The smart home is for everyone. Well, that’s the prevailing narrative anyway – that a couple of hundred quid will get you everything you need in order to embrace a fully connected lifestyle. If only it really were as simple as that.
While the mainstream media focuses its attention on the simple items that seem to promise everything – thermostats that can learn your behaviour, lighting that changes colour, locks that require no physical key – the true value of the smart home isn’t found in gizmos and gadgets. A genuinely intelligent smart home goes much further than a few time-saving features; it provides a technological core that underpins and augments almost every other system in the home.
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Since there is no unified standard for the ‘smart’ technology currently out there, not all devices will communicate with each other automatically. This makes the do-it-yourself route a potential minefield of jargon and compatibility issues, requiring significant research and tweaks before everything can be made to work together in harmony.
Unless they are specialists in it themselves, few people would do the installation of wiring or plumbing themselves; likewise, the installation of a smart home is usually best left to professionals with the expertise and the knowledge to create an intelligent, user-friendly ecosystem.
The need to take a longer view
When you decide to buy a new three-piece suite, you expect it to grace your living room for a number of years to come. It’s the same with almost any investment in the home – a new fridge, a kitchen renovation, or even a new coat of wallpaper – these products are built to last, and sold accordingly. If your sofa or your fridge fell apart or stopped working a few months after buying it, you would quite rightly be outraged.
Yet many product manufacturers in the smart home space have been sucked into the Silicon Valley ethos of always needing to have ‘the next big thing’, and are either pursuing fast replacement cycles or using built-in obsolescence to guarantee a more reliable revenue stream. This practice dates back to the 1920s, when a cartel of international light bulb manufacturers clubbed together to limit the maximum lifetime of their products so they could sustain a healthy rate of unit sales.
If installed properly, smart home technology is fundamental to the operation of the home, integrating with systems as diverse as heating and lighting, home entertainment and even security systems. Treating a smart home as if it were a commodity could lead to a badly configured system with security weaknesses and a poor user experience.
The installation guarantee
When a smart home is handled by a professional installation company, they will usually offer a support and monitoring service. This ensures that equipment is maintained regularly, system errors can be fixed by a trained engineer and malfunctioning hardware can quickly be replaced. With buying home technology off the shelf, a product warranty will still exist, but once this expires you are left on your own if any problems subsequently occur.
Considering the scare stories out there, consumers are justified in having reservations about investing heavily in residential technology – but such fears do not take the larger picture into account. Not all technology is made equal and, despite there being an abundance of hardware based on the fast replacement cycle ethos, there are also manufacturers that create residential technology with a longer useful lifetime in mind.
A smart home installer worth their salt will be able to advise you on which products have a proven track record of performance and manufacturer support, and which will work best in combination. These systems might not always be as simple or quick to implement as an off-the-shelf, IoT-based solution, yet they bring with them a number of assurances: superior performance, increased device longevity and a long-term product roadmap. This often includes regular software updates and occasional field upgrades for your existing device, extending the useful lifetime of your initial investment.
As it stands, smart home technology is split into two camps, forcing purchasers to make a choice. One option is to buy and install the technology yourself, in which case the costs are absorbed up front with an additional budget built in for replacement once the warranty has expired. Taking up a fully-fledged installation and maintenance contract, meanwhile, means recurring monthly costs but also an assurance that the technology implemented will remain up to date and operational for the full lifetime of the system. It’s worth remembering that taking the option that seems cheaper might not be the most cost-effective choice when the expense is measured over time.