Imagine arriving home after a long day to a warm, safe home with a hot bath waiting for you and your favourite song playing in every room – and you don’t even need to get your keys out your bag.
Welcome to the world of home automation. Previously the preserve of science fiction, or only affordable to the super-rich, ‘smart’ home technology has hit the mainstream.
Superfast broadband means more of the devices we use are connected to the internet than ever before. We’ve already seen games consoles and smart TVs connected to the web but recent developments in smart heating, lighting and security have a much wider appeal. Functions of smart devices include sharing information, transferring files, and providing remote access and control for domestic appliances.
Kate Faulkner, property expert at PropertyChecklists.co.uk, says a decent broadband speed is crucial if you want to use smart devices in your home. “It’s vital to check how good the local broadband speed is before you buy, not just by going online, but definitely by chatting with potential neighbours just in case,” she says, “The future of how we run our homes is, like most other things, moving rapidly. And hopefully it will stop some of those jobs we all hate, like climbing into a dark hole to check meter readings to avoid ridiculous estimated payments, or telling us a bulb is going to blow before being thrown into chaos, or even just needing our finger print to access the home instead of carrying around (and losing) a big bunch of keys.”
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Richie Tramontana of estate agent The Red Property Partnership explains how his family used smart devices to keep an eye on their house remotely while they went travelling.
“My in-laws have had their home set up with keyless locks, HD CCTV cameras (which they can watch on their smartphones), remote lighting for security (which looks like the television is on in the evening) as well as an irrigation system from the garden that is remotely set from their phones,” he says.
One of the most recognisable smart home brands is Hive. Hive Active Heating costs £249 and allows households to control their heating and hot water from their smartphones. It means users can turn the heating down or off if, say, they’re going to be late home, and so save money.
Other products from the same company include the Hive Active Plug which costs £39 and enables users to take control of their energy use by turning appliances on and off remotely via a smartphone app: you’ll never spend all day worried you’ve left the iron on ever again.
A particularly exciting area in home automation is security. Keys can be fiddly, easily lost and, if you need someone else to have access to your home, they need to be cut by a locksmith. But a new breed of smart security devices not only enables you to keep an eye on your home, but grant other people access to it too.
Jo Eccles, managing director of independent property search agency Sourcing Property (sourcingproperty.co.uk), predicts entry systems are going to change radically, benefitting estate agents and their customers.
“We manage more than 100 properties for individual and institutional landlords and keys are one of the most time consuming – and archaic – parts of our management remit. For example, having to cut new keys, ensure they all work once they’ve been cut, replacing them when tenants lose them, distributing them to letting agents during the marketing process, and so on,” she says, “I believe that in the coming years, we will see more and more properties equipped with entry systems whereby front doors can be opened by typing in personalised entry codes.”
But many smart locks go one step further than keypads. The best ones offer a mobile app which allows you to lock and unlock doors with just a tap, add permanent and temporary users and set access schedules for specific days and times. For example, you might want to let a tradesman in while you’re at work.
Other security products include CCTV and monitoring systems that keep a watchful eye on your house. Blink, for example, is run by an app and sends notifications and video clips to your phone when it detects motion in your home. Wherever you are, you can see who is at your front door or wandering around your home. Costs start at £109 and depend on how many cameras you want.
One of the most high-profile smart device products is the Amazon Echo (£149). Echo is an internet-connected hub, posing as a speaker, that works with artificial intelligence assistant Alexa. Responding to voice commands, it can play music, answer question, read the news, report traffic and weather conditions and provide sports scores. It also works in conjunction with compatible smart home devices to control lights, switches, and thermostats.