The Ultimate Guide to Smart Homes

These days it seems everyone is talking about the Smart Home. That’s no surprise, since they offer greater security, save time, and reduce energy costs.

Smart home technology, also sometimes referred to as home automation, provides homeowners security, comfort, convenience and energy efficiency by allowing them to control smart devices via a smart home app on their smartphone.

A Smart Home is one in which the multimedia and household appliances interact and can be controlled remotely. Smart Home technology automates everyday tasks, while appliance settings such as heating, lighting and loudspeaker volume can be adjusted quickly via a smartphone to individual preferences.

All definitions tend to point back to a device in your home that can be controlled from your phone.

Home automation refers to a home with several interlinking devices that enable the residents to make easy and efficient household decisions. This allows the residents to monitor and control the home in a simple and productive manner. A smart home may have the ability to control certain aspects of the home, such as refrigerator, washing machine, lighting, music and entertainment, security and surveillance, and so on.

A home automation system typically connects controlled devices to a central hub or “gateway”. The user interface for control of the system uses either wall-mounted terminals or a mobile phone application.

Home automation gives you access to control devices in your home from a mobile device anywhere in the world. The term may be used for isolated programmable devices, like thermostats and sprinkler systems, but home automation more accurately describes homes in which nearly everything — lights, appliances, electrical outlets, heating and cooling systems – – are hooked up to a remotely controllable network. From a home security perspective, this also includes your alarm system, and all of the doors, windows, locks, smoke detectors, surveillance cameras and any other sensors that are linked to it.

Yes and no. In theory the two are the same and the terms are often used interchangeably.

Smart home typically refers to different devices for the home that provide some smart feature that can be controlled and monitored from your smartphone.

Home automation on the other hand refers to the concept of automating the functions of the home and getting them to interoperate. So for example, you can press a button to watch a movie and the blinds will close, the lights will dim and the TV will turn on automatically. The different parts work together and make life a lot more convenient.

Home automation or domotics is building automation for a home, called a smart home or smart house. A home automation system will control lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances. It may also include home security such as access control and alarm systems.

What is the same across both systems is the concept of remote control from your smartphone. You can use any Internet- connected device to view and control the system itself and any attached devices.

You can program your system to send you a text message or email whenever your security system registers a potential problem, such as motion detector warnings to fire alarms. You can also get notified for more mundane events, such as programming your “smart” front door lock to let you know when your child returns home from school.

It will also allow you to arm and disarm your security system, reprogram the scheduling of the heating, lock and unlock doors, reset the thermostat and adjust the lights all from your phone, from anywhere in the world.

What sets home automation apart is the fact that it automation. Automation refers to the ability to program and schedule events for the devices on the network. The programming may include time-related commands, such as having your lights turn on or off at specific times each day. It can also include non- scheduled events, such as turning on all the lights in your home when your security system alarm is triggered.

The other difference is that home automation system is that the devices are created as a fully integrated system so they can communicate between devices. For example setting the ‘cinema’ scene makes the blinds close, the lights dim and the TV to come on. Different devices work together as a single integrated system. Making things work together means that these solutions tend to come from a single vendor though.

Ultimately, the requirement for piecemeal smart gadgets will no longer exist, as properties will have smart integration as standard. Ultimately smart home and home automation will become the same thing as different devices work together. But for the moment, the inability of different smart home devices to work together is one of the key factors holding up the adoption of the technology.

Currently, less than 1% of homes employ home automation or smart home technology. But by 2018, HIS Technology forecasts that 45 million smart home devices will have been installed and the annual business volume will have grown to $12 billion dollars. ABI Research predicts slightly higher growth to $14.1 billion for this year. Allied Market Research projects that the global smart homes and buildings market will grow at a rate of 29.5% through 2020 to $35.3 billion. Juniper Research optimistically predicts that the market will be of $71 billion this year.

Regardless of which number we believe, the market is definitely growing, and fast. This growth is driven largely by the widespread use of smartphones. Smart home users have increasingly found the smartphone as an effective remote control to manage their smart homes and devices. Additional contributors are the decreasing costs of smart technologies; increased government regulation on reducing energy consumption; the increasing cost of energy; increased consumer concern about protecting the environment; and consumer security concerns.

Nearly every part or device in the home has seen the introduction of a ‘smart’ version. It seems to have become the marketing buzzword. The devices tend to be expensive versions of the standard product, some adding truly useful features and some just considerable additional cost. Here are some examples.

– Smart TVs connect to the internet to access content through applications, such as on-demand video and music. Some smart TVs also include voice or gesture recognition.
– With smart music systems the user can control what music is played from their mobile app and the smart speakers stream music directly from the internet or from a smartphone or PC.
– Smart lighting. In addition to being able to be controlled remotely and customized with different colours and brightness, some smart lighting systems can detect when occupants are in the room and adjust lighting as needed.
– Smart thermostats come with integrated Wi-Fi allowing users to schedule, monitor and remotely control home temperatures. Smart thermostats can also report energy use and remind users to change filters, among other things.
– Smart locks and garage-door openers allow users to grant or deny access to visitors. Smart locks can also detect when residents are near and unlock the doors for them.
– Smart security cameras allow residents to monitor their homes when they are away or on vacation.
– Pet care can be automated with connected feeders. Houseplants and lawns can be watered by way of connected timers.
– Kitchen appliances of all sorts are available, including smart coffee makers that can brew you a fresh cup as soon as your alarm goes off; smart refrigerators that keep track of expiration dates, make shopping lists or even create recipes based on ingredients currently on hand; slower cookers and toasters; and, in the laundry room, washing machines and dryers.

