The Ultimate Smart Home Automation Guide
Everything there is to know about Smart Home Automation
Smart Home Automation systems allow complete control of your home while home or away – providing convenience, comfort and security. Most home automation systems come complete with some form of Artificial Intelligence – for example a Nest thermostat knows what time it needs to switch your heating on to get the home warm before your alarm clock goes off – learning if rooms with underfloor heating take longer to warm than rooms with traditional radiators. The Nest even detects when you leave the home by integrating presence detectors from smoke alarms (Nest Protects) with the heating. A few years ago this would have seemed incredibly futuristic! To give you a better idea of what is available in the Smart Home arena we will describe the most important developments, starting with the benefits and progressing with details of the most cutting edge systems. If you are interested in updating your home and living in the future this is the right place to start!
Top 5 Benefits of a Smart Home Automation System
A home automation system should primarily offer convenience – whether it is easily controlling your heating or having the ability to listen to music in the shower. Control should be easily achievable via an in-wall touch panel, remote control or tablet and phone. In addition to convenience the benefits don’t stop there.
1 – Energy Saving and Convenience: By monitoring when the home is occupied and interlinking electrical systems huge savings can be made. Imagine when leaving the home your heating system drops the house temperature, ensures all AV is off and switches the lights off. All this is simply achieved by setting the house alarm on exit. Every element is configurable so the outside lights can revert to coming on and sunset (to provide a secure pathway from the car to the front door) and internal lighting can even replay the last two weeks activity to give the impression the house is occupied (one of the easiest ways to deter burglars and increase security). Fully controllable heating (and air-conditioning, if required) can allow precise control of each room ensuring rooms are only heated when needed as well as having warmer en-suites than bedrooms. Guest rooms can have set points pre-defined between two values ensuring thermostats aren’t ramped up and then forgotten. Monitoring via central touch-panels and mobile devices allows guest rooms to be pre-warmed before guests arrive. Integrating heat recovery systems even allows us to take air from south facing rooms warmed by the sun and distribute it to colder rooms – effectively free heating!
2 – Control Anything Eletrical: With the Internet of Things (IoT) lots of manufacturers are allowing control of specific electrical systems – for example Nest Heating and Philips Hue lighting – the problem is getting these different elements to talk together. A well designed home automation system can control anything electrical from the heating and lighting to more obscure elements such as saunas and steam rooms. Imagine being able to switch on the sauna to pre-warm as you do the last ski run of the day!
3 – Energy Monitoring and Control: Energy is expensive and the bigger the home the higher the risk of wastage. Smart Home systems allow homeowners to see at a glance where energy is being used – where are lights left on? Where is heating set higher than necessary? In addition to centralised control of devices a Smart Home system can perform actions at set points of the day or in response to certain conditions – for example lowering the blinds in south facing rooms rather than using air conditioning to cool the rooms. You can even allow south facing rooms to “over heat” extracting the warm air from these rooms and distributing it to colder areas of the home. In a recent project Custom Controls enhanced the standard air conditioning system to switch off when a set point was reached rather continuing to blow cool air, a simple solution which saved the client huge amounts of energy when factored over many the many rooms of a sprawling home. Integration with renewable energies allows preset events to happen when energy production is highest, for example routing energy in to hot water immersion heaters, pre-heating en-suites or ensuring the pool is at the correct temperature. This pre-emptive approach to energy management ensures your home is running as efficiently as possible.
4 – Home Security: Security is a huge issue for lots of families nowadays. A security system should provide complete peace of mind whilst being unobtrusive. Our systems are fully monitored by a central monitoring station and also include perimeter protection. As soon as you open the gates to drive in the central station views your cameras to ensure a safe entry in to the home and then disconnects once the house alarm is unset. An intruder in the grounds is picked up by motion detectors and the monitoring station uses speakers to inform the trespasser that they are being viewed and recorded. If necessary the police can then be called. This approach ensures intruders don’t even reach your home before being dealt with – a much better solution than a standard security system where an alarm may only sound once an intruder is inside the home, the alarm itself often causes panic and confusion.
5 – Peace of Mind: All the above subsystems work in harmony to ensure complete peace of mind. For clients with multiple properties or those who travel extensively being able to view the property via CCTV and being able to monitor and control the home remotely is fantastic. The security system is fully monitored providing a virtual butler and providing the same reassurance as the house being occupied.
