Smarten up

As smart home systems enter the mainstream, Dean Reddy of ABB advises housebuilders what to look for when considering smart building technology.

Home automation is growing rapidly in popularity. A recent study by management consultancy McKinsey found that the global market for such systems has grown 31 per cent over the past three years and is expected to see explosive growth. Advances in technology mean that smart home systems are now available to the mass market, giving more homeowners than ever before the ability to control heating, lighting, curtains and even doors with their smartphones.

For housebuilders and developers, smart home systems can add significant value. They can also make properties more desirable to buyers due to their potential to save energy, along with enhanced controls that can add an air of luxury to a home.

What do you need to consider?

Before investing in a smart home system, housebuilders and developers should consider several factors.

Firstly, what functions do potential buyers want and what systems provide this? Home automation can include control of lights, heating, blinds, air conditioning and door communication from anywhere in the world.

Not only can these be controlled individually, but occupiers can also create scenes, for example ‘movie night,’ where lights are set low and blinds closed, or a ‘morning scene,’ where the bathroom and breakfast room are already warm when you get up in the morning. Some systems are geolocated to automatically adjust lighting, temperature and curtains to the times of sunrise and sunset. It is important to know the options available and the abilities of the system you’re investing in.

Secondly, how easy is the system to install and use? In the past, smart home systems called for specialist contractors with in-depth knowledge. Nowadays, a new generation of systems is available. These are designed to be quick and easy to install, conducted by electrical contractors rather than specialists. This has significantly reduced the cost and complexity of installation.

Once installed, a straightforward handover to homeowners is important to minimise the need for ‘hand-holding’. This means that developers and their contractors can shift their focus onto the next project.

To achieve this, occupiers should feel confident, controls should be easy to understand and support should be easy to access if needed.

Thirdly, home buyers may want to add new devices and functions in the future so it’s important to ask how future-ready the system is. Does it have the ability to adapt and grow without significant rewiring? Will the manufacturer continue to offer support and add new functions and devices in coming years?

Clarendon Homes

Clarendon Homes, a housebuilder and developer based in Kent, gave a smart home system a trial on a development of 14 three to five bedroom detached houses after a suggestion by its electrical contractor, Darren Faulkner.

Having attended a half-day training workshop in Kent, Faulkner had the confidence to carry out the installation across the entire development of 14 houses in little more time than would be required for a normal project.

The system can integrate up to 64 mart home devices, which is ideal for properties with up to five bedrooms. It is commissioned on a tablet app or laptop, where the contractor uses simple drag and drop controls to create a house layout and position smart home devices inside it. Not only is it intuitive for electrical contractors to install, but it is also easy for customers to pick up using a similar controller app via their own smartphone, tablet or over the web. Some products allow you to control lights, blinds or curtains and heating from an app with just a swipe of a finger or through voice control.

Reporting on his experience of installing the smart home system for Clarendon Homes, Faulkner found that the handover to home buyers went smoothly, with new homeowners able to understand the system quickly and able to access support through a help button.

Following the success of the trial project, Clarendon Homes gave the go-ahead to roll out smart products across all of the properties in their portfolio.

Energy saving and wow factor

Other housebuilders are also seeing the benefit of smart home systems. For example, in Poland, smart products were a key selling point for the developer of a new housing project called Ossowska 85 near Warsaw, featuring 24 homes. The energy savings and lower bills were a differentiator when selling the homes and the products also gave a ‘wow factor’ during viewings.

Developer Maciej Piorkowski was impressed with the systems’ fast installation, which saved valuable time during commissioning, an important factor for projects where cost control is a priority. He said the products offered him “a modern and cost-efficient home automation solution that can promote as a key benefit of the homes.”

A wireless future

Smart home technology is evolving fast, so it’s worth knowing about recent additions and future trends.

One manufacturer’s update is a wireless product that can be used to extend existing schemes or deliver new projects without the need for re-wiring. Security is a top priority for the wireless version and to support this, each installation has its own randomly generated encryption key.

Another recent innovation in smart systems is the addition of a weather station, so that homes can adapt to the weather automatically.

Voice control has already been added to many systems, and in the future gesture control will allow occupants to change light settings with a sweep of their hand.

As our world and homes become more integrated with technology, it is important that smart home technology matches home buyers’ expectations of functionality and ease-of-use, and that systems should be able to grow with the needs of buyers.

Dean Reddy is ABB’s product marketing manager for building automation