A smart home is a home that contains devices that can be remotely regulated using a computer or smartphone. This new trend has transformed the way we think about our home appliances. This trend is towards interconnectedness – eventually, it seems, everything electrical we own will be able to talk to everything else.
Such a home is called a ‘smart-home’. For some of us, this future has already arrived. But what exactly is a smart-home, and why does it matter? Let’s take a look!
What are Smart Home Devices?
Smart home devices are electronic devices that can be connected to and controlled by your computer or smartphone. Examples include lighting, heating and camera devices. Nowadays, just about every appliance in the modern home is equipped with some form of a microcontroller. If you’ve ever seen a close-up of a circuit board, these are the little black squares with dozens of metal legs sticking out of the side. You’ll find them in your phone, your television, your laptop – but also in unexpected places like toasters, kettles and light bulbs.
These devices act like little brains for your stuff, controlling the flow of electricity and serving all kinds of useful purposes. You might have your light-bulbs turn to a certain colour at a certain time of day, for example.
How does a Smart Home Work?
A smart home works by allowing devices to access the internet, which in turn allows them to be controlled by other internet-enabled devices. When these microcontrollers are allowed to communicate with one another over WiFi (or similar), we get what’s called a smart-home. Devices in a smart-home can be turned on and off remotely – even when you’re not in the house. You might check your security cameras while on holiday to see that the cats are coping alright, or you might turn on the heating when you’re just about to head home from work.
Smart devices come in a range of different sorts. There are security cameras, thermostats, switches, plugs, locks, doorbells, and just about everything else you could think of. Larger appliances, like dishwashers, tend to come with ‘smart’ functionality as standard.
What can a smart home do that a normal home can’t? In short, it can make mundane tasks quicker and easier. It’s easier to walk into a room and command your voice assistant to turn on the lights than it is to get up and flip a switch. If you’re elderly or disabled, this convenience might be especially empowering.
Your smart-home setup can be as intricate or as simple as you’d like it to be. This makes it easy to get on board without spending a packet on dozens of interconnected appliances. The best smart-home devices are those which are compatible with one another. Sometimes, certain functions of a device might be denied to you unless you’re pairing it with another device from the same manufacturer. For example, modulating boiler controls might only be accessible if your thermostat and boiler are speaking the same language. A Worcester Bosch boiler, for example, won’t understand the OpenTherm protocol put out by a Nest thermostat. You’ll need to buy Worcester Bosch’s own thermostat instead.
For the best chance of your devices working together, you might invest in a special sort of home-device called a hub, which is built to understand a range of different standards (including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and other proprietary ones), and act as an intermediary between your different devices. Many smart-speakers, like the Amazon Echo, serve this functionality – but they don’t offer quite the same extensive options as some of the alternatives on the market.
Why Use Smart Home Technology?
You might be wondering whether this is all worth the hassle. Do we really need all of this extra functionality? And, what’s more, isn’t a smart device going to be more likely to break, because it’s more complicated? What are the advantages of smart-home technology?
It’s pretty undeniable that ‘smart’ has become a marketing buzzword. But not everything that’s labelled ‘smart’ actually does the things we’ve been talking about. Before you commit to buying a new ‘smart’ appliance, then, it’s worth doing to research and establishing exactly what you’re paying for.
In some instances, smart devices might not be worth the extra expense. If you’re using a kettle to boil water, then do you really need a smart-kettle? For most of us, the answer is probably not. We should also consider the added cost of the technology. Smart bulbs, for example, are more expensive than ordinary LED bulbs – and if you’re kitting out an entire house with them, the cost difference is likely to be substantial.
With all of that said, the benefits of smart homes are plentiful. Let’s examine a few of them.
One of the crowning virtues of a ‘smart’ device is its ability to save you money. Smart devices, almost by definition, have the ability to turn off the power when no power is required. As such, they tend to be more efficient. Also, they can use data from other sources (like your mobile phone) in pursuit of further energy-efficiency improvements.
In many cases, this extends to monitoring the energy usage of a given item. A smart thermostat, for example, will collect data on your home’s energy consumption and present the information to you in the form of an easy-to-read report.
Internet of Things
The ‘internet of things’ is another term used to refer to internet-connected devices. This might mean a fridge that can download firmware updates. This allows developers to release improvements for products after they’ve gone to market, which in some cases can lead to improved functionality, and the avoidance of costly recalls.
IoT-enabled devices also provide manufacturers with information on how the device in question is being used. An IoT-enabled car, for example, might send information on braking distance, acceleration and the like back to the manufacturer, which in turn allows them to make improvements to subsequent models. Similar data can come from your oven, freezer, or dishwasher – which ultimately means that you’re testing the product on behalf of the manufacturer.
If you’ve ever watched a science-fiction program and been amazed by the voice-activated lights, then there’s good news – that future has just about arrived. If you’re the sort of person who revels in new technology, then there’s something undeniably satisfying about being at the forefront of it. Besides everything else, smart technology makes a great talking point with which to impress houseguests!
Amidst all of the hype around smart-devices, it’s easy to lose track of which will really make the difference in your home. Your priorities will depend on your lifestyle. In some cases (like smart boiler controls) the investment will pay off in the long-term; in others, you’re paying for luxury. What’s near-certain is that we’ll all be using smart devices a great deal more often in the future!