S1. An Introduction
Are you planning to build your own home? Have you considered making it a smart? In this blog post we define what a smart home is and discuss the benefits. We also provide an overview the market and guidance on the key decisions to make when specifying a smart home system. For example; whether to opt for the DIY or professional route; and whether to specify wired or wireless products. We also explain the thought process that led us to specify a fully integrated LOXONE smart home system for a recent new build house project.
The question, “what is a smart home?”, might seem like a fairly straight-forward one, however as it turns out the answer it is not quite so simple as there are different conceptions about what a smart home is. In the broadest terms, a “smart home” is a home equipped with smart devices that enable the remote or automatic monitoring and control of home appliances and systems. While some definitions stress the ability to remotely control smart home devices from anywhere with an internet connection, others highlight the ability of smart home systems to automate tasks that would otherwise be done by humans. The term “smart” itself is based on the idea that “dumb” objects can be made “smart” by connecting them to a computer network, thereby enabling data to be collected about their use and for these devices to be controlled via that network. Examples of smart devices include; smartphones and smartwatches, and now in recent years smart devices within the home such as; smart speakers that you can talk to and smart thermostats that help you more easily control your heating system. There is also the idea that these smart devices can “talk” to one another, to enable, for example, the smart lights in your hallway to turn on automatically when you open your front door with your smart door lock.
The benefits of a smart home are clear to see with the greater convenience and efficiency that come from the streamlining and automating of common household tasks. For example, numerous and repetitive routine tasks such as turning off lights and shutting blinds can be aggregated with the incorporation of a single all-off switch. Such as switch can located beside your front door or at your bedside so you can turn off all the lights and shut all the blinds in the whole house when you go out or to bed. Smart thermostats combined with smart thermostatic radiator values (STRVs) enable more nuanced control of heating within individual rooms. For example, if you knew that you were only coming home at night and going straight to bed, you could just switch on the heating in your bedroom for an hour rather than heating up the whole house unnecessarily. Features such as these not only save time but also save energy and reduce running costs.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="5052" img_size="full" alignment="center"][vc_column_text]
The first key decision in specifying a smart home is whether to opt for DIY or professional set up. DIY smart home products such as the likes of; NEST security devices, RING video doorbells, and PHILIPS HUE lighting are typically wireless plug-and-play devices that can be purchased off-the-shelf and you can installed them yourself. Professional systems such as; CONTROL4, CRESTON, SAVANT, and LOXONE are designed and installed by specialists and are typically predominately hard-wired. These two routes to creating a smart home represent two competing sides of the market that have been developing side by side and there are proponents of each.
Initially we assumed that the DIY route would be best suited to self-build projects because its more hands on and we didn’t like the idea of being locked into the technology of a single supplier. Our consideration was that we would want to pick and choose the best products on the market for each of the product categories and that these would likely consist primarily of devices made by the big tech giants along with other well-known smart home brands. Ideally these devices would be linked together in such a way that they could all be controlled with a single app or smart speaker.
Having carried out further research however we came to understand that the smart home market is not only divided into the DIY and professional sub-markets, but even within the DIY market there is fragmentation with different companies and products utilising different wireless communication protocols. While some wireless devices use Wi-fi which almost all of us have in our homes, others utilize Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Thread to name just a few. Each protocol has its own advantages and disadvantages, and again there are proponents of each, but the problem with all these differing technologies is compatibility. Without getting too technical, these protocols are like languages and for devices to talk to one another they have to speak the same language. While there are suggestions about developing or enforcing a universal communication protocol, the most common approach to resolving these issues are the use of smart home hubs which effectively function to translate and mediate between devices.
While these devices do largely solve the problem, with the quantity of devices on the market, there is no hub that is compatible with everything. SAMSUNG SMARTTHINGS HUB has probably the widest range of compatibility as it works with Wi-fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and Z-Wave but still not devices that use the ‘Thread’ protocol such as with GOOGLE NEST devices. Hub manufacturers typically maintain a list of compatible devices and all DIY smart home products are marketed with “works with” badges or descriptions to highlight which hubs they work with. In summary, it is normally possible to find a work around to connect smart home devices that are not compatible but it is plausible that you could end up with multiple hubs and multiple apps to control the smart devices in your home.
When we turned our attention to the professional offering, we found that the unique selling point of such systems is that they are “whole-home” systems, meaning that all the smart devices in a home can be operated from a single app, whether that be via a smartphone, a handheld remote controller, a smart speaker, or completely in the background by sensors and automation. CONTROL4, for example, promotes that fact that they have “one app for the entire house”, and CRESTON describes itself as “a complete smart home system”. Hence, despite our initial reservations it was this point that caused us to tack toward specifying a professional smart home system that could deliver a complete whole-home all-in-one smart home solution with seamless integration and control of smart home devices. It also became apparent that while wireless plug-and-play devices are ideal for retrofit in existing properties, hard-wired devices are more reliable and with a new build, whether self build or otherwise, you have a unique opportunity to install cabling
When it came to choosing between the various professional systems on the market, the key factor that led us choose LOXONE for our recent new build house project was that is it “cloud-free”. While there is a growing trend towards greater connectivity, and most smart home devices and systems have been developed with a view to creating a connected home, LOXONE has taken a different approach, instead choosing to make their system “cloud-free”. Our homes are fundamentally private spaces and with growing concerns regarding the right to privacy and the collection and commercial use of personal data, the “cloud-free” approach had a unique appeal. Data about how you use your home such as the when you wake up and go to bed is key to the functioning of a smart home, but this is sensitive information. While most other smart home products and systems collect, store, and analyse data in the cloud, in a LOXONE smart home all your data stays within the home on your LOXONE MINISERVER, the “brain” and “central nervous system” of your smart home. And while the system can be monitored and controlled via an app, the functioning of the system does not require internet connection to work. Most of the devices are controlled via touch switches, and sensors and automation do the rest. LOXONE says that “a smart home with Loxone simply knows what to do”, and this is actually another aspect of the LOXONE system that we really like. While there are many smart home gadgets on the market which are gimmicks or just require too much interaction with technology, the founders of LOXONE present the notion that technology should not be overbearing or dominant in the home but should instead work quietly in the background, almost without you knowing it is there.
This really depends on you and your project. Whether you project is a new build or a renovation for example may effect whether you opt for wired or wireless set up. As discussed above, while a new build presents an ideal opportunity to install physical wires within walls, opting for wireless products may be more practical in a renovation project, and decisions such as these may well lead naturally to other decisions. While we cannot* make these decisions for you, we hope that by describing our decision making process above, this will act a road map for your own decision making.