Smart homes are increasingly sought after by high-value homeowners. This means the ability to design or renovate a house to accommodate smart technology is increasingly valuable to the designers of those homes. It provides a competitive edge and opens businesses up to a rapidly growing market, as discussed in our previous blog on the business case for smart home design.
The case for incorporating smart home design into architecture and interior design practice is compelling as covered in our previous blog on the subject. When you’ve decided to do it though, the next question is how.
To answer this question, we’ve created a free guide on the subject for architects, interior designers and home design professionals.
Seamless integration means that all systems must work together to provide outcomes while minimising user effort.
Elevated experience requires more options for improving the quality of life and experience in the home. This means shrewdly specified tech, rather than just more tech.
Superior technology - from designer lighting to home cinemas, a wider and better choice is available to premium purchasers. It is important to research and specify these technologies carefully.
Bespoke design – As in all areas of premium home design, high-value smart homes are more often designed around the user’s personal desires or expected desires. This requires more in-depth briefing and discussion of requirements.
This will be a familiar challenge for high-value home design professionals. High-spending clients expect more personalisation for their money. This starts with a well-planned discussion, which can be personal for a defined user, or general for a commercial client. Here are some recommended questions to help start the conversation.
Smart homes have a range of benefits, but there are four very specific, tangible advantages to focus on when discussing smart options with clients.
Integration is the key to a lot of the great experiences of a smart home. That could mean throwing a dinner party with the perfect ambience at the click of a switch thanks to lighting, heating, music and more, or simply saving time by closing the blinds, turning off the lights and the alarm and starting up the heating before bed.
This is done by integrating smart systems to work together at the push of a button or the tick of a sensor to create the desired combined effect automatically. It can be a complex and multifaceted process and one of the areas a systems integrator like Baker Stone Systems can help with. Training is also available to bring this knowledge into your company.
There are very few restrictions on design for a smart home, and just a few simple requirements. This is because smart home layouts are highly flexible, especially at a premium level. The only specific, regular requirements are that all services are brought into the property at one point and (often, but not always) that a central processing hub is specified near that point.
Furthermore, the electrics aren’t as unique as one might imagine and most specialists or contractors can install them after just a couple of hours of training.
While general design is flexible, getting the right wiring infrastructure in place is key. The most expensive mistake you can make is not putting the right infrastructure in at the beginning of a project.
Despite what some providers claim, wireless only doesn’t work, but an unreliable web connection can be accounted for. The house doesn’t shut down when it disconnects!
Involving a smart home integrator in your project adds value, reduces friction and helps things move quickly. Integrators like Baker Stone will work with you to prepare a brief, develop the project, specify tech and integrate smart systems into the design with minimal disruption.
Deciding early to include smart systems integration in a home design project makes execution cheaper, more effective and less time-consuming. Here are some signs that a project may benefit from such expertise:
If you found those tips valuable and you want a more complete guide to incorporating smart systems into your design practice, download our pdf from the link below.
If you have a domestic design, construction or refit project that requires, or might benefit from, smart systems, talk it through with us in a professional partnership meeting.
Smart homes will be able to balance form and function just a little more easily from now on, thanks to some exciting innovations in smart home control panel design. Efficient miniaturisation is the focus here, and Ekinex has taken a huge leap forward. Before we talk about that though, let’s take a step back to review the problem they face.
Controlling our environment has been important since time immemorial. This is doubly true for our homes, where a balancing act has always taken place. We know that cave-dwelling people would hide animal bones and tools at the back of their caves. Meanwhile, art was created at the entrance, where it could be seen in the sun or firelight. Ever since then, we’ve struggled with the balance of beauty and functionality in the places where we live. We try to hide ugly tools from flint scrapers to dishwashers.
In recent years, home automation has enabled us to put entire processes out of sight and mind. We've also added new functionalities to make our homelives more beautiful and enjoyable. The task of smart home designers is to ensure that the old tools aren’t replaced with a new set of ugly devices. Have a look at our previous blog for a discussion on this subject.
While most systems can be kept discreet or beautiful, the control panel has always been a challenge. Adding more functions to a system has historically required larger, more obvious controls. We’ve only just started getting to grips with the touchscreens and voice controls that stop this from being the case.
Small control panels require great design. In this, Ekinex’s new Signum virtual switch is some distance ahead of the competition. It’s the first touchscreen that can control most of the functions of a modern smart home from a light-switch-sized unit.
The size is important because it makes the switches easy to retrofit in almost all homes. Perhaps more importantly, users are familiar with switches of this size and form in this place.
Functionally, the switch can be used and customised easily, the latter with the help of a relatively simple mobile app. At the top level, the switch can have between one and four touch-screen buttons, which can lead to different controls or more sub-menus. Each menu selection can enable control of anything from lights to thermostats to audio and door locks. These are just a few picks from a list of dozens of functionalities that can be integrated with many systems and assigned on the mobile app.
