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A Smart Home is not a daunting proposition, even if you are not a particularly technically minded person. It is just your normal average house with some added home automation technology systems to make your life more comfortable, more secure, more energy efficient and to give you enhanced entertainment options. A properly set up system usually requires less technical ability to run it than that required to use a car GPS, as it will have been specifically programmed for ease of use.
Many people will read ALL the things that can be done and decide it is too much for them. As they don't need this or that done, they think the Smart Home Automation is a waste of money and not for them. What they may not understand is that Smart Home concepts are not an all or nothing endeavour, but rather the approach is more synonymous with how you decorate your home, adding parts over time to provide a rich interoperable tapestry of the systems you need or desire. Whether you choose to buy and implement many of the 'more advanced' Smart Home concepts or not is a personal choice for you.
To try to demonstrate this point and to describe some of the possible concepts of a Smart Home, I will tell you about the systems I have installed into my house and how I use them daily. In another article I will tell you what a 'fully enhanced' home installation would provide. Metaphorically, my house has systems to provide a 'Holden HSV' level of home automation, but the later article describes the 'BMW 7 Series' system. But all levels of installation are possible to suit your requirements and budget, continuing the metaphor, everything from a 'Diahatsu Charade' right through to a 'Bugatti Veyron'. The most widely purchased Smart Home concepts are also usually the best value offerings, so there is no reason not to getting started down the path.
A Normal Autumn Day
The day starts early for my house as it prepares itself for the comfort of its residents, being us.
As we are getting towards winter now, the home automation has started turning on the underfloor heating system in the main bathroom on the coldest days, which is welcome in the early morning. It does not keep the floor warm all day, but rather, turns heating on an hour or so before the normal use times and lets it drop back to a more ambient temperature at the other times of the day to conserve energy.
During the summer months our sun blinds have automatically been deploying for the start of the day to keep the heat and bright light out of our living spaces until the sun is higher in the sky, reducing cooling requirements. But as winter approaches and we want that extra 'free' warmth inside, our inside translucent blinds are now down early in the morning whilst the exterior sun blinds remain retracted, bringing the welcome heat inside whilst still providing privacy and brightness control. Controlling the heat and cold interactions between inside and outside the house can save lots of energy during summer and winter seasons.
Whilst many clients enjoy being woken by their smart house audio system being programmed to start music fading up or window furnishings opening at the wake up time they set, I prefer to just wake up using my trusty iPod dock clock radio. This highlights the personal choices and modular aspect of Smart Home technology; you don't HAVE to use it for everything.
Coffee's made as the system has warmed up prior to us being in the kitchen and is ready when required. The kitchen home automation touch screen displays the latest weather information, news headlines and all the newspapers at the touch of a touchscreen button. Inside and outside temperature is displayed as well as the pool temperature and days forecast. Probably a bit cold to swim today at 21 degs, but the pool solar should bring it up during the day so perhaps this afternoon.
The pool solar system is programmed to watch the temperature of our outside balcony to discern sun heat availability, and only starts the pool solar system re-circulating water when the water returned to the pool exceeds the pool temperature. If the sun disappears or the return water gets cold with a passing shower, the pool solar stops to save energy and not cool the pool rather than warming it like straight time based systems can do. The smart home automation pool system gives useful swimming temps into late autumn.
Pool filtration is programmed to run automatically decreasing in period toward winter, to dose chlorine and acid automatically (using an automatic chlorinator) and to minimise power use by running the pump during the lower electricity cost shoulder and off-peak tariff periods.
Of course, the technical side of any automation programming is done by your home automation installer, not requiring you to be a particularly technically minded person just to operate the systems. I can turn all the different pool pumps on and off manually from my touch screen should I choose to, but it usually has the big touch screen buttons marked 'Auto Pool' and 'Auto Solar' depressed taking care of it all automatically.
Blinds start to retract after 10am, and though this could always be done automatically, when at home we prefer to use the wall switchplates to set the blind positions ourselves and of course all blinds can move together to save time. The external sun blinds have been programmed to automatically retract should it get overtly windy at any time to avoid damage. All in all, blind control is a manual / auto mix which is our programmed preference over fully automatic.
