News / Wed Oct 2021

Smart homes and connected living

WORDS Jane Mayne

What is a smart home?

A smart home allows homeowners to control appliances, thermostats, security, lights, and other devices remotely through an internet connection. This can be set up using wireless or hardwired systems, and provides homeowners with convenience and cost savings. 

Hardwired systems are considered more reliable and are typically more difficult to hack. A hardwired system can also increase the resale value of a home, but entails installation costs. 

Smart home systems can be completely tailored to your lifestyle, which allows you to decide which appliances and devices you want to automate and integrate, and what level of control you need.  

Smart homes with integrated technologies, home cinema, and acoustic solutions have been growing in popularity in South Africa, and it’s predicted that smart homes will become mainstream, especially amongst high-end residential property owners.  

The internet of things (IoT)

So how do smart homes work? 

Basically, devices are connected with each other and can be accessed through one central point - a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or game console. Door locks, TVs, home monitors, cameras, thermostats, lights, and even appliances such as the refrigerator can be controlled through one home automation system. 

The smart home system is installed on a mobile or other networked device, and the user can create time schedules to enact certain tasks. 

Once connected, services such as a smart doorbell, smart security system, and smart appliances are all part of the internet of things (IoT) technology - a network of physical objects that can gather and share electronic information.

Smart home appliances come with self-learning skills, so they can learn the homeowner’s schedules and make adjustments as needed. 

Smart homes enabled with lighting control allow homeowners to reduce electricity use, and they benefit from energy-related cost savings. Some home automation systems also alert the homeowner if motion is detected in the home when they're away, and can call the police or fire department when triggered. 

Another benefit is that since users are connected to a portable device, they can also get notifications about any minor issues in their homes. For example, smart doorbells allow homeowners to see and communicate with people who come to their doors. 

By being able to control the internal temperature, lighting and appliances at will, users can ‘talk’ to their fridge, request a specific video or series on their TV, simply turn on the air-conditioner or washing machine before they get home.

Protect your smart home 

Smart homes come with serious cyber-related risks that shouldn't be ignored. Just as you take action to protect your computer, so too it’s important to protect your smart home. 

As hackers can gain access to a smart home's internet-enabled appliances, these need to be addressed with effective IT security measures.

How to stay safe: 

  • Protect your router - Wi-Fi internet connections in your home originate at your router. Choose a strong password, and keep its firmware updated.
  • Keep your gadgets up-to-date - Install new updates for your devices whenever they’re available - as these include patches that protect against bugs and security threats.  
  • Use security settings - Most smart home devices offer various options, such as setting a password, powering down and disconnecting when not in use, as well responding to commands only from matched voices. Use encryption when available.
  • Read the Ts & Cs – Research your products, and read privacy and security terms. Before giving up your data, ensure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. 
  • Pick one platform - This is the best way to enjoy a seamless smart home experience, and also to protect against security threats. Rather than using a range of unconnected smart devices entailing different apps, Ts & Cs, security and privacy policies, and passwords, choose just one trustworthy platform if you can. 

Looking to the future

Home automation and smart appliances are anticipated to be the fastest-growing segments of smart homes over the next five years - generated mainly through entertainment, automation, healthcare, and connected devices. 

Experts estimate that a decade from now, we’ll be completely involved in the immersive experience of the IoT, and use our voice to control most jobs at home.

Advances in technology are helping scientists come up with tech bolstered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) that will be more perceptive about homeowners themselves - their preferences, medical history and the like. Data collected will be analysed and applied - transforming homes into a true ‘smart’ home, and not merely a collection of smart gadgets and appliances.