It’s important to communicate why getting all relevant functionalities into something the size of a light switch is such a big deal. There was a time early in the smart home revolution when all clients and designers had to pick between form and function. There were large smart home control panels that controlled everything but looked like a computer monitor on the wall of each room. Then there were small switches that were limited in what they could do. Any compromise between the two extremes was awkward and difficult to use.
For a while now, companies have been trying to get as much functionality as possible into the light switch space without sacrificing ease of use. Those 74 square centimetres have seen varying degrees of success, notably from Ekinex, as well as Zennio, Jung and Rithium (formerly Violet).
That said, Baker Stone is fairly confident in stating that the Signum is the first smart home control panel where it’s ‘mission accomplished’. It fits in the space, it’s easy to use, it’s attractive and it can control everything you would want to control from this part of a smart home. What’s more, the switches can be reconfigured by the user or administrator without a huge expertise requirement after setup. If the user adds a sound system to their lounge, they can pop in a Spotify controller next to their light and heating controls.
The physical space on the touch screen is limited to around one-third of the device’s width. This could be seen as the one flaw of the switch. It’s probably done for the sake of simplicity and aesthetics, as well as to build similarity to the light switch. However, further limiting the space available on a screen that is already necessarily small is a strange choice, to say the least. Aside from this subjective weakness, the Ekinex Signum is a very strong contender that stands head-and-shoulders above the competition.
While the Signum has undeniably got us excited here at Baker Stone, we pride ourselves on specifying the best tech from across the market. Here are our other picks from what’s on offer in KNX-compatible controls.
This simple and discreet black touchscreen has got the looks and simplicity requirements nailed down. Functionality is not as comprehensive and is limited to lighting, audio and climate though. However, the recently reinvented company is improving on this gradually, notably by adding a thermostat in the near future. The simple switch is much easier than the Signum to configure. Perhaps the discreet aesthetics go too far though, limiting the readability of the screen. You’ll need your readers on to use this properly.
The opposite to Rithium in many ways, Zennio’s offering is big and friendly. It targets colourful simplicity over the competitor’s dark discretion. The advantage here is that its bright logo-accompanied buttons are easy to see. It stands out rather more than the Rithium for better or worse. In the right place for the right person, these buttons can be great options. The company also offers a range of more traditional switches with easy-use logos for smart homes, as well as a range of other solutions.
Sitting between Rithium and Zennio in design, Jung offers a range in minimalist black and white that is easy to use. Functionality is on par with Rithium. The range of functions that can be integrated is a little superior, though not comparable to the star of the article. The switches offer a lot of data too but do suffer in terms of ease of use though as the interface can be clunky.
While voice and mobile device controls are nice, pushing a button is going to remain the most natural way to control a home for some time yet. That being the case, we advise professional designers and homeowner users alike to think about their control panels as a core part of the system rather than an afterthought. Ask if you want discretion or high visibility, ease of use or comprehensive functionality.
New technologies like the Signum mean that you can have your cake and eat it more than ever before. However, there are still other options and thinking carefully about what is needed will make for better specification, setup and use. The more innovations that appear on the market, the more important such considerations will become. Pick right and it could make a significant positive difference to the user’s life.
No; it's not because we're Star Trek obsessives. It's not even because there's a clever computer that the characters talk to in order to get things done, as there are in smart homes... Well, maybe that's part of the reason.
It's because when Captains Kirk or Picard ask for something to be done, it gets done. When they need information, it's given to them.
There's a reason why there are no complicated banks of controls around Picard's captain's chair (Kirk had a small one, but he was never the Captain Picard was, anyway). That's because he's there to see what's happening, make a decision and get the result that he wants. The busy officers beaver away around him with the support of the ship's computer and their many flashy, intriguing screens. Meanwhile, Picard never needs to fiddle or worry about what bit of information is going where. He gets the information that he needs, states what needs to happen, and it happens.
Baker Stone is here to put you in that captain's chair, or to put your family in that weird sitting-room arrangement that occupies the middle of the Enterprise's bridge, like the senior officers. Think of us as your crew, working with the complex computers and making everything flow smoothly for you. Yes, this extended metaphor is in danger, so we're going to refocus on the core issues here ...
A good smart home consists of many systems working together seamlessly without you even having to think about it. The outcome is to take away stress and unnecessary tasks so you can effectively
blow up the Klingons and jump to warp 7 sorry, relax and enjoy your free time. After all, what you and a ship's captain have in common is the desire to make the best use of your time, whether you're relaxing or star-trekking across the universe.
This efficiency comes about as the result of a planned process with several stages.
Working with other professionals on the project, we break down how you live, how you wish to live and how your space works around you. We consider what's important and valuable to you, in terms of your time and living space, in order to create something that makes your life more pleasurable. We also consider the reverse - What jobs waste your time, what obstacles block your space and flow?
