Picture: Smart city
Smart city of the future? | © Free-Photos / pixabay.com CC0

With rapid improvements in the latest years, the smart-home tech switches its role from a playground for geeks and nerds to a broadly usable technology that is open for everyone.

The unquestionable improvements in the fields of comfort and ecological benefits are only blocked by the high costs and the still mixed image smart-homes have. We will try to give you an overview of smart-home technology including consumer prices and all its pros and cons.

Overview:

1. What is a smart-home?

2. Areas of application

3. Costs

4. Pros / Cons

5. Environmental benefits


Picture: Smart home
Everything is connected | © Pixaline / pixabay.com CC0

What is a smart home system?

The smart-home is a synonym for a house where some or all parts of the used technology are linked either via wireless internet or cable. By this, all connected parts are controllable from a fixed or mobile terminal for example a computer or smartphone.

Smart-homes can be connected and partially controlled by artificial intelligence. This might sound incredibly futuristic and indeed, the technology of today’s smart-homes is still miles away from real artificial intelligence known to us from countless sci-fi universes.

Even relatively advanced systems like Amazons Alexa or Googles Home are only programs learning in their respective field. While they can manage a smart-home pretty well, they are still flawed in many aspects and can only do as much as their developers programmed them to do.

Server and cloud based options

A house full of connected technology working together needs a lot of computing power. If you want to save data to a certain extend you need data storage as well.

Therefore, you have two options. Either you build a server unit into your house and let it handle storage and computing, or you use one of the many cloud based options. Almost every smart device comes with the ability to be hooked up to a cloud.

While this is by far the more user-friendly option it comes with a few drawbacks. While a home server is physically in your house, a cloud is a server stored somewhere else and only accessible via internet. This also means, that your smart system is more vulnerable for attacks than a home server.


Picture: Smart Assistant
Voice controlled smart tech | © HeikoAL / pixabay.com CC0

Areas of application

There is a wide variety of possible applications. In the long run you can expect almost every part of our daily life to get somewhat “smart”. It is an on-going process in business and private areas. The following paragraphes will show you some of the more or less classic applications as well as some rather new ones.

Comfort

The most basic of all smart-home builds consists of centralized control of lights, shutters and/or heating. All you need for this are a few compatible lightbulbs, thermostats or jalousies and a smartphone which runs the respective apps.

Most of this technology is capable of running in a plug and play mode, while they offer deeper programming to those interested.

It is possible to create complex fades of light for different uses in all your rooms, which are then triggered by a simple switch on your smartphone as well as heat settings that are dependent on the time of day.

Multimedia

Smart systems offer a lot of freedom in the area of home entertainment. The possibilities range from wireless streams throughout your house, be it music, television or games, to automated news about the world or even your own house.

All of your smart-home entertainment is accessible from any viable terminal you own. Even your friends can enter your system and integrate their devices via Wi-Fi.

Security

While you can use smart devices just for your amusement, they offer a wide variety of measures for the protection of your home and family. With today’s technology it is possible to equip your house with motion sensors, surveillance cameras and automated doors.

But while these all existed years before, smart systems connect them and enable you to monitor your house even from the other side of the globe. When the sensors register something unusual they will message you about it immediately.

At the same time the usage of automated lights can simulate you being at home, while you are in fact on vacation. As a last resort those smart security measures can fully autonomously alert the officials.

Major and small domestic appliances

At this point there are countless smart gadgets for every purpose. The range goes from washers that call you when they are finished cleaning your clothes to fridges that monitor the content and freshness of your food.

It is even possible to program smart coffeemakers to wake you up with the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning instead of the piercing sound of your alarm.

Voice control

Fairly new to the market is the broad use of voice controlled services. While they seem like a pretentious gadget, they can be connected with nearly every aspect of a smart-home.

With a little help of some apps, it is possible to create custom commands for the assistants and literally talk to your house. They still lack real intelligence beyond their programming, but a fully connected smart speaker is as close as we get to science fiction at this moment.

While they are quite useful, opinions about this technology is split. Since the smart speakers are connected to the internet at all times, many people fear getting spied on. Not only by hackers, but first and foremost by the companies that build them.


Picture: Smart security
Smart Security System | © TheDigitalWay / pixabay.com CC0

Prices for smart home systems

Like in many fields, the costs for smart devices and smart systems vary a lot. While you can buy single devices like smart lightbulbs or sockets for as little as 20 to 30 dollars, a full grown smart-home can easily cost up to tens of thousands of dollars.

As usual it only depends on what the customer wants and needs. For a couple of hundred dollars you can easily equip the main rooms of your house with smart light and heating. If you want a useable wireless home security you need to invest at least a grand, maybe even more.

All domestic appliances are way more expensive than their dumb counterparts. And while you can simply plug in most smart devices, if you want a hardwired system throughout your house, you need to calculate not only for the system itself but also for the costs of the installation.

Subscriptions

Since most of the storage of data collected by your smart devices happens in the ominous cloud, meaning the servers of other people, these people charge a fee for the usage of those services. So not only do you have to pay for the devices themselves but also a subscription costing around a hundred dollars a year.

Device Type Costs
smart lightbulb device 20 – 50 $
motion sensor device 30 – 60 $
thermostat device 20 – 250 $
security camera device 50 – 1.000 $
smart version of appliance device normal cost plus 100 – 1.000 $
smart speaker device 50 – 200 $
basic smart light system system 150 – 250 $
home security system system 1.000 – 5.000 $
highend hardwired system with server system 10.000 $ +
cloud maintenance subscription ~ 100 $ / year
installation extra expenses ~ 85 $ / hour

Pros and cons of smart home system

Just like with everything else, there are pros and cons when it comes to smart technology. While there are the obvious ones, like saving electricity on the pro side and high expenses on the con side, there are more subtle ones as well.

Smart tech is a fairly new market and like the rest of today’s tech market short-lived. Considering this, you cant be sure if the device you buy tomorrow will still be up to date even months from now.

Compatibility

With smart technology you rely heavily on the compatibility of your devices. Because every single smart device is software reliant, they are not all compatible.

Even worse, when the developer of a device stops working on a software or files for bankruptcy your devices might literally become useless over night. Of course this primarily applies for start-ups, since companies like Philips or Samsung do not rely solely on the smart-market.

So, whenever you buy smart devices, you should look for compatibility. More often then not the companies advertize their technology working with the most common systems.

Requirements

When using smart devices and systems there always are at least some requirements you have to consider. While most of the tech is relatively easy to use, to benefit from all the positive aspects you should have at least a little interest in how they work and how to use and combine them.

Also, you need some kind of device to control your smart-home like a smartphone or a tablet. Without them you could just use analogue variants of timer switches or security measurements. They work just as good and are much cheaper.

Another thing you should consider is the dependency on the internet and the risks that come with it. When everything in your home is connected even the slightest security breach in your coffee maker could open your front door.

Pros Cons
comfort expensive
home security dependent on the internet
reduces energy consumption requires a minimum of technological interest to use effectively
adaptable risk of hacker attacks
  devices are getting outdated pretty fast

Picture: Environmental benefits
Smart = Green? | © geralt / pixabay.com CC0

Environmental benefits

Smart tech does not offer a direct positive impact on our environment. It does however give you the opportunity to monitor your energy consumption on a new level.

This data can then be used to manage your house’s energy and overall wastes less. You do have to consider though that all devices consume electricity themselves due to their nature and the fact that wireless networks are consuming a lot of energy.

So, in case that your home is already optimized, smart tech would worsen your electricity bill instead of lowering it. In every non-optimized house smart tech is the easiest way to save energy without lowering your level of comfort in any way.