Recent SELECT webinars with BEMCO and Lutron have proved there’s an appetite for intelligent home technology – but what are the next practical steps an electrician should take?
Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, hopefully, we can all begin to look forward to a sustained recovery and a return to some sort of normal business activity.
However, many businesses will now be looking for alternative work to support depleted income streams –
and smart home technology may just be one such opportunity, particularly with smart tech products predicted to rise significantly by 2025.
Growing numbers of tech-savvy homeowners are investing in these products and many want help to decide on the technology and products suitable for them. This could be driven by the increasing range of products now in the market or it may be that the homeowner has specific requirements that need specialist skills and knowledge.
Whatever the reason, clearly if homeowners want help to select suitable smart tech products then they will also want someone to install the tech for them and, in SELECT’s opinion, electricians and electrical contractors are best placed to do this as they already possess most of the technical knowledge and skills required.
What is a smart home?
A smart home is simply one that is equipped with a smart electrical installation where the smart connected equipment installed can be controlled remotely using an app on a smartphone or tablet computer. This provides many benefits for a homeowner by making it more convenient to control and monitor their home and can include voice control technology. This enables them to schedule specific events and adjust home comfort settings to meet their needs and can also provide control and monitoring when away from home to give them peace of mind. Smart homes are often created to enhance audio or visual installations associated with a smart TV or home cinema, to enhance the control of heating and/or lighting to reduce energy consumption, to enhance home security or a combination of all of the above.
What are the opportunities?
Of course, while promoting smart home technology as a new opportunity, smart homes themselves are not new. What is new is that with the growth in wireless technology, increased use of smart-phones and the ever-increasing range of affordable smart tech products, this type of installation can now be easily and cost-effectively installed in all types of home.
Early smart homes relied on cabling installations, using data cables (Cat 5 UTP) and coaxial to connect smart connected equipment. It was therefore not such an easy job to retrofit the technology into existing homes and also the range and costs associated with the smart tech products available at the time were not as they are now. However, this has all changed, opening up a potentially huge market.
It should also be mentioned that in new housing developments, smart home technology appears to be very under-used at the moment. Where properly considered and specified, given the relatively low cost of the technology in comparison to the overall construction costs of a new house, it could be something that would interest potential buyers and could boost sales.
Perhaps this is an area worthy of further exploration with those responsible for the specification of new housing developments.
What do I need to do to become a smart home electrician?
From an electrician’s point of view, smart home tech is relatively simple to install and connect as it makes use of the home Wi-Fi system and a smartphone or tablet computer to control the smart devices either directly or via a hub.
The first step to becoming a smart home electrician should therefore be to understand and develop your knowledge of smart tech products and what they can do, particularly those that you intend to install.
Once you have obtained this knowledge, start to engage with potential customers and spread the word on smart tech and let them know what you can do for them. However, as a word of caution it may be best to start small, perhaps by installing a few smart tech products in your own home which will help you to gain valuable experience before undertaking small projects for paying customers! In other words, learn to walk before you try to run.
If you feel that you need training or back-up support, check with manufacturers of the products to see if they provide help with this. If you’re using established brands, most will be able to provide free product training either directly through their technical support team or perhaps through a local trade supplier.
Smart lamps and smart lighting
Providing smart lighting solutions, such as installation of smart lamps and smart lights or upgrading existing lighting circuits with smart control devices, may be the easiest route into becoming a smart home electrician.
Replacing existing lamps with smart lamps for instance is particularly easy and features include dimming control, automatic switching and the ability to choose a wide range of lamp colours (which is useful for creating mood settings). Smart lamps are also energy efficient and will help customers to reduce their overall home energy consumption. The tech associated with the products is simple and easy to set up and operate using Bluetooth and an app.
Some smart lamps can also be connected to other smart home tech products to take advantage of voice control technology, i.e. Amazon Echo with Alexa voice control, Apple Home Kit with Siri voice control or Google Home with Google Assistant. Where such voice control smart products are to be used, make sure the smart lamps are compatible with the voice control technology.
Where installing specific smart lighting products, such as a floor-standing lights or table lights, the
supply and means of control is simply facilitated by connection to a local BS 1363 socket-outlet using a smart plug or connection unit which comes with the smart light and is again easy to set up and operate.
“Factor in spending time with your new customers to explain how devices operate and how to set or adjust settings on completion of work”
The above options, however, may offer limited opportunities and can present issues in themselves, i.e. the number of devices that can be connected to a home Wi-Fi network could become a source of problems with drop-off affecting the lighting where the Wi-Fi is unmanaged (which will be the case with most homeowners).
So, perhaps a better option would be to install or upgrade all or parts of existing lighting circuits to provide a smart lighting control system. This has the advantage that the work does require the services of a skilled electrician as connections are necessary between the lighting circuit and the smart devices being installed.
Smart lighting systems are created by connecting the smart lighting devices to an interface (hub) that uses radio frequency to connect them all together with the home Wi-Fi system, or connection can be made via a smart product which can give voice control. This approach to smart lighting is usually more cost-effective for the homeowner, as the normal lights and lamps can be used and such systems also benefit from the wealth of experience and knowledge gained by lighting control companies over many years, which results in a professional grade of installation and user experience.
These provide a huge range of options for the homeowner, making dimming and automatic control possible, including presence and absence detection as well as options to locate remote switching devices conveniently for the customer’s requirements and providing a huge range of options for scene-setting.
Don’t be afraid of the technology
Be aware that it will not always be plain sailing when installing smart home technology and you will encounter problems at some stage of becoming a smart home electrician, including:
Issues with dimming LED lamps – when installing smart dimming make sure that the devices are compatible with the lamps.
Issues with poor Wi-Fi coverage in certain areas of a home – extend the Wi-Fi or install a repeater device to extend control from the smart product Wi-Fi interface.
Remember, there are always solutions to such problems and reliable technical back-up from product manufacturers can be hugely beneficial to guide you through these issues when you encounter them.
Also factor in spending time with your new customers to explain how devices operate and how to set or adjust settings on completion of work.
Whatever route you decide to take to get involved with smart home technology, the most important thing is to enjoy the experience and do not be afraid of the smart home technology. Do your homework and identify reliable products and suppliers – this could be an exciting opportunity for some.