Home automation: those words conjure up an abode fit for James Bond which has been kitted out with every imaginable gadget and device that an international man of mystery would need. After all, it’s difficult to imagine Bond doing the dishes or setting the washing machine timer – hardly spy-work that. A Bond-worthy lair needs automated electronic control of appliances, household features and activities.
The popularity of home automation has grown exponentially in recent years. With most families now living a fast-paced lifestyle, automated homes take the pressure off tight schedules, long hours at the office or kids that need to be ferried to after school activities. Let’s face it: a home that runs itself simply makes life… simple. It leaves you with more time to handle the important business of living.
What is home automation?
Imagine a home where, with the touch of a button, you could dim the lights, start the coffee machine and even set the temperature of your home from a remote location. It’s no longer a thing of fantasy: smart homes are now a reality, writes Hazel Booth
Home automation refers to the installation of control systems for a range of components in the home including security, surveillance, lighting, appliances and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) that can be remotely or automatically controlled. So, after completing a meeting in Cape Town and you are en route to the airport to catch your flight to Joburg, you can remotely automate your home to ensure the temperature has been set, the lights are on when you arrive home and the lawn has been watered – using an app on your smartphone.
How does it work?
Home automation relies on software which connects via networks to a smart device. The average desktop, laptop or even tablet and smartphone can become the regulator of the functionality of your automated home. A touch of a button can adjust the temperature in a room, control the amount of sunlight by adjusting window shades or adjust the volume of your home entertainment system.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty: in order for that touch of a button on your PC to translate into the lights in your home being dimmed or the sprinkler system running from exactly 9:15pm to 9:45pm, you need sensors, controllers and actuators. If any changes occur in the home – for example, temperature, sunlight or motion – the sensors will relay that information to the home automation system. Your desktop, tablet or smartphone will act as the controller which can send and receive information on the status of the automated features installed in your home. Actuators are motors, light switches or motorised valves which control a particular automated feature.
Which features can be automated?
Lighting: Set lights to turn on when you enter a room or turn off when not in use. Presets can also create ambience or to turn lights on before you arrive home in the evening.
Home security: Should your house alarm go off, you can check the rooms with a glance at your tablet or smartphone and reset the alarm. Get real time text and email alerts if something is wrong. There is also the option to include child or pet monitoring.
Appliance management: who wouldn’t want to wake up to freshly brewed coffee and the TV already tuned to the morning news? You can preset appliances to run at scheduled times to suit your needs.
Disaster management: Monitor not only for fire hazards, but carbon monoxide levels as well.
Entertainment system control: with just the tap of a button on your smartphone, you can dim the lights, cue the playlist on the sound system and turn on the TV when your guests are about to arrive.
Thermostat control: set the heating system to come on at certain times to ensure your home is warm during the coldest parts of the day.
Irrigation: Pre-set the timer on your sprinkler system to ensure the most efficient water use.
Data: You can stream HD video and see the latest series online.
Window covering controls: Shades can be timed to open just after your morning alarm has gone off, or should you be away on holiday to open to allow enough sunlight to reach indoor plants while giving the impression the home is inhabited.
What about a smart bedroom, one that is designed to ensure you get the best night’s sleep through technology? Originally developed to protect and provide comfort to astronauts on the NASA space programme, Tempur mattresses offer a feeling of weightlessness by conforming to the contours of your body. They also give total support to your body without any counter pressure and encourage optimal blood flow through the body by removing nerve pressure. The Tempur range of adjustable base systems are technologically designed for Tempur mattresses and at a flick of a button allow you to raise your head, body or legs via remote control in order to relieve pressure on both your body and heart. It also improves circulation within your body!
In other words, you can automate almost everything… except your children.
Building with home automation in mind
Should you be building a home, consider installing a home automation system. Alternately, should finances or time constraints not allow for it now, design your home in such a way that an automation system can be integrated seamlessly at a later stage. For this purpose, ensure that conduits are installed throughout the house during building to connect all the rooms. It’s best to use a larger conduit as the minimum diameter needed would be 25mm but in order to connect different floors or make use of HDMI cabling (high definition multimedia interface), you will need 32mm – 50mm conduits.
What about sustainable living?
Today the average South African consumer is bombarded with messages about sustainable living – being kinder to the environment, utilising resources in an ecologically smart manner. How does that tie in to a home automation system, which, at first glance may seem to be the hedonistic privilege of a wealthy few? Consider this: a home automation system can reduce your energy and electricity consumption, you can schedule certain appliances to run during off peak hours for electricity usage; irrigation systems can be timed in order to reduce water consumption; energy smart lighting and temperature control can be scheduled to switch on and off at the most economical times and your home automation system can meet the needs of your lifestyle. Ultimately, this means more rands in your pocket at the end of the month.
What are the benefits of home automation?
Home automation goes further than keeping up appearances or outdoing your neighbour who insists on buying the latest gadgets every month. Through installing a home automation system, you will enjoy peace of mind knowing the security on your home is boosted and you will be notified immediately of any changes to the system. By being able to create ambience and control temperature, you can entertain guests effortlessly – before they even arrive, your lighting and music will be pre-set and the focus can remain on the time spent together. Added to this, you will save not only on labour, time and materials but also on your electricity bill at the end of the month, too.
Who can do the installation?
Get your friends around a braai and ask about builders and invariably the conversation will turn to builders who did shoddy work or charged an exorbitant amount for the job. You can avoid that pitfall. If you are looking for a reputable company to install a home automation system for you, then consider using a Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) accredited company. CEDIA members adhere to a strict code of professional conduct and ethics and are properly licensed. For a list of CEDIA accredited home automation companies in South Africa, see below or visit www.cedia.org/find-a-cedia-professional
CEDIA Accredited Installers:
- 4ward-design: 17 Prince Street Gardens, Cape Town, Western Cape 8001, 021 467 9100
- Audio Visual Designs (Pty) Ltd, PO Box 1185, Lanseria, Gauteng 1748, 011 782 1231 or 011 875 2293, www.audiovisualdesigns.co.za
- BNC Technology, 16 Skeen Boulevard, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2008, 011 023 7662, www.bnctechnology.co.za
- Cinema Architects, 63 Voortrekker Street, PO Box 3869, Vereeniging, Gauteng, 1930, 016 455 1000, www.cinema-architects.co.za
- Intello Home, La Lucia Mall, Shop L57, 90 William Campbell Drive, La Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, 4051, 031 572 3498, www.intellohome.co.za
- Smart Lifestyle, Unit 33, Buena Vista Office Park, Cnr Durban & Kendal Roads, Durbanville, Western Cape, 7350, 0861 762 784, www.hometheatreshop.co.za
- Smart Spaces, 12 Oxbow Crescent, The Estuaries, Century Boulevard, Century City, Western Cape, 7750, 021 551 0645, www.smartspaces.co.za
- Sphere Custom, Ste. 1, Queens Park Studios, 16-24 Queens Park Road, Salt River, Cape Town, Western Cape, 7925, 082 903 4344, www.spherecustom.com