The great thing about home automation is it’s flexibility – you decide how much automation you require. Systems which fit one home won’t suit another. Luckily a Crestron system is modular so elements can be chosen which suits your needs and requirements. We have listed the most popular elements below, in the order we think they should be considered:
Lighting Control Systems: Automated Lighting for Homes
Lighting is the most important thing for a home. It can make or break the aesthetic of a room, it’s not called mood lighting for nothing! The convenience of whole home lighting control allows things like a switch by the front door to switch all lights off when exiting but lighting control really comes in to it’s own on a per room basis. A well installed Lutron or Crestron lighting system allow all lights in a room to be switched and dimmed by a single button press, allowing different lighting for different activities. A proper lighting design ensures the best interior and architectural features are highlighted whilst adding atmosphere to the space. Control and calibration of the scenes is easily performed via a tablet or phone allowing clients to sit in their favourite chair, adjust the lighting to perfect levels and then save it to a button a lighting keypad by the door. This approach ensures perfect lighting at all times and means you don’t need to waste time setting lights every time you enter a room.
We work with the best manufacturers available, such as:
- Crestron Lighting
- Lutron Lighting
The two manufacturers above offer hardwired solutions for new build properties but also offer wireless retrofit solutions which work standard UK wiring. There are also a number of retrofittable systems which can easily be installed by home owners, they don’t offer the same functionality (and costs can quickly add up) but they are a great starting point. For example:
- Philips Hue
- Rako Lighting
Window Treatments: Automated Curtains & Blinds
All of the main lighting control manufacturers have solutions for automated curtains and blinds. Electric window coverings can seem like an extravagance but pressing a single button on a lighting keypad to close and open window coverings is extremely easy and has the benefits of not touching handling delicate fabrics. Advanced scheduling can also close blinds at sunset ensuring privacy and a single button press can control multiple window coverings at once, closing all the blinds on windows facing the street for instance. We often install multiple coverings at each window – voiles for privacy in the day, black out blinds for night times and curtains to close over the top. All of these window coverings are easily controlled by lighting keypads or touch screens throughout the home.
Pros and Cons of each solution
Lutron is one of the most respected and longest running lighting control manufacturers on the planet. They offer a very powerful lighting control system but don’t do audio video or heating controls – they do one thing very well. Crestron offer a similar approach to lighting but also offer control of anything electrical and it is for this reason they are our go to lighting controls manufacturer. Philips and Rako are customer installed (Rako needs an electician!) systems which offer less functionality and configuration but can be an excellent starting point in to the world of lighting control. Most people retrofit in to one room of the home and then realise who useful a lighting system can be. Both Lutron and Crestron offer reliable and powerful wireless solutions which can be retrofitted and probably make more sense when considering a whole home lighting system.
It is also worth noting that the Crestron and Lutron solutions have more flexible dimming systems allowing easy and reliable dimming of LED lamps and strips. In fact with these systems any type of lamp can be switched or dimmed, with the cheaper systems specific types of lamps must be matched to the dimmer to ensure reliable operation. As an example this project in Wimbledon benefits from a full retrofit Crestron wireless solution and also Crestron LED lamps throughout the expansive home.
Multi-Room Audio Video: Home Entertainment Systems
The best approach to multi-room audio video is to centralise audio video sources and make them available anywhere in the home. This allows clients to enjoy the same video sources such as Sky TV and Apple TV in the bedroom as the living room – we even create user profiles so your recording and favourites follow you round the home. Audio sources work in the same way so no matter which room of the home you are in your favourite radio station or Spotify playlist is only a button press away. We even install Mirror TV’s in bathrooms which allow clients to catch up with the news whilst getting ready in the morning or watch their favourite TV from the night before whilst reclining in the bath. A quick button press can even send the same audio to the dressing room or bring on the master bedroom TV to the same source so you dont miss a single note whilst working your way through the master bedroom suite! Integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Home ensures even if you climb in to the shower half asleep you can switch the system on by a simple voice command.
The main players in the multi-room audio video market are:
Both of which allowing fully customisable and powerful solutions. There are a number of easily installed retrofit solutions for audio only:
- Amazon Alexa
- Google Home
Amazon Alexa and Google Home are voice enabled devices which is a great way for control in bathrooms and kitchens – Alexa is even integrated in to the newer Sonos players. The Crestron and Savant solutions offer the same functionality (when professionally installed) as the Sonos so rooms can be grouped together or play independent audio streams. The advantage of the Crestron and Savant approach is any source can be integrated so internet radio, iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud join Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Sky Q to ensure anything a client wants to watch or listen to is instantly available! For true movie lovers there is also an option which builds on the Apple TV approach for movies – Kaleidescape. A Kaleidescape system stores your Blu-Ray and DVD films and allows instant playback anywhere in the home at exactly the same quality as the disk. Of course, nowadays everyone streams content but this comes with limitations and compression on both audio and video. Kaleidescape also have an on-line store which allows better than Blu-Ray quality downloads – full 4K HDR video with Dolby Atmos – you can really tell the difference when watching in a dedicated cinema room or living room with large TV!
