The evolution of the smart home

Rob Sutherland, managing director of Inspired Dwellings, specialists in the design and installation of home technology, shows how smart homes are evolving

The smart home has been around as a concept since the 1970s. Early smart homes were primarily limited to home entertainment for the affluent or enthusiasts. In particular smartphones have made the smart home both more accessible and more relevant to how we live today.

It is a vital area for self builders wanting to add value and usability to their projects. Home cinema, streaming music and multi-room entertainment work with smart lighting, while remotely controlled and connected security systems provide real peace of mind as they protect the home.

Basic cable infrastructure
The most crucial part of any smart home is the wiring – also known as the cable infrastructure. Having the right infrastructure in your property means that, as the market and technology expands, new products can be easily integrated at the time of build, or even retrospectively fitted.

The cable infrastructure allows everything from elevisions to laptops and tablets and lighting control systems to communicate with one another.

The best investment to make is on high quality cabling. By deciding to wire with high quality category six cables at the very start of the build, you allow for high data transfer speeds. By putting a data point in every room you create a blank canvas as to how the rooms can be used.

If developments are being done with investment in mind this approach is essential. A comprehensive infrastructure reassures any prospective buyer that their new home will cope with all the latest technology – without the expense or hassle of refitting and rewiring.

Stable internet
Today, internet access in every room is a given. The internet is no longer just about communication or entertainment. Smart homes are part of what is now known as an ecosystem (often called ‘the internet of things’). This is all about connectivity and devices being able to communicate and synchronise with one another in a way that is useful.

Take television and the way we access our entertainment. Your infrastructure needs to support multi-channel usage – social media interaction, online streaming, on-demand services – as well as cope with multiple devices to watch it all on. These will be laptops, tablets and smart phones as well as a main television. Solutions like Apple TV mean multi-room audio and entertainment can be achieved very cost effectively, but only if the streaming and download capability is there.

Ensuring connectivity is integrated into the build right from the start means homes don’t just rely on wireless solutions, which could cause costly problems down the line.

Managing energy consumption
Rising water and energy costs have put this high on the agenda. Statistics show that at least one in four UK homes waste money by leaving on devices and unnecessarily running heating. In the summer, it’s worth remembering that the energy discussion turns and is often around cooling.

With the right system in place homeowners can always opt to adjust heating, hot water, control lighting and blinds or even turn devices on and off from a smart phone while they are out. Two popular systems in smart homes are single room controls and special heating.

In the home, heating can be controlled through single room controls where the temperature and lighting is adjusted through wall mounted, touch screen controls, room by room. This means energy is only used when the room is needed.

Another option is to consider spacial heating. This is run through a sensor system that learns your lifestyle habits. Sensors in rooms turn on and off lights, televisions and screens can be dimmed to save energy and even forgotten windows close themselves.

Design led
The first question we are usually asked is ‘so where does all this wiring and kit go?’ The technology will be there to power all aspects of the home but it needs to be integrated and blended in with classic – and innovative – design principles.

Ensuring the home has a safe, properly ventilated place for all the cabling to go back to is the primary consideration. Basements are a popular choice, but they must have adequate air and temperature control. In smaller spaces, a discrete custom-built area allows racks to be hidden away.

A good home technology specialist will show you how they can build, test and install a single control rack that will power all devices in the home. In our case, the entire system is built and tested off-site, meaning everything can be quickly installed at the end of the build.

With the right approach and knowledge of home technology, you should be able to work towards a smart home which has the right technology to work in the real world, and not fall into the trap of technology for technology’s sake.