Many Good Reasons Why You Need A Smart Home

Whilst on our journey to design and build our smart home from scratch we have identified many reasons why we are doing it. This article was previously called "A Dozen Good Reasons Why You Need A Smart Home" but we have now added a few more!

Most people arrive at the entry point in to home automation with a single specific problem in mind that they would like to resolve. This situation is usually personal and often quite specific to their home. It could be anything from making a home look occupied whilst the owners are away (to improve security), to automating the garage door so you don't have to get out of the car (and get wet in the rain) when you arrive home.

What we have tried to do here though is to list twelve generic reasons why you need to live in a smart home. We have tried to avoid talking about the technology and specific implementations but we do provide links to some of our projects showing how we have implemented some things. This article is not about the technology but what it can do for you.

Safety & Peace Of Mind

Safety and peace of mind is probably the main reason that most people start looking at home automation and start thinking about adding 'smart' to their home. In our view, one huge advantage of the smart home is that it makes people think about safety in their home and what steps they can take to improve it.

When it comes to safety sensors and devices in the smart home some of the key advantages are:

  • More sensors, a wider range of sensor types and installed in better locations, simply through more thought being given to safety in the smart home.
  • More timely alerting and notifications and better control of their delivery. This includes remote alarms whilst out of the home.
  • Better quality of alerting enabled by consideration of the wider smart home context.
  • Improved reliability enabled by devices reporting errors and battery levels.

Simple things like having lights on timers to make your home look occupied is a major deterrent to burglars. Adding some 'smarter' components brings more flexible control, clocks that adjust automatically for daylight saving and light level sensing to improve efficiency and react to local weather conditions. Being able to remotely monitor devices or get notifications and alerts on your Smartphone also provides peace of mind. Remote access to security cameras and captured images and video even more so.

Knowing that you can check appliances and switch them off whilst away from home can also provide peace of mind. In our smart home all of our connected devices are monitored to see how long they have been on (and off) for.

The smart home can also automate the opening and closing of curtains and blinds, so your house looks occupied whilst away on holiday.

Example: Our smart home uses smart software controllers to schedule when lights come on and off, to make our home look occupied but also for convenience. A twilight sensor ensures it adapts to local time and weather conditions.

Example: In our smart home the hair straighteners will generate an alert (via SMS, etc.) if they are left on for more than 6 minutes and will be automatically switched off. Our smart home will also switch them off when it detects the room they are in is no longer occupied.

Security & Access Control

A reliable security system with both local and remote alarms will greatly improve the security of you home and its contents. Integrating this functionality into your smart home provides greater control and the ability to get remote alerts and take more appropriate action. Smart home components installed correctly will eliminate false alarms, hugely improving confidence in your alarm system and ensuring real alarm events are taken seriously by neighbours and the police.

Smart home access control will enable greater flexibility and peace of mind. Locks can be checked and operated remotely, for peace of mind or to enable guests and tradesmen access. Technologies like NFC and RFID can be used to provide an audit trail if need be.

Example: Our smart home proactively monitors our home network looking for intrusions and unauthorised devices. It will provide an alert when something suspicious occurs.

Energy Efficiency & Environmental Impact

It is hard to convey in words alone just how much more efficient a smart home can be in terms of energy usage. The power to monitor occupancy and to intelligently control heating, lighting and appliances around you and your family results in huge improvements in efficiency (and convenience), resulting in large cost savings. In many cases there are obvious financial benefits (e.g. smart heating control enabled at a zone level) but in other cases the financial reward is more subtle.

Example: Our smart home controls bathroom extractor fans by measuring the humidity level in each bathroom. The electricity savings alone may take many years to provide 'pay back' but, the 'smart' elements installed to enable this feature are justified by more than this one obvious financial incentive. There is a comfort factor in having a bathroom that maintains low humidity and the convenience of mirrors that are not misted up. There is a convenience factor in knowing that children and guests can't leave fans on by accident. There is a secondary cost saving and added convenience from the towels drying quicker on towel rails in the less humid environment. There is also a quality of life improvement from extractor fans not running (and making a noise) when they are not required. The sensor we use to measure humidity also provides the ability to measure temperature and this brings with it other savings and benefits, again showing that the realised value is often greater than the sun of the parts.

Example: Our smart home uses occupancy and presence to turn on lights as we need them and off when we don't, whilst making sure we are never left in the dark.

Comfort & Well-Being

A smart home will intelligently monitor and control obvious things like heating and cooling, to ensure your home remains comfortable. Our smart home also monitors humidity and controls things like bathroom extractor fans to ensure bathrooms are warm, dry and condensation free. It also controls safety lighting to ensure we don't struggle to move around at night and don't get dazzled by lights being switched on. Our smart home also monitors air quality to ensure we are not subjected to air-borne pollution and discomfort.

