From installation and system updates to malfunctions and cyber attacks, our trusty guide explains all you need to know about implementing an integrated wireless connection for your smart home.
Image: Peter Savage
Now that we’ve all got a computer in our pocket and wireless broadband, tech companies have turned their attention to the home. Brands such as Hive, Nest, Philips, Somfy and Sonos have made the idea of hi-tech accessible and desirable. But custom installers have been transforming homes with programmable lighting, heating and security for decades.
The question is, which set-up is right for your project?
Read on and take heed of the information in our handy guide to help you choose an integrated system that's right for your connected home.
Ask yourself what you want the tech in your connected home to do
Image: Phillips Hue, meethue.com
Whatever your budget or level of knowledge, begin by writing a wish list. What do you want the tech in your home to do? Heating control? Smart lighting? Music streaming? IMAX cinema in your basement and remote-control lift for your supercars? All of these are possible and, chances are, if you can imagine it, someone can make it happen.
If you simply want to add some hi-tech add-ons to your home, then plug-and-play smart gadgets are an easy-to-install solution. To get an idea of what’s possible, John Lewis has invested in smart home demo spaces so you can try out the latest products from Nest, Ring, Sonosa and Amazon Alexa. But if you’re planning a build or extension, seek out a custom installer for professional advice.
To find a reputable custom-installation expert, visit the site of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA). It’s an invaluable resource for anyone interested in home-technology design. You’ll find a list of current approved members and an extensive gallery of hi-tech projects.
Call in the professionals
Image: DSI Technology
Custom installers are essential to the success of a fully integrated system and you should think of them in the same way you would a builder, plumber or electrician. ‘The earlier you think about integrating a custom system the better,’ says Henry Shephard, business development manager and home-automation consultant at Cornflake. ‘Having a clear plan at the design stage of each room will ensure the correct infrastructure can be implemented and tested long before any hardware is installed.’
Anthony Gallon, technical director at Clever Association, agrees: ‘Being appointed at the planning stage, before any construction work commences, allows time for custom installers to develop a cable infrastructure design, as well as factor in any structural elements, such as recesses for TVs, staging for cinema seats or opportunities to simply hide equipment.’
A custom installer will either first fix cable themselves or provide detailed information to your electrician. Choosing your TV, loudspeaker or light fitting can wait until later in the project, but some decisions must be made upfront, like factoring in storage for switching boxes, media streamers, security monitors, heating controls and computers.
Could my smart home be at risk of a cyber attack?
Image: Clever Association
It’s estimated that there will be a staggering 75.4 billion connected devices in the world by 2025 and this will almost certainly mean an increase in the amount of cybercrime, but if you follow basic rules – change your Wi-Fi router’s password and don’t use the same name for everything – the risk remains low.
This said, if you want extra peace of mind, a custom installer will be responsible for the maintenance of your home’s data network and devices, ensuring all is up to date.
Can I install it myself?
Image: Clever Association
It's becoming easier to retrofit products such as thermostats, security cameras, smart bulbs and automated blinds, and link them with Amazon Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant to control multiple devices, using just your voice. Getting everything to work seamlessly can still be hit and miss.
‘A problem with IOT [internet of things] devices is that they speak different protocols, and getting them to work together is a difficult process. With custom installation there is a guarantee the system will work and in unison with every device they own, and if changes or upgrades are required, your integrator will sort it out,’ explains Shephard.
What if things go wrong?
Image: Pilkington MirroView
Your smart-home gadgets need a strong Wi-Fi signal and reliable router to work consistently – failing broadband is usually the cause of most issues – but if they do break, they’re covered by a standard retail guarantee.
If you’ve gone down the custom-installation route, you will typically sign a maintenance agreement with the contractor, which can remotely monitor your system and send an engineer in the event of a problem.
They are also responsible for software and system upgrades. Remember that despite huge improvements in Wi-Fi performance, a wired connection between your router and a smart product, like a Sonos speaker or smart TV, will provide a much more reliable signal.
The majority of smart gadgets work as standalone devices so can be easily upgraded as and when you have the budget. For instance, if you have a Nest thermostat, you can easily add extra zoned thermostats, Nest cameras, doorbells and smoke alarms to the existing smartphone app, and installation is often as simple as pressing one button.
Wired systems are more complicated to update, and if you inherit an integrated system when you buy a new home, make sure you talk to the company who installed it (or the manufacturer of the products such as Crestron and Control4) for advice.
Words: Chris Haslam
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