There are hardly any devices in existence in the home today and more are coming all the time including robots that do the cleaning for us. Typically this makes these devices easier to control via smartphone apps and the ability to monitor them, no matter where we are in the home or indeed the world.

Research by Coldwell Banker showed that most people think a home can be considered “smart” if it has smart security, temperature, lighting and safety. When asked about what needs to be in a home for it to be considered “smart,” 63 percent said security e.g. alarm systems, 63 percent said temperature e.g. thermostats and fans, 58 percent said lighting and 56% safety e.g., fire / carbon monoxide detectors.

Importantly, more than three-quarters thought that having just one category of smart technology in your home isn’t enough for it to be considered smart. Specifically, sixty percent thought that for a home to be considered smart, it needs to have at least three categories of smart products.

The same report looked at what smart home technology would influence whether people would purchase a home. Home buyers were most attracted to smart security and temperature with 58% saying smart security would be most appealing and 56% saying temperature. The least popular types of smart home technology were smart appliances such as smart refrigerators, washers and dryers and entertainment.

One of the biggest benefits of smart homes is providing peace of mind to homeowners, allowing them to monitor their homes remotely, countering dangers such as lights or hair straighteners left on or a front door left unlocked.

Likewise, homeowners can control their devices remotely, for example allowing them to turn up the heating when they are on their way home on a particularly chilly day or arm the burglar alarm if they are away from home and remember that they forgot to do so.

Smart homes can also be programmed to adapt to user preferences. For example, as soon as you arrive home, you can program your garage door to open, the lights to go on, the heating to be just right and your favourite music will start playing on your smart speakers.

Home automation also helps homeowners improve efficiency. If you have left home and forget to turn off the lights, you can do so via the app. Some smart home system can learn your behaviours and make sure the house is cooled down by the time you arrive home from work. The same goes for appliances. And with a smart irrigation system, you can stop the lawn being watered by a smart irrigation system if it is raining.

However, smart home systems have struggled to become mainstream, partly due to being highly technical and difficult to get working just right. A drawback of smart homes is their complexity with some people have difficulty with technology in general or giving up with the first annoyance. They also do not want to program the devices to get them to work together and to have them automate to do what they want.

For home automation systems to be truly effective, devices must be interoperable regardless of who manufactured them.. As it is such a nascent market, there is no true standard for home automation yet and it is often difficult to get different devices to work together. And even if they do, making them work in harmony, for example to have the lights flash when the alarm sounds to help deter burglars rarely happens.

Fully integrated custom systems are expensive and often require an expensive technician to install them, as well structural changes to the home which adds to the cost of the system itself. Systems easily cost £10,000 and can increase up to well over £100,000; well beyond the budget of the average consumer. While cheaper smart home devices are available, they suffer from the lack of interoperability and integration mentioned before and still need to be programmed to get them to do what the user wants.

Despite the growth of smart homes and the size of the market, home owners could well be investing in technology that is already outdated. Disruption is happening right now in the smart home market and the disruption we are seeing is the move from a smart home to an intelligent home.

Consumers have shown a willingness to embrace more advanced smart home services. Respondents to Strategy Analytics’ CHX survey in May 2015 “were interested in owning technology that knows them, learns their needs and recognises their lifestyle”.

The Intelligent Home is the next stage of evolution beyond connected and smart. It will define the next ten years of opportunity in home technology and services. Intelligent Home implies awareness, learning and personalisation. It will involve a learning ecosystem embracing the entire spectrum of home entertainment, automation, security, control and energy management applications.

But what exactly is an intelligent home? Well, first of all it is the evolution of the connected home, the next step in how our homes will function in the future. The intelligent home learns the behaviours and preferences of people in the home. It adapts to and anticipates their needs. It is a home that uses data gathered from a selection of devices and sensors around the home. It anticipates the needs of the users in the home and responds accordingly. It is a fully autonomous home that acts on the user’s behalf.

Intelligent Houses are very similar to automated homes that are programmed to perform some activities. The difference is in a way the house is programmed. In case of home automation or smart home technologies it is a person that needs to program the house. In case of Intelligent Houses it would be done automatically by the house itself.

This is not about smart thermostats or smart video cameras, this is about a much more integrated system, a system that uses multiple different data points to create a holistic view of the people in the home and that acts upon their behalf.

An intelligent home will lower the effort for users interacting with their homes – no more fiddling with apps, no more shouting to voice assistants, no more manually programming schedules. The home will do what they want, controlling the different functions of their home, without them having to say so.

Although this may sound like science fiction, such systems already available. If you know where to look and who to ask, you can get an intelligent home for under £1,000.