For those who are not aware, a smart home is a home that is equipped with lighting, heating, and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by a smart phone or computer. They connect all the devices in your home so that they can talk to each other. Sounds pretty impressive, huh?
Imagine you’re about to finish work for the day so you get out your smart phone to pre-heat the oven, alter the thermostat and set the lights to come on for when you arrive home. Life would be so much easier.
We have been hearing about smart homes and home automation for decades, and with the help of Google’s acquisition of NEST, along with the likes of Y-cam Home Monitor and Tado, smart home products are becoming more mainstream than ever. So is 2015 the year of the smart home?
We spoke to smart product companies who explained the need and benefits of smart products in the home:
Nest’s General Manager for Europe, Lionel Paillet explains that you don’t need a degree or even a smart phone to enjoy a smart home:
‘When Nest started out in 2010 it was with a vision to create a more thoughtful home, rather than a smart home. The benefit of this is a home that takes care of you instead of the other way around.
‘Our goal at Nest from day one has been to reinvent unloved but important products in your home and make simple, beautiful, thoughtful things.
‘You shouldn’t need an engineering degree to use your thermostat, or even a smartphone if you don’t want, for instance to turn up the temperature you can simply turn the ring. Ensuring the product is accessible to the entire family is a key factor when we are designing the product.’
According to Netatmo Marketing director Raphael Raymond, the market is growing and studies estimate the number of connected objects will raise to 80 billion by 2020: ‘At Netatmo we conceive our smart home products for our customers to better understand their environment to enhance their lifestyle.
‘With objects being connected, users have access to a wider breadth of information and can improve their habits and better protect their family. For instance, with our Weather Station for Smartphones, users can monitor outdoor weather conditions as well as indoor air quality. Indoor comfort indicators can be monitored to make their home a healthier one’.
What are the benefits of a smart home?
One benefit of a smart home is that it will reduce your carbon footprint, as well as your energy bills, Managing Director of Tado, Leo von Bismarck explains:
‘As we move from the information age to the intelligent age, devices and homes will continue to get smarter. Using state-of-the-art technology, tado°’s Smart Thermostat can save you up to 31% on your energy bills, reduce your carbon footprint and pay for itself within a year.
‘The tado° Smart Thermostat automatically ensures that your heating is only on when you’re at or returning home through the use of its unique geolocation feature, guaranteeing that you will always return to a warm home.
‘Like most smart technology, tado° is designed to make your life easier.
‘It serves as your digital assistant, doing all the hard work and controlling the heating to suit your individual preferences, leaving you to relax knowing that you are saving each day. The value of a smart home will continue to grow as products and apps interconnect, mutually benefiting each other and the people who use them.
Another benefit is having less to think about, great for those who have busy lifestyles, explains founder and CEO of Zuli, Taylor Umphreys :
‘Our proprietary Zuli Presence technology adapts to a user’s presence and will set lights and appliances how that users likes them- all without the user having to take their phone out of their pocket. Using this feature users can set all of their appliances to shut off when they leave home without even thinking about it. With our energy dashboard, you can see your energy consumption patterns and make smarter choices to reduce your energy usage and lower your energy bill. ‘
‘At Zuli we believe a large part of achieving simplicity in the smart home experience revolves around not giving users more control, but rather limiting the need to manually control everything and letting your home adapt passively around you and your preferences.’
Finally, Pamela Brown, Head of Marketing at British Gas Connected Homes, explains smart homes will help home owners to save money:
‘ A smart home should benefit people by giving them control anywhere, anytime. At British Gas, we’re doing this through products like Hive Active Heating™ which let you via a simple mobile app control your heating and hot water, so customers can save money on bills and be more comfortable.
‘On average people waste up to £150 every year heating their homes when they don’t need to – like when they’re held up at work, or away on holiday.
Hive Active Heating™ makes controlling your heating and hot water simple and easy, from the palm of your hand wherever you are through a mobile.
So why aren’t smart homes becoming the norm?
Devin Chawda, video monitoring expert and CEO of Y-cam Solutions explains that the rate of take up for smart home solutions has been relatively slow in the last twelve months despite the market being saturated with products that appear to help customers live more cost effectively and independently.
‘I believe part of the reason people haven’t invested in the ‘smart home’ is because they think it’s costly, unsecured or difficult to install by themselves. While this may be true in some instances, it doesn’t mean you should abandon the concept all together. In fact, connected smart home devices can make certain aspects of your lives a lot easier by providing remote access to your home regardless of where you are; so there’s no longer a need to ask favours from others.
‘If there is reluctance because of cost or technical proficiency, I would suggest taking a small step by investing in an affordable device that you can see a genuine real-life need for and that can be helpful in a number of scenarios.
‘For example, Wi-Fi home monitoring cameras could be a natural first step into the smart home market as they provide a whole host of benefits without the added complexity of connecting to a multitude of different devices.’
Are smart homes safe?
Judy Moore, safety expert from Home Safety Scene said: ‘Being able to monitor your home while you’re away can definitely increase home security, as well as give you peace of mind. Having a connected home where the temperature can be controlled remotely can save on energy bills. It also gives people the ability to be aware of problems before they become catastrophes, such as with refrigerator malfunctions or water heater leaks.
‘‘The main problem I see with all these connected devices in the home is poor security, in that they can be easily hacked. Part of the problem is that users don’t develop strong passwords, as they know they should on their online accounts.
‘The smart home is here to stay and we’ll see more and more connected products integrated into our homes in the next few years.
‘If we’re vigilant about the security of all these devices, it will be a wonderful leap forward for home security and efficiency.’
Will There Ever Truly be a Smart Home?
We spoke to Charles Arthur, technology journalist who told us that he’s been seeing ‘homes of the future’ and ‘smart homes’ since 1995.
He said: ‘Smart homes never arrive. Partly that’s a failure of imagination: the engineers always believe we’ll use a remote control to open our curtains and start our coffee machine in the morning, when the truth is that both are better done by hand. (You’d have to prepare the coffee machine the night before anyway, and the coffee beans/grounds/whatever would lose flavour).
‘The simple smart home – if there is such a thing – is a good idea: just tell me what the temperature is at home, which lights are on, what doors are open, whether anything’s gone wrong. Don’t try to give me remote control: it’s far too complex, and prone to error.
‘The real problem is that to have a smart home you need to equip the damn thing. Retrofitting (adding smart functions to old stuff) is a bit of a kludge, so not that desirable, even if it’s cheaper. So the smart home always remains just out of reach. It’s a nice idea, but it needs everything to have that function built in’.
Smart products are continuing to be developed to make our homes easier to live in and live more efficiently.