What can a smart home do for you in 2021?

Irene Nthenya, a business development manager at Smart Homes Audio-Visual Kenya. She says smart homes are now as normal as smartphones. Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

By Nation Media

Imagine you are dressing up for work in the morning. As you stand in front of the mirror buttoning your shirt, you get to see your day’s calendar: You have a meeting with a client, a presentation on a new programme for your bosses and some other routine work.

The mirror is also playing your favourite morning song which elevates your mood. It then notifies you that the day will be sunny, so you do not have to wear a jacket. You also get to see the day’s headlines from your favourite news channels.

Meanwhile, your coffee is brewing automatically in the kitchen. And after you grab it, the lights switch off the minute you leave the house. Your devices do things that would otherwise take minutes of your time. And your home feels alive from the minute you wake up or walk into it in the evening.

Dropping cost

Irene Nthenya, a business development manager at Smart Homes Audio-Visual Kenya, says when they joined the home automation industry ten years ago, the idea of owning a smart home was reserved for high-net-worth, widely travelled individuals. There were few companies manufacturing home automation devices and even fewer companies installing them.

Most people experienced automation, whether in lighting or bathroom sinks, in high-end hotels during events paid for by the companies they worked for.

But now, Nthenya says smart homes are as normal as smartphones. Even the cost of automating one’s home, she says, has reduced significantly, by about 70 per cent. “Back then, home automation would cost as much as Sh10 million,” she says.

The history of home automation dates as far back as 1898 when Nikola Tesla invented the first remote, which was used to control a boat. His invention revolutionised what people could do remotely in the 20th century. From that simple invention, the world of technology exploded to what it is today.

Home automation cannot be attributed to a single inventor as smart homes make use of multiple technologies such as the internet, electricity, conduits, smartphones, apps and speaker devices.

However, one of earliest and most significant inventions was in 1966, when Jim Sutherland created a system that could control a home’s temperature, turn appliances on and off, send notification messages and preserve recipes electronically.

From then on, inventors have continued to experiment with home automation and as the years go by, homes seem to be getting smarter by the minute.

The comforts

Nthenya says that home automation technology is changing at a very fast pace.

In 2021, smart homes are considerate of our everyday needs. They are built to cater to different family types, be it small nuclear homes with busy professionals and school going children, or families with sick loved ones or toddlers and pets.

For a professional with a strict routine, an automated home can help them deal with the early morning chaos and decompress after a long day at work. Home automation systems are designed to understand your routine and complement it.

The devices are often connected to smartphones such that control settings are at the tap of a button. It is easy to schedule activities or set timers for routines. For instance, if you have a speaker device like Amazon’s Alexa, it will wake you up at your usual time.

Your automated shower with then run automatically at the right temperature once you walk into the bathroom. Meanwhile, motion sensors will switch the lights on and off when you walk in and out of a room.

Immediately you are done dressing up you will walk to the kitchen and grab your coffee which was brewed at the scheduled time. You may then tap on a button and everything that needs to go off, such as alarm systems, music and lights will go off as the curtains draw themselves to let in some sunshine.

Remote eyes

Nthenya adds that the system continues to work even in your absence.

“For instance, if you left your bathroom room lights on or a door is unlocked, the system sends you an alert and you are able to switch them off remotely. Also, in case you are expecting visitors during the day and you have installed cameras at the front door, you will get an alert once they arrive and you may let them in, still remotely,” she explains.

You do not have to leave a key somewhere under a stone or a door mat for the visitors to find.

Speaker devices will also allow you to speak to people in any room of the house whether you are in the same house or away. This means if you want to remind your house manager to clean the shoes you want to wear tomorrow, you do not need to call or send a message. You just have to tap on the “speak” button in an app that’s connected to the device back at home.

In addition, if you are stuck in a traffic jam in the evening, the curtains will automatically draw back and the alarm systems will switch on.

Once you get into the house, it comes alive as the bulbs light up and their brightness is just enough to match the time of day.

You may also ask your small speaker friend to play a particular relaxing song and if you fancy an evening cup of coffee, you have one ready for you in the kitchen. Living in an automated home offers a simple, convenient lifestyle for the modern home owner.

Besides, automation is intertwined with green architecture which advocates for environmental conservation through the way we use resources in our homes or commercial spaces.

Automation can help cut power consumption or reduce water wastage by limiting our usage to the exact quantities we need. At the home level for instance, it is common for both adults and children to leave lights on, even when they are not using them.

In commercial spaces, where water and electricity consumption are highest, holding people accountable every time they leave taps running is next to impossible.

Automation is especially relevant during the pandemic when people prefer not to touch light switches and door knobs or open taps that have been touched by hundreds of their colleagues.

These are probably the little things home buyers and office renters will consider as must-haves in new properties in the near future. In a nutshell, there are so many benefits to automation — from security to environmental conservation and luxury. Buildings will never be the dead spaces they were in the past. But where do you begin if you want to enjoy technology this way?

Phased installation and budgeting

“There is no formula or limitation when it comes to automation. One can start small and progress over time,” says Nthenya.

You may start by automating your lights to save on electricity cost or introduce piped music for entertainment purposes, then progress to automating garden sprinklers, alarm systems, security cameras, drapery and kitchen appliances.

Nthenya, however, says that even if you want to automate your home in phases, the best time to start preparing is during the construction stage.

She further explains that there are two categories of home automation devices: Wired and wireless. Wired devices tend to be more stable and are therefore preferred by many homeowners.

Wiring is most convenient if planned for and done before construction as opposed to hammering walls that are already painted on to lay wires.

Nthenya says that during the automation process, several experts, such as architects, interior designers, electricians and automation experts work together to ensure installation process is seamless and the devices blend in with the home’s design.

It is also important to consider one’s budget.

“Essentially, the automation cost should be between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of the entire construction budget depending on the devices you settle for,” says Nthenya.

With so many manufacturers in the market, one can get anything at very cheap prices from little known brands with no reputation. But these are not the most convenient devices.

Home automation is like buying a smartphone or a laptop. Do you just walk into any shop and ask for the cheapest gadget? Of course not. The process should entail research and consultation in order to invest in the best devices.

Nthenya hints that all devices will work well in the beginning but after a few months, the substandard ones will stop working.

Besides, electronic brands with a good reputation tend to have structures in place to help fix or replace gadgets in case of a malfunction. Durability is an important feature in devices.

However, be on the lookout for upgrades every few years as technology is a constantly evolving field. Another important consideration would be, what are your priorities are in a smart home? Do you want to maximise security, make your morning routine less hectic, cut down your electricity bills, monitor a second home in a different location, maintain a colourful front yard without manual labour, have eyes on your home while away at work or simply enjoy extra comfort, entertainment and convenience?

There are unlimited ways to enjoy home automation, but when your priorities are clear, you will avoid investing in every other gadget in the market, just to experiment.

Finally, while smart homes are the future of homes, it is important to approach automation with the same caution we approach other forms of technology.

Nthenya says that a smart home can make life easier for its inhabitants but if abused, it could easily interfere with human interactions. Voice assistance devices, for instance, make it so easy to communicate that people may forget the beauty of a face-to-face conversation.

It is necessary to limit their usage according to necessity. They are designed for convenience, not to replace organic interaction.

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