“Smart House” is a relatively new term, but it’s something we’ve been promised for a long time. Like the flying car, the House of Tomorrow has been the coming thing since the post World War II boom in automation - a house that knows when you’re cold, what time the sprinklers should come on, if there’s an intruder trying to get in and if you’re out of milk (it’s always milk).
Elements of the smart house have been around for a while – security systems, lamp timers, programmable thermostats – but these elements have finally been linked together in practical systems available to the average homeowner.
Lighting - Different systems offer different options, but most can take on the basic lamp timer and scale it up to take on all the lights in a room (including hardwired fixtures) or entire house. It can also dim the lights to set the mood in one area and leave them bright in another.
Sprinklers - That timer function can also handle your sprinklers, but with everything connected to the internet it’s not just the timer regulating them. The system knows the weather conditions and can adjust accordingly.
HVAC – Smart thermostats are the first of these systems that have built in Artificial Intelligence. You don’t program it. Just use it like a regular thermostat - it learns your patterns and then takes over for you, setting the appropriate temperature for when you get home or go to bed.
Security – More than just a burglar alarm, smart systems monitor your home, lock and unlock your doors, offer you access to cameras via computer or mobile device, detect leaks in your plumbing or smoke or carbon monoxide. They can also admit a plumber to the house on a temporary basis to fix that leak.
Robots – You heard me. Technically, any self-operating machine that takes the place of a person doing labor is a robot, so your smart house is a robot. But that’s not what you’re thinking. The self-propelled, self-recharging vacuums and sweepers are the first widely successful personal robots, and now they can be integrated into your smart house system.
Where to Get Started
The technology has advanced to the point where you don’t really need it, but it’s practical to use and get in on the ground floor. Of course you could jump in with a full smart house system, but that’s an expensive investment. Since all the features can operate independently, start with one and build on it if it’s working for you. Which one?
Assess your home and lifestyle to see what applies best to you. If you work at home, leak detection sensors are no better than listening for a drip you can hear from your desk. If you live in a mild climate, a smart thermostat may be too much computing power for you. On the other hand, this might be the perfect way in if you’re in a place where adjusting the thermostat is a regular need. Pick something that you’ll actually benefit from. Many of us already have at least one lamp on a timer, so a smart system that takes over for that is a simple toe in the water. It can be as basic as one LED bulb you can program with your smart phone.
Each of these various features can operate independently, typically controlled by a hub, but the interconnectivity of the elements is increasing. Why is there WiFi in your fridge? Now it’s little more than a novelty. But soon your appliances will be talking to each other, creating what’s known as “The Internet of Things.” Your thermostat doesn’t just know what temperature you like, it knows when you’re home. If it knows, the fridge knows, and since they both know what the weather’s like (from your sprinklers) the thermostat can compensate for a hot summer day and the fridge can decide to make more ice. This is all without you programming anything.
But the internet of things extends outside your home. Not only does it make more ice, it knows you’re low on beer and it orders more. And the frequency which you make that same order means your beverages have already been moving toward you through the supply chain, before the order’s even made. These are all predictable developments that are technically already possible, but as our smart homes learn more about our habits and needs via our habits, our browser histories and what apps we’re using, the possibilities for what’s over the horizon are as hazy as predictions about the telephone 100 years ago, only coming much faster.