The smart home can monitor both the external and internal environment, measuring pollution levels, local weather conditions, carbon monoxide levels, detecting smoke, as well as obvious things like temperature and humidity. Our smart home also monitors UV levels and will soon be monitoring background radiation levels too.

Example: Our smart conservatory ensures that it is comfortable when we need to use it for exercise (our cross-trainer is in our conservatory).

Convenience & Efficiency

A by-product of the smart home is an incredible level of convenience. It's convenient that lights come on for us when we enter dark rooms and switch off when we have left. It's convenient that the house is always just the right temperature. It's convenient that our smart home tells us when parcels have been delivered. It's convenient that our smart home tells us when mail has been delivered or that the letterbox has been wedged open by junk mail. It's convenient that our smart home warns us about bad weather coming just before we leave the house. It's convenient!

As well as being energy and resource efficient, a smart home is efficient in terms of (minimising) user interaction. A smart home minimises the effort required to do mundane tasks and eliminates the need to do simple and repetitive activities. Whilst the able-bodied often take such things for granted, those with dexterity and mobility issues hugely appreciate the value of this, with the smart home supporting the concept of 'assisted living'. You don't have to be old to appreciate this though.

Example: Most of our home lighting is intelligently automated around us so that we don't have interact with things like light switches. We don't do remote control via apps either! We don't need to play with smart thermostats because our home just knows what it needs to do and when. It has the context and intelligence to make informed decisions on our behalf. This is what we mean by 'smart'.

Convergence

Convergence is about bringing relevant services and features within the scope of your smart home, to enable simple and easy control. It means intelligent and simple integration, to make bring things 'closer to hand' (voice, gesture, etc.). When done well, it means you don't have to think about how you interact with related elements because the logical interface is just ready and available.

Convergence is not about an 'uber app' and providing one single app to control everything. It's about have right interface for the required task and this will be one on many interfaces and types of interfaces. It has to be one that makes sense and works for each individual user.

Example: A good example of convergence in our view is the (secure) relationship between the smart home and the connected car. Being able to ask your smart home to 'defrost the car' is useful and logical thing to be able to do. Similarly, having a garage door open automatically so that your car can enter the garage is another example.

Assisted Living

A by-product of the smart home is an incredible level of convenience. It's convenient that lights come on for us when we enter dark rooms and switch off when we have left. It's convenient that the house is always just the right temperature. It's convenient that our smart home tells us when parcels have been delivered. It's convenient that our smart home tells us when mail has been delivered or that the letterbox has been wedged open by junk mail. It's convenient that our smart home warns us about bad weather coming just before we leave the house. It's convenient!

As well as being energy and resource efficient, a smart home is efficient in terms of (minimising) user interaction. A smart home minimises the effort required to do mundane tasks and eliminates the need to do simple and repetitive activities. Whilst the able-bodied often take such things for granted, those with dexterity and mobility issues hugely appreciate the value of this, with the smart home supporting the concept of 'assisted living'. You don't have to be old to appreciate this though.

Simple, Intuitive & Personalised

The best interface to the smart home is the one that meets your personal needs for the task at hand. Our ideal smart home interface is one that is invisible and yet knows what you want to do by simply being present. An example of this is a door contact sensor (hidden in the door frame) that ensures the light comes on in the dark room you are just about to walk into before the door opens wide enough to actually see into the room (timely). When the smart home knows who is opening the door it can also provide a personalised lighting experience (e.g. brightness, colour or maybe a personalised lighting pattern).

The interface could be a touch screen display, a switch, a remote control, etc. It doesn't really matter so long as it is the best solution to meet the user's needs. The smart home isn't about eliminating all of the buttons and switches though. In many situations it is just simpler and easier to press a button. The 'smart' in smart home is about predicting where that button should be, ensuring that the person pressing it knows what it will do and in making sure that what happens next aligns perfectly with their expectations. Regardless of the interface used it has to be simple (clear), intuitive (obvious what it will do), timely (available to hand right now), responsive (provide a timely response) and 100% reliable in meeting user expectations.

A smart home understands that each person has unique needs and personalises the experience to best meet them. These needs could be defined by age, height, sex, dexterity, mobility or simply a personal preference.

Example: Pretty much everything smart in our home can also be controlled quickly and reliably via voice (and text) control. We don't tend to use this type of interface a lot but the option is always there. This interface identifies the device being used and hence the person, to provide a completely personalised experience.

Intelligent & Proactive

If implemented correctly, a smart home is not a collection of isolated hardware and apps. The smart home has never been about simple remote control of appliances and consumer devices in our view. Smart home is about a seamless layer of intelligence that sits above the normal user interactions that experience on a daily basis.

