Have you ever watched Downton Abbey, and envied the lifestyle of the aristocratic Crawley family?
Must have been pretty good, mustn’t it, to have all those servants stoking the fire or drawing the curtains or simply keeping an eye on the house when you were away?
Well smart home technology can turn everyone into an Edwardian aristocrat – sort of. You can issue orders like “turn up the heating”, “turn the lights on” or “can you just keep an eye on that insecure back fence while we’re away, Carson?”
The difference is that instead of a network of servants, the 21st century homeowner has an Internet of Things (IoT). It means that everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data to your smart phone, tablet or computer. And the exciting news for us is that we are trialing these products in several locations across the UK with a view to offering them to our customers in the not too distant future!
So let’s have a look at how you can become the Earl or Countess of Grantham at the touch of a smart phone screen...
First things first
There’s one essential for all this ‘virtual servant’ stuff to work – you need good Wi-Fi coverage across your house. If you’re planning to install cameras (perhaps you want to check in on your pets when you’re out and about), then you’re going to need to consider fast broadband too. You’ll also need a recent smart phone or tablet as your portable hub that controls everything.
And you need what consumer group Which? calls ‘smart home harmony’. That means making sure all your smart products talk the same language.
Last but not least, you need to make sure all this data you’ll be storing can’t be accessed by just anyone. To do this, protect your products with decent passwords that you won’t forget.
Otherwise, the 21st century burglar could tell if you’ve turned the heating off for a weekend away. He might even be able to tell that you’ve turned it off from your luxury hotel in London.
Now, what’s available?
Where do we start? And where do we stop?
The first thing you might want is a smart thermostat that lets you start up the boiler at home from the desk in your office, if it suddenly gets cold outside. You can also have a different heat for every room. Some can monitor the weather forecast and adjust the heat to match.
Smart meters can also measure your gas and electricity use and send the data to your supplier (no more of those ‘estimated bills’). You can also monitor how much energy you’re using. All UK homes could have one by 2020.
Smart lighting controls can let you turn on the lights remotely, for that ‘lights on, someone’s home’ effect. It’s a good anti-burglar measure.
Smart security cameras can alert your phone when they sense movement, and stream videos from inside or outside your home to your phone, tablet or laptop. You can even get audio.
Some cars are already keyless – why not houses too? With a smart lock you can monitor who’s in and who’s out, and let your neighbour in, so they can – for example – water the plants when you’re on holiday. You could even get a text sent automatically when your teenager gets home.
What about household appliances?
And then it’s a question of how far you want to go. You could switch on your smart cooker as you leave the supermarket with the chicken.
A smart baby monitor means you can see as well as hear your sleeping child upstairs. Smart doors detect when little fingers are at risk of getting closed in the door jamb and stop the door from closing.
A robot vacuum cleaner, using sensors to avoid obstacles, could remotely clean your home while you’re out. (They do exist already – promise!)
There are scales that measure not just your weight, but also body fat percentage, heart rate, and room air quality, and then feed all the information to ongoing graphs on your smart phone.
A smart garage door would be great, wouldn’t it, when it was pouring down outside? Or smart air conditioning for those occasional hot nights? Or a smart water monitor, that tells you when a water pipe is leaking? Or a smart bed, that monitors your sleep patterns and helps you get more sleep?
But even better is TopBrewer, featuring at the Ideal Home Show in 2016. Be your own ‘barista’ with an app-controlled coffee tap linked to a below-worktop brew unit that brings you fresh coffee in your home at the touch of an app. And of course it can remember exactly how you like your coffee, and deliver the perfect cup every time.
And you can do all that while you’re still upstairs putting your pants on...
Some company names
- SmartThings – Ideal for Smart Home tech newbies, Samsung’s SmartThings is easy to use and simple to set up – all it takes is one app, one hub and all of your compatible devices. From security and monitoring to lighting, energy, convenience and entertainment, SmartThings covers all bases and makes a great starting point. It also works with lots of other Smart Home brand names.
- Hive – The Hive thermostat and app is a way of controlling your heating and hot water from your phone. It’s available to everyone, no matter who your energy supplier is. Hive – which is part of the British Gas brand – is currently working on a series of connected products to link you with lights, plugs and sensors in your home.
- Nest – Owned by Google, Nest is a maker of home automation products, like self-learning, sensor-driven, Wi-Fi enabled thermostats, smoke alarms/carbon monoxide detectors and security cameras. ‘Works With Nest’ is a programme that allows third party products, from washing machines to lights, to connect with the Nest system.
- Evohome – An intelligent heating system that allows you to create and individually control up to 12 heating zones across your house, plus hot water. Remote access is provided via your tablet or smart phone. Colour touch screen controls allow for quick and easy management of where and when the property should be heated.
- Fibaro – One of the leaders in the automated building world. Fibaro’s system of modules and sensors allows your home or office to respond to the changing environment – or your every wish, of course. The system uses Z-wave wireless technology and non-invasive installation to make it simple to retro-fit into a building.
- The Nymi Band – Control your 21st century, inter-connected home from a watchstrap-like device around your wrist. Turned on by your own unique heart rhythm, it then acts as your mobile password which could, in theory, do everything from opening your front door and switching on the sound system, to paying for your goods at the supermarket.
- Reemo – It takes the automatic door idea to the next level. Reemo is a hands-free home control system that works from movement and gestures. It enables the user to open doors, turn appliances on and off, even adjust the volume on the TV, with a wave of the hand. It’s particularly good for the elderly, or people with mobility challenges.