Smart Technology in the Home
In 2022 there is a renewed interest in the uses of smart technology in the home. Partly as a result of so many of us spending more time working at home and partly because much of the technology undermining the notion of a Smart Home has come of age.
Working in an environment designed to be a home rather than an office has encouraged us to look at ways in which we can also enable working environment, free of distraction that promotes work s well as play.
At least some of that time spent working from the couch has been utilised in dreaming up work saving schemes. Wouldn’t it be great if my coffee was already brewed? Wouldn’t it be great if I could open the door for the postman from where I’m sat?
Smart Homes are more than a collection of apps simplifying or enhancing your everyday experience. With. the price of energy soaring, many householders are now looking at ways of saving their money rather than spending it!
So we’re taking a look at what it takes to go smart!
Creating a Smart Home
A Smart Home system can be approached from two angles.
- Top Down – the fundamentals, Electricity, Light, Heating, Hot water and Security.
- Bottom Up – Music and Home Entertainment, Smart devices – TVs, Cookers, Fridges and Coffeee Makers.
Both approaches require a smart home system to sit across all of the aspects of your smart technology and provide simple access to the controls for each aspect.
Let’s talk about the top down approach first.
The Fundamentals of Smart Living
The best way to reduce energy bills is to generate your own energy. Smart Home Technology enables a couple of ways for home owners to get the best out of the possibilities.
One way into the Smart Home project has been around for years, quietly improving in the background, the other is new technology. Both promise huge savings compared to electricity bought from the public grid. This category are not so much smart home devices, they represent the infrastructure on which smart home systems are built.
The use of Solar Energy to replace electricity from the grid has gained a lot of momentum in recent years. As solar panel costs decline and the technology improves, more people become aware of the financial and environmental benefits of solar.
Solar electricity is becoming increasingly accessible.
Solar with Battery Storage
In this configuration energy is stored in batteries and used when there is no sunshine. The new generation of smart batteries are capable of storing energy from the grid utilising the cheapest rate, for consumption during the more expensive hours.
Reselling Solar to the Grid
In this configuration surplus energy is routed to the grid and you receive a credit against your electricity bill. Although governments control the tariffs, rates you receive from selling the electricity back to the grid is less than the rate they charge you when you consume it from the grid. Hmmm.
Solar Hybrid configurations
Its possible to mix and match these solutions, some people heat water and use the grid for everything else. Some store energy in batteries and sell the surplus once the batteries are filled.
In all solar configurations, a solar panel system is typically installed on the roof of your house. These panels generate electricity to offset your power usage and in some configurations, send any excess production to the electric grid.
Less typically, solar panels can be installed in banks on south facing land, linked to the power system by underground cable.
Solar panels are dedicated to heating water for bathing etc. Heat is absorbed by the panels and transferred to the water tank. Some people use this configuration to heat swimming pools.
Solar can be used to power electric radiant heating for the home or office. Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to the floor or to panels in the wall or ceiling of a house.
These systems depend on radiant heat transfer which is the transfer of heat from a hot surface to people and objects in a room via infrared radiation. This form of heating is more efficient than electric or coal fires and unlike air conditioning does not transfer dust and other allergens around the property.
Be aware that underfloor heating is also available using air or hot water to convey the heat, air is inefficient compared to electricity, but water pumped around the system in tubes is cost effective and popular in colder countries.
There are a huge number of infrared heaters available to domestic householders. Like the sun, these heat objects much more efficiently than air. So the difference between an infrared heater and a traditional convection heater is that the objects and people in range of the infrared waves will feel warmer, rather than the whole room. This uses less energy than convection heaters.
Heat pumps are a technology that has great potential. Similar in looks to air conditioning units, the technology offers an energy-efficient alternative to boilers and air conditioners because it relies on heat transfer rather than heat generation.
In principle, electricity is used to transfer heat from a cool space to a warm space, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. For example in winter, heat pumps move heat from the cool outdoors into your warm house. in summer, pumps move heat from your house into the outdoors, cooling the house down. Fridges use exactly the same principle which is why if you leave the fridge door open, your electricity bill will go through the roof!
Heat pump technology is reckoned to be 50% more efficient than generating heat by traditional means.
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Instead of air, these pumps transfer heat between the house and the ground or water. They cost more to install but can offer a 10% improvement in efficiency over the air based models.
Although heat pump technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated it is some way behind solar in terms of market penetration and while it remains more costly to install than solar there will be less choice when it comes to choosing a supplier.
We’ll come back to heating in the section on Smart Home Devices.
LED bulbs are the most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technology. They also last considerably longer and emit a more natural colour of light.
Beyond the light itself Smart lighting achieves savings by reducing the amount of time the lighting is actually on. We see this in many public buildings where motion sensors will trigger the light to come on and remain on until motion has ceased in the vicinity.
The modern home is able to control lighting (and heating) via a smart app so that lights can be switched on and off from any location attached to the internet.
Home security has become much smarter over the years. Now including smart security cameras integrated with traditional call-centre connected home security systems, the modern smart security system enables the householder to lock and unlock doors remotely, to see who is at the door from anywhere that is internet connected and to record suspicious activity with high definition cameras.
Our parent company, Security Wise provide commercial and domestic alarm systems in Shropshire and the West Midlands.
How many times have you left home and had to return due to a nagging feeling you left the back door open? Once is too often!
The principle of the smart lock is that you can monitor the status of the lock remotely. Left the back door unlocked? Lock it from your phone.
