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Creating a happy home using ‘smart’ technologies

Jul 2009 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Creating a happy home using ‘smart’ technologies
Creating a happy home using ‘smart’ technologies
 

Homeowners are investing in projects to improve their homes rather than moving, with the hope of eventually adding value to their properties ready for when the market picks up. This means that electrical contractors involved in home improvements are well advised to highlight the benefits of using ‘smart home’ technologies, Andrew Pemberton explains.

The economic recession and downward spiral in the property market has resulted in a boom in the DIY sector and home improvement is growing in popularity as people, reluctant to move, are instead focusing on enhancing their homes. At the same time, we’re all becoming more aware of the need to make changes that improve the energy efficiency of our homes, which help to lower running costs.

In addition, homeowners are becoming more conscious of the future marketability of their property, and the influence of property shows such as Your Home and Grand Designs make high-end, lifestyle products much more accessible. With so much choice on the market, electrical contractors are well placed to guide homeowners through the options available and provide recommendations. For example, when working on a re-wiring project, it could be suggested that the homeowner considers smart technologies to enhance their home. ‘Smart home’ technologies can add value, a touch of luxury and convenience, and save the homeowners money on the cost of running their homes. Such technologies can be installed at the refurbishment stage and will allow the installer to add on sales and increase the value of the project, while the homeowner benefits from a solution that offers convenience and security. If used correctly, smart home technology can also provide energy efficiency.

Identifying the best solution

When it comes to specifying and selecting intelligent home systems, there is a great deal of choice, so key considerations must be taken into account to identify the best solution. To start with, there are several questions that need to be asked to establish the basic criteria. Firstly, who will be using the system? It could be that it needs to be user-friendly for children or people with special needs. Repetitive switching can be a difficult task for the elderly and disabled, so systems that can be set up to simplify tasks and create pre-set lighting sequences, controlled automatically from a single button, will provide a welcome aide.

Also, consider whether the homeowner has different performance specifications for each room, if the system needs extending, whether a room’s purpose will change over time and what is the size and type of the property. Answering these questions will begin to dictate the level of the system sophistication required to meet the user’s needs.

Hard-wired or wireless?

Often, homeowners base their decision on the amount of work involved and the effect it will have on the home. If a house is being completely refurbished with new wiring and re-plastered walls, then is it appropriate to suggest options that may involve channelling wires into walls and under the floorboards. Wired systems use a range of cables to transfer information around the home in a robust and proven way. Much of this cabling will be data cabling such as Cat 5, which is universally used in office buildings for transferring information. However, it is likely that a number of specialist cables may also be used, particularly for the reliable transfer of telephone, TV and data.

The alternative is a retrofit product that requires no new wiring and doesn’t cause damage to existing decoration. A wireless lighting control system is suitable for most installations, and such a system allows the homeowner to create lighting ambience and mood scenes via a control that is either wall mounted or remote. The system works by sending wireless signals from controllers to wired receiver units. These receiver units – in turn – control any light fittings they are connected to. The controllers are battery operated and wireless, communicating with the receivers via radio waves; therefore they can be placed anywhere and moved elsewhere at any time.

Although wireless products provide an attractive option because their installation doesn’t interfere with existing decoration, they cannot generally provide the same range of functions and benefits offered by wired systems. So, when using wireless technologies, assess the environmental and installation considerations. For example, as a wireless lighting system uses radio frequencies, its performance can be dependant on the installation. Reliable operation could be affected in metal frame buildings or extensions, operation through more than one floor, ceiling, or partition wall and in damp atmospheres such as swimming pools and saunas.

In addition, when using smart wireless lighting systems, also check lamp compatibility. Most lamp types – including low and mains voltage – will operate, but there are a few exceptions, such as high pressure sodium lamps and compact fluorescent bulbs.

Levels of functionality

Consider the homeowner’s lifestyle and the level of function they want. Options available range from changing the mood and setting the lighting, through to an integrated system that controls security, AV equipment, household appliances, to climatic conditioning and electrical equipment, all to provide the ultimate in intelligent living.

By converging numerous functions into one simple system, homeowners can enjoy the convenience of controlling their homes, which can be programmed with endless options. For example, it can be set with ‘welcome home’ and ‘goodbye’ modes that will turn on lights, heating and music when they arrive and off when they leave. It can also be programmed with comfort settings such as a goodnight mode, so they can turn the lights off once they are in bed and turn lights on dimmed so as not to disturb the whole house. This is ideal for early risers.

From a security perspective, systems can be programmed with a number of functions that offer the homeowner peace of mind. A panic mode will illuminate the house instantly, turning on all external, as well as internal lights. A holiday mode can also be set that will deter burglars by giving the house a lived-in look. This is achieved by automatically turning lights on and off, as well as opening and closing curtains.

Minimising energy consumption

As well as offering convenience, security, and comfort, intelligent home systems can help minimise energy usage by using time schedule and occupancy switching, dynamic light level compensation and scene setting. The most efficient lighting schemes are those that provide only the light needed, in the place it is needed, and at the time needed, which is a simple reality with smart technology.

The integration of smart technologies in the home is now an affordable possibility and, with so much choice on the market, electrical contractors can recommend a solution for all homeowners. From wireless lighting controls to smart home systems, installers can be assured that there is an option for every customer. This will add value to the home, enhance the way users interact with their surroundings and improve the building’s energy performance.