Technology is advancing quickly and owning a smart home is no longer that elusive item on a wish list, it is now rapidly becoming a necessity. In the past, smart homes were considered to be part of a luxurious life style but today they have become an integral part of our lives and in some cases the smart devices we presently own are smarter than we know. In this post we aim to explore some of the more unique opportunities that a smart home affords us and why making the leap into the world of smart may not be such a leap in the first place.
To begin with we need to make a clear definition between two defining headings...
"smart home" and "professional smart home".
If you were to walk around both these homes, on the face of it they may contain similar customer facing devices such as voice assistants, smart locks, and potentially a tablet mounted on a wall, however the key difference between them is the system which orchestrates the connections and programming, ultimately this defines the capabilities of a system and where true automation is implemented and actioned.
A "smart home" will generally consist of consumer brought products which are in turn programmed and installed by the consumer themselves. This approach of course can yield some great results whilst only requiring a simple setup procedure, however limitations start presenting themselves quickly. These typically surface as compatibility issues between branded products and your chosen hub, the inability to create custom programming that goes to make your home truly responsive to you. Often the most limiting factor is the physical installation of wired electrical smart home components where a registered trade professional should complete the task.
A "professional smart home" is a system which is purchased and installed through a custom integrator. These systems typically come from dealer locked manufactures such as Control4, Loxone, Crestron etc and rely on a consumer relaying a general list of requirements to the professional, they will then select the correct products from a plethora of options to meet and more often than not exceed expectations to create automation that truly makes you smile. With the support of your installer you can tailor the system to behave in ways that are probably inconceivable until you start to understand the capabilities these systems offer.
So now we understand the difference between these key terms we can proceed to explore a some options that a professional smart home can offer.
Automated shading systems
When used intelligently, blinds can help keep rooms pleasantly cool in summer by reducing solar gains. Conversely in the winter, they can help to heat rooms by letting in as much sunlight as possible. While automation of horizontal blinds is now fairly common, their vertical counterparts have been left behind in this regard. By setting up vertical blind automation you increase energy-efficiency and maximise privacy levels – regardless of where the system is installed.
Some automation systems such a Loxone allow the setting of geo-coordinates and window positions which in turn allow the controller to always know which windows are currently in direct sunlight. This is achieved because not only does the system know when sunrise and sunset are it knows the exact position of the sun in the sky and whether it is partly cloudy or overcast.
Armed with this information, the system can react according to the desired outcome – i.e is the room in question currently too cold or too hot. For this example if a room is too cold, the blinds can be opened to let in sunlight in an attempt to passively heat the room.
If the system is in Automatic Shading Mode, then a compromise between sun protection and the best possible view of outside will be sought. This method of passive heating not only takes away the hassle of manually adjusting blinds throughout the day, it also saves energy by heating your home using solar gain or cooling your home by closing the blinds to reflect the sun and protect your furniture and furnishings.
Daylight responsive lighting.
We have come to expect the lights in our home to be able to dim which is commonly actioned by us manually tweaking a knob till we have the desired ambient light level. Now if we put the task of ambient light level to an automation system, we can start to utilise those processors to do something very intelligent indeed. Light influences many facets of our lives, especially in the home and workplace therefore, appropriate lighting is essential. It not only influences our actual vision but also our activity levels and productivity. A number of physiological studies have looked at how daylight responsive lighting has an impact on our psyche. Inadequate lighting can lead to symptoms of fatigue, lack of concentration, headaches which are all counterproductive and negatively affect our mental health.
So to explain the logic behind this If sufficient daylight enters a room, little or no artificial light is added. If little or no daylight enters a room, artificial light sources provide an adequate lighting level. Daylight responsive lighting is therefore, the daylight-dependent control of artificial light sources with the aim of maintaining constant levels of light.
The adjustment of the light output is carried out over larger time periods of several minutes, gently dimming up or down the light intensity in a manner that is pleasant and as discreet as possible to mimic natural daylight. This logic also greatly comes into play at dusk or on those particularly dark days where our lighting will respond to actual light levels, as appose to the traditional timer style automatic light switching.
