Our homes have long been considered a place of shelter, and true to the 16th century origin of this word, they have served us as a shield, protecting us from danger and inclement weather. As the rest of our lives have become steadily advanced through technology with cars driving autonomously, exotic food arriving at our doorsteps, and the better part of human knowledge available on a 5-inch LCD screen in our pockets, our homes have remained much like the shell of a crab that keeps us safe from predators and falling rocks (albeit more luxurious and less mobile). As technology continues to be drawn upon for efficiency and convenience, we are looking to our homes to get with the program, literally, and get connected. Let’s take a look at the move towards more intelligent shelters, and how Smart you need to be to integrate one of your own.
Smartphones to Smart homes, what makes a home Smart?
When first hearing about Smart Homes it may conjure up images from Sci-Fi movies set in the far future with a robotic personality programmed into the walls, lights flickering on and off as you move about the house, meals preparing themselves and fridges ordering your next batch of groceries before you run out. The reality of the contemporary Smart Home is not actually all that far from these scenes when considering some of the more advanced versions, but it doesn’t take as much as you’d think to start transitioning an existing home into a smart one.
You likely have some Smart features already set up in your home if you have a smart speaker or any appliances that you can control through your phone or tablet utilising and internet connection. These are pretty much the most basic features that differentiate a Smart home from a regular home. While a simple voice-activated music-streaming speaker may be your debut to the Smart Home movement, you can continue to make your home Smarter and more connected ad infinitum.
What things can be Controlled by a Smart home?
As technology improves and increasingly permeates our daily activities, more and more household features can be made into “Smart” ones. The number of household items that are connected continues to increase steadily each year, and it’s likely that most homes will be operating on an integrated Smart system in the near future if they aren’t already. The most common start points of current Smart homes are:
- Music and Television streaming devices connected to voice-command speakers
- Fridges with LCD touch screens
- Lighting systems with pre-programmable configurations
- Home security systems with Smart locks and remote access
Most of the common Smart devices are either directed by voice-command speakers or link to an app on your phone or tablet so you can control them from anywhere in the house, or even while you aren’t home. While these are the most common aspects of existing Smart Homes, many more gadgets are becoming connected as the Smart home inventory continues to expand.
What are the benefits of a Smart home?
Converting your home into a Smart one can certainly be done for the simple pleasure of riding the new technological wave. That said, you may consider potential benefits of connecting your home that may guide you towards specific features you decide to incorporate. As a Smart Home owner you may benefit from some of the following:
This relates to both time and energy efficiency. For instance, you may program your smart oven to preheat itself when you start heading home from work so you can eat dinner earlier, or the dishwasher to run itself when it’s at capacity so dishes are clean when you need them. Perhaps lights are switched off in uninhabited rooms, and unused appliances are shut down to avoid using standby energy.
The more efficient your home is with its use of energy, the lower your energy bills will be each month with estimates that Smart Home features save 30% on monthly energy bills. Many Smart appliances allow you to track energy usage, which has a notable effect on household behaviour involving gas and electricity.
If you’re saving time and money by using less energy, you’re also drawing less and less on natural resources and dependency on fossil fuels.
- Security and Peace of Mind.
A commonly used Smart home feature is a remotely accessed security system. This allows homeowners to see who’s at their door via their smartphone or tablet, to check if packages have been delivered safely, and even to remotely lock and unlock doors using smart locking systems. Smart locks can also notify you if an entry point has been used or enable you to give access to guests or cleaners when you aren’t there without giving anyone a key.
If you are someone who always forgets if you’ve left the oven or iron on when you’re already halfway to work, you can check your app or Smart system to make sure everything’s been turned off so you can continue on with your day without making a trip back or worrying all afternoon.
How do you get started and how much does it cost?
If you’ve got a reliable internet connection and a smartphone or tablet, you can start making your home Smarter today. The main options for getting started are:
- Buy smart devices which you can control via your phone by accessing the individual apps for each one and controlling everything through its own individual system. This is a good way to start if you only have a couple of Smart devices that you’re getting used to.
- Use an app like If This Then That which allows you to control multiple Smart Devices from a single application.
- Get a Smart speaker and connect it to as many smart appliances as are compatible. This allows you to issue voice commands from into one speaker that will control connected devices around the house without the use of your phone.
One of the first and cheapest initiatives you can take is purchasing smart switches that allow you to switch on and off older, “dumb” devices through an app on your phone. This will allow you to remotely control lights and appliances from wherever you are in your home. There are a variety of smart light switches that can change your space, the top of the line smart switch is the Wemo Wi-Fi Smart Light Switch which costs around $85AUD. Just using your smartphone you can control your lights and fan all remotely from your phone. Wemo is unavailable in Australian retailers so will need to be purchased online through platforms such as Amazon or eBay. Some more accessible options are the Leviton Decora Smart Wi-Fi Switch and TP-Link Smart Plug Mini which have similar price points and functions but can be purchased online through the retailer.
Many new appliances are coming onto the market that are designed to be set up in a Smart home system, so if you’re ready for a new fridge, oven, television, dishwasher etc. you can consider getting a smart device and connect your home gradually rather than all at once.
If you want to get your home totally connected with seamless integration between devices, you’ll need to be prepared to drop a lot more cash, fully integrated homes can cost up to $150,000. This way you can hook up all your devices to a single command system which will allow them to work together for multi-system tasks. For instance, you might issue a voice-command to a Smart speaker that you’re getting ready for work which may trigger the kitchen lights to come on and the coffee machine to start brewing while it starts streaming the daily news channel.
What is the Future of smart homes, and what about Privacy?
As technology continues to advance, homes will become increasingly Smart, with more devices connected and integrated to provide us with convenience and efficiency. Smart appliances will become more predictive of our routines and behaviour which will allow them to act more autonomously with less direct commands, as well as to send out reports for maintenance, or alert us of potential issues before they become dire.
The idea of our appliances collecting information about our purchases and behaviour may feel confronting for many people as we become accustomed to this newer way of life at home, as well as the concern around cyber access to our security systems and possibly finances (considering accounts may be linked for appliances to place orders etc.). It’s important to start slow and set up Smart devices properly, and to seek help if necessary. Much like cardless banking and online shopping has become the norm, so too will the internet-controlled home.
Perhaps more like the crab and its shell than first considered, humans and our homes are becoming more integrated. Homes are learning to understand us and move with us (via remote control), and are becoming increasingly a part of who we are, much like the smartphone. Eventually, we move about as our homes shift and adapt to us like they are part of our very being.