In New Zealand the smart home movement is growing. (1) A 2015 survey by home automation and security company Vivint found that one-third of all New Zealanders have added some form of smart home automation technology to their home, mostly to control heating, lighting, or security.
What is a smart home?
Smart homes have an ecosystem of appliances and systems that communicate via WiFi or Bluetooth. This is also called the Internet of things (IoT), as they don't necessarily require people to control them.
If every appliance in your house was smart you'd be able to see if the laundry was finished, monitor your electricity usage, set your security alarm, see if you were out of milk, unlock the front door or see whether you left the lights on at home, just by looking at your smartphone.
Your smart house would also automatically respond to you – it'd turn on the lights and the heating/air conditioner when you were coming home by tracking your movements via your smartphone or fitness tracker. It'd cook your meal to perfection every single time, open your windows when it was nice outside, and have your coffee waiting in the morning.
This sounds futuristic, but in fact, all these technologies are possible. The missing link is full automation, but you can still do all of these things with DIY smart appliances and a smartphone.
DIY smart homes
Most smart homes in New Zealand are made up of interconnected DIY smart appliances, which are controlled via your smartphone.
The big advantages of DIY smart home automation are cost and flexibility. You can pick and choose the smart IoT devices that are most important for your lifestyle.
Some common things that currently utilise smart technology are entertainment systems, kitchen appliances, security systems, heating and cooling, washing machines, dryers and lighting.
How can I get a smart home?
While new homes are being built with WiFi enabled access in mind, if you want a connected system, you can retrofit using something like the Trust Smart Home wireless automation system, which doesn't require rewiring.
Or you can use DIY smart appliances in isolation without any extra costs.
Solar smart homes
With a dramatic decrease in prices over the last ten years, PV solar panels and storage batteries (cells) will play a part in the future of home automation systems. Read our article about solar power here.
Currently, fully installed residential PV solar plans from Genesis Energy range from $5,240, to $13,990, including GST, depending on the size of the system (this includes a discount for Genesis Energy customers). See our options here.
Smart home security
Smart security systems work over WiFi and are accessible via your smartphone.
They range from simple systems like Morepork by Spark. A simple DIY option, you can install it from $498 and monitor it yourself on your smartphone for under $30 per month.
Right up to fully monitored systems, like ones from Vivint that can also unlock your front door via WiFi – useful if you've got a courier parcel that needs to be delivered when you're not home.
The advantage of smart appliances is that you can operate them remotely over a wireless connection from anywhere in the world.
They can save time – for example, you don't need to go and check your Samsung smart washing machine, just let your Smart Control app tell you when it's done. (Though convenience comes at a cost, in this case around $3500 RRP for a 9 kg front loader washing machine.)
Smart appliances can also save energy. These include things such as ventilation systems that adjust to their environment, monitoring the temperature and opening and shutting windows accordingly.
Or thermostats that adjust to lower power rates and subtle changes in usage (like Google's Nest learning thermostat - popular in the UK, US and Canada, but not yet available in NZ).
Or fridge compression systems that adjust automatically in response to how full your fridge is.
One of the latest smart fridges is the Samsung Family Hub™.
It automatically detects what's in your fridge, warns you when things are going off and prompts you to order fresh supplies. With the fridge's three in-built cameras you can monitor the contents of the fridge from anywhere in the world on your smartphone.
You can even programme the fridge's giant touchscreen to play your favourite radio station when you get up in the morning, programme it to use food ordering apps, and link it to your automated lighting system so the kitchen lights flash when you're running out of milk.
It's not cheap, though. Prices start at USD $5,799.99. It's set to be released in NZ shortly.
Some smart device DIY options available in NZ now
At $159.99 the Apple iDevices Kitchen Thermometer is a fraction of the cost of a smart oven, which retails in the thousands. It doesn't have all the features of a smart oven, but it does tell your smartphone when your meal is cooked to perfection, and you can monitor up to two dishes at a time.
The Pebble Air can enable any brand of non-smart heat pump to be controlled by WiFi for around $275 (RRP). Very convenient if you have kids sleeping and manually checking or adjusting the control could wake them.
The Phillips Hue, connects up to 50 light bulbs via WiFi. These are adjustable to over 16 million colours. They're interconnected energy saving LED bulbs, with a 15-year lifespan, and can controlled via an App on your smartphone. They're $279.99 for a starter pack and extra bulbs cost $89.99.
A very simple and cheap DIY option to remotely control appliances is the Belkin WeMo switch. For around $60 they simply replace your ordinary switches and can be turned on and off via WiFi.
Do smart homes save money?
Some smart home automation systems are designed to save money on electricity, like the econnexc. The system costs around $2,400 plus GST, and can be installed by any electrician. It saves power by scheduling key appliances, for example hot water cylinders, heated towel rails and heat pumps. It also monitors items like TVs, audio systems and chargers, and switches them off when you're not at home.
While some smart systems and appliances can save you money on electricity as they are more energy efficient and give you more flexibility to control them, overspending on an automated system could be a false economy.
However, we are firmly in the age of the Internet of things and there is no doubt that a degree of home automation is our future.
Smart home technology of the future
Smart Power Grids
In a smart grid, power is priced on the basis of demand. This information is immediately transmitted to smart thermostats, smart meters, and smart appliances. They are programmed to take the power they need at off-peak times, when it's cheapest. This could make running costs much cheaper for the consumer.
Smart grids have been piloted around the world, and have proven a smart grid works. In New Zealand this technology is being currently discussed. America has set a goal of 2030 to implement most of the components of the (2) smart grid.
Energy saving homes
Worldwide, there is a zero energy movement, with concepts such as (3) the River Vine Concept Home in California being created. Fully connected and automated, this green smart home uses as much energy as it produces. It utilises smart home automation for heating, cooling and energy production.
Homes that are fully solar powered, fully automated, energy saving and respond not only to our needs but to our emotions, could be the future. But for now, in NZ as DIY smart home technology gets more accessible, better, and cheaper, well chosen home automation systems could be a smart option to have your appliances working for you to save time and energy.