Home automation gives you the flexibility to have complete control of the devices in your house, and contrary to the notion that it's only for 'rich' people, it's actually not as expensive as you'd think - in fact, it is a very realistic option for the typical homeowner!
Put simply, an automated home is one filled with 'smart' technologies that automatically adjust to your lifestyle or can be controlled remotely via mobile apps. Imagine this scenario: you're on your way to work when all of a sudden you get that niggling feeling that you've forgotten to turn something off, a light in the bedroom or the oven perhaps. In your mind you start to retrace your steps and may even contemplate heading back 'just to make sure'. With home automation, your worry can be quashed with a quick check on your phone or tablet.
However, smart technology goes so much further than that. With the touch of a button you can set your lighting, heating or air-con to come on when you're on your way home, or set your dishwasher or washing machine to run; convenience at its best! Some home automation systems don't need your input at all, using Geo Fencing to sense when you are approaching home by connecting to your phone signal and then switching your appliances on. What's more, 'smart' thermostats and radiator valves can actually learn your daily routine and only heat your home – or specific rooms – when you need the warmth. Some can even take into account external factors such as the weather or time of year.
Many home automation products are also pre-set with 'IFTTT' ('If This Then That') technology, which allows you to connect them to compatible websites and apps, personalising appliances to your every need. The sky is pretty much your limit – you can get your greenhouse heater to turn on if the weather predicts a frost, set your kettle to boil three minutes before your mobile calendar expects a guest or even make the TV turn on every time there's a breaking news alert in a sector you are interested in.
Home automation can also be used to improve the security of your home; many people leave a light on for the entire duration of a holiday, but this facade doesn't replicate your daily routine and often does not deter potential thieves. An automated lighting system can continue turning your lights on and off, making it look as though you're home. Not having a light continuously on would also save you money! Other home security products include a camera which allows you to live stream its view to your mobile from anywhere in the world and a motion-activated sensor which alerts you to when your windows or door move or when there is movement in your home.
One reason that individuals decide to build their own home is because they have a vision of creating something that is personalised to suit their style. Home automation can really enhance this, while adding a modern touch to any building. The recommendation is always to implement any home automation systems before work is complete; fitting retrospectively will not only be harder, but more costly to do.
Depending on what you want to achieve, you can implement various home automation aspects for a just a couple of hundred pounds – and the return on investment is very good, often reaping the rewards within a year or two. It's also going to add value to your property and make it more desirable to potential buyers if you ever decide to sell!
Q&A: Where do you start?
Julian Synett, Managing Director of Ingeny, the specialist provider of home automation systems, answers your questions.
Q: At what point in the self-build process should I consider integrating smart technology?
A: The planning for any home automation and smart building technology should ideally be initiated at the design stage to ensure that the necessary space requirements and infrastructure are incorporated into any architectural drawings. It is about talking to the right people at the right time, to decide exactly what you want upfront, because implementing a solution further down the line will only create added cost and complexity.
Q: Which automated system am I likely to benefit from the most?
A: There are a whole host of domestic electrical systems and devices that can be managed and monitored using home automation, but the most valuable and practical solutions at the moment seem to be based around heating and lighting. Being able to switch internal and external lights on or off from a mobile device or tablet in or away from home is providing high levels of control, especially when you add the ability to create lighting moods and scenarios, or even simulate occupancy while out or on holiday. The ambient level of heating can also be controlled throughout the home, while individual schedules by area or room can also be created for different situations, occupation or time of the year.
Q: Can automated systems help me save money on my energy bills?
A: Yes, properly programmed heating, cooling and lighting automation will certainly help to reduce household energy usage and save money. Even at a relatively simple level, smart thermostats offer an effective means of controlling heating and hot water, at home or remotely. Simply lowering your temperatures by one degree is said to cut heating costs by 10% and further savings can be made by simply ensuring that heating is turned off when a property is not in use.
Q: Do I need a strong internet connection for these systems to work?
A: Having strong and consistent Wi-Fi is critical for any home automation system. A smart home is only as good as the Wi-Fi network it is connected to, so you need to consider both coverage quality and internet bandwidth to ensure multiple devices and systems can be operated at the same time from anywhere in the property.
Q: I’m not very tech-savvy, how easy are they to operate?
A: There are plenty of home automation systems out there that are relatively easy to install and operate, but this very much depends on the level of control you are looking for. It is not necessarily about being tech-savvy or not, but having the willingness to commit time into understanding what you want and how best to achieve it.
Q: If I’m not happy with a system, can I easily remove or replace it?
A: This very much depends on the level of sophistication you have gone for. A DIY solution based around a smart thermostat or security system would not be too complicated to remove or replace. But with hardwired home automation across a wide range of systems, it's likely to be costly and disruptive to change, even if you are able use the same cabling and Wi-Fi infrastructure.
What this demonstrates is the need to get the design and planning right in the first place, so you are happy with the system from the outset and it meets your individual requirements.
Safe and secure
Liam Parker, Managing Director of Quest End – the specialist in property automation, entertainment and control systems – outlines security solutions for smart homes.
When you consider that over 1300 burglaries are committed every day in England and Wales, coupled with the fact that homes with no security measures are five times more likely to be burgled than those with even simple security measures, securing your property has never been more important. Despite this, just 34% of Brits consider burglar alarms to be an effective form of security (British Crime Survey 2016).
For those embarking on a self-build or renovation, it pays to plan security requirements at the project scoping stage. First things first, a smart security system shouldn’t be thought of in isolation, but instead is best when considered as part of a broader home automation solution.
A smart security system can be as basic or sophisticated as you wish: from a simple notification that alerts your smartphone if the alarm is activated, through to a more sophisticated approach which incorporates automated door entry or locking, lighting and CCTV, which immediately notifies you if an entry point is breached. You could set it up to make the lights flash and provide an instant view of the security video-feed, regardless of your location.
The rise of the ‘smart home’
The concept of the ‘smart home’ has grown in popularity as homeowners with busy lives increasingly turn to technology as a quick and easy solution to running their homes more efficiently. Homeowners want to be able to run their homes effortlessly at the click of a button, which is why Origin has partnered with Lutron on its electric range of blinds. The advanced technology of the motor means that Origin’s popular blinds range can now be controlled and operated using a tablet, smartphone or connected to a home automated system. This can then be programmed to open and close at different times, for additional security and to reduce heat loss throughout the home. The motor also runs on a sophisticated electronic drive system for near-silent operation.