Home all around the world are now becoming smart in the 21st century. But smart home ideas have existed for centuries—in science fiction and fantasy where futuristic people are able to talk to their homes and ask it to do things for them.
Now, that science fiction has become a reality, more or less. The technology that has made this possible was only recently developed and the room for growth is nearly limitless. We are witnessing the early beginnings of a whole new way of living.
It is in every way as revolutionary as when the first home refrigerator appeared on the market meaning people could suddenly store fresh perishable goods like meats and dairy products without risking serious illness. Or the first laundry machine which freed up hours of people’s time who otherwise would have had to hand scrub each individual item on a washboard and then rinse and ring it out.
But what is a smart home exactly? What kind of smart home appliances are there? How can smart home systems help give people more freedom and control over their own lives? There are a lot of questions surrounding this new phenomenon. Let’s try to answer some of those questions.
Smart Home Automation
There are a lot of definitions of smart home floating around out there on the internet but most range from too vague to too technical. There is one we found that sort of hovers between those two extremes:
“Any device in your home that uses electricity can be put on your home network and at your command.”
This definition gives you a sense of just how much is possible with a smart home. Look around your home at ANY device that uses electricity. Imagine the possibilities if you were able to talk to it. Imagine if it had the intelligence to learn from your habits and know what you want before you even ask it?
Essentially, the technology used for smart home devices makes this possible. It turns everyday items in your home into the perfect little helpers.
You can give them commands by remote control, tablet, smartphone, PC, or even with your voice. And as mentioned, in some cases, you don’t even need to give commands. Your device will learn what to do automatically by studying your habits and schedules.
Smart Home Systems
If you’re wondering how that is all possible, the technology is surprisingly not all that complicated. Messages are transmitted between devices using radio waves—just like your phone, radio, Bluetooth, and wireless signals.
All that has really changed is that we have expanded our idea about what kinds of things can be connected to the internet.
Now, just like the internet or phone, there are different companies and different operating systems. The top two networks in the market at the moment are Z-Wave and ZigBee. These are known as “mesh networks” which means they use more than one method for sending messages between devices.
By using a mesh network system, networks like Z-Wave are able to seriously cut down on the number of failed messages. If there is only one way to transmit messages and that one way stops working, either the message won’t get sent or the device won’t receive it.
This was the major problem in the past preventing the technology from being commercially viable. The idea and attempts at building a smart home actually first appeared back in the 70s but it wasn’t until a few years ago that these mesh networks made it reliable enough to actually be worth using.
While it’s great to understand the underlying technology and concepts about a smart home, the best way to learn what a smart home is and what it can do is by looking at some examples.
Smart Home Devices
There are smart home devices on the market for just about every part of your home. The main areas where you’ll find the coolest gadgets are lighting, thermostat regulation, home security, and home entertainment.
Smart lighting is a great way to start cutting down on energy costs and it can also be pretty fun and helpful in other ways. Some of the features you can find with smart light bulbs or smart lighting systems include:
- Automatic on/off and dimming functions to cut down on unnecessary electricity usage.
- Timer and Scheduling functions so your lights know when to be on without you having to flip a switch.
- Color options to help set specific moods. This is great for parties but also for daily functions as certain colors can help you wake up or fall asleep more easily.
- Remote control. You can control every smart light in your home from your smartphone, wherever you are.
This is definitely one of the biggest money savers in the world of smart home products. A smart thermostat can be used with just about any heating or cooling system and it helps drastically cut down on unnecessary heating and cooling costs. It can do this by:
- Remote control: turn your thermostat on or off from your smartphone so even if you forgot to turn it off when you left, you don’t have to run back home to do it.
- Scheduling: give your thermostat your schedule so it knows when to start working and when to turn itself off.
- Automatic function: some thermostats don’t even need to be programmed. They learn your habits and automatically turn on or off or adjust the temperature depending on when you are home, when you’re away, and what season it is.
The home security market has been transformed by the introduction of smart home security products. There are far too many different devices that can be used as part of a smart home security system but here are a few of the perks you could get from using one:
- Live high quality audio and video feed that you can view from your phone, tablet, or PC wherever you are. In some cases, you can even record and store this footage.
