A Guide to the Connected Home

Smart home technology is growing at a rapid rate, with devices like smart thermostats and smart TVs becoming increasingly popular. There’s a wide range of gadgets to choose from and they offer both fun and functionality.

It’s really easy to connect all your smart devices to create a full smart home system. The appeal of smart technology means there are already millions of smart homes around the world, and the numbers are set to keep on rising:

  • Ownership of smart devices has more than doubled over the past two years1
  • Experts estimate that consumers will spend £10.8 billion on smart home devices in 20191
  • 30% of survey respondents plan to purchase a smart device for their home in the next two years1

What is a smart home?

A smart home is a home equipped with electrical appliances that can be controlled remotely over the internet, known as smart devices. A smart home can also be called a “connected home” or “home automation”. The point of a smart home is to make life easier by making household tasks simpler or even automated.

The smart home devices you’ll currently find on the market relate to heating, lighting, security, white goods and entertainment. The most popular gadgets include TVs, thermostats and security cameras. A smart home hub is used to link all the smart devices in a home, which can then be controlled via a single app on your phone or laptop.

How the connected home devices can save you time and money

A connected home can reduce the time you spend managing the home and lower your energy bills. Even an individual smart device can provide multiple benefits.

For example, a smart thermostat makes it easier to manage the heating, and this in turn can save you money on your energy bill.

The main advantages you’ll enjoy with a smart home are:

Lower energy bills

A smart thermostat alone could reduce power consumption by 10-30%2, in addition to savings from other energy-efficient smart home appliances.

Centralised control over appliances and devices

Being able to remotely operate and automate your heating, lighting and household gadgets from anywhere saves time.

Cheaper home insurance

Insurers consider secure properties to be lower risk, so they can offer better deals when you install smart security devices like cameras.

A greener home

You can use smart appliances like thermostats, cookers and showers in a more energy efficient way, reducing your home’s carbon footprint.

A more comfortable home

Products like smart air purifiers can help clear the air of allergens like dust mites, pet dander and smoke.

Hands-free help

Save time by getting your digital assistant to set reminders, check traffic or weather, answer questions or even turn on the lights.

An expert opinion on smart homes

Senior technology journalist, Antonio Villas-Boas, has enjoyed his smart home since 2016. He finds the system ‘indispensable’ and says the voice-controlled smart devices ‘add a futuristic touch’. When it comes to saving money, Antonio reveals: ‘I’ve certainly noticed a drop in energy bills since using a smart thermostat.’3

How to create a smart home

Creating a smart home is simple as it only needs two things:

A suitable wireless network

Many different appliances need to be connected at once, and this needs a good wireless network. To do this, make sure your broadband Wi-Fi router is powerful enough to handle being connected to multiple devices. It needs to be fast and have a decent range so it covers the whole home.

As a guide, your router should:

  • Be ‘dual-band’ or ‘tri-band’, meaning it can use 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands for stronger Wi-Fi signals
  • Have the latest 802.11 router technology so it’s powerful enough to connect with multiple devices
  • Be labelled “AC” for fast enough speeds
  • Have three or more aerials for good signal range within the home (some have internal ones so check the specs if none are visible)
  • Have a minimum of four Ethernet ports for wired connections to storage and smart devices

It’s worth upgrading your router if it doesn’t have these features. Without a suitable Wi-Fi network, you won’t able to interact with your smart appliances remotely.

Individual smart devices

You’ll need various connected home gadgets that can link to your phone. With smart home systems growing in popularity, there’s a lot of choice, so follow these tips to stay organised:

  • Decide what smart products you want in your home by looking at appliances category by category. Smart devices mainly fall under the areas of heating, lighting, security, white goods and entertainment
  • A smart hub creates a central control point for all your connected devices, although you may not initially need one. Smart products each have their own app, but once you’ve got a few, it can get a bit messy to manage. This is where a smart hub comes in, grouping all your devices into one app. It might also be necessary for complex automation like different lighting configurations
  • You could already have some smart appliances, so check recently-bought electronic items to avoid unnecessary purchases
  • You can expand your smart home system over time if necessary, so prioritise your wish list

What are the best smart home devices?

