Smart thinking

HbD article Smart thinking June 2015

Source: HbD magazine and website

Tennant, Marketing Director of smart homes specialists Cyberhomes, discusses the latest automation technology and features that house-buyers are increasingly looking for.

Customers today are interested in a flexible, user-friendly approach to remotely control and programme devices in their homes, provided by the latest intuitive software. For example, home automation can enable every light in and around the property to be dimmed or switched on and off with touch-screens in the house and occupiers’ smartphones, as well as discreet local wall panels replacing conventional light switches. Pre-set scenes can be added to create specific lighting moods, which can form part of interior design schemes.

Peace of mind

From a security perspective, all the lights in a house can be turned off with a single button or lighting can be set to holiday mode, with simulations creating the impression that the house is still occupied. Smart technology also allows discreet CCTV cameras and door or gate entry systems to display on any of the touch-screen control panels throughout the house as well as on smartphones – a particularly important facility to give peace of mind when away from home. Owners can also check and adjust heating, lighting and other functions when they are not at the property.

Intruder alarm systems can also be integrated with home automation, allowing additional actions to be triggered automatically. For example, when the intruder alarm is armed, lights can be automatically turned off, vacation mode occupancy simulation started and heating levels reduced to save energy. Then, when the alarm is disarmed, an entry lighting scene automatically activates and the heating returns to comfort levels. But home automation can make the most of other devices as well. Whilst the intruder alarm system is unarmed, security sensors can be used as occupancy detectors triggering actions such as turning lights off if rooms are unoccupied for a period of time; or turning off heating in a room if a window is opened.

Home entertainment

Home entertainment is also an important area for homeowners. Multi-room audio and video systems are popular and can include a music player for each family member to enjoy his or her own diverse music collection and streaming service. Discreet ceiling speakers in various rooms and external speakers in the garden can be organised into audio zones to suit occupier lifestyles, each providing music and sound selected from the central AV system. Similarly, video content from multiple, centralised sources – such as Sky, Virgin TiVo and Apple TV boxes, Blu-ray discs and movie servers – can be streamed to TVs located anywhere in the house.

Although some companies design dedicated home cinema rooms for many luxury properties, very often a single room has to work both as an everyday living space and also a high-specification 3D home cinema. With home automation, a single touch of a button can cause a projector to descend from the ceiling, a projection screen to gently lower in front of the TV, lights to dim and motorised blinds to close. Within a matter of seconds, the ultimate home cinema environment is created with stunning picture quality and jaw-dropping surround sound.

Performance and aesthetics

In such situations, technical specifications and acoustic treatments to produce the best sound quality and user experience need to be carefully balanced against the aesthetic characteristics of the room. For example, in some projects bespoke cabinetry can be designed to house a retractable cinema screen and front speakers. Here, a tilting mechanism enables speaker adjustment to suit the precise distance to the seats once furniture positions have been finalised, optimising acoustic performance. Speakers can also be hidden behind removable, ‘acoustically-transparent’ fabric panels to minimise visual impact on the room.

Home-owners are keen to maximise new performance opportunities presented by the latest smart technology in general but often want to have as little on show as possible, minimising ‘wall clutter’ and other impacts on the look of their interiors. That is one reason why it is essential to involve smart homes specialists in building projects from the start. They can then work closely with architects, developers, interior designers and any M&E consultants to optimise integration of the system with the overall building design and performance. This will also ensure that accommodation of the extensive cabling needed, provision of a suitable plant room and minimising visual impact from equipment are all effectively catered for.

New trends

Looking to the future, home automation technology continues to develop apace and two new trends are becoming apparent. Firstly, ‘wearable technology’ apps will enable wrist devices and watches to easily control lights, select music, adjust volume and other actions. Then ‘geofencing’ will allow a smartphone to detect its owner’s location and communicate with the house system, for example to automatically turn up heating an hour before arrival, then turn on external lights and open the gates upon approach and even identify who has arrived and turn on a TV set to that person’s favourite channel for that time of day.

With this growing trend towards more automation and technology, reliability and longterm performance are essential. The necessary racks of AV equipment should be built and tested, and all the wiring looms created in a controlled environment off-site. This will minimise the connections and other work on a building site. Wireless networks should be avoided for fixed equipment as they are generally not reliable or fast enough, and suffer from ‘dead spots’ as well as interference from other electrical items. Wireless is usually only suitable for devices that need to be handheld or portable such as remote controls, smartphones and tablets.

See this feature in the June issue of Housebuilder & Developer

HbD magazine and website

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on 19 Jun 2015
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