Can installing smart home technology really have a positive impact on the way you live?
There are three key positive aspects for installing smart home systems:
- Saving energy — home technology can reduce your energy bills for heating, lighting and electrical appliance energy consumption.
- Comfort and convenience — smart home systems are able to learn your habits for heating, lighting and entertainment purposes. This can be bundled up in a mobile app, which gives you complete control when you’re at home or away.
- Security — home technology can be used to alert you when there is a fire or smoke detected, and guide you to a safe exit. Intruders can also be captured on high-definition (HD) cameras with snapshots sent to your mobile devices. You can even get alerts from your home when the kids return home from school or if a burst pipe is detected.
How can smart home technology be controlled; what is the most effective solution?
Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones have become the default controller of smart home technology. Apps produced by companies like Sonos, Savant and Nest have made controlling your home a great experience.
Control with mobile devices means you have control in the home but more importantly away from home too. There’s option to control your heating, check your security camera, unlock the door for a delivery and turn off an electrical appliance using a smartphone or tablet.
However, the very nature of a mobile device means that you often need some form of backup for scenarios like having no battery or use by others (i.e. children). So light switches and on-wall keypads are still essential. In addition, the most recent trend is the use of sensors for lighting — walk in and lights on, walk out, lights off; great for hallways, utility rooms or garages, etc.
What are the most popular solutions available to homeowners on a budget?
Budget-friendly pricing definitely brings popularity. Multi-room audio is now easily achievable in any home and brands such as Sonos and Denon have systems that start from under £200, sound terrific and often do not need professional installation.
Intelligent heating control using smart thermostats from the likes of Nest and Honeywell are reducing household energy bills by learning your habits and only heating spaces when required, and they typically cost under £200. Both smart heating controls and multi-room audio are great means of introducing smart home technology on a budget.
How simple – or difficult – is it to retrofit smart home technology into existing homes?
Audio systems and heating controllers are definitely both retrofit-friendly solutions — in fact many are sold as DIY retrofit solutions. Other DIY systems pitched at the tech-savvy homeowner include lighting from companies such as Philips Hue or LIFX. By swapping your old light bulbs for smart bulbs you can also have long-lasting, energy-saving LED bulbs with colour changing and smartphone controllable scene-setting features.
If you wish to have in-ceiling speakers, however, for your new audio system then cables are required and this is hard to avoid. A professional installer will be able to advise you on the best option for your cabled connections. Alternatives to in-ceiling speakers would be wall-mounted speakers or even speakers that are hidden behind plaster or behind artwork.
What are the main ways of achieving a home lighting scheme?
Retrofit smart bulbs are great, however costs can mount up if you are going to be installing them in multiple rooms. Another solution is to have a lighting system from the likes of Lutron, Rako, HDL UK or Control4; they ideally need to be professionally installed. All offer whole-house lighting control and management that combines scene-setting, energy-saving, and security features like simulating somebody is home.
Many professionally installed systems which offer lighting control can also provide other features like intelligent, zoned heating control, multi-room music and television operation, curtain and blind automation and security elements like CCTV and smart door locks. By choosing a multi-feature system you will have energy-saving benefits, future expandability and single-app whole-house control.
How can you achieve a multi-room audio system which plays music in different rooms around the house?
This is relatively easy and is something you can do without having to rely on the professional installers or even needing to run cables. Plug-and-play solutions using your home Wi-Fi enable you to interconnect devices and play music wirelessly throughout the home.
Seek out market-leading, multi-room music solutions from key manufacturers/suppliers such as Denon, Sonos and Samsung. You will also be able to have full control of these systems from your smartphone or tablet.
What about home cinema systems — what should you consider first?
When installing a home cinema set-up, space is a big factor — have you got room for a 200-inch projector screen and rows of seating? In most cases the answer will be no. Don’t worry — a professional installer can still provide a cinema-like experience in your home.
An entry-level home cinema can be based around your existing widescreen TV: paired up with a soundbar and subwoofer you’ll instantly upgrade the sound of your movies and sporting events. A multi-speaker system with projector and screen is best suited to a new build or renovation project due to the cabling requirement, but the benefits are vast. Room-shaking bass and immersive surround-sound from these will be able to transport your family into big-screen adventures that will only need popcorn to rival the experience of the local multiplex.
A professional installer really is a must and will be able to specify the right system for your space and for your budget.
Do you need to allocate space for housing all of the equipment or can this be done more discreetly?
For larger installations there is a lot of control and distribution equipment which is hard to avoid. Normally, an understairs or hallway cupboard can house this equipment. You can locate items such as amplifiers, set-top boxes, DVD players and games consoles in this area to leave rooms clutter-free, with just your flatscreen TV mounted on the wall.
To get glorious high-definition (HD) or 4K (ultra-HD) for your televisions you will need cables, but not as many as you think. HDBaseT is a technology that delivers HD/4K picture, surround-sound audio, internet connection, remote-control signals and power over just one single cable.
The cable most commonly used for smart home technology is known as Category 6 and is no different from the one which connects your broadband router to your computer. This affordable cable is a must for all new build or renovation projects to provide a future-ready connection to every room in the house and allows you to have a HDTV distribution system from companies such as Wyrestorm installed with ease.
About the Expert:
Kris Gamble is the Director of Customised Ltd, who have over 10 years’ experience designing, supplying and installing bespoke residential and commercial AV and network systems.
National Smart Home Month will run throughout October to raise awareness about the life-enhancing benefits of smart home technology. Find out all you need to know about adding smart tech into your home with product and project advice from Real Homes, Homebuilding & Renovating, T3 and TechRadar.