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What is a Smart Home?

 

In 2003 the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) came up with the following definition for a smart home:
“A dwelling incorporating a communications network that connects the key electrical appliances and services, and allows them to be remotely controlled, monitored or accessed.”

Interestingly this definition was created in the year of the conception of GR Media Solutions when we moved into this nascent domain and have grown with this industry working closely with manufacturing leaders pushing the envelope ever since. Today a smart home could be more fully described as “A home that incorporates sophisticated automation systems that provide inhabitants with convenient monitoring and control over the building’s functions which may include lighting, climate control, multi-media, security, door operations, and cctv.”.

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In the early days of this component integration where all systems were controlled by a single device through various IOs, this domain was typically complex and expensive; typically in the domain of the rich and famous. As this technology has matured, increasingly more manufacturers joined this market space and converged with greater standardisation to offer most of this capability at much more accessible price points. Today this has come to the point where when one considers the overall cost of an average property, general smart home applications are a very reasonable cost in regards to the overall capability on offer. Essentially, we are at the stage where every home could be a smart home, and quite frankly, should be a smart home.

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Why Create a Smart Home?

 

When a typical person thinks of a smart home they might think of large TVs controlled by touch screen interfaces removing the need of confusion for multiple remotes, and this is part of the application available. However, a Smart Home also includes elements that ensure energy efficiency such as control and monitoring of air-conditioning and heating units, as well as security with alarm and CCTV integration giving remote alerts and instant access from a smart phone for example. It also includes distributing music sources and television around a property and managing the multiple ways we now access this content. Central to all this is a network which allows these devices to ‘talk’ to each other as well as link them to the internet which has become one of the most important elements for people in a household today. A smart home system can both give access to and protect a household from the internet and even monitor and control the content delivered through this to protect impressionable children for example – you could even limit access to certain users at certain times like bedtime.

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A system is only truly ‘smart’ however if it liberates a user by collecting all these diverse elements in a home and presents this in an accessible and intuitive interface. Therefore, a genuine Smart Home will utilise a control system that simplifies this operation and places all these elements into a simple domain freeing the user from a complex understanding of the way these systems are organised and having to ‘learn’ them.

Simply put, a smart home makes managing the everyday devices you use regularly easier, more enjoyable, and more efficient providing you with a better standard of living. Whereas a ‘dumb’ home contains many of the same elements but in a frustrating disparate array of devices which due to their complexity may not be fully utilised.

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Adding Value

 

As a developer or an architect, the prime consideration for a housing project must be to create an attractive space that occupants will enjoy living in, while also giving them the space and utilities to conduct their usual lives. In this age of technology, a Smart Home has gone from being an indicator of luxury, to an indicator of modernity. By making a development or house a Smart Home you are simply providing them with an attractive and useful residence and, if your competitors aren’t, a unique selling point differentiating your product from your competitors.

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Giving people what they want and making a dwelling more interesting and attractive adds value especially when it rises the profile of a project above its competitors. Inserting technology into a project has the potential of not only making it easier to sell a property, but also more profitable if done prudently.

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Smart Home Levels

  • Prewire
  • Essentials
  • Fully Integrated

Many believe that the need for hard wired systems has been superseded by systems operating on wifi. While many ‘Do It Yourself’ systems rely on wifi for communication and multiple ‘apps’, this is typically done due to the fact that a hard wired system is not available to the user and can’t be assumed to be present. Best practise dictates that if you wish to have a rock solid reliable system, hard wiring is the only way to go. This is because systems that rely on wifi can have limitations due to bandwidth overload which can be quickly approached nowadays due to exceedingly high demands placed on infrastructure by 4K HDR signals, the amount of devices utilising a wifi network, and even the vulnerability of wifi to interference which could be accidental due to simple network congestion, or even deliberate in the case of house security and clever thieves.

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Wifi devices also suffer from the issue where these are designed as DIY solutions and are not designed to work with other products. This creates the issue where multiple apps are necessary and the user has to use multiple platforms for each device they are looking to use. As stated earlier, a smart home is supposed to have a single intuitive interface that requires very little familiarity to operate. Wifi has its place, but only for the enthusiast. Also, many wifi options rely on the internet to liaise with an offsite server to do essential operations. If for whatever reason you loose this connection your house is unable to communicate and cannot function. In a truly Smart Home the essential functions such as climate, security, CCTV, and lighting must be discrete systems designed to communicate with a third party control layer. It’s not very smart if you can’t open your door, turn on your lights, or turn up the heat!

Therefore, in the least a new property should be cabled to allow for the easy installation of product to create a Smart Home. This essentially comprises of network cable distributed to TV points, thermostats, network access points, lighting switches, control panels, and CCTV cameras around a property, and speaker cable to where speakers could potentially be all drawn to a central point where these devices would be connected to ancillary devices. Once fitted the purchaser of a property could quite easily contract a professional integrator to install whatever system was required by the owner.  As this would entail little impact on the property to install these devices before moving in, having this pre-wire makes the implementation of a Smart Home much more likely. This would be considered the minimum requirement to be characterised ‘Smart Home Ready’.

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With the maturity of the Smart Home market, installing a basic control system that integrates the essential elements of a home is now not a great expense. Providing control of lighting with individual dimming and scenes, control and monitoring of air conditioning and/or heating, as well as the installation of a robust data network and wifi access, CCTV and security systems provides an occupant the control of vital components for everyday presented by an intuitive and convenient interface.

For those projects where a client is personally building their home from conception or when they have bought a property off plan being finished, or a luxury villa or apartment where a certain wow factor is required, adding the audio-visual element to the ‘Starter for 10’ design completes a full Smart Home. From distributed audio to multiple zones including outdoor areas and video to multiple screens delivering satellite TV, Gaming, Streaming Options, Bluray etc, a home becomes a fun place to be where entertainment abounds.

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Take this to a Luxury level by adding a dedicated Home Cinema with specialist cinema seats and a vibrant themed interior design to really create a buzz. And why not take this technology to the next level by incorporating voice activation and propel these systems into the 21st century.

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