Smart home technology has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years, and more and more self builders and renovators are finding ways of incorporating this tech into their everyday lives and new home’s infrastructure. A decade ago, you might have dismissed the concept of a smart home with fully integrated heating, lighting, security and audio visual as a fad. A well-designed and seamlessly integrated automation system, though, now has the potential to transform the way you interact with your property.
Smart home technology can broadly be divided into two categories – DIY smart home products purchased off-the-shelf and set up by the end user, and fully integrated (usually hard-wired) setups that require professional installation. Every house has at least a basic level of heating, lighting and security. Smart home tech, however, can give you maximum control over how the building runs – boosting efficiency and saving you money in the long-term.
Getting it right is all about integrating devices that will change how you interact with your property. “A real smart home should make life easier and give you more time for living rather than cluttering up your day with tech gimmicks you have to babysit,” says Philipp Schuster from Loxone.
From the key considerations to smart heating and whole-house automation, here we’re investigating how you can use smart home technology to design, build and specify a smart setup that works for you.
Broadly speaking, smart technology can be divided into several areas: audio visual, lighting, security, and heating/ventilation/cooling. You might cherry-pick just a few of these elements, or choose to bring them all together in one whole-house package.
When planning your smart home, start by considering who will live or lives in the property, both now and in the future, and what their needs might be. Think about how each person enjoys music or streams TV, for instance, who works or studies from home, what security provisions might be useful and what lighting controls are required. “Be clear on your objectives and essentials to begin with,” says Darren Palmer, director of sales at Baulogic.
Taking a room-by-room approach can be helpful. Assess how you currently use spaces and how your changing needs over the years might help shape your plans. Perhaps a downstairs playroom could one day be converted into a cinema room or home office?
It’s also useful to think about how different systems can be integrated alongside one another. For example, you might want a coordinated setup where automated blinds work alongside your light fittings to create pre-programmed scenes at the swipe of a button.
Learn More: Lighting Design: The Ultimate Homeowner’s Guide
DIY products can provide a useful entry-level solution into the smart tech arena. However, an integrated setup that coordinates various systems (heating, lighting, security etc) will pave the way for better connectivity and a more seamless experience that’s fully tailored to your needs.
The sooner you engage a professional to help plan this, the more efficient the results will be. At the early design stage of a project, an experienced smart home installer may bring ideas you might not have considered. They’ll also help you plan a system that reflects your aspirations and budget. “Plus, a seasoned professional will have done this sort of project lots of times – we know which brands are solid,” says Owen Maddock, smart home specialist and owner of Cinema Works.
Bringing a suitable qualified installer on board early means they can effectively plan what cabling needs to be fitted and where. For instance, most homes will not have wiring installed around the windows by default – but if you plan on fitting smart blinds, this is essential.
CLOSER LOOK How Can I Futureproof my House with Smart Home Technology?
Living at home for longer is a major factor for those investing in smart tech products and installations. Getting the infrastructure right is crucial for a flexible, reliable and future-ready smart home that’s capable of evolving alongside your changing needs. “All cabling should be CAT6 as an absolute minimum,” says Owen. “CAT6A is even better and higher bandwidth for future needs.”
Darren from Baulogic recommends going for a hard-wired system using the KNX open global standard. “This supports heating, security, shading and lighting,” he says.
It’s more cost-effective and less disruptive to install additional cabling at first fix stage, rather than having to retrofit it as and when you decide to add new functionality. “It’s very expensive after the build, as you’ll need a plasterer to follow on,” says Owen. Plus, you’ll be keeping your options open if you don’t have the budget to install all the bells and whistles you want immediately. Running the wiring for a state-of-the-art sound system during the first fix works is relatively cheap to do, for instance, and you can always install the speakers a few years down the line when your finances have recovered.
Many smart home specialists offer modular systems that can be easily added to over time. “We recommend a base package focused on entrances, the living area and landing, providing heating, lighting and security,” says Darren. “Baulogic can be built to fit within different budgets and to suit individual requirements.” Team that with future-ready cabling, such as KNX, and you’ll have the flexibility to adapt the setup over time. For example, even if you don’t envision needing automated blinds immediately, it’s always a good idea to wire in the cables to add these later on.
“When you consider the cost of a care home could be upwards of £1,000 per week, then spending £20,000 on a smart home that lets you live at home for an additional year is a great investment,” says Andy Moss, MD at Moss Technical. “A smart home can be flexible to your changing needs, so it’s important to think about the next five, 10, even 20 years.”
