What is smart home technology?

Let’s first start with what is a smart home?

Smart in this context is exactly the same as a smart device in that the home becomes connected to the internet. In the context of a smart home, appliances and other electronics will be connected to a central network which allows the home user to control or monitor the “dynamics” of their home through a mobile phone or touch panel on the wall.

Smart homes don’t necessarily need to be connected directly to the internet because internal wireless networks can be used which is significantly cheaper. If external access is needed the control panel is a great system to connect to.

It’s a common myth – smart homes are not about connecting the toaster or fridge because there isn’t an awful lot of useful things you can do with that. Your fridge ordering milk for you when you run out… unfortunately that is also a myth of the futurists.

How does a smart home get useful? Making your home smart is really about making your home more comfortable for you. Ensuring the lights are at an appropriate level, you have your favourite music or even that the temperature is set to the most comfortable for you (and then maintained). In this context a smart home fits into your lifestyle.

Here is an example. Lighting is enormously complex if you want to consider everyone’s ideal preferences. Some want more lights, others fewer and it’s impossible for a contractor to build light switches into every corner of a room. A smart home would allow the contractor to reduce cabling costs while also allowing lights to be fully customisable. In a smart home any configuration on lights is possible.

The air conditioner is another; where the room temperature may differ from the temperature around the aircon thermostat. Controlling the aircon dynamically based on room temp is a much more comfortable way of maintaining a suitable room temperature. How? A sensor is told what temp the room must be. The sensor controls your aircon. If the room is too hot it will set the aircon to a higher speed and cool the room down or if the room has reached the correct ambient temp it will switch it completely off saving electricity and reducing noise. If the room heats up the aircon can be switched on again.

Smart homes are also able to share information about what is happening. Knowing what the geyser temperature is could be very useful for home owners to save money but also better manage their home. If many guests arrive and use hot water the geyser temperature will reduce – the home owner will know what the temperature is or better yet be able to manage the amount of time needed to wait until the temperature warms up again. With a smart home you could also set a lower geyser temp if you have only a few people in your home.

Security can also be improved dramatically with a smart home. Instead of triggering an alarm that is sent to a security company the smart home could in a way tell the owner what is happening. Which lights are on and when were they turned on. Which rooms have movements? Have any doors been opened? Is the fridge open? Smart home owners could even access a video stream to see what is happening inside their house.

Smart homes are homes that become connected. Useful applications to the home owner can be accessed usually through a mobile phone. Depending on the application the home owner could increase comfort, reduce costs or improve security.

Smart Home technology

The technology used is a little different to typical IoT commercial applications. The home has ready access to electricity, has a fixed high bandwidth internet connection and is very short range.

Smart homes tend to use short range wireless technologies to interconnect each device. Popular technologies like Zigbee or Thread are really well tested and robust with many pre-built devices on the market.

Depending on what the requirement is a smart home device will be built into an appliance directly – like a light bulb or placed into the main electricity box to control the entire circuit.

Other technologies like cameras will be standalone units.

Lets also take a look at the “darkside” of a smart home. The initial capital outlay is quite expensive which is a big barrier to entry for many home owners. Unlike business IoT installations where there is a greater return on investment with measurable metrics, smart homes or home automation is seen as a luxury. With this in mind we should note that costs are coming down – 10 years ago it would have cost more than double. Predictably in the next 5 or so years the cost will likely halve making it more cost effective.

If you’re considering home automation you should start with the big wins – security, geyser switches and possibly even a power meter which will give you an idea of how much electricity you are consuming. As costs come down smart lighting becomes more viable and other smart home applications start becoming “normal” (like monitoring doors, temperature or movement).