A smart lock is a secure electromechanical lock designed to perform locking and unlocking operations on a door when it receives such instructions via bluetooth or the wireless network from a device using a wireless protocol and a cryptographic key to confirm authorisation
In tandem with a smart doorbell, this allows you to let a friend into the house if you’re running late, or simply open the door from the comfort of your armchair if you’re feeling lazy.
You may already be using cameras in and around your house, for security and even baby monitoring. So what makes them smart?. A smart camera usually connects to the internet using your home Wi-Fi. This means you can watch a live camera feed, receive alerts when you’re out and about, and even record from the camera via an app.
A smart doorbell is an internet-connected replacement for a traditional doorbell. It can “ring” a smartphone or any other connected device in your home. Usually including a high definition camera the doorbell relays a real time video to your device so that you can see who is at the door and what they are doing. In tandem with a smart lock, the householder is able to let friends, or a delivery driver into the house via the device.
Garage doors that can be opened from a remote control have been around for a while now. a smart garage door can be opened from your mobile phone and will alert you if it is opened by any other means. Most are also compatible with Nest, Alexa, Google Assistant etc and can be operated by voice control.
Smart Home Hubs
A proliferation of technology specific apps, not communicating with each other is a potential issue.
There is a solution though. A smart home hub such as Control4 provides a mediating hub that allows the user to control all of their technology from the same dashboard. 13500 devices were supported in 2019, so almost every type of widget whether it be controlled on iOS, android, Windows or OSX.
In essence Control 4 provides a highly secure network connected to your existing wireless network so that authorised devices can connect remotely. Supported devices can then be integrated into a customisable user interface on your phone, tablet or even wall mounted panels.
Let’s take a look at some of the smart home devices that users of a Smart Home Hub can bring under one overarching control panel.
Smart Kitchen Technology
A smarter kitchen is probably the next big step forward for smart homes. In terms of economy, safety and time savings, the kitchen is an area with a lot to improve!
Technically, a smart refrigerator is a high-tech programmed refrigerator that is able to detect the type of items stored in it and keep track of details such as expiry. These refrigerators work using the existing barcode system whereby they collect the batch and manufacture detail directly from the Internet.
In fact, some of the smart fridges arriving on the market can do a lot more than this, from suggesting recipes using the ingredients it finds in the fridge to ordering groceries online.
There are two types of cooker being marketed as smart, the one pot cooking system and the enhanced traditional cooker. Of the two, the one pot cooking system shows some incredible advances.
For example, weighing ingredients as they are added, multi function including pressure cooking, slow cooking, searing, sauteing and steaming. Impressed? Add hundreds of recipes and an app that enables you to track progress on your phone from the comfort of your favourite chair!
The more traditional arrangement of oven with hob on top or separates has also gone down the road of combining functions. The Samsung Smart oven for example combines the cooking performance of an oven with the speed and ease of a microwave. It is a perfect combination of convection, grill and microwave! In addition some new smart cookers are equipped with cameras, transmitting video of your Sunday roast to your smart phone.
Smart Devices for all Occasions
A smart plug is a network connected power adapter plugged into a conventional power socket to function as a remote controlled power switch. At the most simple level this enable the user to turn traditional unsmart devices on and off remotely, via an app.
A smart switch is a light switch that is connected to your home network, providing access through Wi-Fi to remotely control the switch using an app on your smartphone or tablet.
You can still turn the lights on or off manually if you happen to be passing!
Smart blinds can be programmed to open and close according to Light levels as well as on demand. Don’t forget that these apps can also be voice activated using whatever system you favour, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant or Amazon’s Echo.
Open and close the blinds by remote control – or by light level. Use sensors to determine when the blinds need to be closed and the lights switched on.
Sonos were probably the first brand to really capitalise on wireless networking. A big step away from traditional wired stereo, Sonos put a smart speaker in as many rooms as the user wanted, connected wirelessly to a central hub where the music was stored.
In the last decade, high end hi-fi manufacturers have been running to catch up but the market is still plagued by propriatary formats making system elements incompatible with other manufacturers.
By Smart Video we really mean digital Home Cinema. For as long as cine projectors have been around, well heeled consumers have construcrted private cinema experiences in their homes. Digitisation made this a much simpler proposition and there are dozens of companies offering design and installation services.
Content can, like smart music be stored on a central server. the difference is, where the music industry has been disrupted by iTunes and Spotify, home cinema has simply replaced your friendly local video store.
Traditional TV has been consumed using broadcast channels received via an arial. This model has largely been made redundant by streaming services consumed via a fast internet connection.
Amazon and Netflix have been at the forefront of video streaming services for a decade or more and Smart TVs offer instant connection to their libraries.
For most of us, the transition from Blockbuster to Netflix or an app to control the central heating was the first inkling that homes were about to get smarter.
Today, the proliferation of smart devices, each with a different app can be confusing. In the UK, the way in to smarter living has been via streaming services and entertainment but these are things that individuals change frequently. If we can’t find something on Netflix we flip to Amazon.
Other areas such as central heating are often only addressed when we move house. The frequency of these purchases affects the rate at which new technology is adapted.
We have seen that device control systems such as Alexa can be used across multiple apps, the emphasis is very much on entertainment. With Control4 we can integrate the fundamentals of your house, heating, security, lighting with a single interface – and still include Alexa!
If you’d like to have a chat about how Smart Technology can work for you, fill in the form and we’ll get in touch!