Based on the information above, we create a system to maximise your quality time with your family and make the most of your space, while minimising the reverse. We create something that fits around and into your life to make it simpler. The best-designed smart home systems are the ones you barely notice.
Some smart homes are installed all in one. Some are built up in modules. Either way, a plan needs to be made to keep the whole thing functioning as a harmonious unit as it develops. While modular smart homes need to adapt to new additions, homes installed as one need to update and evolve to incorporate new technology to improve the owner’s life further. This all requires planning to maintain the simple synergy as adaptations happen.
Once the system is designed and planned, it can be installed in such a way that you hardly notice the tech, just its effects. Professional installation is important to ensure your systems function effectively within the space while not altering your home's look or feel negatively.
The best smart home systems are managed. While some cheaper systems purport to offer DIY install-and-go functionality, they rarely have the desired effect, and often end up making the owner’s life more complex and disharmonious. Smart home management companies like us handle updates, bugs, fixes, and much more.
Find out more about the whole of this process, and how we undertake it for you on our design and installation page.
The result of all this careful pursuit of simplicity and synergy is that the good parts of your home life are easier to enjoy fully. Meanwhile, many of the jobs and problems are handled by an efficient and automatic computer system.
If this sounds like a route you may want to boldly go down, book a survey meeting with us below to discuss your needs ... Engage!
Disclaimer: Any opinions on the best captain of the Enterprise are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the company as a whole. We cannot be held responsible for any insult to fans of the original series or of the Next Generation.
If home cinemas, covered in the last smart spotlight, are the hedonistic and emotive superstars of smart tech, then smart security systems are the pragmatic, intellectual big-sellers. While people splash on home cinemas to feel good, they spend on security systems for the knowledge that their home and family are as safe as can be, and the peace of mind that comes with that.
The reason smart security technology sells so well is that it’s a big and appreciable step forward from what existed before, with appreciably improved results for the homeowner. Smart systems provide severable major functional advantages over traditional security systems:
There is a huge range of smart home security products on offer, some of which are smarter than others. All truly smart systems share digital analysis of sensor inputs to analyse risk, as well as decision-making based on AI or advanced digital logic. This process removes or severely limits the dangers of human error, time delay and human neutralisation, removing the three major weak points from security systems. This gives rise to the advantages listed above and many more.
Most smart security systems include remote communication and cameras, though this is not necessary. In product terms, systems range from self-installed remote cameras that report to the owner's phone, right to complete, professionally-installed systems. The latter usually involves a secure central processing hub on site, some mix of visual and non-visual sensors, and unhackable access control that’s easy for the owner to override, but impossible for others. Most security systems involve some mix of onsite monitoring and input analysis with offsite processing and management. This usually comes with a subscription fee as well as an installation cost. More complete systems will combine on- and off-site analysis without compromising your security or privacy.
To prevent hacking, the best smart security systems use military-grade signal encryption over Wi-Fi and wires. This makes systems practically impossible to hack and camera images impossible to see for anyone but the owner and those they expressly allow.
Access control is a closely related set of systems that can allow people in or lock them out of a particular area. These systems range from smart doorbells to threat-responding security doors and lockdown systems.
Watch almost any 20th-century heist movie and you will see the usual suspects exploit the weaknesses of old-fashioned non-smart security systems. There are a few hollywood staples that showed up the weaknesses of such systems again and again: Cutting the phone lines, ‘neutralising’ the security personnel and creeping past distracted (or sleeping) security guards. Shortly after the start of the new millennium, these staples, and the weaknesses that brought them into existence, began to be made obsolete by unsleeping, unerring, and unwired smart security systems.
Around the tick of the year 2000, Wi-Fi was beginning to enter the UK market. This meant cameras and remote monitors could be completely wireless and uncompromisable with the help of a battery backup and shrewd installation. Less obviously, it also meant monitors could be linked to a central computing system without the need for extensive, expensive, and oh-so-cuttable wiring.
Meanwhile, developments in AI logic, visual recognition, remote control and intelligent communications management were removing the biggest weakness in most contemporary security systems. That is, the big, fleshy ones that sleep, draw a salary, and get distracted by the likes of Ethan Hunt. Threats could be reviewed, considered and responded to with minimal human intervention. Thanks to mobile and wireless technology, any human consideration that was needed could be cued in instantly and conveniently without distraction.
As this system developed, its ability to effectively monitor and neutralise risks, made it popular around the world with homeowners and business owners, as well as authoritarian governments and intrusive organisations. This was revealed to the world in brutal fashion in 2013 when China revealed the existence of its 20-million camera ‘Skynet’ system and Edward Snowden leaked the existence of a world-spanning digital intelligence system in the West. Since then, the debate has roared about large-scale government surveillance endangering the public interest, even as the technology’s domestic sibling quietly keeps our homes safe. Now it’s estimated that 540 million of the world’s 1 billion digital security cameras are pointed at the population of China.
