More than 30 years ago, the American Association of House builders coined the term “Smart House”. While the concept of remote-controlled or automated housing has not yet become a standard, it has been a success story in the US since the turn of the century. Although films and TV series have a life which is largely dominated by automation in the future. In the present-day Germany, however, the idea has been able to establish itself to a limited extent, despite ever better technical conditions.
The House of the Future – Opportunities and Disadvantages
The term “Smart House “as” House of the Future” applies in two respects: On the one hand, the concept is probably associated with science fiction visions in many minds. On the other hand, there is a fairly broad interest in Germany, but the number of currently networked households is manageable – for the time being, smart living is still a trend, the implementation of which is in the future.
What is a Smart Home?
In the first place, behind SmartHome, the concept behind a series of technical procedures and systems, whose use in houses and apartments is intended to enhance various areas of life. These include:
- The so-called house automation, ie improved living and living quality through the networking of household appliances, household appliances and entertainment electronics;
- More efficient energy, gas and water consumption through smart metering;
- An improved feeling of safety through the use of appropriate sensors, cameras, etc.
In the first place, the most complete networking of all the fixtures, switches and devices used is to be found in intelligent housing. They can either store data themselves and respond to these inputs ( building automation ) or they can be controlled from a central point.
An important aspect is the possibility to easily manage this control via a smartphone, tablet or PC. Mobile devices allow the issuing of commands to the house technology from the road.
The advantages of intelligent houses
One of the great advantages of the Smarthome is the possibility of being able to operate everything in the house or in the home from a single device or push button without much effort. This is made possible by the fact that, in the case of such technical solutions, the sensors and actuators are connected with each other but are not directly connected to one another. The situation is different in a conventional light switch in which the sensor, ie the switch visible on the wall, and the actuator for interrupting or producing the current supply are connected directly to one another. In the Smart Home, networking allows a spatial separation of sensors and actuators so that more than just its original task can be assigned to the push button.
Access to the entire house technology, even on the road – this is the great advantage of comprehensive home automation.
In this way, comfort can be enhanced by the transfer of many everyday handholds to the technology: in addition to the light, heating systems and blinds can also be centrally controlled. Anyone who does not want to do this can use event-driven programming to ensure that the required states are produced automatically in all areas at the desired time.
However, the control of the house technology does not only serve the mood and the feel-good factor, but can also contribute to an efficient energy management, eg in the case of heating and blind control. The weather- or time-dependent programming of the terminals can be supplemented by intelligent meters for a better overview of the electricity, gas and water consumption. In this way, improvements can still be made to the cost reduction, for example, with intermediate connectors that bypass the stand-by mode of electronic devices. The aspect is also interesting because the favorable price of the calendar year is not going to end. In 2015 the average electricity price for private households in Germany fell by about 1%. This is confirmed by the Federal Association of Energy and Water Management (BDEW) according to this source. This was due to the low electricity procurement costs and the drop in the EEG levy, which had been set too high for 2014. On a continuous basis, however, the EEG levy will only decline from 2023 onwards, and in 2016 the German households will not be able to feel it.
The issue of security is not limited to the various solutions of burglar protection in the Smart Home. In an intelligent home, technical tools can be integrated that can help elderly people in particular. Safe living space therefore has very different functional areas from the nightlight function to the prevention of falls in the dark via smoke detectors to motion detectors with connected monitoring cameras.
The disadvantages of smart house
One of the major drawbacks of smart home solutions can be the price. Cable-based systems, in particular, can become very expensive due to the complexity of the installation of the lines. The extent to which the investments go is therefore not only based on personal wishes and ambitions, but also on the capacity of their own purse.
The smartphone as a key to the home network always means a certain risk.
Who has the control by smartphone from the road on his / her wish, must also consider various security aspects. On the one hand, the apps used can collect data about their users – for example when the person leaves the house or re-enters – and possibly even redirect. On the other hand, the theft of the smartphone can have even worse consequences than just the loss of the phone. Moreover, inadequately secured systems based on Internet access are often a threat: unauthorized access to the network can also lead to intrusion into the house or apartment.
