Smarten Up Your Home
by Lisa De Silva
Where once voice and app controlled gadgets seemed like a gimmick, they will soon be a household norm. There’s nothing like being prepared, Lisa de Silva gives us a steer to a smart new home.
What is a Smart Home?
By 2020, it’s estimated that over 30 billion connected devices will be in circulation, but where did it all begin? Early home automation began with the introduction of labour-saving devices, like washing machines and refrigerators in the early 1900s. Today, the popularity of smart phones and tablet computers, allows us to control any electrical appliance using voice activated and app technology.
Some refer to this development as ‘domotics’, combining the Latin word domus (home) with robotics. Another term is the ‘internet of things’, used to refer to objects and products that are interconnected and identifiable through digital networks.
The big advantage of getting connected at home is that it makes life easier. If you don’t want to get off the sofa to turn off the lights in the kitchen, you can do it via an app on your phone. Want to boil the kettle without getting out of bed? There’s an app for that too.
And it’s not just making life easier. App controlled heating systems can save both energy and money, while home security systems can help to increase your safety and security.
How Can I Smarten Up My Home?
New homes are now built with the wiring and technology to make connecting up appliances, domestic heating, security and audio-visual systems easy. As a new home isn’t an option for most of us, an easy way in is through a smart power switch. This plugs into a wall socket. Plug in your chosen appliance, be it a kettle, or a lamp, download the app and hey presto you can control the device remotely via the app on your phone or tablet.
If you really want to embrace the whole smart home trend, you’ll need to install a home network system. This allows you to connect any device that uses electricity to the network. These devices are then activated by voice or remote control. However, one drawback is that some systems are not compatible with certain appliances. So if you plan to go down this route, it might be prudent to investigate further.
Currently, the most popular uses of smart technology in the home are for virtual assistants, thermostat regulation, lighting, home security and audio-visual entertainment. Let’s take a closer look.
Smart Visual Assistants
These voice-activated virtual assistants are another easy way into smartening up your home. Simply link them to your internet network and you can ask them to help with a multitude of tasks, such as playing music, reading the news, telling you a joke, adding items to your shopping list, or updating you with the latest sports scores.
Smart Heating & Hot Water
While many of us use thermostatic timers for our heating systems, having remote control over when the heating and hot water turn on and off can save both energy and money. Some claim being able to activate the heating and hot water only when it’s needed, can save up to a third in energy bills. For maximum energy efficiency, geofencing is also gaining popularity. This involves using GPS to signal to the radiator valves to turn on/off when you are a set distance from the house, also making it warm when you get home.
A remotely controlled lighting system can offer many benefits. For instance, it is easy to give the impression that someone is at home while you are away, this works especially well if you have remote controlled blinds giving the impression that someone is at home. You can turn on the lights as you arrive home for a warm welcome for yourself.
For those of us new to smarts, lighting is a good place to start. It is now possible to buy app-controlled bulbs which fit into normal light fixtures. Once the bulbs are in place and app is installed, lights can be turned on and off remotely, the brightness can be adjusted (handy for reading or sewing) and you have up to 16 million colour options at your fingertips.
Smart Home Security
Peace of mind is only a click away with a smart home security system. Today, home alarm systems, infrared motion detectors, security cameras and video doorbells, can all be linked to a phone. This gives householders the opportunity for remote surveillance.
Even when you are away from home, a video doorbell allows you to see and speak to any callers. Many systems have built-in speakers so you can talk to visitors, or disturb unwanted callers with a polite “go away,” or have deliveries left safely. It is also possible to operate a central locking system for all perimeter windows and doors.
Home safety in the form of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can also be linked to a phone. This is a particularly important function, because you can be alerted to any danger even when you are away.
Having access to your playlists in any room of the house is one of the most popular functions of smart technology. A central hub can be programmed to play what you want, where you want it via concealed speakers in every room of the house, not to mention outside too.
It is also now possible to enjoy television or movie content in any room of the house. Or, why not turn your living room into a cinema with a drop down screen and projector concealed in the ceiling.
Smart Remote Monitoring
Remote monitoring via a camera fitted with a speaker and microphone, can be a useful way to keep an eye on elderly relatives and children. Using a system like this, you can remind someone to take their medication, monitor what has been eaten, have remote control over appliances to ensure they are properly turned off, check whether your kids are home from school safely and are doing their homework.
A similar system can be used to communicate with a pet and you can even organise their food or treats.
It is now possible to connect and integrate most home appliances to a home network system. A fridge cam can show you what food you have from wherever you are and suggest recipes, remind you to top up certain products, as well as monitoring use by dates. Your bin can monitor waste and generate online orders for replacements, with washers and dryers sending you a reminder text to you when they’ve finished your washing. You can programme your blinds to open in the morning, your kettle to switch on and your shower to be ready at the right water temperature.
What’s more, robotic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and sprinkler systems will take much of the hard work out of the chores. Love it or loathe it, smart technology is definitely here to stay.