Smart Home Automation

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Home Automation

I'm going to break the mold of the traditional blog topic of solar today to write about something I find super interesting and is somewhat related - home automation.

Home automation has been on the rise over the past few years. New technology emerges, seemingly monthly, smudging the line between science-fiction and reality. If you're a techy like me, that's exciting news to hear. That Jetson-like home might be more obtainable than you realized.
For those of you that are new to home automation, the principles are pretty basic but can cover a wide variety of control features. Essentially, home automation provides a way to control the lights, heating and cooling, appliances, and even locks of your home from any location using a tablet or smart phone. Why? Convenience, of course! Sure there's energy efficiency, security, and overall comfort to consider, but let's face it - we'll do it for convenience alone.

I know I would.

Big commercial building automation has been around for a while. You know, the sort of things that happen daily all around you while you sit in your office or cube - automatic lighting, air handlers, and water systems. Home automation is simply an extension of that technology compacted down to a smaller, but often just as complex, system.

Why would I want home automation?

Say for instance you left the house in a hurry and forgot to shut off all the lights upstairs. No problem. Just pull out your always-available smartphone, open the app used for your home automation service, and switch off those lights from where you are.

You may be thinking that home automation is only for geeks or the technologically-savvy, but some recent changes almost ensure that the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to grow and our lives will become more and more entwined with our electric devices.

Nest Learning Thermostat

What recent changes? Well for starters, Google purchased the home automation company Nest Labs for 3.2 billion dollars.

Nest Labs is maker of the Nest thermostat. Nest learns your heating and cooling habits. Designed by the creative team behind the original iPod and iPhone, Nest will certainly fit the feel of any smart home. Use it for a week, setting the temperature how you would like, and after that Nest will operate on its own. It also has a feature called Auto Away that kicks on when it hasn't sensed any activity in the house for a few hours.

"We're thrilled to join Google," Nest CEO Tony Fadell said in a statement. "With their support, Nest will be even better placed to build simple, thoughtful devices that make life easier at home, and that have a positive impact on the world."

But Google isn't the only big player to get involved in home automation recently. Samsung announced its Smart Home range of products this year. With Smart Home and use of a Galaxy device, users can issue voice commands. For example, saying good morning could issue a command to turn on lights in your bedroom when you wake. They also talk about built-in cameras on appliances to allow for real-time video streams of your home while you're away. That part is a little creepy to me, and brings to mind the concerns many had with Xbox Ones always-on Kinect.

"With Samsung Smart Home, we are bringing our capabilities as the world's number-one manufacturer of smart devices to make the connected home a reality for consumers today," Wonpyo Hong, president of Samsung's Media Solutions Center, said in a statement. "In the coming days, we will continue to roll out better home services to our consumers to enable them to keep enjoying a brand-new experience of 'Smart Living and Beyond.'"

Having smart devices that communicate to one another and that we can communicate with is convenient, but is there anything else to having an intelligent home? In my opinion, the two big draws of home automation are convenience and energy-efficiency. However, we haven't really seen a system that has both.

Take Nest for example. Its convenience is arguable. You still have to input temperatures into it for a week before it will learn your usage and start making decisions on its own. Sure its dynamic and its Auto Away feature is rad, but spend fifteen minutes with a standard thermostat and you can have a program for your daily coming-and-going routine. That being said, if you're like me and don't take the time to program your thermostat at home, when used to its maximum potential, Nest's ability to learn means a more efficient use of energy that can result in lower electricity use every month.

Forget home automation, I want home intelligence.

For convenience and energy-efficiency we need home intelligence. What do I mean by home intelligence? I mean being able to turn off certain outlets, not just control lights from my smartphone. It could even go as far as having room lighting automatically react to my presence, and having a real-time feed of energy consumption at my fingertips.

Did you know that your appliances suck up energy even when they aren't being used? On average, we have 40 appliances in our homes that are plugged in 24 hours a day. Coffee makers, televisions, DVD and Blu-ray players, video game consoles, washers and dryers, phone chargers, computers, toasters, and garage door openers are just some examples of appliances that constantly draw energy. I know, First World problems, right?

If you do care about controlling energy waste and doing your part for the planet, you can save an estimated 5-10% on your electric bill by unplugging these devices. But let's be honest, most of us aren't going to do that.

What if you could shut off those outlets, all of them, with one tap on your tablet? Not only will you be reducing your electricity usage, you'd have total control over your entire home. Don't want your kids playing video games all afternoon while you're at work? Turn off the TV and game console outlet. Think of the possibilities!

Having total control over every outlet and every light of your smart home may sound too good to be true, but I assure you it isn't. Home automation companies are springing up, many of them using emerging technologies. Wifi-based electrical systems are appealing to new home builders because they're easy to install and require considerably less copper. Providing convenience and energy-efficiency, these home intelligence systems will certainly be appealing to homeowners.

When coupled with a renewable energy source like a solar energy system, smart home technology can make a big impact on the environment while lessening the impact energy bills have on your wallet. I for one am excited about the home automation future.

What are your thoughts on home automation? Are you all for it or opposed to the idea? Comment below!

Lots of exciting things happening here at Baker Electric Home Energy! Look for more posts about home automation and energy efficiency from me in the coming months.