Smart home devices

The best smart devices for you will depend on your own wants and needs, but here are the most popular smart home products4:

1. Voice devices

Gadgets like speakers and digital assistants let you play music, check the weather or control the lights using simple commands.

2. Smart TVs

Televisions that can connect to the internet and access the home network let you stream films and shows, play your own files and browse the internet.

3. Smart switches

Light switches can be automated to go on and off at set times or when you enter the room for convenience and better security.

4. Video doorbells

Doorbells that send you a live video stream when pressed or when motion detectors are triggered help with home security.

5. Smart locks

Electronic locks that can be operated remotely or automated to unlock when you are close enough provide convenience and safety.

6. Smart thermostats

Thermostats that connect to your heating system and the internet let you control the heating remotely, with some learning your routine and automating the timings.

7. Smart lighting

Smart bulbs can individually connect to your phone or smart hub using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, enabling remote control and automation.

8. Smart energy meters

Gas and electricity meters that automate meter readings so you don’t have to take them any more, putting an end to estimated bills.

9. Smart security cameras

Home surveillance cameras improve security as they allow viewing of live streams, automate the recording of video streams and send you alerts.

10. Smart smoke alarms

Smoke detectors that can send alerts to your phone if smoke is detected or if batteries are running low help fire prevention.

11. Smart motion sensors

Motion detectors that send you alerts and activate lights or alarms when triggered are often built into smart cameras.

12. Smart audio speakers

Speakers that are voice-controlled can play music and double up as your smart hub, and they usually come with an integrated digital assistant.

Are there any risks with a smart home?

A smart home system can make your home much safer, as smart technology is designed with security in mind.

By installing smart security devices like cameras and motion sensors, you can reduce the risk of burglary and vandalism. Smart security cameras send a live video stream to your phone, so you can keep an eye on the house and check on pets from anywhere. Smart smoke alarms alert you to a fire, even if you’re out, so you can send help. You can also switch the siren off from your phone which is handy when you burn the toast.

Some people have queried whether their smart home could be hacked, but as long as you follow some simple rules, it’s unlikely. Manufacturers are constantly researching and upgrading security features. A tendency to simply plug in new devices means that forgetting to change factory-set passwords is the most common reason for being hacked.5

How to secure your smart home - simple steps:

  • Always change default passwords on your Wi-Fi router and smart devices straight away
  • Use a strong password that has a range of letters, numbers, symbols – avoid personal information and try using textspeak that mixes upper and lower case
  • Enable encryption when it’s available – search for “BitLocker Drive Encryption” on your PC, “FileVault” on your Mac and “Encrypt Device” on your smartphone
  • Keep your smart devices updated by logging on regularly and checking for updates
  • Only connect trusted devices to your home network, like your family’s and friends’ phones

The smart home of the future

The technology behind home automation is moving very fast. Your future smart home may be even more connected, with everything from the microwave to the toilet having smart technology. The smart home is also likely to expand beyond the house, linking with connected cars.

Digital assistants might understand your tone of voice through emotional AI so they can identify urgent situations. They could evolve into robots, physically helping with shopping, housework and healthcare.

Demand so far has mainly been for smart devices that make domestic tasks quicker and easier, but new uses are in the pipeline. One new use for smart technology that’s already being developed is the reduction of damage in the event of natural disaster.6

In 2016, there were 72 million smart devices globally. This is predicted to reach 364 million in the next 10 years.7

SOURCES:

1 PricewaterhouseCoopers

2 US Environmental Protection Agency

3 Business Insider UK

4 Data based on average monthly searches (Google)

5 Build It

6 Forbes

7 US Environmental Protection Agency


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