Make them all work together
Adding useful features like smart light switches and smart thermostats to your home, is only half of the battle. What sets apart a custom built smart home from homes with many smart features is how these features can work together. To make the the blinds come down when the thermostat is calling for cooling on a hot summer day, these components must have a way to talk to each other. This is what designing and building a smart home is really about: creating a path to share information among the smart components and to manage the decision making process based on that infomation.
Here is how we do it
Before we start designing a new smart home system, we need to understand what our customer exactly needs. This is the most important step in every one of our projects. Without knowing what the expetations are, we have no way to create a successful system, no matter how many cool features we will program into it. We spend a lot of time asking and answering questions, to make sure we are in complete agreement on what we are about to build.
Once we know what kind of smart home system we need to build, our next challenge is to find the right components that are the best fit for the features the customer requested, the budget and the phyisical characteristics of the home. This step and the next one, the Control System selection go hand in hand to get the best overall results. Our goal here is to use the best combination of available technology to deliver all agreed features.
Manufacturers often chose proprietary languages (protocols) to communicate with their equipment. Even if two devices can talk to each other, we still have to decide which device may have to override the other. If we open the window, shoud the house stop the cooling or heating of that room? What if we want to apply a delay to when to stop the cooling? A smart thermostat may not have the capacity to sense or even consider the open state of a window. To resolve these and other similar issues, there is a special genre of smart devices we can use: The Control Processors or Control Systems. These control processors are made specifically to be able to talk with many if not all commonly available smart devices, even if they were made by another manufacturer. These CPUs can also make not-so-smart components into being part of a smart home system utilizing their sensors to monitor and control them. When picking the right control system we consider the job at hand, and future extensions as well.
Putting a light switch or a volume control where the user expects it to be, without disturbing or compromizing the overall look and feel of the home is part of the art what we call User Interface Design. A lot of time goes into making these "obvious" decisions. Depending on the layout of the house, the planned use of the room, the request or preference of our customer, we cosider whether a simple keypad, a more complex touch screen, a rather excentric sensitive surface or a hidden sensor is more adequate for controlling the features of a given location. If the user interface design fails, the smart home fails. If you can't turn on or off the heating in a room with a few easy steps, then the investment of time and money into a smart home system was totally in vein.
Allocating Equipment Space
If we neglect the task of finding enough physical space for the equipment needed to build our smart home system, we are asking for trouble. The best thing is to consult with the Architect about how much space is required to carry out all the planned smart home features. Unfortunately, we rarely have the luxury of talking to the Architect before the blueprints are finalized. Smart home systems considered by many, a virtual function, which does not need actual space. "It is all in the Cloud, is it not?" If we can't allocate enough space for the equipment, including the wiring intake, we may need to return to the design cirle and make a lot of creative compromises to have a functional smart home system, at all. It may work out fine at the end, but according to our experience, it is best to start with more space than no space.
As soon as the construction site is ready for the different phases of hardware installation, we run the necessary wires, put in the required supporting equipment. When the interior walls are complete, we deliver the main components of the smart home system and connect everything together.
Technology develops extremely fast. Keeping up with the changes (even during construction) is the key for the longevity of a smart home system. The best strategy is to build a path, physical and programmatical, to accommodate future extension. The best part of future proofing is that it costs so little (at construction time), then it is not worth skipping it. Placing a few feet of pipes in between strategic locations, is all that it takes to make a smart home ready for whatever the future may bring. Leaving extra equipment space in the control room, is also a good strategy for future proofing. The recently built modern control systems will have enough spare capacity to add new features to it. If necessary, upgrading the system processor is also possible. If the control software is done correctly, in a structured, modular fashion, adding new features to it, will have no difficulty at all.
After confirming all major and minor elements of the new smart home system, we start programming the requested features into the system. The majority of the programming work usually takes place off site, during the time of the phisycal construction of the house. When the hardware is ready on site, we load our system program into the Control System and start the real-life testing of all features. By the time the family is ready to move in, we are ready to present the operational Smart Home System.
Changes and Updates
A real life smart home construction, just like any other home building projects, is rarely without unexpected changes. A typical example of such a change is when a main component (alarm panel, heat pump, etc.) gets a major update by its manufacturer and we find it out upon delivery, that the previously desingned control interface is no longer able to work with the new, updated model. We will do our best to keep up with reflecting the changes in our System Program and if necessary we will modify or replace the supporting hardware as well. If the adjustment requires consent or additional funding from the home owner, we will submit the necessary information to keep the project going.