Daylight responsive lighting therefore not only creates ideal living and working conditions whilst bringing on the lights just at the right moment, it has health and well-being advantages as well as dramatically helping to save energy.
Water leak monitoring
The early detection of a water leak is crucial to prevent damage to a building. It is essential that a water leak is detected immediately and that the relevant parties are informed about the events – whether that’s the owner, caretaker, etc. Simply knowing that water is leaking is a massive help however implementing an emergency water shut off through a solenoid valve is even better.
With the help of a water sensor, a leak can be detected directly at its location. We recommend using a water sensor around appliances such as sinks, washing machines, dishwashers etc as these are the most common sources of leaks.
An additional challenge is the monitoring of pipes that cannot be directly monitored by a sensor – such as pipes that run within the fabric of the building. Although water leaks occur less frequently here if they go undetected for any period of time they can cause massive amounts of damage.
With the help of a water sensor a water leak can be detected immediately. Thanks to wireless technology, a wireless sensor can be placed almost anywhere, no cabling is necessary. For the new build, simple low voltage cabling can be used for a wired version.
An automation system can be programmed to trigger a multi-stage alarm when a water leak is detected. You will be able to see through notification which sensor has triggered the alarm, so the problem can be addressed quickly. To avoid further leakage, an automatic emergency water shut off kicks into action – this will only be disabled once someone has acknowledged the alarm.
This type of leak detection however is fairly basic and smart home systems can go as far as detection in a smarter way. Pipes are sometimes located in inaccessible and hence it’s not always possible to install a water sensor or its impractical due to length, this is especially common in offices and commercial buildings. In this scenario, water leaks can be detected through a water consumption monitoring system. This is particularly useful if you are away from home often or for extended periods and of course those of us that have second homes or holiday lets.
Remote management of holiday homes
Landlords of short-term-let property such as Airbnbs are often not based in the immediate vicinity of their rental properties. Therefore, it’s not always possible to know if and when a guest has checked out. This can be problematic for cleaning/servicing the property as there’s no certainty that the guest has left. However, more importantly, when a guest leaves the property, there’s no way of knowing they locked up and set the alarm correctly. Essentially, there’s no way of knowing if the property is safe.
A remote holiday home management system would make this process much easier. A landlord or operator could remotely check that the guests have left. Also, the alarm system could be automated to ensure that as soon as guests leave it is activated, any electrical devices similarly could be automatically turned off and the heating could be lowered. With a "professional smart home" you can enable remote holiday home management and allow intelligent automation to take care of a range of tasks all without your physical management.
Garden and lawn maintenance
This is a great example of how a "professional smart home" can take care tasks and in a way that is more informed than our own decision making process. This example uses a stored rainwater tank, whether this be single or multiple water butts or for large homes rainwater storage tanks. The storage tank is equipped with a sensor that checks the water level. If the water level is too low, the garden is watered with normal water. The water level can also be checked at any time from your smart home app.
Automatic watering can be activated in several ways. Either by using the weather forecast or by using moisture sensors in the garden. For example two hours before sunrise watering will take place under the following conditions:
If there is enough water in the tank (as measured by the water tank storage sensor)
If it is not currently raining (as determined by the Weather Station / Weather Service)
If the soil is not moist enough (as measured by the soil moisture sensor)
If a pre-defined amount of rain is not expected within the next 4 hours
If the temperature is not expected to fall below 4°C – to prevent frost
If these conditions are all met then water will take place and automatically stop at sunrise. The smart garden watering system can also be manually activated via the smart home app. Additionally, if there’s a risk of frost, the water in the pipes is blown out with air for 5 minutes to prevent them from freezing.
These examples represent a mere drop in the ocean of possibility but hopefully this will go someway into opening your mind as to what automation can do for you. Todays smart home market place means you can spend a great deal of your hard earned cash on smart products, you can then set them up in your home and to a degree your home is now "smart" however by applying some clever logic and crucially by employing a professional to install your "professional smart home" true automation can be realised, ultimately giving you back more time to do the things you love the most.