“New Technology is not good or evil in and of itself. It’s all about how people choose to use it.” – Dr. David Wong
If this cloud can be said to have a silver lining, it is that the news of remote monitoring led to a lockdown of smart home security systems with military standard signal encryption and other fail-safes. This means they can be used by the homeowner and no one else.
The security, efficiency, and simple usability of smart security systems have made them a popular option across the market. Intelligent computer control makes low-end DIY systems easy to install and use with a mobile phone. A simple and cheap, yet imperfect solution to security threats. Meanwhile, elite system installers like the ones Baker Stone designs provide the closest thing to absolute security in physical and digital terms. When designed and implemented by professionals, systems effectively prevent and, perhaps more importantly, discourage most intruders from entering a property, as well as responding to them when they do. As mentioned above, professionally designed systems are difficult to compromise due to the lack of distraction, compromisable infrastructure or human error.
These major benefits are just some of the reasons why the smart security market is projected to grow by 54%, over the coming two years, hitting a 5 billion dollar value in 2025 (Statista, 2022).
High—specification smart security systems aren’t just toys for tech lovers like some ‘smart’ technologies. In real terms, they actually provide vastly superior protection, security and threat surveillance compared to their analogue ancestors. They may not be as sexy as a home cinema system, but the smart home security system can be justified much more easily as an investment in the security of your family and your possessions. That’s why the AA has stated that a smart home security system will lower your insurance premium (in principle) – an added bonus and a reflection of the system's recognised efficacy.
In short, come to us or another professional smart security system installer. The guidance you would need to trawl through to learn to specify a complete and effective smart security system is large, specific and technically complex. To save time, get in touch with us if you need advice and we can sort out your specific issue.
There is a wide range of options across the board, and we would advise researching and considering a variety of the ones that apply to your situation before deciding on one. This is a situation where needs and offerings are multiple and nuanced, so individual consideration is a good thing. DIY systems are one option, but we would advise avoiding these if you have the money for the alternative. This is because small installation and use errors or knowledge gaps can have serious consequences.
In terms of keeping your home and family safe, smart home security systems are a vast improvement on what existed before. Within this sphere, a complete, professionally installed system is definitely the way to go for maximum security. These systems discourage, prevent, respond to and report threats effectively, providing evidence for insurers and law enforcement. The data generated is as secure as the systems themselves.
Whatever you want, it’s worth doing some research on your needs and talking to an expert before you invest.
Baker Stone has a number of smart security systems experts able to work with homeowners and other professionals to specify and install these systems to the highest specification. Just book below to discuss your needs with us.
Smart home technologies are becoming ever more popular and widespread in the eyes of consumers, but what is it that attracts people to invest in these technologies?
Smart tech media was awash this summer with stories of a Star Wars superfan selling a $15 million mansion including a Millennium Falcon home cinema. The flickering buttons and burnished metal conjure up a sci-fi fan’s idealised vision of the future, or possibly of a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
Ask most people over the age of 18 whether this is what they dream of when they look to futuristic smart tech though, and you’ll likely get a stony-faced negative in reply.
Generally, people want the exact opposite for their smart homes. Tech needs to be hidden and seamless with panels of controls kept small and simple and rooms kept looking as they did pre-smartening. It turns out that, far from all the bleeps and flashes of sci-fi futurism, people want their homes to function better without much visible tech. We’ve even hidden televisions behind mirrors to retain a certain je ne sais quoi. Simplicity, it turns out, is the ultimate sophistication.
Buyers fall in love with smart homes because of the experience the various functions come together to create. Smart lighting isn’t just about automatic colour changes and dimming on command. It’s the key to creating the perfect mood for a family night, dinner party or film marathon. Even the Millennium Falcon cinema is really about the experience. Find out more about the importance of experience in our blog on the subject.
While everyone automates for slightly different reasons, there are five big reasons most consumers buy a smart home.
Smart homes can make your life easy. They can automate difficult tasks, time things you might forget and intelligently learn your lifestyle to smooth out the rough parts. This is a big plus-point for stressed-out professionals and busy families, and it could be a big motivator for older people with limited mobility in the future.
You can do things you weren’t able to before. For some, this might mean turning on Return of the Jedi in your Star Wars cinema, answering the door from a different country or perfecting the maintenance of a big garden. For other older people though, it may mean living independently for longer, which is a huge boon.
For smart home tech, security has turned from a weakness to a strength in recent years. Smart CCTV, burglar alarms, doorbells and access control systems are quickly becoming must-haves for the security conscious. For many consumers, these systems are an entry point into the wider world of smart automation.
Another area where smart tech has come to the fore. As energy prices have spiralled and global climate change has become a serious issue, the ability of smart tech to offer substantial energy savings has become a big pull.