When we are at home during the day, the internal house temperature is monitored by the home automation system, and during summer and winter the air conditioner keeps the rooms at the right temperature. Our air-conditioners are an older style of unit, but are still easily controlled and 'modernized' by our house system running them, so each area can turn on or off heating or cooling via local wall switches, thermostat or touchscreen controllers.
The home automation touch screen that we use the most is the one in the kitchen particularly favoured by my wife. Not only does it support full control of all the house smart automation systems like lighting blinds, heating/cooling and pool, it also provides additional features such as access to the latest news and weather, full internet browsing and searching, email, live internet radio, live digital HDTV, and photos, music and video from our networked media server, security camera viewing and retrieval, live energy efficiency information, calculator, calendar and an electronic shopping list.
For entertainment, digital music or radio stations are accessible and controlled by touch screens in most areas of inside and outside the house, and are served from a centralized media server on the home network. All areas can play from alternate sources simultaneously should different family members want different programs and all areas can control their local sound parameters.
Towards the evening, the house system knows when it is sunset all year round, and so the lights in primary areas of the house are set to start dimming up slowly to keep light levels more or less the same during the day to night transition. No running around flipping switches!
Lighting in the house is run at about 80% most of the time and areas that are not used are off or dimmed unless we enter those areas. This decreases lighting power used by close to 20% and increases the halogen bulbs life significantly. If you need more light for a job it is also helpful that you still have some additional brightness available. Our touchscreens display current energy use in KiloWatt Hours and so we can minimise energy use by dimming lights and switching off appliances and see the results immediately. Our power bills dropped by about 15% just by adding this 'Energy Smart' section to our touch screens display.
Utility areas like the bathrooms are serviced by home automation occupancy sensors which automatically switch on the lighting upon entering the area when it gets dark. It switches the light off after you leave. The sensors also control the extractor fan throughout the day and the system is programmed so short stays need no fan but longer stays do, and very long stays get extended fan time and increased fan speed. Very practical and Smart! Of course, the fan and lights can also be operated normally if you wish or if guest are around. Later in the evening, lower intensity lighting on the walls is used automatically rather than the brighter downlighting used in the early evening.
Inside blinds drop automatically and subtle lighting changes occur to provide privacy in the bedrooms and some other living areas just after dinner in preparation for family time in the living room. Towards the end of the evening, lights very slowly dim further to sooth weary eyes. Several lighting scenes are set during the evening as the family flows from kitchen to dining then to living areas, moving from utility to ambience.
Our full library of video, music, photos and other streaming media is available from all touch screens, notebook PCs, tablets and smart phones and in the evening is used extensively in the combination home theatre / living room to augment the FoxtelIQ TV system from an attached DLNA media player. A DLNA media server provides access throughout the home wired and wireless network.
At the end of the night, a final push on the end of night button beside the bed shuts down remaining lighting, sets ventilation to the required mode and resets the home systems for the day ahead.
When we go away on holidays, I hit the 'Away from Home' mode button on my home automation touchscreen, which fully automates the inside and outside blinds, and the interior lighting to simulate us being at home for security reasons. We feel secure when we are away from home as we have a video surveillance system linked to the home automation system. We have a back to base alarm system also integrated into the house system with phone and GSM dialing in the event of a break in. The House automation systems can automatically turn on lights should movement be detected whilst recording the event for future viewing and notifying us via smartphone. We can look at any 'alarms' triggered via the internet and get also emailed the footage.
If I arrive at my holiday destination having forgotten to switch on the 'Away from Home' mode or if something wasn't set right, no problems. I can control the whole automation system from my phone or notebook via the internet, as well as checking the internal and external surveillance camera system for any events. This is far better than the 'Lock and Hope' system we previously relied upon.
Another great feature we installed was an uninterruptible power supply for the home automation system, predominantly on the lighting and control system side. We are in a area with quite bad power and for the last few years have been having 4-6 blackouts per annum ranging from several minutes to one of 8.5 hours. When the power goes off, we are the only house in 2-3 square kilometres with electric lighting. All dimmers and the home automation control system functions normally and we can still use the energy smart readout to tell us how long we have on battery which allows us to further reduce energy consumption to extend that period.
I hope you have enjoyed a day in the life of my Smart Home and Home Automation system and can see some areas where the concepts may help to enhance your lifestyle also. Remember, with Smart Home Automation, you can start small and build as you can afford to cover new automation concepts each integrating with your existing Smart systems. This is how we started and haven't looked back since.
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