Another problem is the spread of different solutions for the transmission paths and the equipment technology from different suppliers, which are often not compatible with each other. The various operating systems for smartphones are more difficult. Manufacturers of smart home systems have to open it to different users, which may make their own solutions more vulnerable to hackers.
Retrofit for the Smart Home
If you want to retrofit your own home to the technical state of a SmartHome, but do not want to do without major interventions in the existing building fabric and accordingly higher costs, still has the option Funksystem. Because these can be installed with far less effort in their own four walls.
Systems and devices
A SmartHome system always consists of different SmartHome devices. By networking the devices with a central control unit and creating a complete system, a complete system is created. At the same time, the control panels simultaneously fulfill the function of the communication interface for the users: Here, setpoints for the various living areas are entered and actual actual values are checked. Depending on the manufacturer, the offered range of equipment ranges from temperature sensors and motion detectors to roller shutter motors, heating control and switch boxes to intelligent lighting.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of household appliances are being equipped for intelligent living. Many of these appliances, such as refrigerators or dishwashers, already meet high energy efficiency standards. Therefore, it is above all, in addition to the data exchange of the devices among themselves and / or their central control, to the optimized use in terms of energy consumption. Thus, as described at pc-magazin.de, the self-produced electricity can be specifically used by intelligently linking the household appliances with a photovoltaic system.
Intelligent LED lamps can be switched on and off by radio, adapt to daylight and spread space by different colors.
The same applies to smart lighting. The use of LED lamps can help reduce energy costs, and their robustness, especially in terms of switching resistance, predestines them for use in intelligent lighting systems. In practice, for example, the coupling of LED light sources with motion detectors is possible. The light is then switched off as soon as there are no more people in a room. The central control of the overall illumination via the app also allows for an automatic adjustment to the daylight conditions or a combination of sound and sound in the same product.
The power savings also support smart sockets, even if the comparison shows significant differences in the range of functions. In some cases, they even have the advantage of not having to rely on a complete Smart Home System. The plug- in connectors can normally be operated via apps from the smartphone or tablet, but also the control from the PC is possible – in case of doubt, the devices also have a switch for manual operation. The mode of operation is the same as that of conventional ones. However, some products can also control the power consumption of the devices or automatically switch off a device in standby mode.
The search for the right product
The retrofitting of the home into a smart home requires many decisions. The choice between cable-bound and radio-based systems is often dependent on the structural possibilities. If you are not new or homeowner, the more complicated laying of cables will probably think twice. On the other hand, radio systems have the advantage of fast attachment and removal.
With regard to the range of services, the question arises whether a real home automation is striven for or whether it should primarily remain with the control of the system components. Sophisticated automation, of course, offers more comfort – but it may also require more effort with proper configuration and cost.
Simpler solutions may be limited in their initial performance. As entry-level products do not always cover all functional areas, the possibility of future expansion is all the more important. However, users who are primarily interested in the topic of energy saving may want to take up the security aspect in their system – or vice versa.
If a future expansion is planned at least as far as the entry product is concerned, the question of compatibility plays a central role. Many systems from different manufacturers can not be combined with one another. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the preferred supplier has sufficient extensions, if devices from other manufacturers can not be integrated.
As an orientation aid, the independent institute for building technology offers a questionnaire with the help of which the focus of the desired benefits of a smart home can be determined in advance.
Radio standards and connection technology
One factor that determines the compatibility of devices from different manufacturers is the radio standard used in each case, via which they communicate with each other. Again, there are many conceivable solutions. It is therefore important to know whether the used radio technology has a future perspective. The website smarthomewelt.de provides an overview of the various radio systems, which are described in part in the following.
