Can older homes become smart homes?

16th June 2015
Can older homes become smart homes?

We're hearing more and more about the rise of home automation and smart technology revolutionising how we live. Devices that we'd have once seen only on the likes of Star Trek and Doctor Who are now making it into the average home and the market looks set to keep on growing.

But with all eyes on this futuristic technology, how can those who live in older homes hope to keep up? Well, it's easier than you might think, as Andy Stanford-Clark of IBM can attest. 

Speaking to the Guardian, he revealed he lives in a detached cottage that was built in the 16th century – hardly the home you might expect the man who leads IBM's Internet of Things department to live in.

Yet his house boasts an array of connected systems, including his dishwasher, windows and even the towel rail in his bathroom! So how has he managed to bring a cottage that was built around 400 years ago slap bang into the 21st century?

"With a house like ours, you get problems with radio range, because the Wi-Fi doesn't reach all the way down to the end of the house," he commented.

"The thick stone walls are absorbing the signal, so you have to use something like mesh-connected radio. Each sensor can see one other sensor."

Of course, the decisions you take if you are retrofitting an existing property are going to be quite different to those if you were building a house from scratch. A brand new home could have controllers and sensors embedded in the walls, but Mr Stanford-Clark had to put the systems on the walls instead.

He also purchased an adaptor that sits between the plug of the appliance and the wall socket. This, he said, is "rather like switching the switch on the wall on or off remotely".

With this technology in place, Mr Stanford-Clark can turn his storage heater on before getting back from a long trip, so he knows he can step into a warm house when he returns.
 
And if technology such as If This Then That is included in the equation, systems can be tailored to activate only when certain conditions are met – such as a specific temperature being reached before the central heating comes on.

Alternatively, the smart technology can turn on the heating if it detects from the location tracker in his smartphone that he is nearly home.

Mr Stanford-Clark acknowledged that much of this smart technology is still in an early stage of development, but said "what makes it possible is that you can buy these things like a home heating controller".

He went on to point out that one problem with smart technology is that not all the apps on various systems will integrate with each other.

It's therefore best, perhaps, to purchase smart products from one range that are designed to function in tandem – such as Energenie's MiHome range. MiHome offers multiple smart home elements in a single system, that can be controlled via a mobile app that interacts with various internet-enabled devices.

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