Bright young things
Karl Rawlins, senior technical support engineer at Scolmore Group answers some of the key questions about smart homes and building automation
What is the scale of home automation – does it need to be a complete refit of the customer's electronics, or are there minor installations that can nonetheless make a big difference to the customer?
Home automation is available in various formats, wired ‘BUS’ systems which utilises data cables with programmed control via a central computer, X10 which uses the electrical cables already fitted and then RF ‘radio frequency’ which uses wireless technology.
For full refurbishments and new-builds people have generally looked at wired home automation systems with wireless previously being for smaller, simple installations and solutions. Today, due to the digital wireless technology available and the reduced costs, wireless control is now being requested for most areas, be it new build, full refurbishment or retro-fit.
Is this very much 'customer driven' or are there any challenges/barriers to home automation that need to be discussed with the customer? For example, are there concerns about changes in technology making today's installations redundant too soon? Are there concerns about costs?
Customers are looking at how they can add security and energy-saving features to their property whilst at the same time adding a little bit of luxury with automated control. The additional bonus of it potentially adding the value to their property is also a big advantage. This is where the cost factor will play a big part in terms of which brand they look at, the different technologies available and how long the product has been available.
Product and component longevity is key in customers’ thoughts. Replacing obsolete products can be both costly and time consuming and may be beyond the capabilities of the home owner themselves. As a result, reassurances will be sought that simple software updates will future-proof the installation for an acceptable timeframe.
The fact that the components are electronic devices will mean that they will at some point need to be replaced. This is something that needs to be conveyed to the consumer and a plan put in place to maintain the installation. In most cases, updates will take the form of simple software updates.
For installers, this is where vital information can be learnt during the training process so that the installer is made aware of the procedures for product updates, enabling the relevant information to be passed on to the customer.
Is there a particular segment that is driving home automation trends – for example, new-builds?
The largest sector for home automation is now retro-fit, where homeowners are adding wireless security and energy saving features without having to alter their wiring or disrupt their decor. The new-build market and home automation installations are on the increase as sales add-ons, with wireless control being specified more often due to costs and the flexibility of the systems now available.
How can I get involved in specialising in home automation or working in this area? Is there any training available?
With the number of electrical events now available around the country, there is no easier way for contractors to see systems working and to ask questions. Most manufacturers will offer a comprehensive training support offer, which is always recommended on any system, as you learn about the system and what it can do and offer, but also to understand its limitations, be it cable runs with wired systems or the signal range with wireless systems.
What are the particular skills you would recommend?
With general wiring skills it is then down to the system being installed and the data to be logged.
For wired systems it can be installing the cables as necessary with no additional skills required, to then progressing to be trained on the final terminations and PC programming and commissioning.
For wireless systems, retro-fitting small installations (single receiver with transmitter) can be achieved without any additional skills other than reading the manufacturer's installation requirements. For larger installations I would always recommend additional training to help in understanding more about the components, programming, their signal range and also their transmission through the various building materials.
What has been your most satisfying home automation project so far?
There have been quite a few, with the majority being small to medium-sized solutions using wireless control. Eliminating the disruption to walls, gardens and driveways by switching the required circuits via radio frequency gives the greatest satisfaction. One project saved a primary school thousands of pounds when they realised they had not provided power from the main school building to the security gates at the front of the premises – we were able to overcome the problem using wireless controls.
In your opinion, what will home automation look like in the next ten years?
For most homeowners, a typical installation will be automated control whilst monitoring energy saving and security elements based on our everyday movements. Systems will then allow us to control and over-ride manually via smart phones, watches and tablets.
Most of these features are available today at a cost, but as energy companies and the government strive for us to reduce our carbon footprint and consumer’s requirements become more and more sophisticated, more home owners will look to install home automation features sometime in the future and this will become a standard requirement within the building industry.
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