Smart homes made simple

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Make your house work for you with Caroline Rodrigues' guide to home automation
Audio visual AV equipment for home cinema

Want to come home to a warm, bright house, with your choice of music playing, the lighting set just to your liking and a home-cooked meal simmering in the oven, then settle down to enjoy your favourite film? Today’s must-have gadgets and home automation systems allow you to set up and control all of this by remote control, touch screen panels, computers or smart phones. And the best part is that they can be linked together seamlessly. “The most popular requests are for audio-visual throughout the property, but climate, lighting and security control are commonly part of the mix,” says Matthew Tillman from Tillman Domotics.

Self build projects are ideal candidates for home automation, since all the wiring and cabling can be installed at first fix stage. For renovation projects, replastering will be needed to hide them all. “The best time to include an AV system is from right at the beginning of a new build project, but it is possible to incorporate it into a project that is halfway through, as well as completed buildings,” says Robin van Meeuwen, VP of sales and marketing at Crestron International.

Always ensure your installer belongs to The Custom Electronic and Design Installation Association (CEDIA); its members agree to adhere to a strict set of principles and are properly insured. “This means you don’t have to worry about a job being completed to anything but the highest standard,” says Gary Lewis, CEDIA’ s chairman. Expect to pay anywhere from £10,000 for a one room media system, and from £20,000 for a whole house system, but the sky’s the limit. See our ‘three focus’ on boxes for some detailed examples.


Instead of listening to music stored on your hard drive through small tinny computer speakers, you can use wireless broadband and the latest audio equipment to stream music from your computer to listen to all over the house. Choosing DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatible components is key to successful streaming.

If your family has eclectic tastes, a multi-room audio system could be the answer. Family members can listen to the radio, internet radio, web audio services such as Spotify, CDs or music files from networked PCs whenever they like without disturbing each other. Try NuVo Technologies Music Port Elite (MPS4-E) unit, which can consolidate, organise, store and distribute PC-based audio content, using ‘cloud synchronisation’.

Smart TV

If you still see your TV as only good for news and soaps, you’re really missing a trick. Smart TVs are internet enabled and can use your home broadband connection to access online entertainment, video clips and favourite photos, all operated from your remote control. If you don’t own a Smart TV already, you can still enjoy internet TV by using a network media player and your home broadband with a wireless router.

Samsung’s UE55ES8000 3D Smart TV, for example, has surpassed the remote, responding to your spoken command or the wave of a hand to change channels or volume. And to upgrade the sound quality, the trend is for sound bars – modern unobtrusive speakers that can sit below your set. “They improve the viewing experience by producing a rich surround sound, making the TV sound as good as it looks,” says John Kempner, buyer for vision at John Lewis. Try Panasonic, Bowers & Wilkins or Yamaha for cutting-edge sound bar technology.

Home cinema

For all the fun of a trip to the movies while staying home, set up a home cinema system. This typically comprises a receiver and Blu-ray player as well as a subwoofer and multiple mini satellite speakers, ready to connect to your 3D TV. Or for the full experience, set up a screening room where, at the push of a button, the lights dim, a screen and projector drop from the ceiling and the evening’s entertainment begins. Contact CEDIA to find installers.


Hi-tech controls can take care of your heating systems monitoring temperature and seamlessly adjusting warmth, ventilation and air conditioning to create a comfortable atmosphere. A wireless control, such as the Honeywell Hometronic can be set up to manage just the radiators and hot water, or heating and cooling, lighting, security and blinds, all from a ‘Hometronic Manager.’ This uses an LCD panel to control up to 16 rooms (available from Sensible Heat). If you fancy cooking on an old-style range cooker kitted out with the latest technology, consider the iTotal Control Aga, (pictured left), which can be operate remotely using an app.


By automating your lighting, you can adjust the mood for a party, then wake up gently the morning after as the lighting comes on gradually to emulate the sun rising, and the blinds open automatically. “Ask for a preset system so at the touch of a button all the lighting effects are perfectly set to suit daytime, early evening, late evening and night light,” says Sally Storey, design director at John Cullen Lighting. A one-room system controls four to six lighting circuits from a panel which can be inserted flush into the wall. For whole house systems, lighting circuits can be wired to a ‘rack’, with discreet control plates in every room. A centralised system can be linked with audio visual and security systems, but this should be installed from the outset.

Consider wireless and remote-control options and include energy saving controls to turn off lights after you have left a room. Find whole house solutions at Lewis Electrical Solutions and find out more about the popular Philips Dynalite control systems at

Stay safe

Having built your new home, a great way to protect it is by using advanced technology, rather than a comparatively old-fashioned bell alarm. “Of the many options available for modern security systems, the most popular is CCTV, and there is a wide variety available,” says CEDIA’s Gary Lewis. For example, Sensory Secure uses an Xtralis system to create a virtual boundary around the property (from £600 for a two camera motion display system). The latest schemes include infrared lighting and external PA systems working alongside CCTV.

Monitoring devices can use phone lines, mobile networks and broadband connections to alert the authorities in the event of a disturbance. Again, always ensure that your installer is a CEDIA member and SSAIB accredited (the official certification for security service providers).

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