If you’ve ever had to rush back to your house to check you’ve switched the water off, or turned the heating out, you’ll appreciate a smart home.
Remote controlled appliances mean your white goods can be monitored from anywhere, cameras connected to your phone let you fawn over your pets whenever you fancy, and voice assistants give you a helping hand about the house.
What is a smart home?
The term 'smart home' is used to describe a house that contains a communication network that connects different appliances and allows them to be remotely controlled, monitored and accessed, according to the Department of Trade and Industry.
Smart devices connect to the internet and many have smartphone apps allowing you to access and control them remotely over wi-fi.
It’s becoming easier to connect an entire home too. Broadband is faster, more reliable and more affordable than ever before. The improved signal range of Wi-Fi routers means that a single router can offer wireless coverage across more rooms in our homes, allowing more devices to be connected.
What's more, low-priced networking equipment has made it cheaper to extend home networks into rooms that were difficult to cover using just a single Wi-Fi router. Even previously difficult properties, such as older homes with thick walls, can now benefit from a home network that covers the entire property.
What can a smart home do?
Using the technology within the house, you can control and see what is going on in your home, even when you’re not there using a smartphone, tablet or sometimes computer. For instance, if you’ve just got a couple of brand new puppies and want to ensure they’re behaving themselves, you can install a home camera that allows you to check in on your pets whenever you want
There is also the potential to make a big difference in the cost of your utility bills, as now there’s no need to burn money by forgetting to turn the heating off when you leave for work. By monitoring your heating, water and electricity, there’s far less chance of a large bill sneaking up on you.
Smart homes can also protect the most vulnerable in society. Some devices can trigger an alert if an elderly person fails to take their pills, falls over or is behaving outside their normal routine. The University of Surrey has created 'living labs' to test how this technology would help people with dementia.
How to create a smart home
You can make your home smart by installing a network that enables you to connect your appliances and devices, or you can buy individual products that link to your phone.
A popular smart home device is a voice assistant, a personal helper that lives in your phone, tablet, speaker, streaming box or other internet-connected device. Amazon Echo and Google Home are the two most prominent products in this sector.
Another popular bit of tech is a smart thermostat that allows you to set the heating to turn on before you come in from a freezing winter day.
What are smart home products?
For watching your pets’ every move smart security cameras connects to your home wi-fi network and lets you stream video from it to almost anywhere in the world. Its motion detection allows you to see if there are any big changes going on in your house.
To see, hear and speak to anyone at your door from your smartphone, tablet or PC, try Ring Video Doorbell. Installing the doorbell and the app allows you to get instant alerts when a visitor comes to your door and means you will never miss a parcel delivery again.
Google Home and Amazon Echo are both voice-activated personal assistants that allow you to search the web, listen to news, get traffic updates and more while you go about your daily household activities.
Do smart devices connect to each other?
Smart home devices can also work together. Nest’s system includes a thermostat and the Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide detector, and if the latter detects a carbon monoxide leak, it will communicate with the thermostat to turn the heating off.
One of the most popular new phenomena is smart speakers or ‘assistants’ that respond to voice commands. Amazon Echo lets you speak to Alexa and while Google Home’s housekeeper has no name, she too will do your bidding.
Alexa and Google Home also work with smart home gadgets made by other companies. Using their voice, Ford owners can lock/unlock their car doors, Philips Hue users can dim their home lights or Nest owners can adjust the thermostat temperature.
All is not lost, though, because a free service called If This, Then That (IFTTT) allows you to set up automated rules that combine smart devices from with apps and information, like weather reports or your phone’s location. IFTTT works even if devices aren’t designed to work together: your smart heating can switch on when you leave the office; or switch off if there’s an open window.