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Smart homes: your role in their growth

May 2016 Smart Homes | Comments Off on Smart homes: your role in their growth
Smart homes: your role in their growth

Karl Rawlins, senior technical support engineer at Scolmore Group, answers key questions about smart homes and building automation

What scale of home automation are we talking about – does it need to be a complete refit of the customer’s electronics or are there minor installations that can still make a big difference?
Home automation is available in various formats, wired ‘bus’ systems that use data cables with programmed control via a central computer, X10 that uses the electrical cables already fitted and RF ‘radio frequency’ that uses wireless technology.

For full refurbishments and new-builds, wired home automation systems have been the preferred option, while wireless was chosen for smaller, simple installations and solutions. Today, however, thanks to today’s digital wireless technology and its affordability, wireless control is now being requested for most areas, whether new-build, full refurbishment or retrofit.

Is this customer driven or are there any challenges/barriers to home automation that need to be discussed with the customer? For example, are there concerns about changes in technology making today’s installations redundant too quickly? Are there concerns about costs?
Customers are looking at how they can add security and energy-saving features to their property while, at the same time, adding a little bit of luxury with automated control. In addition, the fact that it could potentially add value to their property is a big advantage. This is where the cost factor will play a big part in terms of which brand they look at, the different technologies available and how long the product has been available.

Product and component longevity is key in customers’ thoughts. Replacing obsolete products can be both costly and time-consuming and may be beyond the capabilities of the home owner themselves. As a result, reassurances will be sought that simple software updates will future-proof the installation for an acceptable timeframe.

The fact that the components are electronic devices will mean that they will at some point need to be replaced. This is something that needs to be conveyed to the consumer and a plan put in place to maintain the installation. In most cases, updates will take the form of simple software upgrades.

For installers, this is where vital information can be learnt during the training process to make them aware of the procedures for product updates, enabling the relevant information to be passed on to the customer.

Is there a particular segment that is driving home automation trends – for example, new-builds?
Retrofit is now the largest sector for home automation, where home owners are adding wireless security and energy saving features without having to alter their wiring or disrupt their decor. The new-build market and home automation installations are on the increase as sales add-ons, with wireless control being specified more often due to the cost and flexibility of the systems now available.

How can I specialise in home automation or work in this area? Is there any training available?
With the number of electrical events now available around the country, it couldn’t be easier for contractors to see systems working and to ask questions. Most manufacturers will offer comprehensive training support where you not only learn about the system and what it can do, but also understand its limitations – whether it is cable runs with wired systems or the signal range with wireless systems.

What particular skills would you recommend?
It depends on the system being installed and the data to be logged. For wired systems, it can be installing the cables as necessary with no additional skills required, to progressing to training on final terminations, PC programming and commissioning. For wireless systems, retrofitting small installations (single receiver with transmitter) can be achieved without any additional skills other than reading the manufacturer’s installation requirements.

For larger installations, I would always recommend additional training to help in understanding more about the components, programming, their signal range and their transmission through the various building materials.

What has been your most satisfying home automation project so far?
There have been quite a few, with the majority being small to medium-sized solutions using wireless control. Eliminating the disruption to walls, gardens and driveways by switching the required circuits via radio frequency gives the greatest satisfaction. One project saved a primary school thousands of pounds when they realised they had not provided power from the main school building to the security gates at the front of the premises – we were able to overcome the problem using wireless controls.

What do you think home automation will look like in the next 10 years?
For most home owners, a typical installation will be automated control that also monitors energy saving and security elements based on our everyday movements. We will be able to control and override these systems manually via smartphones, watches and tablets.

Most of these features are available today at a cost but, as energy companies and the government strive to reduce our carbon footprint and consumer’s requirements become more sophisticated, more home owners will look to install home automation features and this is likely to become a standard building industry requirement.