What a time to be alive! Why you ask? Two simple words – home automation. Home automation has certainly come along way over the last few years, and I believe will transform the home of the future. For those that are not familiar with home automation it can be described as the ability to connect and control household items using internet network connectivity. A wide array of items including appliances, environmental control systems such as thermostats, environmental sensors such as smoke/Co2 detectors, entertainment systems, lighting systems, security cameras and alarm systems, baby and pet monitoring systems, door locks, household robots, as well as many more items can be integrated into a single home system.
Up until recently, home-automated systems were designed and implemented proprietary systems which were costly and were not able to keep up with the constantly evolving industry. Today the home automation industry still suffers from fragmentation between competing market leaders such as Amazon, Google, and Apple and fragmented technologies from companies like Phillips, Tp-Link, and Belkin, but it is safe to say that things are on the right track. The cost to make your home automated otherwise know as a “smart home” is significantly less today than it was 10 years, ago with access to a wide variety of products being easier than ever. In Toronto and the GTA stores such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Walmart, Appliance Canada, 2001 Audio/video and, lets not forget Amazon.ca, all sell smart home products. It is important to keep in mind that if you decided to integrate certain products you must stick with using the same brands, always ensuring system compatibility. It will still be some time until the technology establishes a gold standard for operation as well as a leading system manufacturer, but until then, Amazon with it’s “Alexa” platform and Google with it’s “Home” platform, have established themselves as innovators and market leaders.
Traditionally, home automation systems used an LCD touch screen to execute commands. This was revolutionized with the tablet and smart phone, but in this day and age voice command using artificial intelligence (AI) has taken over. Both Google and Amazon utilize this technology. But how do you choose between the two systems? When faced with this decision, it is imperative to identify your needs and do your homework. Both are quite similar with “Alexa” having the edge as a first mover and offering more connectable devices and if you are already an Amazon Prime member, the Alexa platform can offer some added benefits. Google on the other hand is rapidly catching up with regards to integratable products and, as expected, Google boasts it’s unparalleled search capability. Whichever platform you select, you will certainly be pleased, as the AI technology has come so far and while not exactly perfect, I still feel like I am living out my Startrek sci-fi fantasies calling out to “computer! What’s the weather like today?” or “Computer! Please set the temperature in the living room to 22 degrees”. It’s incredible.
While purchasing the basic Amazon Alexa or Google Home hardware will cost you around $45, be prepared to still spend into the thousands if you are after the complete smart home experience. I have found that having a fully integrated smart home is still not a very common consideration when most of our clients are planning and executing a home renovation, but I know as a techie and a general contractor, that we are on the cusp of home automation revolution becoming a common theme of every renovation decision. Some components of a smart home such as electrical switches and outlets, hardwired Ethernet ports, and some other elements should be left to professionals and can not be easily retrofitted. Be sure to consult and discuss with your general contractor before proceeding with a renovation if you wish to install or integrate any smart home products.
The road ahead is extremely exciting and promising for home automation. There is no question that smart homes will become the norm in the future and I, for one, am very excited about the possibilities.