Nowadays, just about everything comes with the word ‘smart’ put in front of it. We scroll through our smartphones, we watch our smart TVs, and we monitor our energy usage through a smart meter. In fact, even things that you might not think of as being computerised come with smart features added: smart toasters, kettles and microwaves provide us with tons of extra functionality – even if we don’t quite know what to do with it.
So why choose smart home technology, and is a smart home a good idea in the first place? Let’s look at a few of the advantages.
The major selling point of smart home technology is that it makes life that little bit easier. You might log into your Nest app and turn the heating on while you’re out of the house, allowing you to walk into a home that’s already toasty-warm.
Smart technology also makes it easier to keep your home comfortable. Modulating boiler controls are a great example of this. Rather than turning the boiler on or off using a relay, these gradually alter the temperature until it’s just right. This not only makes for a more efficient system (we’ll get to that in a moment), but it’ll mean a more consistent temperature overall.
Comfort also comes from your lighting and sound setup. Being able to dim the lights and turn on music via a voice assistant might seem like a bit of a gimmick at first, but after a few weeks you’ll be using it even when you aren’t showing off the purchase to a friend. Dimmable bulbs not only save energy; they also help to create precisely the required ambience for your home life.
Smart technology allows us to save on energy bills. This is done using a smart meter, which provides an at-a-glance indication of the amount of energy being consumed. Turn on every appliance in your home and you’ll see the light turn red, switch things off and it’ll go back to amber and then green. You’ll also get a more quantifiable indication of the kilowatt-hours you’re using, and the amount you’re spending. Using this information, you’ll be able to form better, more energy-conscious habits.
The ability of smart technology to connect devices over great distances has considerable security implications. For example, you might now install a security camera system that automatically uploads its footage to a remote server on ‘the cloud’. This means that you won’t need to rely on a cumbersome system of wires on your own premises – and it means that you’ll be able to log in and see what’s going on at home even while you’re on holiday.
You might have even seen adverts for ‘smart’ doorbells, equipped with cameras and two-way microphones so that you’ll be able to answer the door even when you’re hundreds of miles away.
Smart devices tend to offer features that ordinary devices simply lack the hardware to deliver. For example, think of a kettle. Most electric kettles are built to detect when the water reaches boiling point and then switch off automatically. But with a smart kettle, you’ll be able to choose precisely the temperature you’d like your brew to reach. Many teas and coffees taste better when they’re brewed at a slightly lower temperature – you can check the packet if you want to get precise about it!
Of course, perhaps the most obvious benefit of smart technology is the fact that it’s remote-controllable. Set up the YouTube app on your smart television or games console and then it’ll integrate seamlessly with the equivalent on your mobile phone, allowing you to queue up videos from the comfort of your sofa, without having to wrestle with the television’s unwieldy text interface.
We’ve already looked at the information you can glean from a smart meter. But smart technology allows for a far greater volume of insights than even this. We’re thinking here not of the difference that certain items make to your energy consumption, but of longer-term trends whose impacts might not be immediately obvious. Are you using more energy on a Wednesday evening than a Tuesday, even after longer-term changes in the weather have been accounted for? A smart-equipped home will let you know about it, and allow you to make the changes that’ll save you money in the long-run.
The more control you have over your home’s appliances, the better they’ll be able to perform. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to cram all of the relevant controls onto the front panel of a given device. Moreover, some devices might not even have front panels!
By making these controls accessible remotely, manufacturers can put all of the controls they need right onto the display of your mobile device. That means you’ll be able to dial in the precise temperature of a thermostat, as well as set up a heating schedule, with all changes being tracked and attributed to the user who made them. That way, when you have an argument over who turned up the temperature over the weekend, there’ll be a log to refer to!
Smart technology can also make your home safer. You might, for example, have a fire alarm hooked up to a mobile device, so that you’ll be informed immediately and automatically when smoke is detected. For some homeowners (particularly elderly ones), this sort of failsafe might prove invaluable; bathtubs that prevent overflow by shutting off the water, or ovens that switch off automatically after a certain amount of time, might literally save lives.
Many of these features are being gradually rolled out in modern appliances. A portable induction hob might come with a failsafe that automatically switches the heat off if it determines that there isn’t a pan present on top. Boilers, similarly, will prevent the water from going over a certain threshold – usually eighty or so degrees Celsius – in order to prevent permanent damage.