Think about how you can accommodate the brains of the system in the design phase – many self builders will already be planning to incorporate a fully-fledged plant room, for instance. “Your technology needs are likely to grow over time, so make sure that tech isn’t shoehorned in between electrics and heating in a too-small services cupboard,” says Owen. “Make sure it’s well-ventilated, too, or your equipment could overheat and fail earlier than it should. Allow for active cooling fans if you can.”
Don’t overlook the importance of reliable internet provision throughout your home, as this is crucial for many smart devices. When factored in from the design stage of your project, wires can be run strategically to ensure broadband is well distributed. Anything that can be hardwired to a network port, such as your smart TV, should be. This will free up the Wi-Fi connection for fully wireless devices such as phones and tablets.
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If you’re keen to take a fully integrated, whole-house approach, the broad consensus is that a wired infrastructure provides superior performance and flexibility. But wireless solutions do have their place – particularly if you want to add functionality to an existing home, but don’t intend to knock down walls or strip out floors to run cabling. The snag is that the more devices you have connected to your home’s Wi-Fi, the greater the potential for the system to slow down or freeze.
One way to alleviate issues around sluggish connectivity is to do away with your internet provider’s router and fit a more powerful model instead. Incorporating hard-wired access points (WAPs) will also deliver better connectivity than using Wi-Fi boosters. Released in 2019, Wi-Fi 6 is the gold standard for wireless routers and access points to distribute internet from strategic locations around the house. Wi-Fi 7 is currently under development and, while it’s not likely to launch until late 2024 at the earliest, some manufacturers have already announced routers and devices that support this standard.
Let’s take a look at the different kinds of of smart home technology and how you can incorporate them into your self build or renovation plans:
Smart home heating systems can help you maintain a close eye on energy consumption, essential with the current surge in utility prices.
Digital thermostats work alongside smart phones, watches and tablets, allowing you to manage your heating on-the-go. So, you can tap a button remotely to stop the heating from coming on when you’ve not come home as planned, or turn it off if you’ve left the house and realised you left the boiler going. You can also manage individual radiators and choose to zone temperatures, without having to go round every room and check the various thermostats.
Smart home heating controls can go even further than this, adjusting themselves as they learn about your household routine or checking in with the weather forecast. “Our Wave controller works intelligently with your boiler to only fire up at the power needed to reach the right temperature,” says Martyn Bridges from Worcester Bosch. “Features like this allow you to avoid wasting energy, and in turn help to cut your bills.”
You’ll also be able to fully understand your household energy consumption, and adjust any unwanted habits accordingly.
Read More: Can Smart Heating Save You Money?
The ErP (Energy Related Products) directive is an EU regulation designed to boost the performance of heating and hot water products, under which controls are rated into eight categories. Simple on/off thermostats start at class 1 and technology goes up to multi zone controllers categorised under class 8.
“A smart control with weather and load compensating features is a class 5 controller with potential for a 4% efficiency uplift,” says Martyn. “So, when your smart thermostat is combined with a high performance boiler, your central heating system could boast an impressive efficiency rating of 98% (A+).”
Specialist thermostats can work alongside various power sources and emitters, including renewable tech and underfloor heating. They are especially effective when it comes to achieving synergy between the different components.
“Our smart balancing system shows a 20% energy saving compared to a normal setup,” says David Playfoot from underfloor heating specialist Uponor. “Having an auto balancing system means it can react and compensate when thermostatic radiator valves are changed.”
CASE STUDY Complete Smart Home Control
TYPE OF PROJECT New home for a young family
SMART HOME SCOPE Lighting with dimming and presence detection; heating and ventilation; dynamic, weather-responsive blinds
The owners of this bespoke new build property in Southern Germany were looking to create a home with sustainability at its heart. The young family wanted complete building control, enabling them to achieve maximum comfort and functionality. They were quickly convinced by the benefits of the future-proof, internationally recognised KNX standard, which allows integration of applications and devices from multiple manufacturers.
Lighting scenes, smart and sustainable temperature control, and automated shading were top of the family’s wish list for their new home. They also wanted a robust system that’s not Wi-Fi dependent, as they were keen to ensure true building automation both now and in the future. The owners chose a long-time friend as their installer (to find an accredited KNX installer in the UK, log on to the KNX website).
Together, they specified a Theben system including KNX actuators for blinds, switches, heating appliances, ventilation monitoring and dimming – with presence detectors providing ultra-efficient lighting control. The blinds are complemented by Theben’s KNX weather station, which detects wind, rain, brightness, temperature and supports sun position tracking for fully automatic, dynamic solar control. Video monitoring and intercom door entry enhance security.
