UPDATE: Smart home systems, automation and especially Alexa have massively improved since I wrote this blog post. Take a look at my more recent posts on how Alexa can make your smart home sound system event better and check out this extensive interview with me on some of my best tips for smart home automation setup and ideas.
The “Smart Home” seems to be something everyone is talking about. I see commercials, billboards, web articles among other things that throw this term around. But what is a “Smart Home”? Think about it.
Maybe to you a smart home is having the ability to turn off your house lights when your out at dinner. Maybe it’s being able to access your home security cameras while you’re on vacation in Europe. Perhaps it’s the ability to push a button on a keypad to open the blinds or raise the shades. While all of these features are incredible, convenient and just flat out awesome things to be able to do, do they really make your home smart?
I’m going to make a bold statement and say, “NO” that does not make your home smart. These may be some “Smart Home” features but in the end, all we are doing is gaining remote access or simple control.
The “Smart Home” that we see advertised is a convenience feature. I can press a button and do this or that. It may save me some time, but I’m still working my home, it is not working for me. A smart home should work for you. It should learn the things you do, work around them and make adjustments to make your life easier and save you money at the same time. Some readers may know this as Home Automation.
Home automation takes these “Smart” products and brings them all together to work for you. Lets say it’s a warm spring day and my AC kicks on. Shortly there after the wind picks up a bit and there is a wonderful cool breeze surrounding the home. Perhaps I want this breeze to come inside, the lawn was cut this morning and I love the smell of the grass. I open the back doors and let the breeze in. Two minutes later, realizing that I’m not just walking in and out of the home the AC shuts off and stays off until I close the doors later. The home then reevaluates the interior temperature and turns the AC back on if necessary.
Maybe I have speakers throughout my home. Lets say my Master Bed and Master Bath are linked together. I have a remote, my iPhone, and a Keypad in the bedroom to control the music and other system. I don’t always want the music in the Master Bath to be playing because I’m not always in there. Instead of placing a keypad in the Bath to turn it on and off when I want to listen, the house will KNOW that I’m in the bath and wanting to listen to music. Lets assume I’m listening to Jack Johnson relaxing in the bedroom and get up to go take a shower. I walk into the bathroom, the room sees that I am in there and turns that same Jack Johnson song on. It will stay on for the duration that I am in the Bath and turn off automatically several seconds after I leave the Bath.
We can even do things like setting a “Vacation Mode” for the home. This will ensure the HVAC stays off, turns lights on and off throughout the day and evening, and raises and lowers shades throughout the day. All this gives the appearance that home is “Lived In” when it is not.
We can even do things as awesome as knowing when someone arrives home. Lets say I’m driving home and when I come within 200 ft of my home the garage door opens. My house music then kicks on to my favorite Pandora station and cranks it up because I like to listen to my music LOUD! But if my wife is home the garage door will open and no music will play because it may interrupt wheat ever she is doing. We could do some other amazing things with this as well. Say a son or daughter arrives home after curfew. We could send a notice to the parents phone letting them know this and began playing the “Imperial March” in the child’s room so they know they screwed up and add sense of dread to the scene when Dad walks in. (This is a little overboard, but it’s possible).
All of these things make a home SMART! The possibilities are nearly endless and remote access (controlling the smart home system away from the home) is still possible. We just require a central system to bring it all together. Companies like URC, Savant, Crestron, Control 4, and RTI act as the brains of the automation system and make it all possible!