There’s that word again. As mentioned above, people want exciting new experiences and the key to selling smart home tech is to let people experience it in action. Not always an easy task, but an effective one.
For businesses and salespeople, it’s worth hitting on one or more of the above points during the sale, depending on the buyer. Busy professionals and the elderly tend to value ease of use and empowerment, while savvy young families appreciate energy savings and security. It’s also worth figuring out how you can best let prospective customers truly experience the smart home, too.
Smart homes used to be exclusive investments for the rich. However, a recent survey by Statista found that the proportion of smart home tech users on low income was almost as large as the high-income segment:
(source: https://www.statista.com/outlook/dmo/smart-home/united-kingdom#smart-homes )
There is still a way to go before smart homes are truly diversified across the market; there are many times more mid-income consumers than high-income ones, but things are changing.
Mid- and low-income consumers are more likely to buy off-the-shelf, DIY and piecemeal smart home solutions, rather than having one designed. These offerings have in the past been notoriously buggy and difficult to synchronise and keep working, but all this is set to change…
Earlier in 2022, a new industry protocol called Matter was introduced to standardise smart home device communication and interaction. In short, all differently branded devices will ‘speak the same language’ and will be able to communicate easily at a basic level. This means no more updates stopping your lights from talking to your control hub and much less awkward tinkering to make systems with differently branded devices work together. It was agreed on by 200 of the industry’s biggest players, including Amazon, Apple, Google, and Samsung, and it is forecasted to kick off a revolution in mainstream smart home technology.
In the past, complete smart homes have been the exclusive domains of hobbyists and the wealthy. If you didn’t have the money to get a bespoke smart home set up and managed for you, or the tinkering time to handle the buggy value-priced tech yourself, you didn’t get a smart home. Now, home automation is set to become an easy-access option for the masses with the introduction of Matter, along with widespread 5G and optical internet to the premises.
That means huge increases in demand and opportunities for new supply in the middle market over the coming years. It also indicates that large-scale new home developments with smart capabilities may become a common sight in years to come.
Those who can sell the concept will find themselves in great demand as smart homes become more and more mainstream. To find out more about selling smart homes as a developer, designer or electrical specialist, book a meeting with Andy Baker of Baker Stone today with no obligation.
The popularity of every invention, product and idea in history can be roughly described by one shape – the product life cycle curve. The smart home as a concept and each of the products and innovations that are part of it are gradually describing their own bell curve as they mature.
The World Connected Home Markets Report is one of a significant number of industry agencies predicting that in the next two to five years, smart homes will move on from the introductory stage to the serious growth stage. This may sound like an abstract development, but it has a lot of serious real-world implications for the smart home industry.
Like every product or idea in its introduction stage, the smart home has been seen as something exciting, futuristic, unusual and high-end. Very gradual take up by trailblazers and those with the resources to indulge in avant-garde luxuries is represented by a shallow rise on the unit sales graph. Shallow, that is, compared to what is to come.
A quick look at the history of Google Searches for 'smart home' on a graph shows this gradual, upward-curving rise in popularity clearly.
Behind the sales, searches and maths, smart homes have spent the last decade or so being normalised and popularised by sellers and the consumers who might buy them. Meanwhile, more companies have established ways to create and sell smart home tech effectively at a lower cost, competing to make the products and services involved available to more people.
This has set the stage for the industry to explode into its growth stage with sales and popularity rising at rates not seen before. This has several implications for those in the industry, as well as the professionals on the periphery, like the housing developers, architects, and interior designers Baker Stone works with.
Architects and developers that offer or accommodate smart tech in their practices still stand out as groundbreakers, becoming the first choice for those looking for automated homes. Small but innovative smart-friendly businesses can out-compete slower, bigger ones and win high-tech contracts ahead of them.
The same has been true of every new technology in its growth stage. It’s how, in creating Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg overcame industry heavyweights Myspace and Friendster – remember them?
As the introduction stage gives way to the growth stage though, large, weighty businesses will begin to follow where the smaller, more dynamic ones have led and the small, early entrants will grow to dominate the new space. Time is running out for small and agile SMEs to enter the space in a competition-trumping way. However, it has not run out yet.
The market is still accelerating. Worldwide business income from smart homes is forecast to increase by almost twice as much over the next year as it did over the last, according to figures from Statista. Indeed, since 2021, the global market has grown by $11.3 billion; a jump that is set to be dwarfed by a $20.5 billion increase between 2022 and 2023. This is a rapidly growing market with much space for new entrants and many rewards for those who enter successfully.
Looking beyond 2023, market growth settles down remarkably quickly, adding around £20 billion per year reliably for the next three years until the end of the assessment period. Going back to our product life cycle curve, this looks like the very definition of introduction giving way to linear growth.
