Let technology take the strain out of everyday living – it’ll even boil your kettle for you if you programme it
What is a Smart Home? Your guide to living smart
‘Smart Homes’ – a technology once reserved for the tech-savvy and gadget-obsessed – is now much more accessible to the mainstream market. Even if people cannot afford some of the ‘smart’ products, it is becoming more common to future-proof homes by installing cables when building new or renovating.
So what exactly is a Smart Home? Simply put, it’s the control of electrical products in the home via a smartphone or tablet. This can cover everything from audio, visual and lighting to security systems and building access. Some ‘smart’ elements can be provided wirelessly, while others require cables.
The Mezzo system, for instance, is fully wireless, meaning no invasive cable installation is required. You can even install some elements yourself. “If you are confident registering or logging on to a wi-fi network and using a smartphone app, you could have a simple alarm system and a few lights automated in two hours,” says Murray Irwin, CEO of Pacificomm, the company distributing Mezzo.
So what exactly is a Smart Home?,It’s the control of electrical products in the home via a smartphone or tablet
A number of companies can provide a cabled home automation system. One of these is Intelligent Environments, which has a plethora of ‘smarts’ available for every room in the house, all of which can be tailored to your specific needs to create ‘scenes’.
Intelligent Environments director Nikki Harris explains that a ‘scene’ is a collection of commands or programmes that make a number of things happen at once. “In a dining room, a ‘homework scene’ may turn lights on to the optimum level for working at the table, disable the TV and turn background music to pre-selected tracks that encourage learning,” she says. “In the same room, the ‘romance scene’ may close the blinds, dim the lighting and allow pre-selected soundtracks to play through the speakers.”
In the following room-by-room breakdown Nikki showcases what ‘scene’ possibilities are available with today’s smart technology. It is important to note that for the following technologies to work, a full home automation system would need to be installed.
Control Centre: As the central point of many homes, the kitchen is the obvious choice for siting the main touch panel or tablet to control all your connections. From here, you can adjust lights and thermostats, view and adjust schedules and watch recorded or live video from the camera at your door or gate.
Timing is everything: Schedules can help to automate everyday tasks. At a pre-set time each morning the smart technology in your connected home can turn on the lights in the kitchen and draw the blinds, adjust the thermostat to ensure heating/cooling is at a pleasant level, play your favourite news station through the inbuilt speakers, and boil the kettle for your morning cuppa. This may be scheduled for different times on different days – perhaps a later start for the weekend?
Recipes on tap . . . a tap of the screen, that is. The screen that provides you with control of your home automation system is also connected to the internet. You can search for that recipe you’ve been meaning to try and leave the instructions to hand as you prepare the meal. Or switch to a news site or TV on demand and be entertained while the chores are under way.
Underfloor heating: Underfloor heating can be scheduled to come on before you get up and turn off once you leave the house.
Heated towel rails: As with underfloor heating, significant energy savings are made when the heated towel rails only come on when needed. They can be scheduled to suit your requirements.
Lighting: Requirements will vary from overall lighting to task lighting over the mirror or vanity. Bathroom lights can be programmed to dim after bedtime.
Security: As you disarm the alarm, your smart home welcomes your return with safe pathway lighting from your car, automatic adjustment of heating/cooling settings, certain lights turning on – and even your favourite music playing once you’re inside.
Screening visitors: Not all visitors are welcome. An intercom or camera at the door or gate allows you to check who’s dropping in before you open the door. With smart homes, if you’re not home, you can even have your system call you so you can respond to your visitor and they will have no idea you are not on the premises.
Keyless entry: If your visitor is welcome, you can open the door remotely, allowing your visitor to await your arrival or the courier to put your online shopping safely inside the door.
Theatre content: Control your Blu-ray, Apple TV, DVR or MySky in many different ways. It can be from an iPad mounted in a charging station on the wall, or an iPad mini or remote positioned in the seating. Pre-set ‘scenes’ mean the lights automatically dim when the movie starts.
Comfort: As it’s linked to the home automation system, the same tablet that controls the volume of the movie can be used to adjust the heating or cooling in the TV or movie room.
Security features: If an alarm is triggered, a phone rings or the door bell is pushed, the system can be set to pause the movie and alert the occupants of the room.
Motion sensing: As well as helping with safety and security after dark, motion sensors can be used to make the most of landscaping features. Strategically placed sensors can be used to activate water features, speakers or outside lights – whatever you require to guide your guests.
Pool maintenance: Your home automation system can control the schedules for turning on pumps or heaters for your pool. You may also choose to link the pool covers to the system so they can open with the push of a button and close in the same way when the pool is no longer in use.
Outdoor entertaining: Setting up to enjoy TV viewing outside has traditionally been an expensive exercise. But the availability of TV shields means any flat-screen TV can now be protected from the weather. You may also wish to listen to music while you relax on the deck or in the spa. Outdoor speakers can be installed to provide an additional zone for multi-room audio. The music sources and audio visual library available for inside the house will also be available outside.
Perimeter protection: Living in the countryside or on the beach has its advantages but smart homeowners know that adjacent fields or beaches provide potential access points to people you may not want dropping by for a visit. If you wish to secure areas such as these without having to build high fences, a system can be installed that transmits invisible photoelectric beams across those boundaries. If the beam is broken, an alert is provided by the home automation system to warn the occupants.
Water, water everywhere . . . For those living in rural areas or who have holiday homes where mains water is not supplied, monitoring the level of water in the home’s storage tanks through the home automation system is useful. When the water falls below a pre-set level, for example, a text message can be sent to alert the homeowner. As well as monitoring water tanks, it can also monitor the status of back-up generators and gas or diesel tanks. Sensors are used to gather data and communicate the information visually via the home’s touch panels or tablets.
Control irrigation with your home automation system Scheduling will ensure your landscaping features are watered regularly, whether you are there or not. It is even possible to integrate a weather station so your sprinklers do not turn on and waste water in cases where it has already rained.
View the conditions at the beach with an IP camera (digital video camera) sited at your holiday home and aimed at the ocean. Engage the optical zoom and pan and tilt to take a closer look up before you head to the coast.
Okay, so what does this technology cost?
That depends on your budget. The Mezzo app is free and provides all the management functionality, including cameras. “A simple wireless smart home installation of some lights, heat pump control, and a simple alarm system on the garage door would be under $2500,” says Murray Irwin.
Thousands of products are available with the type of cable system provided by Intelligent Environments. The trick is picking ones that are reliable, deliver value for money, integrate with other systems and allow a path to expand in the future. The cost will vary – think $6000 for a basic solution, $60,000 for a moderate set-up and $250,000-plus for something extensive.
Smart technology is a rapidly developing field and New Zealand is only just getting to grips with it. We have come to expect central locking, remote opening and closing, alarms, Bluetooth, automatic windows and more, as standard in our cars.
Yet with our houses, we still unlock with a key, manually open windows, switch lights on and off, and move from to room opening and closing blinds and curtains. Given how much we invest in our homes, isn’t it time we all got a little smarter?
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: James Moffatt, Maree Homer, Vanessa Levis/bauersyndication.com.au