Smart Home case study: the living room

Lighting: some basic concepts

Before we start discussing what options you have to automate your room, let’s look at some basic questions regarding lighting.

  • colour temperature: to put it simply, this means how “white” or “yellow” white light is. You can find a lot of reviews and marketing materials on this, but there’s only one sure-fire way to test it: using your own two eyes under appropriate light conditions. Practically, this means that if you check out something during the day, it’ll surely look different at night. You should aim at having at least similar light conditions in the trial room to what you’d like to have at home. Another typical source of colour temperature problems is when you buy products from different manufacturers and at the end they just don’t go together. This isn’t just about going to the store and buying a particular type of lightbulb of a particular brand. You should also think about, for example, that the carpenter also uses built-in lights in your furniture. Has anyone checked the colour temperature of those lights before the furniture was assembled and installed in your home??? It’s so irritating when your nicely designed light-composition is ruined by a strip of LED lights with a different colour temperature built-in your custom-made furniture.

  • controlling light intensity: make sure to check what kind of light intensity controls your house automation system will work with. You may be able to avoid some unpleasant surprise later.

  • direct and diffused light: if possible, you should only use direct lights for the ceiling and the reading lamps. With a little piece of cloth, you can easily turn a direct light into a diffused one. Direct light is disturbing even when dimmed because it shines sharply from a single point.

But let’s get back to discussing the living room. The living room is the Jolly Joker of rooms. For this reason, some of the functions can be controlled independently instead of as part of a set everyday scenario. Let’s go through these functions and then at the end, you’ll see whether programming complex scenarios in the living room makes any sense at all.

Lighting scenes

Lighting scenes reflect mood. I wouldn’t recommend more than 3-4 lighting scenes; nobody remembers more than that. (For example, watching TV – minimal light; Normal lighting with moderate light; I’m playing Lego and it needs a bright spotlight; Night time – floor lighting’s enough.) You can set your lighting scenes using a variety of the following light sources:

  • chandelier: “the crown” of the living room. It’s more for decoration so it’s almost always on. For this reason, it should have a dimmer switch.

  • lamp brackets: you should make sure that they provide diffused and not direct light. Picture lights also belong here.

  • floor lighting: used in stairwells, hallways and as night lights. I’d like to emphasise again that these shouldn’t be shining horizontally or upwards. They should be of minimal intensity, as dim as possible. I would have used phosphorescent paint for this purpose if it had been possible.

  • additional ceiling light: the main purpose is to increase brightness in spaces that the chandelier’s light doesn’t reach.

  • recessed ceiling lights: these are usually hidden behind gypsum plasterboard panels. Nowadays, colour LED strip lights are often used this way. If you plan on using them, you need to take into consideration that LED strips aren’t infinite in length. Anything longer than 5 and 10 meters must be put together from several strips.

Ventilation

The living room is where you entertain, and if you have a lot of people there, you may need to use the ventilation more intensively. The “party” setting for the ventilation can’t really be synchronised with the lights settings. You can have many people over for a friendly gathering or for an epic New Year’s Eve house party. So ventilation should be controlled separately with a manual switch. You can automate this by having CO2 sensors to monitor air quality.

Multimedia

Multimedia, or “we’re watching television”: current smart home systems increasingly support standards that have long been used for multimedia systems, allowing to control several appliances with a single remote. You can rest assured that your gadgets work together well, but the smart home, not so much. What causes the problem? The problem comes from the fact that smart homes are universal systems, and they must meet a number of requirements beyond standards with respect to user interfaces. In plain language this means that a well-designed remote control still beats any smart phone interface. So if you don’t want to waste time dinking around every day when you want to watch TV, and if you want to remain on speaking terms with your significant other, then stick to the old, universal, tried and tested remote control that comes with multimedia systems. (Logitech’s remote controls are also pretty good if you want to replace multiple remote controls with just one.) It is how the old-school remote control could tell the smart home to dim the living room chandelier because you’re watching TV. The solution comes from the fact that remote controls almost always handle infrared signals. This means that through an IR gateway, the remote can tell the smart home that the TV is on, so the system should switch to the “watching TV” mode.

Everyday scenarios in the living room

I’m watching TV: this is a scenario that should be programmed in the living room, because here several things should happen at the same time:

  • multimedia systems (TV, player, amplifier) turn on

  • if you use a projector, then the projector screen drops down and the projector turns on

  • if needed, the room is darkened (blinds or curtain)

  • lights that aren’t needed are turned off (including most of all the one that is reflected in the TV screen), and the lights are set to minimal. Of course only if you need any light at all – after all, at 11 am you’re unlikely to need any lamps in any season.

  • the music playing in the multiroom system is turned off

I’m not watching TV”: this scenario should be the default setting for your living room.

  • lights should behave in accordance with the time of day

  • the shading should adapt to the movement of the sun but closing blinds should not lock you out when you’re having a drink on the balcony (for example, a sensor for door opening should block the blinds)

Extra tip:

  • the chandelier should automatically control the additional ceiling lights. If the chandelier is set to close to maximum brightness, that means you want lots of light in the living room, so additional ceiling lights can automatically turn on.

Coming up next: the bedroom

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