“Being intelligent is knowing that a tomato is a fruit – being smart is to not put it in a fruit salad.” Based on this example of the difference between ‘intelligent’ and ‘smart’, do smart homes really exist?

Professionals in the field of home automation have been busy for decades but the real boost to the smart home market was initiated by Google, Alexa, Apple, and others. Whereas terms such as ‘Home Energy Systems’, ‘Home Automation Systems’, or ‘Home Management Systems’ were relatively common amongst a number of people, it was this influx of consumer technology that led to a new term being born – the ‘smart home’ which has led to a wider acceptance and the biggest change in this sector.

Only a couple of years ago, smart homes were rarely an objective of home owners in Australia.  The  IoT (Internet of Things) at home ([email protected]) market is forecast to reach $5.3 Billion by 2023, according to research from Australian emerging technology analyst firm, Telsyte. 

The Telsyte study found more than 50 percent of Australian homes (approximately 4 million homes) had at least one [email protected] device installed at the end of 2018, an increase of 30 percent on the previous year.  By 2023 it is expected that the average household will have 37 ‘smart’ devices and about half of these will be [email protected] devices.

What makes a home smart?

In your smart home is it enough to have a device in your home that ‘could’ switch on or off the light, however in reality, you still use your light switch?

Most would agree that a smart home should adapt itself to the needs of the users on its own. Therefore, is the first step to creating a smart home the use of movement sensors, as they are already commonly used?

Or does it take a whole system, such as KNX? Is it the amount of applications or the level of automation, which make a home smart?

These are all valid questions. The real answer is devices or systems can only be as smart as their user and installer.  A poor installation could be a smart home disaster.  Poor solutions could include: a light in the children’s bedroom that does not switch off because the sensor detects children who are moving a lot in their sleep, an alarm sensor in a kitchen which triggers the alarm whenever you cook, or an air-conditioning system which overcools your home because the temperature sensor is affected by radiant heat from the TV.

Machines are not smart; machines just do as they are told. The same applies for smart home solutions.  In order to answer the question ‘What makes a home smart?’, it is important to be able to positively answer the following questions:

  • Does the house adapt to needs on its own?
  • Does it improve the overall wellbeing at home?
  • Are precautions taken so that nobody can easily make changes to the installation?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, installing smart home solutions would probably not be a ‘smart’ decision.

How to create a truly ‘smart’ smart home

There are many situations that can be assumed when we have a look at the rooms and their requirements. For example: 

  • Storeroom → Motion Sensors
  • Gym → Air conditioning + Air quality
  • Laundry → Leakage alarm
  • Sunroom → Shading, ventilation, temperature control

However, looking back to the quote from the very beginning, we need to understand that it’s not the devices we use that are important, but how we are going to use them. The primary purpose for a smart home is that it satisfies the individual needs of the homeowners. This requires a thorough planning phase with direct and open communication between the homeowner and the solution provider.

The extensive advertising campaigns of the voice activated device suppliers can leave homeowners believing this single device will automate their home.  Advertisements that have homeowners stating, “Hey ’smart device’, turn on the hallway lights”, make it appear simple, however the often-overlooked fine print of these clever advertisements advise that other devices are necessary.

It might seem easy to automate your home by installing a device from a well-known brand, but a true smart home only exists when the homeowners’ needs are perfectly satisfied. The best way to achieve this is by installing not only one device, but a whole system, such as KNX, that complies with the Australian Technical Specification SA/SNZ TS ISO/IEC 14543.3 and can provide a holistic solution.

A house is only as smart as those who installed the solutions and those who live in it. ‘Smart’ does not imply the solutions, the number of applications or the list of features for the devices you use. Being smart can never be achieved by technologies but only by humans who have done the correct planning and can use the full potential of the home, let it be automatically, manually or remotely.

Image: Getty Images

*Ian Richardson, Chairman at KNX National Group Australia