Virtually everyone these days has some degree of ‘automation’ in their home, it can be as simple as the alarm used to wake you up at 6 am, or the blinds that you can control from your smart phone, right through to a more complex system of automated lighting and heating. In fact many modern appliances even come with their very own app allowing remote access from your smart phone or desktop.
Although smart home technology has been simmering away in the background for quite some time, its range of products and affordability have seen a significant boost recently with more readily available DIY devices hitting the market here in NZ.
How Does It Work?
Sometimes called home automation, smart home technology offers homeowners the convenience of controlling many aspects of the home using their smart phone or WiFi enabled device. Utilising the commonly described ‘internet of things’ (IoT)*, smart home systems and devices share information and automate their actions based on the homeowners’ preferences which can be pre-set or adjusted remotely.
At a real world level home automation can mean a home may have lights or heating that are controllable via smart phone app, but as more and more ‘intelligent’ appliances and devices accumulate in the home, the need for a more central master control becomes apparent. Multiple devices can be incorporated into an intelligent whole house control system known as a ‘Smart Hub’.
*The Internet of things (IoT) refers to using internet connectivity in everyday objects such as security cameras, TV’s and thermostats etc. These everyday objects use internal electronics, and hardware such as sensors and timers to interact with other devices over the Internet, allowing them to be monitored and controlled remotely.
What Is A Smart Hub?
A smart hub is simply a single point of control for every smart device in your home. Some mainstream examples are the Amazon Echo Show and Samsung SmartThings. The Smart Hub has its own app based system that takes control of each connected device.
Top 4 Benefits Of Smart Home Automation
The smart home technology market is expanding at a great rate due largely to convenience, cost and time savings automation offers. Being able to do things such as turn your lights, stream music through your TV or vacuum the floor using your smartphone, or tablet is appealing to many of us who are confronted with ever increasing demands on time and energy.
Thinking about setting out on your journey towards making your home smarter? Here are the top 4 benefits of home automation in New Zealand.
- Convenience. Controlling multiple aspects of your home from one device is the ultimate in convenience. Imagine sitting down to watch a movie and having the lights dim, sound system switch on and heating or cooling adjust to suit – right from your chair.
- Efficiency. Making life easier, the whole reason technology was invented right? Free up more time by letting technology manage all of those little things that waste your precious time. Home Automation can mean scheduling of tasks that you would otherwise have to perform yourself on a daily basis. For example if you set up an “awaken in the morning” scenario that turns on the heating, opens the blinds, and plays some good ‘get up and go’ music.
- Cost Savings. Use smart home tech to reduce power consumption, save on energy bills and make the most of your homes natural assets. Always forget to turn the light off when you leave the room? Don’t worry smart home lighting can do it for you, along with dimming the lights when you watch a movie or switching on outdoor lights only when movement is detected.
- Security. Keep an eye on your valuables (including your family and pets!) while you are away with smart home security products. Set up your ultimate home surveillance kit with cameras, motion detectors and sensors and enjoy peace of mind when you can’t be there.
Examples Of Smart Home Technologies
From lighting to watering your plants, pretty much anywhere there is technology in the home, there is the potential for an automated smart home alternative. Here are some of the more main stream examples of smart home features.
Smart Home Voice Assistants
In an attempt to bring home automation devices under one voice operated umbrella, major players in the wireless tech industry have brought us voice controlled “assistants” which when activated can control lighting, TV’s, music, appliances and heating by voice command.
Common examples are the Alexa voice assistant from Amazon (using the Amazon Echo) and Google Assistant using the Google Home Hub.
Using internet connectivity your TV is able to access a wide array of apps including sports, kids TV, music, movies, education, information and lifestyle while providing seamless transition between media playback, web browsing and app usage.
In New Zealand apps such as Netflix, Lightbox and Spotify are popular choices along with YouTube and all the main social media platforms. These are common place on all the main stream brand smart TV’s such as Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and LG.
Smart home lighting systems range from dimmable light bulbs through to whole house interconnectivity including outdoor lighting. These larger lighting control systems are capable of intelligent customisation such as being able to detect when occupants are in the room and automatically adjust lighting, self-regulate based on the amount of sunlight available, as well as being able to be controlled remotely.
