Have you ever wondered if you turned down the thermostat or locked the door when you left for work that morning? While it would normally take a trip back to your house to check the door, you can now check the status of door locks, thermostats, lights, and other systems in a smart home via a mobile device.
What are Smart Homes?
When appliances, utilities, and security systems are controlled remotely from other rooms in the house or via a computer or mobile device, that is a smart house or a home automation system. Any electronic device or anything that uses electricity can be added to a home automation network and controlled by the system.
Having a home network is like having a remote control for the entire house, not just a single device. Practical applications of home automation technology began in the mid-1970s, about 15 years before Microsoft made home and office computers easier to use.
A company in Scotland called X10, which is still in business, was able to create a way for devices to communicate over the electrical wiring in a house. Appliances, electronics, and other products acted as receivers and devices like remote controllers or keypads were the transmitters.
The transmitters use numerical code to control the electrical products in a home. It is done by:
- Sending a message to the system that a command is being sent.
- The identification number that tells it which device is going to receive the command.
- The code for the command is received by the appropriate device to operate it.
Prior to the prevalence of home networks, many tech-savvy individuals created their own systems, but companies like Monsanto, Ford, and Microsoft also created home automation systems.
Home Automation History
In 1957, the “Home of the Future” was created for Disneyland by Monsanto. At the time, the agribusiness company had a plastics unit, and the home was an interpretation of how houses would work in the future, which was set in 1986.
Since the project was sponsored by a plastics company, all the surfaces, dinnerware, fittings, and cabinets were made from plastic. The main advantage of using the material was its light weight, which made automating the house easier.
The futuristic home featured:
- An ultrasonic dishwasher.
- Hands-free telephone devices.
- A smart sink.
- Shelves that were able to rise into the ceiling.
The exhibit was popular and attracted over 20 million visitors during the ten years it was open.
The Xanadu Homes
After the company X10 was able to show that home automation was possible in 1975, Bob Masters, an architect from Florida, began developing Xanadu Houses in Kissimmee, Florida. The houses began being built in 1979, ironically not far from Disney World as Kissimmee is close to the location of the theme park.
Masters built the houses using rigid foam insulation and shaped them like domes. Along with being a model of energy efficiency, the houses were advertised as “The Computerized Home of Tomorrow” due to their automation.
The houses were run by Commodore computers and would be able to:
- Turn appliances on or off from another room.
- Use computers to prepare meals at a set date and time.
- Monitor of the health of the home’s inhabitants.
- Manage alarms, the home’s calendar, and provide weather updates.
- Teleshop for groceries and pay for them using a payment system.
- Recommend meals for occupants age, weight, and height.
- Manage an automated security system.
- Keep track of electricity usage via a central computer.
- Grow food in an indoor garden.
Although 1,000 homes were to be built, the technology became outdated before the planned community could be completed. However, three houses were built in Kissimmee, Gatlinburg, TN, and Wisconsin Dells, WI. Unfortunately, all three homes were eventually demolished.
Microsoft Home Automation
The software giant Microsoft came up with an idea for a smart home in 1999. The house, which was operated by the Windows 3.11 operating system, was an accurate prediction when compared to modern home automation systems.
The house featured:
- A tracking system that could locate people.
- Voice recognition software to call people on cell phones.
- A web TV that could show cable and internet programs.
- A barcode scanner to place items on a grocery shopping list.
- A PC that fits in a pocket.
Here is the television ad promoting this technology to consumers. The Microsoft Smarthome never took off, but their vision of the future has come to fruition.
The technology exists to track people via their smartphones. Voice recognition software allows phone calls to be made and internet searches to be conducted, and devices can be turned on or off on command. Web TV also exists, as does pocket, or tablet, PCs.
Modern Smart Home Devices
If you want to automate your home, you don’t need to be tech savvy as they are offered on a monthly subscription from cable or security companies, or you can have one installed by purchasing home automation systems from companies that make them.
There are two options for home automation systems: wireless and hardwired.
A wireless home automation system is less expensive, and some of them are activated within moments of installing them. Most of the devices for an automated system are “smart” devices, such as televisions, appliances, or a home’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system.
Most home automation systems allow you to plug-in a device and add it to the system so that you can operate or monitor it in your home. There is usually a control panel in the house and an app you can add to a smartphone or tablet to control it remotely.
Wireless systems are operated with Wi-Fi routers, mesh Wi-Fi routers, or with Bluetooth. When the systems were introduced, it was difficult to operate them in large homes because their coverage wasn’t wide-ranging. Fortunately, that issue has been resolved by newer systems using mesh Wi-Fi routers.
Wireless mesh systems can cover about 1,000 square feet so that you can operate devices in different rooms of your home. If the TV is left on downstairs, you can turn it off from your bedroom, or you can turn on the coffee machine from an upstairs bathroom while getting ready for work.
The main advantage to having a wireless system is its portability. If you sell your home, you can take the system with you and set it up in your new house. If the network’s components are incompatible due to being made by different companies, the problem is easily resolved by connecting to the best smart home hub.
What is a Hub?
A hub is a device that receives data from the components in a home automation network. They then transmit the data to the correct system to operate it. The hub allows for the operation of different components within the home network despite who made them.
An app on a smartphone or tablet PC can operate a hub. An example of a hub is the Amazon Echo or Alexa. Some of the devices that can be added to the hub include:
- HVAC systems.
- Home entertainment systems.
- Appliances like refrigerators, coffeemakers, or stoves.
- Security systems.
- Door and window locks.
Some home automation systems are connected by a console in the house by hardwiring them into the electrical system. An electrician should install this type of system to ensure it is done correctly and safely. The main advantage of a hardwired system is that there is less radio frequency interference.
However, a hardwired system is permanent, so if you decide to move, you cannot take the system with you. The systems are also more expensive to install and can cost between $3,000 to $15,000. Wireless systems are much less expensive, and subscriptions cost about $35 to $70 per month.
Some hubs use the cloud to send requests to the devices in your home. So, if you wanted to turn off the lights, you would send the request to the motion sensor, which would send it to the hub. The hub would transmit it to the cloud, which then would transmit it back to the hub, and finally to the lights.
The commands can sometimes take longer to respond due to glitches in the system. Some companies who used the cloud to fulfill requests are now creating hubs with local control, which sends requests directly to it. It provides for faster responses because the request isn’t transmitted to the cloud and back. The Wink 1 hub used cloud technology, but their second version, the Wink 2 hub, allows for local control.
Smart home automation allows users to save money on their energy bills by programming the thermostat to lower the temperature when no one is home. It can provide for better security by remotely locking your doors or windows when leaving for the day, and you can monitor activities in your home, such as checking up on your children, through security cameras.
If you’re interested in a home automation system, search for available services in your area.