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The Resident: Total Control

Tue 30 Jul 2013

Smartphone and tablet connectivity are making it simpler and more affordable to take advantage of high-tech home automatic systems.

Technological advancements that just a few years ago were the stuff of James Bond movies are increasingly becoming a reality. More and more high-end properties now incorporate home automation systems, especially cutting edge new developments.

From automatic lighting and heating to multi-room audio-visual systems, home cinemas and sophisticated security, all of which can be controlled by the touch of an iPad, it may be a luxury trend at the moment, but it's sure to trickle down to the rest of us. How long will it be before we're controlling all aspects of our home from our smartphone, even when we're on holiday?

Control Issues

Smartphone and tablet connectivity has made home automation simpler and more affordable. These systems integrate electrical devices with each other, connected through a computer network to allow control via a PC or remote access via the internet.

They range from budget plug-in modules that can be easily retro-fitted, to bespoke installations that require structured wiring at the time of the build, and from simple switches to keypads, touch panels and voice control systems. Elements include sensors (e.g. temperature, daylight, motion detection), controllers (e.g. PC or dedicated automation controller) and actuators (motorised valves, light switches, motors etc).

Interfaces enable you to interact with the system for monitoring and control, such as a specialised terminal, or, increaingly, an app on a smartphone or tablet. Devices can communicate over dedicated wiring, a wired network or wirelessly using one or more protocols.

Hot stuff

HVAC - heating, ventilation and air-conditioning - systems are transforming the modern home, providing healthy and comfortable living enviroments, while optimising energy efficiency.

Internal-controlled thermostats enable you to control your heating and air-con systems remotely. The system could even be linked to windows, with automated opening and closing allowing hot air out and cool air in. Smart meters are another option, along with renewable sources, such as ground source heat pumps or solar panels.

Let there be light

With an intelligent lighting control system, you could turn your lights off at a predetermined time or use motion detectors to turn them on and off when people enter or leave the room. You could even control the brightness of the lights according to the available ambient light. Mood lighting is becoming more popular, along with practical solutions such as automatic route illuminators for finding your way at night (inside or out).

Natural light can be controled too, with electronic blinds and curtains. They can also help to control temperature, provide privacy and make it look like someone's at home when the house is empty. Sliding roofs areyet another innovation that can change the way you use your home.

Let me entertain you

A home is no longer somewhere you simply shelter, sleep and eat. Home entertainment is key to many people's lifestyles, from young professionals to families, and innovations range from multi-room audio-visual to full-blown home cinemas. You could even have a waterproof TV in your bathroom or swimming pool area.

Home cinemas feature various combinations of 3D, digital surround sound, plasma or projector sceens, high definition projectors, even customised seating. One-touch home theatre eliminates the need for multiple remote controls - turn on the movie, dim the lights and close the curtains all with a touch of a button!

Perhaps ypu want to access your multi-media library from anywhere in the house? Central media servers can hold all your music and videos, which can then be distributed throughout the building at the touch of a button.

High-tech is often discreet and hidden. 'Secret' TVs can be concealed behind paintings or m,irrors, or within bed-ends, while speakers can be mounted within the walls, plastered over and completely invisible, with no compromise on sound quality.

Safe and secure

Home automation is also being used in the security arena. This can include CCTV, with homeowners being able to observe activity all around the property on a monitor or touch panel or even remotely via a mobile device.

Central locking for all doors and even windows is another option. Even face recognition systems are possible.

Telephones can be integrated with alarm and entry systems, and intruder alarms can send notifications directly to your phone if you are not at home.

Security systems can be used to make it look as if you're at home when you're not, and to detect fires or gas and water leaks, while smoke alarms can automatically light exit routes.

Almost any household appliance can be controlled automatically or remotely, including pet feeders, plant watering systems and robotic vacuum cleaners. No-one knows for sure what our future homes will look like, but one thing's certain, high-tech gadgets are here to stay.

Market comment

Stephen Holmes, Savills

"As our market at the top-end is becoming more international, we are seeing an increased expectation for certain technologies to be included as standard. Furthermore, the technology needs to be discreet, such as televisions which look like mirrors until they are switched on, subtly hidden control panels or cinema screens and projectors disguised as part of the cornicing or air-conditioning vent.

"Home automation is becoming more complex at an extremely fast pace and can also deliver greater security with a programmable system allowing lights and curtains to be turned on and off to give the impression the property is occupied even when it is not.

"It is now not unusual to come across a property in prime central London which has Creston control, Lutron lighting, iPad distribution, electric blinds, security cameras or even cinemas with 3D capabilities."

Liza-Jane Kelly, Marsh & Parsons

"There is a level of expectation from new home buyers that properties are wired to support multi-room sound and media technology - indeed, 99% of new homes come with a 'comms cupboard', enabling buyers to customise the level of gadgetry in their homes.

"When you are selling your home, high-tech features are seen as a bonus rather than a basic standard; if the technology is dated, techie buyers will want to upgrade it, while those switched off by gadgets will be reluctant to pay a premium. However, giving buyers the option to install technology post sale by installing the correct infrastructure will make a property attractive to a wider market."

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