The Phillips Hue smart home lighting system is a good example of easily integrated smart lighting system that works with all major voice operated assistants on the market at the moment.
Smart home thermostats can be used to control heating appliances such as heat pumps, under floor heating and heaters. This means you are able to regulate and control the temperature of the home from your smart phone remotely. Some systems are capable of artificially ‘learning’ your household habits, automatically adjusting the room’s temperature. These devices are also capable of reporting back on energy usage and energy saving tips.
In NZ we have been slow to adopt the whole house concept of temperature control offered by systems like the Nest suite of products, however smart heat pumps are commonly available and come equipped with internal WiFi connectivity making them controllable from your smart phone or other external device.
Smart Access Control
Using smart door locks, doorbells and garage-door opener’s means you can grant (or deny) access to visitors remotely, automatically unlock doors as you approach, and lock doors behind you.
The Igloohome Deadbolt (available from Noel Leeming) is an example of a smart home door locking system with WiFi capabilities, keyless entry and remote operation.
Using a combination of cameras, sensors and motion detectors, a smart security system enables homeowners to monitor their homes while at work, away on holiday and even keep an eye on things when they are at home. Smart motion sensors are more capable of determining the difference between pets, vegetation movements, people and suspicious behaviour. While smart cameras can be activated remotely to check who’s at the door, what the family pet is up to, or when burglars are about.
There are a wide range of both indoor and outdoor smart security cameras, sensors and motion detectors available on the market; the key here is to check compatibility with your other home automation products.
Smart Pet Care
Smart pet feeders, pet doors and pet tracking devices are gaining traction with pet owners in NZ as a convenient way to ensure pets are conveniently looked after. Perfect for those nights when you are late home or away for the night, automated pet feeders mean your beloved pet never goes hungry and portions can be easily monitored, while smart pet doors mean you are only feeding your pet not the neighbour’s cat as well! Pet trackers and cameras attached to collars enable you to see where your pet has been during its travels.
Check out your local pet store for automated pet feeders, trackers and controlled door options, some may require the use of your pet’s microchip implant (or the need to get one if you haven’t already), others use specially designed collars. For cats and small dogs, SureFlap are the leading brand of microchip activated pet doors and pet feeders in NZ.
As the technology grows appliances are themselves becoming smarter. Everything from coffee makers to dishwashers and vacuum cleaners to refrigerators, washings machines and smoke detectors are able to be monitored and controlled to some degree remotely either by their own internal connectivity or by external home automation controllers.
A quick browse of the kitchen and white ware products of any of the major retailers will set you on a journey of discovery into the wonderful world of smart appliances currently available in New Zealand. Vacuum cleaners are a big one, along with fridges and washing machines.
How Much Does Smart Home Tech Cost?
Putting a price on installing smart home capabilities into your home is complicated, but lets make a start where most people begin their home automation journey in NZ, with the addition of smart lighting.
Single smart lighting products like an LED wirelessly controllable light bulb can be easily purchased installed in your home for as little as $30 per light, however a compatible controller or ‘bridge’ will also need to be purchased in order to allow the associated smart phone app to “talk “ to the lights.
A bridge costs around $100 but the good news is you only need one for up to 50 light bulbs. Motion sensors allowing your lights to turn on and off when you get up in the night for example are around $70 each.
Smart doorbells start off the security section at around $200 – $400 with audio, visual, and remote access. These devices usually do not require any extra wiring or professional installation.
Outdoor security lighting and sensor lights start at around $250 and readily available at all major electrical and technology retailers in NZ. Compatible motion sensors which talk to you security lighting can be purchase for around $70 (keep an eye on compatibility).
Security cameras take us up to the next level and will set you back between $200 -$2000 depending on how many cameras you want to install and the capabilities you are after. Choose from a range of indoor and outdoor cameras, there are even smart baby monitoring cameras for around $300 – $400.
