Updated: Nov 7, 2019
What is a Smart Home?
Smart homes are all about connectivity.
Smart homes use technology to improve safety and security, automate tasks for increased convenience, improve water and energy efficiency and enhance air quality.
Photo: Ruthson Zimmerman - Unsplash
Why should all new homes be built smart?
According to the website Statista the household penetration of smart homes in Australia in 2018 is 19.1% and forecast to increase to 37.6% by 2022. In the next 4 years the revenue of the smart home market in Australia is expected to experience an annual growth rate of 20.8%, delivering 113% more revenue, with revenue increasing from the equivalent of US$887 million in 2018 to USD$1,891 million in 2022. By 2020 the worldwide smart home market is forecast to be worth more than 40 billion US dollars.
With the increasing range and affordability of smart home products they are now easily accessible for homeowners, designers, renovators and builders to integrate into new homes and retro fits.
Last year, Telsyte, a company focused on emerging technology insights released IoT (Internet of Things) study results that predicted that the average Australian home will have 30.7 connected devices by the year 2021, growing 124% overall in only four years. By 2021 Australian households are expected to have over 300 million connected devices.
20 Key Features of Smart Homes
1) Smart Wiring
New homes should now all be built with smart wiring to allow for the central control, easy integration and use, of all forms of smart home systems and products, so that more can be easily added at any time. A smart wiring or smart cabling platform takes into account all current and potential future requirements for power, lights, security, safety, internet, phone, TV, sound, system controls, smart appliances etc.
2) Smart Fittings
With increasing numbers of household devices needing regular charging an easy, inexpensive way to make a home smarter is installing double powerpoints that also include a single USB charging port or double powerpoints with two USB charging ports. You can also build in additional pop up options with double powerpoints and double USB outlets, ideal for kitchen benches.
3) Smart Locks
Smart locks can provide a wide range of functionality, including; confirming whether your door is securely locked or not, letting you know who has come and gone from the house and when the door was opened and closed. They can also enable owners to unlock the door remotely, even setting it for a specific day and time, which is ideal for giving approved access remotely to family, friends, neighbours, Air BnB guests or real-estate agents without them needing a key.
Options like the August Smart Lock work with Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant and you can grant access for a few hours or a few minutes. It will tell you if your door is locked, you can access a 24/7 activity feed and it can be installed to work with most standard single cylinder deadbolts. Other options like the ZKTeco Smart Home Door Lock offers four ways of access i.e. password, phone, key or card but this is only suitable for internal doors e.g. front doors of units not exposed to external weather as it is not waterproof.
4) Smart Letter Boxes
Install smart delivery boxes to receive mail and parcels when no-one is home and get text messages to let you know when items have been delivered. Overseas options include the Smart Parcel Drop Box and in Australia Receva.
5) Smart Central Controls
Whilst each smart device is likely to come with its own app it is ideal to select devices that also connect with commonly used home automation platforms so that you can create a centralised control hub for your home via an app or online portal. This could also make it possible for you have devices talk to each other e.g. closing a blind due to extreme sunlight could let the heating system know that some cooling may be required in part of the house on the sunny side, rather than only have it set to keep the entire house at a fixed temperature.
It is also essential to select systems and products that integrate with the major voice activated assistance products like Google Home, Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo Spot, Echo Dot, or Echo Plus with Smart Home Hub, that can help you control your smart home as well as answer questions, play music, give reminders, set timers and alarms.
6) Housewide WiFi
To have a quality, connected home experience an excellent wifi connection in every area of the home is essential. With the launch of solutions like Google Wifi and Netgear Orbi this is now extremely easy to set up.
7) Smart Smoke Alarms
While smoke alarms are already mandatory in every property, it probably won't be long before they need to upgraded to smart smoke alarms. Products like the Nest smoke alarm will notify occupants by voice of potential issues, test itself automatically and it can detect deadly carbon monoxide which is normally impossible to detect as it is invisible and odourless. They can also last up to a decade.
8) Smart Safety and Security
People want to feel comfortable, safe and secure at home and to know that their loved ones are also OK, particularly if they have relatives living alone. Smart security products can provide remote surveillance of rooms and detect movement. Alarms can be activated, monitored and deactivated at home or remotely by smartphone.