A great example of a full Crestron system is this project in Dubai which benefits from a very full integration.
An Integrated System for your Home: Artificial Intelligence for the Home
Due to the flexibility of a Crestron system there are numerous ways to approach a system design. In addition the centralised approach above we sometime retrofit systems in to properties. A great way to get a similar effect for video is to install Apple TV and Sky Q receivers behind TV’s with a small Crestron processor – this allows easy control of all video sources even when adding in complicated surround sound receivers. Pressing “TV” on a remote control or iPad switches on the TV, Sky Q and, if fitted, the surround sound amplifier.
Our favourite Audio Video elements are listed below:
- Autonomic MMS – A stunning digital audio server with multiple outputs. This server allows your digital music collection, iTunes, Internet Radio and Spotify to be enjoyed in any audio zone.
- Apple TV – For clients with iPhones and Apple accounts this can be a great way to get high quality video in to the system. The new 4K version also provides a stunning picture!
- Surround Sound – We approach this in a number of ways from under TV sound bars to in-ceiling speakers. The approach varies on a room by room and project to project basis but all provide stunning surround sound which is vastly superior to TV speakers or lifestyle systems.
- Video Distribution – The absolute best for residential video distribution is Crestron Digital Media – it is hugely flexible and powerful, every room feels like you have the source in the room.
- TVs and Projectors – We have a number of options for TVs from the likes of Samsung, LG and Sony Professional. Which one gets specified comes down to aesthetics, size required and warranty. Sony Professional can be specified with a next business engineer for 5 years which is hugely valuable from a support point of view! For projectors we tend to specify Sony as the value for money is great and they perform brilliantly, often outclassing projectors at the double price point!
A great example of a multi-room audio video project is our London Kensington project.
Door Entry, Intercoms and Security Alarms: Secure Your Home
Bigger homes with electric gates benefit from full intercom solutions – visitors to the gate ring all the touch panels in the home with video windows and two way communication. When the home is unoccupied then the gate can ring out to selected mobiles allowing communication even when away from home or or on the grounds of the estate. The same intercom system can even be used inside the home with it possible to call a specific person on a room to room basis – essential for larger homes. Staff can be paged when required and messages to all rooms can be relayed to announce the arrival of a car for instance. Integration with security systems can automatically divert visitors to mobiles when the alarm is set and access can be granted no matter where in the world clients are – proving extremely handy for maintenance. Regular visitors and family members can be granted access through the gates by caller ID from mobiles, allowing a simple phone call from designated numbers to open the gates.
Unsetting alarm systems can automatically switch lights in the home to preset scenes during the hours or darkness and lights can be automatically switched off when the alarm is set. External lighting can be automatically switched on and off in response to sunlight or to a pre-defined schedule, increasing security and making sure the home looks at it’s best.
Home Wi-Fi and Internet Connectivity: Reliable Home Networks
The modern home needs fast and reliable internet for hardwired and wireless devices. Homes in the country and homes in cities have particular challenges whether the issue is internet speed or wifi coverage. We have a number of solutions available to ensure great internet speed, not just relying on ADSL speeds, which can be poor in remote areas. We install load balancing technologies which allow multiple internet feeds to co-exist and be presented as one fast connection. Types of internet connection vary on a per project basis but we regularly combine ADSL / Fibre connections with 4G mobile solutions and Satellite connections with different technologies handling different types of traffic.
Home Wifi can be a tricky thing to make reliable and fast, particularly in big cities where interference from neighbouring properties can be high. We install fully managed Wifi solutions with central controllers which allow networks to auto optimise – they constantly monitor the wifi network and change channels and individual access point outputs to ensure a rock solid network. The same controller also monitors client devices, ensuring they are always connected to the nearest access point and allowing seamless roaming throughout internal and external spaces. High Capacity access points, and underlying wired infrastructure, ensures a fast connection regardless of the number of devices on the network at a given time. A common request is also for a child specific network which can have restricted internet access and also be scheduled to only be available at specific times – so children can not surf the internet from devices at night.