Smart Homes are being Redefined from the Studs to the Software
9 May 2021
As Debbie and I have been traveling along our home design path and looking at integrating smart technologies into it, it’s become apparent there are a lot of definitions of “smart” home. Whether you’re fans of voice control with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, a fully integrated audiovisual systems with a sophisticated Control4 implementation, a Ring doorbell with some Hue lights integrated to turn on when people step up to your front door, you’re right. The term smart home means something different to everyone.
In order to make some sense of all this I thought I’d take a shot at providing a framework to think about “smart” homes. I never intended for the smart technology integration into our home build to take such a deep dive. What I’ve learned through our journey so far is that there seem to be five distinct levels of Smart Home — starting at basic and ranging to complex.
Manual Switches & Modern Thermostat
This is where most of today’s homes exist, manual switches to turn on lights, an integrated thermostat for environmental controls, and enough “sensors” to meet building code; detect fire and poisonous CO2 levels.
Connected Switches and Devices
Many options fall into this category — lights and environmental controls that you can control from your phone via an app. This changes the human-home interface and allows remote control but not much more, while helpful, it’s dated and will only become more obsolete as time passes.
Integrated systems allow multiple devices to work together from a common interface and at times with some coordination. With the rapid rise of voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, we’re quickly seeing homes with connected switches and devices migrate to home with integrated systems. These hubs allow for multiple connected devices to be integrated into scenes and controlled together, in addition to the obvious integration of home controls. Many of the systems fall into this level with the integration of high-end AV assets.
Orchestrated systems apply some level of “compute” or the ability of a system to take multiple states of the home and change that environment based on a defined ruleset. This allows for an autonomous home functionality with the right programming. Think of an orchestrated home as a home powered by “If, Then” statements or a platform like IFTTT. This has long been primarily done by amateur smart home enthusiasts but rarely makes its way into professional home automation solutions except for some of the most expensive systems.
Intelligent homes employ self-learning systems that optimize the health of the occupants, the home and be efficient. In order to build a truly intelligent home, two things are necessary that aren’t yet common in home building. The first is additional sensors for understanding the state of the home and impact that changes have on the total state of the home. The second is an intelligent, learning system that connects the various inputs and modifies how it behaves based on a current state to achieve the optimal state — a system that learns over time and adapts to its owners, its external environment and their behavior, making the home a better home tomorrow than today. Another key feature of an intelligent home is that it is software-defined, enabling the home to be upgraded as technology and systems advance.
So how do you build your Intelligent Home? You start with a software-first platform to ensure your new home is better tomorrow than it is today. This will ensure you have the optimal environment to enhance your health, your home and be efficient. Here are some of the intelligent features and automation that you’ll need:
- Sensors — In order to make anything better you first need the ability to track it. I’ve always been one of those “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” guys so this was a natural place for me to start. Luckily if you’re not, there are plenty of platforms and sensors out here to choose from.
- Air Quality — Through sensors, the air throughout the home can be checked for CO2, Carbon Monoxide, VOCs, particulate matter, and formaldehyde off-gassing (an unfortunate side effect of some building materials). If increases are sensed in any unhealthy environments you can boost fresh air through a delivery system to completely recycle the air within the home. The systems also will learn what is causing this over time and preemptively cycle air so that it doesn’t get to an unhealthy level in the first place.
- Convenience — Ever waited for the shower to get warm on a cold day? Been there, done that, not really enjoyable. An intelligent home will incorporate your calendar or learn your routines and over time preemptively cycle all of the hot water so that you have a shower at just the right temperature within seconds of turning it on. This is a particular favorite of Debbie’s.
- Orchestration — If want to ensure your house is exactly right from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed and even while you sleep, an orchestration platform accommodates this. It allows you to intelligently automate everything from your lights to your garage door, to the tracking of your sleep patterns compared to the room temperature and everything in between.
- Efficiency — Circuit by circuit energy monitoring allows the home to learn your usage patterns and offer suggestions for the most efficient and economical usage of power.
- Durability — One of the most important impacts on your home is performance over time. Sensors need to constantly monitor building performance and alert you if anything doesn’t look right — moisture where it shouldn’t be, energy consumption that doesn’t seem right — then notify you and remediate the issue if possible.
- Better Tomorrow — We’ve all experienced how fast technology changes fast, so a platform that can be upgradable and is “future-flexible” to allow owners to update homes as new technology evolves.
All this may seem a little daunting but keep in mind it’s not an “all or nothing” prospect. Debbie and I have been on our smart home journey for 5 years now. I would recommend that privacy and security always be top of mind. Your goal should be to securely and privately measure as much as possible and develop systems to continually improve your homes.
As a homeowner, you should choose how the systems interact with your home — whether it be voice, physical switches, an app, or whatever tomorrow brings. Debbie and I are going a bit “all of the above” but we started with voice. Part of that plan was around a software-enabled solution as software enables rapid change and rapid change facilitates true innovation.
It’s looking like our floor plan design may be complete (finally). We have some last decisions to make on windows (for consistency in exterior look) but we’re ready to move on. Once complete I’ll post a copy of the floor plan for questions and comments as we’re always open to great feedback.
Next steps will be laying in the MEP — Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing. I’ve already done some initial work on the network design for the house to support all the planned technologies but I’m excited about getting the opportunity to do this with the final floor plan. The electrical planning will follow closely to support the standard needs but also the smart home foot print. Plumbing will be more independent for the most part but will include a little smart home integration of its own.
As always, Debbie and I love and appreciate the comments, DMs and emails about our project. Until next week …
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