Smart Homes: What Are They?

Photo: Walt Disney Television


For those of you who have seen 2002’s Home Alone 4, I’m sure you have all been in awe of the mansion that the ‘upgraded’ Kevin Macalister family inhabit. (Even if we all missed Macaulay Culkin…) All the characters have access to their own ‘key’ which is controlled by the sound of their voice and responds to their every demand, whether it’s to ‘Close curtains’ or ‘Open Sesame’. As a kid in the early 2000’s I was in absolute envy of this concept, and how cool it would be. Just over a decade later and this concept is almost a reality, thanks to our advancement in technology, and our smartphones. 

Our homes are one of the places where we spend a large quantity of our time. When not at work, we sleep in them, eat in them and spend our down time within those 4 walls. Interestingly, while modern lifestyles have moulded themselves around technology, the building itself has not altered significantly. The overall layout, the way we live and use the different rooms has not changed in over 50 years. Bedrooms are usually on the second floor, most people have their big entertainment system in the lounge and kitchens are fitted with various appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers. There will be two main changes for the main ways our homes and living spaces will alter in the near future. Firstly, incorporating online technologies even more into our houses and secondly making moves to live in a more carbon neutral way through energy consumption and retail decisions. 

One definition of a ‘smart home’ in 2014 is a home which puts the wellbeing of the environment at the forefront. Currently, many new builds are constructed with carbon friendly living and energy efficiency in mind. One example is Abel Homes who specialise in new homes in Norfolk, install solar PV on every home, triple glazing and ‘superwall’ insulation. These, as typical installations in a home are great for the future as not only safeguarding the owner from ever rising energy costs as they depend less on renewable energy but they are also helping to slash the homeowner’s carbon emissions. The massive reach of smart phones and improvements in wireless technologies have given way to a variety of options that can be combined into a domestic setting to create a ‘smart home’.  This is defined as a home equipped with lighting, heating and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by smartphone or computer.As a result of new developments in technologies, the idea of the smart home is not in the far too distant future.

Even today, people are already using their smartphones, tablets or computers to alter their home’s heating using Nest, a wireless thermostat. This enables the heating system to be turned on as the homeowner leaves work so that their home is a comfortable temperature when they return from a day at work. Many of the new applications for smart phones or tablets are similar to this, fire alarms that will send messages to your phone should there be an emergency. Remote controlled lights, blinds and curtains that can be run from your bed using your smartphone or tablet, meaning that the you can lounge around in bed for as long as humanely possible. Electric timers will also be a thing of the past as users are able to control lights and curtains from anywhere in the world, giving the illusion to any potential thieves that somebody is actually home when they are in fact on holiday.

Thanks to clever location tracking on mobile devices, your smart phone will also have the potential to unlock the front door when you reach the doorstep. It might even be possible to activate the kettle and dishwasher on when the homeowner is close. The future of smart homes also has the capability to oversee and manage electronic devices in rooms remotely, so the owner can be informed if the fridge has been left open or your child is on their Playstation past bedtime.

These progressions in smart technologies also link to greener living and carbon friendly advancement of homes. As a result of smart phone and tablet applications and other gadgets automating humdrum actions. The ability to remotely manage lighting, heating and electronic appliances mean that should something accidently be left on it can easily be switched off, meaning there will no longer be any wasted energy. This is especially beneficial for those who do not have enough capital to invest in some of the larger green home improvements  like ground source heat pumps and solar panels, so although they are not using renewable energy, it will lead to them using less energy overall.


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