I think that many of us still associate home automation and ‘smart’ technology with James Bond style hide-outs complete with velvet curtains which open at the flick of a switch or Jetson’s-style flying machines which conveniently fold up into a suitcase once you arrive at work! Up until more recently home automation has been driven by the desire for convenience, fuelled by advances in technology and paid for by the super-rich.
This trend, however, is showing signs of being broken as we enter a new era in home automation which is driven by the need to push down utility costs and lower the environmental load of our houses whilst having the added benefit of enhanced usability. So, yes it is very convenient to have lights which automatically come on when you enter a room but it is also efficient to have them switching off when you are not there; it is the ultimate luxury to be able to turn up the thermostat before you arrive home but it is also energy saving not to run your heating system when you are not there.
In my view it is not in the individual ‘isolated’ smart features where home automation is truly successful, it is where it is fully integrated into the building fabric where the real benefits can be realized. Consider how you want your home to function from the early stages of design. This is not just a case of hiding cables in walls but is about considering what equipment you want on display and what you want out of sight, and how and where you are going to control the systems from. It is also about ensuring that your house is future-proofed to enable you to extend and adapt existing systems or add in new ones at a later date. Even if money is tight and you can’t afford home automation at least put in the structured wiring when the electrics are being installed to make sure your home is ‘smart’ ready. Think about what you want to achieve from your smart installation, have realistic expectations as to what the technology can do for you and take a holistic approach. Home automation is not just about what is inside your house but about the interface with the environment outside, from automatic sprinklers to remote monitoring from your iPhone.
Obviously it is easier to design home automation into a new build home but with careful consideration it can be sympathetically included into refurbishment projects with the use of drop down cinema screens, clever speakers which are integrated into items of furniture (even baths!) or double up as works of art on the wall (www.artcoustic.com). Traditional houses have plenty of nooks and crannies which are perfect hiding places for cables and sensors.
I would advise close involvement between the fitter, contractor, architect and client in the initial stages of design. It is, after all, at design stage where you are planning how you are going to use your home and how the spaces are going to work for you. Consider using home automation to help you form multi-function rooms particularly where space is tight. Big is not necessarily beautiful, it is good design which creates beautiful spaces and by designing technology into your home, it can not only be functional but also aesthetically pleasing. The key benefit of home automation is the ability to have control over your living environment. It is therefore crucial that the system you are installing is easy to understand; after all a ‘smart’ home should not be complicated but ‘intelligent’.
For me the most exciting thing about home automation is the ability to closely monitor what comes in and what goes out of a dwelling, from water and power to the food in your fridge. I think this broader understanding of our own personal environmental impact is critical in the drive to reduce carbon emissions. By monitoring the inputs and outputs of your house you may be able to save enough money to afford to buy the latest automated cat feeder or plant irrigation system!
Of course there are not only green benefits. Home automation has been used very successfully in helping the lives of elderly and disabled people through the use of emergency assistance systems, internet monitoring, automatic controls and alarms and even robots. By having control over our homes we are able to have greater control over our lives.
So from being a luxurious excess home automation is set to become a necessary part of everyday living. In my mind there is no doubt that there is a place for smart technology in our homes and with the race to reduce carbon emissions well and truly on, close monitoring gives us an awareness of the cost our lives have on the environment. I hope that with the growth of the intelligent home which responds both internally to the occupants and externally to its surroundings our dwellings can become more like living organisms existing in cohesion with their environment.