Other devices such as voice assistant modules including the Amazon Echo and Google Home Hub come in at around $200 – $400, or pick up the smaller version of the Amazon Echo Dot for $90. Fully integrated networked systems such as Home Centre 2 can be purchased for between $1000 -$2000.
The costs involved in home automation have drastically dropped over the past few years making the implementation of smart home technology more readily available. There are a range of products to suit people’s needs and budget with modular type systems that enable a flexible approach to building a complete home automation system.
Installing Smart Home Tech In 2019? –
7 Things You Need To Know
While it is easy to see the potential smart homes offer us as consumers, there are a few things within the industry that technology hasn’t quite mastered yet.
- Platform Wars. Not all smart home devices work across every available platform. While there are front runners in the industry such as voice controlled systems like Alexa and Google Home. Not all devices available here in NZ have the capabilities to ‘talk’ to these platforms. Some devices like heat pumps while quite ‘intelligent’ within themselves do not interact with other control devices.
- Security. Although incredibly unlikely, as with any technology there is always the ongoing fear of getting hacked. What happens if your automated door locking system for example is able to be penetrated by hackers enabling access to your home?
- Data Gathering. Some smart devices can collect data about your usage habits in order to predict your usage needs – the question is, what happens to this data, who has access to it and how is it used?
- Technical Glitches. When working with technology we all know there is the possibility of it glitching occasionally. What happens when the lights won’t turn off, the door won’t unlock, or the fridge keeps telling you it’s out of milk when it isn’t?
- Apps Apps Apps. The more smart home devices you acquire the more apps you need to run to operate them all, even though this is where voice assistants like Alexa come in, it is not a given that all devices will work with them.
- Wi-Fi Capabilities. This is a big one in NZ as unfortunately our home WiFi systems are not always up to scratch. Installing fibre connected broadband and standard WiFi modems (usually provided for free from your broadband provider) does not ensure coverage will extend to every corner of the home, a more robust and secure system is often required.
- Old Houses. In New Zealand many of our homes are fairly old and while most of today’s smart home tech is plug and play there are still situations where infrastructure upgrades may be required to get the most out of your smart home devices.
Top 3 Smart Home Products Available In NZ
Don’t know where to start? Sourcing home automation products that are compatible with each other can be tricky at the best of times, here are our top picks for smart home products readily available in New Zealand.
Amazon Echo Show – Smart Home Hub + Voice Assistant
- Price Tag. $399
- Where To Get It. Noel Leeming, JB HiFi
- What Does It Do? Equipped with a 10 inch screen the Echo Show is great for making use of Amazon’s virtual assistant – Alexa, and it easily controls compatible smart home devices like security cameras, lights, thermostats, and more. The Echo Show allows you to make video calls to compatible devices, play music or video and establish easy connectivity with other Echo devices such as the Echo Spot, Echo Dot and Echo 2nd Generation voice activated Bluetooth speaker.
Phillips Hue – Smart Lighting + Bridge
- Price Tag. $299 for the handy E27 starter kit
- Where To Get It. Noel Leeming, Harvey Norman, JB HiFi, Mitre 10, Bunnings, PB Tech.
- What Does It Do? A great starter kit for those just beginning their home automation at the lighting phase. You will need to download the Philips Hue app then you can sync your lights to music, adjust the brightness and control all the lights remotely or with pre-set automated light schedules such as a ‘wake up routine’. The Philips Hue works with Amazon Alexa, the Apple Homekit and Google Home voice assisted platforms and is one of the best flexible lighting options available in NZ.
SMANOS K2 DIY Security – Security Alarm + Home Monitoring
- Price Tag. $520
- Where To Get It. PB Tech, Security Alarm Services.
- What Does It Do? This affordable easy to install home security starter kit comes complete with door or window motion sensors, an indoor siren, pet friendly motion sensor and has optional extras including a UFO panoramic camera, water sensor and video doorbell. The SMANOS K2 works with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, it bridges with Nest thermostats, Z-Wave Plus devices and Philips Hue lighting systems.
Thinking about making your new home a smart home? Get in touch with the professional building team at Build7 to discuss integrating home automation into the build process.