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Time for some smart thinking…

Sep 2010 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Time for some smart thinking…
Time for some smart thinking…
 

Magazines may be packed full of exotic products, fabulous buildings and luxury houses with, let’s face it, some dubious interior designs. The world, it seems, is the oyster of the installer that can make it all happen. So why is it that you are still up in lofts installing twin and earth most days? Andy Douglas explains:

The short answer is that you are there to earn a living, and it continues to be the bread and butter business of most domestic installers. But things are changing. What you see now in ‘flagship’ buildings and footballer’s homes will become commonplace in home in a few years time. Broadband throughout the home, surround sound and cable TV in several rooms with flat screens of sizes that have sparked a whole new industry in specialist wall fastenings – all will become almost normal.

The concept of central control and devices communicating with each other is familiar to many homeowners, but this often means no more – in practice – than running a cable between the Sky box and the bedroom. Meanwhile, the heating, ventilation and lighting are left to chug on in its old fashioned way. The only real winners here seem to be Sky and the utility companies.

Technology now

The technology is already available to bring all the energy-guzzling equipment under control, so that it works in harmony to deliver the most comfortable and efficient environment.

We all know about timers for lighting and heating, but now they can be over-ridden when PIR detectors tell the system that there is nobody in the room. Lighting lux levels can be programmed to adapt to ambient conditions and/or the use to which a room is to be put – a home office or kitchen needs brighter lighting than a dining room, for instance, and both need less artificial light on a bright, sunny day. Or maybe you want blinds and awnings to react to changes in the weather and cloud cover?

Central heating can be zoned, so that bedrooms are cooler than living rooms. Zones can also enable each family member to have his/her own ideal combination of heat and light environment in the own room. Moreover, the home entertainment systems can be brought under the same central control if required.

Energy costs will only be going go one way – up. So will householders be willing to invest in energy efficiency, as well as their expectations of an increasing degree of home automation?  Can you, the installer, meet these growing expectations? Are you up to date with the technology and the skills needed to install it? Because, if you cannot, then someone else surely will. So the big question now is: ‘who is going to be left standing when the music stops?’

Reserve your seat

The backbone of a smart home is Internet protocol (IP) control, typically over a network cable. Such cabling is increasingly common in a new build property, and not just at the top end of the market. Why not make use of it to make new levels of home automation possible for you customers?

Bandwidth is not going to be an issue with the controls we are talking about here, so you will never risk overloading the network. In older homes, if you are carrying out any re-wiring now, you should be proposing network cabling as well, to provide your customer with a truly future-proof solution. Such network cabling will often fit into the same trunking or conduit, so why be chasing two lots of wiring into the wall when you can do it all at once?

Choose an open protocol

You might then be able to look at installing some smart products immediately, and then build on the system gradually as the homeowners’ confidence and requirements change. Be sure to do your research and opt at the outset for a truly open and scalable protocol, so that products from different manufacturers can be chosen on merit and added to the central bus network. If you opt now for a proprietary bus system, then you will be limiting your choices and the added value services you can offer, now and in the future.

The only true, international open protocol for home and building control is KNX, as promoted in the UK by the KNX Association www.knxuk.org The KNX stable offers over 2000 100% compatible products from 150 different manufacturers, all of which can be commissioned as part of a single installation. After a few days training on the KNX ETS software tool, you will be able to start programming the devices in a KNX installation. Setting up each device is relatively straightforward.

A KNX installation in larger premises will typically include a small control panel to house the LV bus power supply and DIN rail mounted devices, i.e. dimmers for the lights. However, a KNX system for a family home can also be designed without a central control panel, with the devices that you want to work together to control the environment in each room communicating together via the KNX bus. So heating, lighting, music, TV, door entry, metering, etc, are all on one common network cable.

KNX in the home

A good example of the use of KNX in the home is the modern room controller, having an eight-channel display and controller with integral room thermostat. It can display KNX-programmed profiles in as many as eight rooms or areas, offering control over up to three functions in each of them. These functions can provide the right ‘room scene’ combination of (say) heat and light and for reading, the home office,  watching TV or sleeping etc, or to cater for individual preferences. Scenes can be pre-set and then selected at the touch of a button, and users can adjust levels within limits defined at the time of installation.

Modern controllers can add an extra level of KNX intelligence and over-ride these programmes – for instance if ambient light levels suggest that electric lighting is not needed after all, or its presence detectors indicate that a room is unoccupied.

If the controller has an integral room thermostat, it can be used to programme zoned heating control by installing sister thermostats in other rooms. Such a controller represents an excellent way of ‘putting your toe in the water’ for smart homes, with a product that complies with an open protocol and does not paint you into a corner.

What next?

Possibly the best first step might be to go on an approved KNX training course and find out how simple it can be. Find out more by visiting Theben’s company at www.timeguard.com and clicking on the KNX icon.