can and will be warded off simply via innovation.

    1. I really appreciate your feedback. I agree the technology is developing at a rapid pace and maintaining security is certainly a key consideration. Many of the manufacturers of smart products create a device known as a bridge that makes it easy for the homeowner to create a secure connection from their home network to a smartphone which allows them to operate the device securely outside the home. Providing passwords are robust and not shared this should prevent the ‘hackivists’ from gain access to your home network.

  3. It is really amazing how smart technology has developed in recent years. Som epeople may say that it has gone too far and that terminators wil be on our door steps very soon. It will be intersting to see how much carbon copying will take place amongst the manufacturers. My biggest concern is, as we know, technology cannot be totally reliable on and in some situations add oil to the fire. How do you address the reliability problem?

    Thanks
    Antonio

    1. Thanks for your comments and question Antonio. I believe that smart technology and home technology systems are here to stay are are expanding at a rapid rate. However, your concern is a good one as people should not adopt some of these systems without some thought and consideration. Some of the devices out there may not be very reliable nor secure which could leave your property vulnerable to attack. Therefore, my advice to anyone who is considering creating a smart home to start with the low risk devices such as smart lighting and heating controls, if someone hacks these system they will not be gaining access to your house. I would also suggest that if you were unsure about a products security credentials and its reliability then do not install them in a critical system, such as, the physical security of your property. 🙂 I hope this helps answer you question Antonio.

  4. Hi,
    I have seen the rise of smart devices over the years and having worked in IT for a number of years, I have to say they worry me a little. In your experience and research (you have far more than I with smart devices) how comprehensive do you feel the systems are?
    Thank you for your time and response
    Ted

    1. Hi Ted thanks for your question. I believe that many of the systems on the market today are reliable and secure when operating them from within your home environment. Systems such as heating controls, smart plugs, sensors, webcams and lighting. I do operate these devices using a smart phone when I’m away from my house, but I use a secure, encrypted connection and so far I have not encountered any problems. However, that being said I have not fitting smart locks yet as I still prefer to rely on a physical key to lock and unlock access to my house. However to help with security of the house a well positioned webcam is a great device as you get an alert sent to your phone when someone approaches your door. I think one of the advantages of having smart devices is they can give you peace of mind when you are away from your property at work or on holiday. You can check back in on your home to see if you left a device plugged in, or left any lights switch on, or if your heating is on, or whether you left any doors or windows open. Of course as you will be aware, as with any IT system you need to ensure the system is secure.

  5. Malcolm,
    I have a partial smart home. I started with a thermostat to control heating and cooling a few years ago. The furnace guy had to do some work on the fan and when he put things back together, he melted my controller. Good thing I keep the old control and put it back on.
    I now have a vacuum that is controlled by my phone, I would like to get the thermostat back on wifi.
    I know what you mean if all are not the same you will have to have several apps to control things, I have several apps on my phone now to control things.
    Most of my TV’s are on the internet now also, controlling things via the internet will be the future of the smart home. Without getting a security system, what are the best light controllers on the market today.
    John

    1. Hi John, thanks for taking the time to comment and ask some questions its much appreciated. I think installing a smart thermostat is a great place to begin building a smart home, not only can you control you heating and water with your phone from anywhere you can set your heating to turn off when you leave your house and turn on when you are about a mile from home, providing you remember to take your phone with you! Robotic cleaners are a great way to automate the domestic chores and once set-up and scheduled you can leave them to it! However, you are right it’s not difficult to start accumulating an app for each smart device you buy, which means it can start to become a bit more tedious to switch things on and off. For a single controller within my house I have found Amazon’s Alexa to be the best so far, I can control my lights, my heating thermostat, my sensors, smart plugs, music and smart TV’s all with voice commands! If you want to control your smart devices from outside your house using your phone I would advice installing a secure bridge which is a device produced by the manufacturers who typically create a range of smart devices like Nest, Hive and Philips. My favourite at the moment is Hive, as it will allow me to control all my devices with one app. Good luck with developing your smart home.

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