What is a Smart Home and how does it work?

A smart home uses internet-connected devices to enable remote monitoring and control of appliances and systems, such as power (switches & sockets), lighting and heating.

A smart home is not disparate smart devices and appliances, but ones that work together to create a remotely controllable network. All devices are controlled by a master home automation controller, often called a smart home hub. The smart home hub is a hardware device that acts as the central point of the smart home system and is able to sense, process data and communicate wirelessly. It combines all of the disparate apps into a single smart home app that can be controlled remotely by homeowners. Examples of smart home hubs include Amazon Echo, Google Home and Samsung SmartThings, among others.

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Smart home technology, also often referred to as home automation or domotics (from the Latin “domus” meaning home), provides homeowners security, comfort, convenience and energy efficiency by allowing them to control smart devices, often by a smart home app on their smartphone or other networked device. A part of the internet of things (IoT), smart home systems and devices often operate together, sharing consumer usage data among themselves and automating actions based on the homeowners’ preferences.

In 2012, SmartThings Inc. launched a Kickstarter campaign, raising $1.2 million to fund its smart home system. Following additional funding, the company came on the market in August 2013 and was acquired by Samsung in 2014.

More recently, companies including Amazon, Apple and Google have released their own smart home products and domotics platforms, including Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit and Google Home.

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Smart Home Benefits

One of the most touted benefits of home automation is providing peace of mind to homeowners, allowing them to monitor their homes remotely, countering dangers such as a forgotten coffee maker left on or a front door left unlocked.

Domotics are also beneficial for the elderly, providing monitoring that can help seniors to remain at home comfortably and safely, rather than moving to a nursing home or requiring 24/7 home care.

Unsurprisingly, smart homes can accommodate user preferences. For example, as soon as you arrive home, your garage door will open, the lights will go on, the fireplace will roar and your favorite tunes will start playing on your smart speakers.

Home automation also helps consumers improve efficiency. Instead of leaving the air conditioning on all day, a smart home system can learn your behaviors and make sure the house is cooled down by the time you arrive home from work. The same goes for appliances. And with a smart irrigation system, your lawn will only be watered when needed and with the exact amount of water necessary. With home automation, energy, water and other resources are used more efficiently, which helps save both natural resources and money for the consumer.

However, home automation systems have struggled to become mainstream, in part due to their technical nature. A drawback of smart homes is their perceived complexity; some people have difficulty with technology or will give up on it with the first annoyance. Smart home manufacturers and alliances are working on reducing complexity and improving the user experience to make it enjoyable and beneficial for users of all types and technical levels.

For home automation systems to be truly effective, devices must be interoperable regardless of who manufactured them, using the same protocol or, at least, complementary ones. As it is such a nascent market, there is no gold standard for home automation yet. However, standard alliances are partnering with manufacturers and protocols to ensure interoperability and a seamless user experience.

Examples of smart home technologies

Nearly every aspect of life where technology has entered the domestic space (lightbulbs, dishwashers and so on) has seen the introduction of a smart home alternative:

  • With smart security cameras, residents can monitor their homes when they are away or on vacation. Smart motion sensors are also able to identify the difference between residents, visitors, pets and burglars, and can notify authorities if suspicious behavior is detected.
  • In addition to being able to be controlled remotely and customized, smart lighting systems, such as Hue from Philips Lighting Holding B.V., can detect when occupants are in the room and adjust lighting as needed. Smart lightbulbs can also regulate themselves based on daylight availability.
  • Smart thermostats, such as Hive and Nest come with integrated Wi-Fi, allowing users to schedule, monitor and remotely control home temperatures. These devices also learn homeowners’ behaviors and automatically modify settings to provide residents with maximum comfort and efficiency. Smart thermostats can also report energy use and remind users to change filters, among other things.
  • Smart TVs connect to the internet to access content through applications, such as on-demand video and music. Some smart TVs also include voice or gesture recognition.
  • Using smart locks and garage-door openers, users can grant or deny access to visitors. Smart locks can also detect when residents are near and unlock the doors for them.
  • Pet care can be automated with connected feeders. Houseplants and lawns can be watered by way of connected timers.
  • Kitchen appliances of all sorts are available, including smart coffee makers that can brew you a fresh cup as soon as your alarm goes off; smart refrigerators that keep track of expiration dates, make shopping lists or even create recipes based on ingredients currently on hand; slower cookers and toasters; and, in the laundry room, washing machines and dryers.
  • Household system monitors may, for example, sense an electric surge and turn off appliances or sense water failures or freezing pipes and turn off the water so there isn’t a flood in your basement.