Economically, those who invested in smart homes early benefited from the lack of competition and exponential growth, but they had to face the same issues as any groundbreaker. After all, it’s not called breaking new ground because it is easy. The early-days smart tech market was hard to navigate and easy to fall foul of due to bad luck and lack of specific knowledge.
Part of the reason why markets in the growth stage expand so reliably is that these problems have been sorted out. Pitfalls and unlucky incidents are much less likely to consume resources and whole companies.
That means the short stage when introduction becomes growth is the ideal point at which to enter the market. Begin now to reap maximum benefit from growth that is still accelerating and will soon take hold, while avoiding the pratfalls of an early-days introductory market. There’s still room for relatively small businesses to become established, yet they are much less likely to be damaged.
For those who agree that now is a good time to get into the smart homes market, there are three options for entry.
Specialising in innovative smart homes is a great way to hit a niche in the competitive home design and construction market. A number of architecture and design companies, as well as developers like Trivselhus have done this successfully. However, it is a big leap that takes huge commitment and adaptability on the part of the company in question. More established and mainstream businesses may want to consider the other options...
Partnering with a smart home provision specialist is a viable option for architects, developers and interior designers alike. With careful consideration and adaptation on both sides, businesses across the home development spectrum can benefit hugely from this. If you want to explore the prospect of partnering with Baker Stone, you can book a call to discuss your position with us.
Keep it in the company and offer valuable professional development opportunities to your staff by training your employees to adapt their practice to the unique needs of the smart home. These competencies will become more and more applicable as smart homes become more mainstream. Gaining them is a choice that can be taken out in isolation or together with a partner. Again, we offer such training. As with partnerships, it is worth shopping around to find the right training provider for you. If you wish to consider Baker Stone, you can find out more here and book a call with us here.
The home cinema is the big Hollywood celebrity of the smart home specification game. Everybody knows them, most people like them, and you don’t have to put them in the middle of a complicated plot to get people interested.
Smart spotlight is a regular feature where we’ll be taking a closer look at one of the aspects of a smart home for homeowners and home designers alike. We’ll be asking what it is, why you might want one, and what you might want to think about when buying or specifying one. It’s more of an introduction to ideas than a technical deep dive. Either way, we hope you like it.
For as long as I can remember, TVs have stood firm at the top of the home appliance popularity stakes. Most of us spend longer staring at them than our beloved ovens, fridges, and washing machines put together and demand for them transcends class and earnings. Millionaires and minimum wagers alike are wont to invest significant portions of their income in getting the right one.
It’s probably no surprise then that their descendants – smart TVs and home cinema systems - have led the way for smart tech, selling hundreds of millions when many smart home appliances are still pushing to manage a hundred thousand.
Like televisions before them, smart TVs have diversified to satisfy every niche and income bracket. While you can grab a cheap 'smart' TV for £200, the smart home cinema and its elusive sibling, the media room have risen to occupy the upper echelons of the AI-TV market.
Premium offerings offer far more than a massive screen on one wall: Smart media management, lighting, heating, air conditioning and audio compliment mind-blowing interior design and some serious screen-seating comfort to create a unique experience in front of the screen. Meanwhile, ultra-HD TV, multimedia services, gaming and smart home control give a whole host of spectacular options on the screen.
As you may have guessed, home cinemas and media rooms occupy significant spaces within the home. When designing a home cinema as a professional, be prepared to match the impressive piece of tech that occupies that one wall with something equally breath-taking between the other three. For many homeowners, the home cinema is an opportunity to express their wild and hedonistic side within the home. Think snazzy lighting, super cool décor and ridiculously comfortable seats that are often prone to vibrate and change temperatures on command. Some go for smooth and sophisticated, instead of hedonistically overloaded, while others opt for the traditional dark walls and subdued lights. When the film comes on, it’s all in the dark anyway, right?
We know what you’re thinking. A media room sounds like somewhere the PM might tell the nation about hands, face and space, or that place in every spy film with an unfeasibly large number of TV screens. In fact, there’s very little to distinguish it from the home cinema.
Despite the formal-sounding name, media rooms are often cosier and more relaxed than home cinemas in layout. More like living rooms where families can be together than theatres where audiences sit in rows. While the cinema / TV is still a major focus, media rooms often incorporate other home comforts and sources of entertainment, from VR goggles to mini dance floors to pool and football tables.
All it literally means is a space where people can gather to enjoy high-quality media.
This could be one of the shortest benefits sections in this series. While it takes a while to explain why one might want smart air conditioning, the benefits of a home cinema are obvious. I can sense the film buffs and binge-watchers getting excited as I write. For the sake of appearance though, I’ll lay out the main benefit:
The home cinema is your own private cinema...
...Not to mention games room, and super-hedonistic TV space. You can decorate it how you want, enjoy all the comfort you want and watch whatever you want, all at a cinematic scale with first-rate audio and visual tech.