The intelligent smart home is proactive, taking action before you realise it has happened or is even needed. It can consume external data sources (such as location, online calendars, weather forecasts, etc.) to predict future requirements and pre-empt the needs of its owners.

Example: Our smart home collects and analyses local weather feeds and also collects data directly via our weather station. From this data it identifies potential hazards (ice, heavy rain, high winds, high UV levels, high levels of pollution, etc.) and proactively warns us of potential hazards as we leave our home.

Example: Our smart home collects and analyses air pressure and uses the falling rate to intelligently and accurately predict incoming storms. It can typically provide about 2 hours notice of high winds and heavy rain. This is very convenient when you have washing drying on a clothes line outside. Our smart home also has a rain sensors and provides a spoken warning when it starts to rain.

Entertainment, Gaming & Fun

The smart home makes access to entertainment easier and more convenient. It simplifies the process of consuming content (film, TV, music, user generated content, etc.) throughout your home, when you want it and on the devices that you have to hand. It both improves access to 'quality' content and the quality of the content consumed, whilst enabling a personalised experience.

The smart home has to be fun! If it isn't putting a smile on your face at least once each day, then it isn't really 'smart' in our view.

Example: Our smart home monitors TV content feeds and finds programmes of interest based upon individual user interest profiles. It delivers a personalised TV guide via email each morning, to ensure we never miss interesting stuff on TV.

Quality Of Life & Lifestyle

If we had to summarise the benefits of the the smart home in one simple phrase, then it would be "improved quality of life". A smart home informs and educates you, improving the way you live in and changing the way you view and interact with your home. A smart home becomes a reliable and dependable friend. Smart home is a lifestyle choice that enables the benefits we have described here and is rewarding and fun.

Example: Our smart home knows how much hot water is available so that we don't ever experience a luke warm bath or shower. We can simply ask our smart home if there is enough hot available for a bath or shower.

Reliability & Resilience

If it is implemented correctly, a smart home will actually improve reliability through intelligence and efficient use of resources and devices. When you have lived in a smart home your behaviour and lifestyle adapts and you come rely on it and expect it to make your life better.

The light bulbs in our smart home are a very simple example of this. Intelligent control will optimise the time they spend on (and maybe also their brightness) and thus maximise their lifespan. This is also true for other devices and appliances controlled by our smart home.

Example: Our smart home is resilient to mains power failure by using UPS to keep essential services and features running for a very long time. Our smart home will take appropriate action to keep us comfortable and safe.

Health & Fitness

We have alluded to it already but, the smart home is completely compatible with the concept of assisted living. A smart home is perfect for the elderly and vulnerable and can ensure peace of mind for both local and remote carers or relatives.

Example: In our smart home we use Withings WS-30 Wi-Fi connected scales. These automate the collection and provide personalised analysis of our weight, with the app encouraging us to reach our targets. The accompanying Smartphone app also tracks activity without any additional hardware.

Example: Our smart home monitors the games consoles in our home and how long they are on for. If our children spend too much time playing games, our smart home will alert us.

Knowledge And Learning

After all the above reasons have been considered there is still one more compelling reason why you need to live in a smart home:

When we started off down the path of home automation it was simply to better understand how we used our house and to learn from this knowledge. All of the above benefits can only be realised by understanding how you use your home and implementing a smart home solution to meet each need. An holistic view of the knowledge and learning will allow a focus on the most important needs, minimise the effort required whilst maximising the benefits and also minimise expenditure. The learning will help you decide how best to improve your current home and can even help you decide when it is time to move home.

This is a continual learning process and this is why we have always viewed the smart home as a journey and not a destination. It's a journey that we think everyone should make.

Example: Our smart home monitors its own performance and logs all significant events. A short summary report is automatically created and provided every day, providing insight and learning.

The Sum Value

We can think of no better example where the phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" is true than for the smart home. With a whole house approach to home automation much of what is installed in your smart home has multiple uses, meets many needs and supports many of the above reasons for living in a smart home.

Example: A really simple example of this in our smart home is our connected temperature sensors. These can be used to:

  • Monitor temperature in a location or zone for information or display.
  • Provide input to a temperature controlling device, e.g. a thermostat or HVAC controller.
  • Monitor temperature extremes (minimum and maximum values can be defined on a per zone basis) and provide alarms, notifications and voice announcements.
  • Monitor rate of temperature change, enabling early detection of fires. This technique can be quicker to detect fires than a smoke sensor and it can be applied to zones where there is no smoke sensor present.
  • Protect things from temperature extremes (e.g. plants in the conservatory).
  • Proactively warn us about hazardous conditions (e.g. ice) outside our home.

Further Reading

We have a fairly broad definition of the 'smart home'.

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