- Smart motion detection that can send alerts to your phone when it detects suspicious activity. Some are even programmed to ignore your pets, preventing false alarms.
- Smart home locks that can be set to respond only to you or anyone that you authorize. They can even alert you when an unauthorized person attempts to open the lock.
- Smart home alarms that can detect smoke, fire, carbon monoxide, leaks and more and will send alerts to your phone as soon as it detects anything dangerous. That way there are no surprises when you get home.
Smart home entertainment may not be one of the most essential aspects of your new smart home but it is a lot of fun and gives you a lot more options and abilities than regular home entertainment systems. For example:
- Universal control. Control every tv, speaker system, and other entertainment device all from one smart home hub.
- Scheduling and timer functions that can be used to help you wake up in the morning to your favorite tunes (or the news) or turn itself on and off automatically.
- Parental controls that allow you to regulate what and how much television your children watch.
- Integrated systems that allow your entertainment system to communicate with your other smart devices. You can enjoy a light show by having your music sync up with your lighting for a music visualization spectacle.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Smart Home
There are a lot of advantages about turning your home into a smart home. After reading through some of the possibilities, you can probably already guess quite a few of them. Of course, as with everything, there can also be some downsides.
It’s important that you make a well-informed smart decision about investing in a smart home. So let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons. Then you can decide if and what kinds of smart home products you might want to get for your home.
- Smart home control: one of the best things about a smart home is that it gives you more control over your home and your life. It allows you to manage all your different devices easily from your phone, tablet, or PC. It even lets you control things you had no control over before (such as preventing unauthorized people from unlocking your door).
- Smart home security: smart home security products give you a much stronger sense of security than standard security products. They let you check in on your home whenever you want. They prevent false alarms and alert you to real threats, giving you enough warning to respond before serious damage is done. It’s just more effective and more comforting to have a smart home security set up.
- New ways to monitor your home: from your phone, you can check up on your home and monitor things like air quality, humidity, activities in and around your home, energy use, and more. You can get alerts when a device needs maintenance or when an air or water filter needs replacing. All this lets you live in a safer and more efficient home.
- Lower bills: one of the biggest advantages that sell the idea for most people is the money saving opportunity. Smart devices know when to turn themselves on and off so that they aren’t using up power when they don’t need to be. By trimming away this excess power usage, you will start saving a lot of money on your energy bills. You’d be surprised just how much excess power your regular home devices are wasting (yet you still have to pay for using it).
- Lower stress: Smart home systems take away all those little worries that nag at you throughout the day. Did I turn off the heater? Did I lock the doors? Are the kids doing their homework? You can easily put those worries to rest simply by checking in using your smartphone. It also takes away the stress of needing to do all of these little things manually. Use your increased free time to relax and wind down. Let your home take care of things for you.
- Good for the environment: by eliminating excess energy waste, your smart home is decreasing its carbon footprint. You’ll be saving money and helping preserve the environment, all while enjoy the comfort and convenience of your smart home devices.
- Improved accessibility: while smart home devices can feel like a luxury for some, for the elderly and disabled, these are truly a game changer. A smart home can help elderly/disabled people live a more independent life because the home can automate many of the essential daily tasks that are too difficult or impossible.
- High initial investment: smart products definitely cost more than their regular counterparts. There is no getting around that. You are going to pay more for a smart lighting system than you would for a standard one. This is because you are getting so many extra features.
- Can be a bit of a learning curve: for those who aren’t used to computers and smartphones as being part of their daily life, the smart home technology can seem a bit confusing and overwhelming. If you can’t use a smart phone, you might feel lost in a smart home.
- Hacking threat: absolutely every internet-enabled device runs the risk of being hacked. So there is no especially high risk of smart home devices being hacked—not any higher than your phone, tablet, or PC. But since these devices are connected to the internet, the risk is there and worth being aware of.
Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons. That high initial investment will pay for itself over time as you enjoy continued savings on your monthly energy bill.
The highly intuitive design of many smart home products makes it easy to learn how to use them. And the risk of hacking can be managed using the same safe internet practices you already use with your smartphone, tablet, and PC.