As already mentioned, film buffs and Netflix bingers will love this option, as well as gamers who want to level up their playing time. But the home cinema and media room is also a great option for those who like to share family time enjoying something a bit different. Those who like to entertain can also get a lot out of a home cinema, inviting friends round for a blockbuster night or simply a supersized viewing of the latest Goggle Box episode.
Smart cinemas and media rooms can also be useful for businesses, providing for unforgettable pitches and presentations that competitors can’t match. They can be especially useful for highly visual high-ticket industries such as design, advertising or holiday sales.
The main point to make about home cinemas is that, unlike many smart home options, they require a big space commitment. In most cases they will require their own room, although they can integrate well with games rooms and dance floors, which can benefit from a shared or linked sound system. These would generally be installed behind the cinema seats, which are often in rows or a horseshoe shape facing the screen.
Media rooms are generally more flexible and can range from fairly focused setups to living rooms with a little extra investment in audio-visual tech.
To a greater or lesser extent in both cases, allowances for sight lines and audio fidelity place strict limits on some design aspects of the room. Meanwhile, the desire for a little flare in this room can make for some exciting and demanding design briefs. Lighting design and light exclusion are also fundamental to a good home cinema.
Home cinemas and media rooms are highly desirable and very enjoyable. For home developers and designers, they’re easy to sell, but hard to specify. The benefits and the type of people who want them are both obvious. However, there are many occasions when layout or cost may require the owner to compromise on their idea. For new builds, layouts can be designed, but constraints are significant compared to other aspects of the smart home.
If you’re an owner and you really want a home cinema or a developer committed to providing one, we can support you to create an enjoyable highlight in almost all cases though. Find out more about our home cinema and audio visual offerings on our dedicated page. When you’re in the room eating popcorn and enjoying your favourite movie on the huge screen, you’ll know that it was worth it!
Images co. Christian Collins and Light Tape UK
If all this talk of home cinema has given you a taste for movie magic in your home, book in a meeting to start planning yours below.
Whether it’s for the environment’s sake or because of the ever-increasing cost of power in 2022, saving energy at home has never seemed so important. Efforts are being redoubled to reduce the effects of climate change and energy prices are being pushed up to new heights by the energy crisis. Both of these things can be aided by effective use of smart home tech.
The good news is that savings from this are very impressive at the moment and set to get even better as technology advances and use becomes more widespread.
I’m going to start by warning you that there’s a lot of bad news in this first section. Everything gets rosier as we look at the current and future potential of smart home technology further down the page though.
Let’s kick off with a review of recent developments that could come as a big shock to many:
In the year 2000, fossil fuels supplied 80% of the world’s total primary energy consumption.
What do you think the percentage was in 2019 after the Kyoto Protocol took hold and The Paris Agreement had been reached?
That’s according to a report by Professor Mark Diesendorf, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTech Sydney
It's a sad state of affairs. In 2019, fossil fuels supplied more of the world’s total primary energy consumption than they had nineteen years earlier. That number outlines the urgency with which we need to alter our energy habits in order to promote real, positive change.
Around a quarter of the UK’s energy consumption is accounted for by domestic use. The industrial sector has cut its consumption by around two-thirds since the early 1970s. unfortunately though, British homes are still consuming the same amount as they did seven decades ago. Serious change is needed, and there are two big steps to be taken:
The importance of insulating homes to energy efficiency has been known for a long time. Yet despite the issue becoming more pressing and innovations making insulation more widely available, installations have fallen off in recent years. This is largely due to a lack of government funding or initiatives. Around 63% of household energy consumption is used for heating and as few as 9% of qualifying homes have modern solid wall insulation. Hence, it is clear that more focus and investment can make a big difference in this area. A well-insulated house consumes around 15% less energy overall than one without insulation.
Installing smart lights that are only on when they’re needed slashed lighting energy use by 87% for King’s College London’s halls of residence. These few buildings alone save 34.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually as part of an institution-wide carbon cutting drive. It acts as a clear example of just how much of a change smart home technology can make to emissions and the environment.
Energy-efficient Smart home systems can manage the consumption of many household devices. Smart devices chosen over their older equivalents often use a fraction of their energy, managing power and turning off when not in use. Smart plug sockets and similar solutions can smarten up the devices you can't or won't replace, turning them off automatically when not in use too. This could save close to 10% of household energy, which is otherwise used by devices on standby.
These savings – 87% of light energy, 10% of household consumption on standby, 12% on heating – are all impressive on their own. However, they’re only the first chapter in a much bigger story.
The new generation of smart devices go beyond cutting energy consumption by being off when not in use. They can reduce it far further by using a fraction of their full energy when partially in use. Imagine a fridge that only cools the parts where it knows there is food. Think of a laptop that lets you type a document in low power mode before waking up fully to run something more demanding. These aren’t distant dreams. I’m writing this blog on just such a laptop and we’re already specifying a wide range of super-smart appliances for our customers.
