Introduction – or what makes a home smart

How can this practical guide help you?

I’d like to begin by saying that this blog does not approach the concept of intelligent homes from a technical perspective. I’d like to offer you a little help by showing you how functional descriptions should be taken into consideration so that what you get at the end, is NOT a haunted house but a home that works in accordance with your wishes.

The things described in this blog should be used to ensure that

  • the contractor does not take you for a fool
  • the contractor can see whether the system to be introduced is suitable for the job
  • the contractor can decide whether he/she can fulfill your requirements
  • you do not pay two-three times as much as planned for the system programming
  • you will not tear your hair out a few months after the system is set up, and your significant other will not move out saying the smart home is more irritating than helpful

Sensors

Just like for any other job, appropriate tools are necessary for setting up a smart home. In our case, these tools are the sensors. Without sensors, the home is not really smart, as processes and events are usually tied to changes. You can think of sensors as ingredients for cooking. If you only realise retrospectively how it should have been done, your dish may turn out inedible and you may need to start from scratch.

Sensors/inputs not linked to particular rooms:

  • light sensor(s): their job is to tell you the intensity of light measured in lux. For houses, north-facing light sensors are recommended to control lighting, and south-facing ones to control shading. North-facing sensors in the shade give you a steady light intensity reading, while the south-facing ones can trigger the shades should the sun come out unexpectedly. If you use south-facing sensors to control lighting, even the last rays of sun may be detected by the sensors as bright enough to keep the house unlit. For apartments, semi-detached and attached buildings, the outdoor sensor should be installed wherever it gets the most sunlight.
  • wind sensor: if a sudden storm hits, the wind sensor prevents the window from breaking by lowering the shades. It also prevents the sunshade from being torn off the wall.
  • power outage sensor: (can be a simple magnetic switch) the home’s smart features only operate with power. For this reason, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is strongly recommended to bridge power failures. If the UPS is used for more than emergencies (for example for emergency lighting), a signal must tell it which light is to be turned on during a power failure and which isn’t.
  • precipitation sensor: to control sprinklers/irrigation systems

Sensors/inputs to be used in every room:

  • presence sensors: they differ from motion sensors in that they detect smaller movements such as breathing. Before buying, always test their operation in a quiet space, because they emit a clicking noise due to their relays continually switching on. The types with lower noise levels are more expensive… If possible, their sensitivity should also be tested (do they really detect breathing or do they need to be waved at? and what is their range?).
  • temperature sensor: can be used to control heating but may also come in handy as a fire alarm (it’s strange for a room to have temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius). In order to control the shades, outdoor temperature sensors should also be used. After all, if the weather’s cold but the sun is shining, you can save some energy you would use for heating.
  • water sensor: pipe bursts can cause significant damage; a water sensor can shut off the main valve immediately upon detecting a water leak. But you should inform your cleaning staff about the sensor, because mopping the floors with plenty of water may falsely trigger the system.
  • door and window sensors: despite what you may think, these are not only good for intruder detection. For example, it’s good if the system can tell from the open patio door that you’re on the patio, and the automatic shades do not lock you out when you’re working on your tan.

Coming up next: avoiding hidden problems; things to know about networks; switches…