As home automation becomes more accessible, we look at some of the latest advances in the smart home field
7 ways we benefit from having smart home automation
While there are many clever home-tech gadgets now on the market, today’s most advanced smart homes have all their automated features (such as lighting, heating, audio and security) operating under a single system. An intuitive smart home can sense when you are on your way home and make sure the door is unlocked, curtains are drawn, heat pump is on and your favourite tune is playing as you step inside. Instead of using several apps to control various features, the up-to-date smart-home owner can rely on a single system to remember preferences and activate various ‘scenes’ or ‘zones’. Time to wake up? Cue the morning scene, with chill-out music, underfloor heating and the lights set to a lovely warm glow.
Glenn Watts from AVA Pacific, which supplies the Control4 smart-home system to dealers around the country, says, “We have moved from a coffee table of remotes to a smartphone of apps, and Control4 coordinates the technology. By having your devices connected and working in harmony, your home can start to think for itself; it can learn your behaviours and simplify what are usually mundane tasks. Your technology becomes a part of the home; it sets the mood and manages your comfort all without you needing to think about it.”
Andrew Tuhi of smart-home specialist Next AV says they use the Control4 system as it is a legacy system. “It’s been around for a long time, it’s been modernised and there’s not much it can’t do. We can effectively customise things for each homeowner.” For another user-friendly solution, try Schneider Electric’s Wiser Home Control system which offers levels for different budgets.
Streaming services, smart TVs and wifi- and Bluetooth-enabled speakers have brought smart audio and video into the mainstream. You probably already stream content on a number of devices, but integrating these various devices into your home will take your technology experience to the next level. “Whatever audio and video equipment is selected for your home, the key part that makes it all usable, which is missed by all but the specialists, is the control system,” says Dan Howard from The Audio Consultant, which specialises in audio and video automation and creates custom home theatre rooms.
It’s not that expensive to streamline your audio and video systems, he says. Pricing depends on the scope of the project and existing infrastructure, but “most owners of lounge room TV and audio systems could eliminate the pile of remotes on the coffee table, simplify their control and add smart music streaming for under $2000”.
How smart can your home be if the internet won’t work in certain rooms? Glen Keoghan, from home automation specialist Smart Installations, works with homeowners to ensure wifi networks are up to scratch. “With more and more devices becoming wifi-enabled it is becoming increasingly important to have end-to-end wifi coverage inside and outside a home,” Glen says. Smart Installations’ wifi accreditation packages ensure that your home has sufficient wifi strength to enable devices to function reliably. “Finding out that there are dead spots or having fluctuating coverage in key areas like outdoor entertainment spaces, kitchens and lounges can be really frustrating.” Pricing for wifi accreditation starts at around $2000.
There’ll be no need to worry about leaving lights on once your home is equipped with smart lighting, complete with timers and scheduled lighting moods. Lighting is an entry-level area of home automation, with shops such as Bunnings and Mitre 10 stocking wifi-enabled light bulbs. Companies such as Next AV can set your home up so that every light in the home can be switched on or off with one touch. A sleep mode will allow lights to automatically switch on if someone gets up in the night and, if you’re out of town, your lights can mimic your behaviour to make it look like you’re at home.
From touchscreen refrigerators to recipe-sourcing robots and smart rubbish bins, kitchens are becoming more intuitive. “Think about walking in from a busy day, hands full of shopping, and wanting to set the mood by putting on some relaxing music, turning on the gas fire or air-con and setting the light level to the perfect ambience,” says Glenn from AVA Pacific. “Now imagine doing all of this by saying, ‘Alexa, turn on Dine.’” This is where smart kitchens come in, with voice-control capabilities simplifying everyday tasks. Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ is a voice-controlled personal assistant which can interact with many home automation devices. Google and Apple have also entered the home automation sphere with voice-activated products Google Home and Apple HomeKit.
Automating your heating and cooling systems will result in a more comfortable home and lower power usage. Heat pumps and underfloor heating can be timed to come on in the morning, and dehumidifiers can be set to start when the humidity reaches a certain level. Glenn from AVA Pacific explains that their systems can work with a home’s solar power supply. “We can monitor your power consumption and generation and automate it to make your generated energy work for you.” This means at times of high power generation and low usage, heated towel rails can be switched on and hot-water cylinders can be heated.
Your outdoor area can be as tech-savvy as your home interior. Smart-home specialist Digihome provides irrigation systems, outdoor heating options, connected audio systems and intuitive awnings and screens which open or close to suit weather conditions. Smart, eco-friendly irrigation systems can be set up to ensure a scheduled watering won’t go ahead if it has rained or if it is forecast to rain that day. “We’ve even done outdoor theatre spaces,” says general manager Rhys Dilks. The most popular function is lighting control. Outdoor lights can be activated at sunrise and sunset, connected to alarm systems or triggered by the opening of a door or gate.
7. Access and security
Think beyond automatic garage doors and gates to app-based security systems and doors which can be locked or unlocked – or more importantly, checked – remotely. Home security systems are available from most smart-home specialists, and there are many entry-level security camera systems such as Morepork, which will enable you to keep an eye on your home while out and about, and arm or disarm doors remotely. Smoke and gas detectors are also becoming smarter, with detectors such as Birdi connecting to emergency services automatically, monitoring air quality and enabling you to silence false alarms from your phone.
Single smart products can be installed in your home for as little as $300, and an integrated networking system such as Control4 can be installed for around $2000. Glenn from AVA Pacific says a complete home automation system in an average-sized home would cost between $35,000 and $50,000.
Rhys from Digihome says pricing for their smart-home packages starts at around $4000, with lighting at the lower end of the price range. “The price to implement smart technology in homes has reduced incredibly over the last five years, while at the same time we are seeing huge advancements with regards to what is possible. New technology has also made it possible to phase the installation to suit people’s needs and budget. As a result, our goal is to bring what was typically an elitist product to the mainstream home.”
Words by: Fiona Ralph.