Each room benefits from simplified push button operation, so occupants can easily access pre-programmed scenarios via wall controls and handheld devices. Remote access functionality also enables maintenance service updates, reducing the need for future call-outs. The owners can send notifications to request changes or additional scenes, which can then be installed remotely and hassle-free.
The family are thrilled with their easy-to-use, flexible Theben KNX system. Highlights are the presence-dependent lighting controls and convenient scene selection – which includes a dimming sleep function that’s ideal for their toddler. The automated raising and lowering of the blinds improves solar control and energy management, delivering great value.
In the UK, a similar smart installation – including switching channels; blind, dimming and heating circuits; controls; weather station; visulisation; switches; outlets; door entry; and consumer unit – would cost around £25,000. The total electrical cost was around £60,000.
Whether it’s making sure you’ve got enough task lighting in the kitchen or the right ambience when you’re cosied up on the sofa, smart lighting systems can accommodate to any living scenario.
Zoning and layering are buzz words in the lighting world and smart home technology can help you to efficiently support these. Zoning refers to the particular placement of light, and layering refers to the combination of different sources to create the perfect set up. With these in mind, and with the help of smart home systems, you’ll be able to programme pre-set schemes to conveniently choose your preferred arrangement.
“A well-conceived design will use multiple circuits of lights,” says Iain Shaw from Brilliant Lighting. “Instead of twiddling multiple dimmers and having to remember what switch does what, you just press the button called ‘cooking’ or ‘dining’. It’s intuitive and practical.”
What’s more, with these options you can accurately tailor the level of required light to suit different moods or times of day. Sometimes a brightness level of 80% feels more comfortable than 100%, for instance.
“There’s no need for banks of switches and dimmers to achieve this; just an easy-to-understand keypad,” adds Iain. You can also integrate sensors so that the lights turn on automatically when you walk into a room. Using smart home technology to create a whole-house integrated system can mean pre-programming to set your ensuite bathroom lights to a low brightness overnight.
There are plenty of DIY smart systems out there that are great for creating fun lighting in individual spaces, but a whole-house smart home scheme is best left to a specialist installer. “A professional system requires a qualified installer to commission and set up, and the homeowner can then modify the arrangement’s behaviour as their needs change,” says Iain.
Prices vary, from smart home technology allowing you to control two or three lights available for under £100 up to whole house wired systems from £15,000 and more.
A smart home security system goes way beyond cameras. You can have sensors to monitor movement on doors, windows and around the garden, for instance. Keyless locks are fab for easy but secure access. You can even now fit a smart home with detectors for water leakage, smoke and mechanical failure of appliances – plus much more.
The great thing about smart home technology is that you can keep tabs on what’s going on at home even when you aren’t there. Some devices will allow you to answer a knock at the door via a screen when you’re away from the property, for instance, so whoever was calling doesn’t need to know that you’re not actually in.
“Only about 30% of reported burglaries in the UK are solved,” says Fred Potter from Netatmo. “The new generation of smart security cameras can detect unusual situations and automatically report any activity to the homeowner. This quick action means you can take the appropriate steps immediately, such as calling the police or triggering an alarm.”
These cameras can often distinguish between people, cars and animals as well detecting familiar faces, such as relatives, and may send you a notification letting you know who’s arrived.
“You can create customised scenarios to connect cameras to other smart home devices,” adds Fred. “For instance, you could activate an ‘arrive home’ function via the app or using Siri voice control to switch a floodlight on, unlock the door and power on the heating.”
Many security devices are fairly easy to install yourself, but if you’re after tech synergy with other smart gadgets in your home, you might want to engage the skills of a specialist. Modern smart cameras tend to start from around £200 each.
Wondering which product is your best option? Take a look at our Home Technology Product Finder
Smart home audio visual (AV) systems have been around for a while now, but it isn’t all about creating a home cinema and can actually be very accessibly priced.
“You don’t have to automate your entire home if your budget doesn’t allow; it’s possible to design a system that can grow with you,” says Phillip Pini from Crestron. “Consider everything you want to achieve and then prioritise.”
Multi-room audio will allow you to play different music in various zones and control the volume – even in the garden. Plus, you can integrate your speakers with security to interrupt the music when the doorbell rings.
You can have screens recessed with speakers discretely hidden in walls, and a TV in your bathroom to watch from the bath, for instance. You can even buy tubs with built in speakers and lights.
The options are endless, but the right setup for you is really down to your individual requirements, which means prices vary dramatically. “Every project is different and every solution unique to the homeowner,” says Phillip.