Synergy with other innovations takes the story further. Next-generation smart homes can save supermarket trips by reordering shopping and having it delivered by efficient drones. Meanwhile, smart boilers and batteries in future homes will have a big role in solving the storage problems of renewable energy. Tomorrow’s homes could loan each other energy when their batteries are too full for efficient generation. They could even plan the amount sold to the grid for maximum effect. Communities in California are looking to combine all these innovations to become energy-independent smart towns. These will save CO2 while cutting the fire risk of long-range energy transfer via pylons in hot weather.
Turning a home into a smart home can be a major step toward environmental sustainability. A well-managed smart home refurbishment can reduce your energy consumption vastly, paying off in carbon terms in only a few years. As well as owners, home designers and creators can make their practices more sustainable and valuable by incorporating smart tech.
First thing in the morning, your blinds open to wake you with healthy, natural sunlight. Moments later one of your favourite energising songs fades up on the room’s speakers. Taking your first comfortable steps on a floor that’s pre-warmed to your ideal temperature, you’re drawn to the kitchen by the smell of coffee where your morning latte stands ready for you, made just the way you like it.
You enjoy it and listen to the upbeat music that followed you into the kitchen on shrewdly hidden speakers, getting ready for the day.
This, and a thousand other experiences like it, is what a smart home feels like. It is these experiences that make the investment worthwhile. Once you recognise that, the processes of planning, purchasing and designing a smart home take on different meanings.
Whether you’re a professional working with a client or an individual thinking of investing in your own smart home design or upgrade, you need to begin at the end. Start with the end result that you or the user wants to experience and work your way backward, designing everything based on this.
The key question is, ‘What do you want to happen in your smart home?’
Dig deep enough into this and you should be able to start creating a pretty good plan or brief.
Other important questions to explore include:
These questions require a bit of breaking down, research and consideration to answer, but they are essential to planning a smart home project. Another essential factor is knowing what is possible with smart technology. This may require a professional Smart Systems Integrator or Smart Home Designer. These professionals will help you answer the questions above and more besides. They’ll support you in creating and executing a complete brief for your home or your client’s
Whoever is involved though, it’s good to have some idea of what you want from the start, not least because it will help you pick the right professionals.
Because the ideal smart home is a very subjective thing, it’s important to be clear of what you want and to work with people who will enable and empower your needs and desires, or those of the end user. Some guesswork may be required if the end user isn’t definite, as with commercially built homes for sale. There’s one factor that everyone appreciates in their smart homes though … simplicity.
For more on what to expect from a good, experience-focused smart home, take a look at our page on the subject.
We could write for months on creating an outstanding smart home experience, and it’s a process that is different for every individual.
Among all this complexity, you can begin with one big, easy takeaway though:
With tech, a great experience is often a simple experience.
Tech can involve a lot of fiddling and wasted time for the end user if it is poorly executed. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the irritation of adding plugging something into our TV system, PC or Stereo (delete as age and preference dictates).
One of the main advantages of smart tech is that it provides all the benefits of cutting-edge technology with none of the common irritations. However, it can only do that when it’s correctly installed with a focus on keeping the user’s life as simple as possible.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”
Leonardo Da Vinci
In practice, this means planning out a complete smart home as a single, experience-focussed project, not a piecemeal series of add-ons.
Those add-ons usually come in the form of the latest bit of shiny “smart” tech.
Type the words ‘Smart home’ into Amazon and you will get over 50,000 products running from light bulbs to kettles to picture frames. Adding all these things to a home may provide a few buzzes of novelty, but it won’t improve your long-term homelife anywhere near as much as a well-planned smart home designed around your experience though. In fact, a home full of smart gadgets bought without any integration can often make life more complex and fiddly, rather than more enjoyable.
The takeaway here is plan and purchase an integrated smart home solution, rather than a group of gadgets. There are some good off-the-shelf solutions out there, but if these won’t cut it, or they don’t feel personal enough, consider hiring a professional to select and integrate the technologies seamlessly. No need to worry about losing control, a good smart systems integrator or designer will always work around your desires.
Ultimately, designing a truly enjoyable smart home means creating experiences and solutions that cater for the user. It doesn’t necessarily mean adding functions, but it does mean synchronising them shrewdly.
Take a look at some of the things smart tech can do in a home, then build a picture in your mind of what yours might do for you, and how different systems can come together to give you a particular great experience. If you’re a professional; a designer or architect; consider this when discussing smart tech with your client.
The great thing about truly smart homes is that they learn and adapt to you. This starts with a bespoke installation and continues as your home learns your routines and preferences. The right start can make all the difference here so think carefully on what you want from the start.
At Baker Stone we know how to create the perfect smart home experience. If you’re planning a smart home for yourself or your clients, get in touch today to ensure it feels just right.
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