You can buy security camera intercoms with 2 way voice options and video and products like the Canary Security Camera let you hear what's going on, have a built-in alarm and it will also monitor temperature and air quality.
9) Smart Temperature Control
Smart temperature controls enable you to control the temperature of your house from anywhere and an ideal system will enable you to control different zones independently and perhaps even link it to other devices e.g. blinds.
One option is the Nest Learning Thermostat which learns an occupant’s routine over time and adjusts the temperature accordingly. It is designed to save homeowners about 11% on heating bills and 15% on cooling bills.
10) Smart Lighting
Smart light bulbs allows you to control when the lights go on and off, the brightness and the colour, so that you can create your desired environment depending on room use and the occasion. Smart lighting control systems like Lutron Caseta also enable you to control your lights remotely and you can set them to behave randomly when you are travelling.
11) Smart Blinds & Awnings
Smart indoor and outdoor blinds and awnings can be controlled automatically to let in the preferred amount of light in the right area at the right time. Used well they can decrease heating or cooling costs and some can be set to adjust based on external factors like wind speed.
12) Smart Speakers
Smart wireless speakers like Sonos provide enhanced flexibility, enabling from any location voice activated music from Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Apple Music and when connected to Alexa you can get traffic and news updates and manage other smart home devices. Google Home Mini, is another smart speaker with Google Assistant built in.
13) Smart Appliances
As all appliances become smart they will have built-in sensors to let us know when something is wrong and what they need. We will be able to auto-program them to function when and how we want them to and turn them all on and off remotely.
For increased control over any appliances you can also buy smart plugs to use between your device and the powerpoint so that you can control your device remotely from anywhere.
Companies like LG are creating appliances with built in AI (Artificial Intelligence) like the OLED TV and Samsung have created the Family Hub fridge that will tell you its contents, order groceries and help organise your family.
14) Smart Mirrors
Embrace is one of the world's first Android smart mirrors. It is motion-activated, splashproof and compatible with top home automation systems. You can use it to control your smart home and send emails by voice, organise your day and video chat.
15) Smart Cleaning
Automating home cleaning is expected to be a major area of growth. Already common are smart vacuums such as the ILIFE mop and vacuum for hard floors such as wood, tile, marble and laminate, that automatically docks and charges. You can find versions that also clean low pile carpet, perform well with pet hair and some are programmable for 'go' and 'no go' areas.
16) Smart Gardening
Automatic plant watering controlled by weather forecasts, soil type, plant type, sprinkler type, amount of shade and land slope already exist, such as the smart irrigation solutions available from Reece.
17) Smart Pet Doors and Pet Feeding
Smart pet doors are available with options ranging from detecting your pet's microchip, to setting certain times of day that doors will unlock or lock. Some smart pet feeders can also auto-release the right amounts of dry food for your dog or cat, let you record your voice for auto-playback and you can use them to watch your pets live on video when you're away.
Some areas for concern
Making things smart means trusting wireless networking. As most devices use wifi it is key that passwords are strong and different devices don’t all use the same thing, especially segregating your security system access from other non-essential smart devices. This way you may not lose everything if you are hacked or your wifi has an issue.
What's coming next to make homes smarter?
With companies like Samsung confirming that all their products will be IoT ready by 2022, it will not be long before all home building materials and all fixtures, fittings and finishes will become smart. We will have smart surfaces, home cleaning and home care robots, robotic assistants and smart cars.
Well functioning smart homes will reflect our preferred routines. We could have all the blinds opening at our preferred time, pets auto-fed, the bathroom pre-heated 20 minutes before entering and have coffee brewing as we get in the shower. As we leave work our heaters or air-conditioners could automatically turn on depending on the month, as we arrive home lights could turn on and appliances could all go into power saving mode if we are away - the options are limitless.
As more devices contain built-in AI they will be able to monitor our behaviour and learn our preferences instead of being programmed to do specific things at specific times. As smart homes become the norm, the range of smart home products and services will continue to expand exponentially and consumer demand for smart homes will increase accordingly.