Home Renovation Blog: Choosing How Smart our Home Should Be

Choosing a smart home setup for your project will mean an investment at the time you carry out your project. As Georgia Betts renovates her home in West Sussex, she discusses what type of smart tech the family wants
by Georgia Betts
30th August 2018

If scientists in the future ask for volunteers to have part of their brain replaced with a microchip, my husband would be first in line, waving his hands, shouting “me me me”. Synthetic biology is his dream – to be able to start the car by just thinking about it, to imagine a cup of coffee and have the machine start brewing, to project a Terminator-style map in front of his eyes as he drives. Sean really does believe technology will save us from ourselves.

His passion for tech has impacted our plans for the renovation and extension of our West Sussex house, Oakview. He wants smart lighting, smart heating and a three-phase electrical supply. He even wants an oven we can switch on remotely so chicken nuggets and chips are ready for the kids as we arrive home after a day out. Sean sees only the good in technology, and he’s willing to accept the frustrations when things go wrong as well as accepting the initial outlay investing in the hardware.

We are different beasts, my husband and I. Whilst I don’t advocate an Amish lifestyle (although I could get used to it if I lived with a young Harrison Ford!), I do hanker for a simpler life – with less stuff, less tech, less complication.

You see, I am the smartest thing ever created. As a human, I have these amazing opposable thumbs that allow me to turn an oven knob. I’m built with incredibly sensitive temperature sensors embedded in my body that can tell me if the room I’m sitting in is too hot or cold. There is a light sensitive layer of tissue in the retina of my eyes, which monitors light levels, sends a signal to the iris to adjust the size of my pupils, so I can, magically, tell if I need to switch a light on. Smart? I’m frigging unsurpassable.

The opening from the original house to the extension is starting to take shape
We used insulation board to mock up a dining table

Discussing smart tech for our house is a hot potato, and we’ve both had to make compromises.

We are going to install smart heating via our water-based underfloor heating system controlled automatically by Heatmiser thermostats. I recently watched Gerard Butler’s environmental disaster movie, Geostorm, on a flight and, with this summer’s heatwave fresh in my mind, I have decided that temperature control is paramount!

Finding the right balance for our family

Our smart lighting plans haven’t been so smoothly agreed. In our last house my husband put in smart light bulbs, and even I, the doubting tom, had to admit it was great to be able to press one switch and have an ‘evening’ lighting scheme of three lamps and a dimmed pendant come on instantly.

In our new home, Sean wants to go further and install smart switches – which are more cost effective in the long term, as bulbs have a shelf life.

However, I’ve struggled to accept the money involved. Installing a smart home setup is a sizeable investment of a few thousand pounds to encourage the sedentariness of not getting up from the sofa to switch a light on – £££ in to lbs! 

In the end, I’ve given in and we’re going to use a product not even launched in the UK yet.

Den is the invention of teenage tech entrepreneur Yasser Khattak, and it promises smarter, safer homes – not only will the lights automatically switch on if you get up to use the toilet in the night, it can also remotely turn off an iron that’s accidentally been left on. Den makes big promises, but only time will tell how smart it really is.

The underfloor heating boards are easy to install
Once laid on the floor, the underfloor heating pipes simply have to be clipped in

Getting on with the job

On site, progress has slowed over the past few month as we all wait for the windows to be delivered. There has been a six week delay at the Ideal Combi factory in Denmark which has hit our schedule and budget hard.

We’re very lucky to have a team of the nicest builders who have accepted the delay with good grace, and we’re all looking forward to the end of the week when the windows arrive and we can crack on.

The underfloor heating system on the ground floor is finished. I never thought I could be so pleased by a manifold system, but just look at it – it’s a work of art!

Georgia_Betts_manifold_underfloor_heating

I never thought I could be so pleased by a manifold system

Our electrician Dean, from DW Supreme Electrics, and his team have been working long days to get the many hundreds of meters of wiring in place. We created the electrical plan for him many months ago. With hindsight, we should have spent more time thinking through the detail – it would have saved us changes and money.

I’d urge anyone approaching a build to think through the electrical plans early on – where is each socket going, which switch controls which light, where will the fuse box be placed etc. It’s dull I know, but essential.

Our new roof is now finished, it’s a mix of 40% reused tiles and 60% new tiles – handmade from Poland and a good aesthetic match. The larch cladding will arrive on site on Wednesday. The next few weeks are going to be exciting; finished articles arising from the rubble – windows, plastering, cladding, the polished concrete floor, and of course, our smart lighting and heating systems.

It occurs to me there are two trends that run in opposing parallels. The rise of ever smarter, ever more complex technology and the trend for a simpler life – slow cooking, mindfulness, hygge.

Curiously, both are designed to make our lives simpler and easier. I wonder though if a simpler life can ever be delivered by objects or processes, no matter how clever or how slow? I think a simple life comes from inside and that, to a degree, it can be encouraged via one’s surroundings.

I hope our house, once finished, will offer us a calmer life – with big warm rooms, nature brought inside, comfortable sofas stacked with plump cushions, bookcases piled with stories and poems to escape in to. These, surely, are the smart things.

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