- KNX RF
The great advantage of the KNX radio standard lies in its manufacturer independence. The technology has established itself as an international, European and Chinese standard since the 1990s. In addition, KNX also works across the entire range, ie all components such as heating, lighting, safety technology, etc. can be connected to one another.
In order for the terminals in the SmartHome to communicate with each other, various radio standards are used.
KNX RF is the radio version of the original KNX technology. Like some other spark solutions, an average frequency of 868.3 megahertz is used. This is to reduce the susceptibility of WLAN-based systems. However, the structural conditions have to be taken into account more carefully, so that the radio connections are not restricted. For this purpose, however, the radio variant can also be coupled with an existing, cable-connected system.
The radio standard of EnOcean uses the same radio frequency as the KNX RF, is also recognized as an international standard, independent of manufacturer and compatible with cable systems. To ensure that the data exchange between the sensors and actuators is stable, data packets which are as small as possible are sent in a bidirectional manner, ie with confirmation of the data reception. The special feature, however, is the form of the power supply. EnOcean’s technology does not use batteries, but it uses energy harvesting to extract energy from the environment. This makes them particularly energy-efficient.
With Z-Wave, networking in the Smart Home in the private sector is to be placed on a uniform basis. Therefore, a similar frequency range is used as in the previously presented radio standards. The communication between sensors and actuators is also bidirectional at Z-Wave. Z-Wave uses mesh networking for even greater stability. In this radio network the individual devices are connected not only to the control unit, but also to one another. With a sufficiently large number of devices, the network stability can thus also be obtained over longer distances. The only downside: Z-Wave does not provide support for multimedia transmissions.
The ZigBee radio standard combines wireless networking and energy efficiency. The devices use either the kinetic energy of the switch actuation or at least the longest with a low battery consumption. Although ZigBee counts among the more widespread radio standards, it brings with it some disadvantages: Unlike the competing products, there is no cross-manufacturer compatibility. In addition, there are security shortcomings in the encryption of device communication, as the news website Heise online reports. However, solutions are being worked on in both areas.
Entry-level products for your own Smart Home
Many manufacturers offer intelligent heating thermostats for their smart home solutions, which replace the old controllers.
The advantage of starter packages for the Smart Home is the easy initial installation, which every user can make themselves. In addition, these systems already offer a certain scope of services and can also be expanded not only in the profiling according to the individual ideas.
- RWE SmartHome. Not only customers of the energy company can take advantage of its company-owned SmartHome solution. Since 2011 the system of RWE offers application possibilities in nearly all areas – only the entertainment electronics is not considered. The starter package currently costs 319 euros and includes, in addition to the control center, two radiator thermostats, an intermediate plug and a wall transmitter. This means that all functions of the SmartHome can already be used in a small scale. The system is installed by connecting the central control unit to the domestic internet, the first configuration is carried out on the PC. Later the control can also be executed by app from the smartphone, but the mobile access will be paid after the first two years.
Radio communication from RWE SmartHome uses a secure protocol, which now also allows the integration of devices from other manufacturers.
- Telekom Smart Home. Following a similar principle, Telekom also offers an introduction to its Smart Home solution. In addition to the use of the mobile Smart Home service, the current offer includes a Qivicon homebase as well as an intermediate plug and a motion detector. By working together with Qivicon, the Telekom Smart Home has the advantage of being expandable with the products of other manufacturers as well. The base station is also set up online, but the configuration of the components can be made via the app. With this, the devices can also be controlled or linked by means of “if-then” scenarios. Unforeseen situations report the app immediately.
- Gigaset Elements. The focus of the Gigaset products from the Elements series is on the subject of security. The starter kit costs around 200 euros and includes the base station, a door sensor and a movement sensor, which can be installed freely in the room. The control unit is set up via a LAN connection to the router, the modules can also be controlled via the app. The individual sensors then provide information about the current status – for example, whether all doors are closed – and report unusual movements immediately. In addition, the door sensor can be used as an alarm system, alternatively there is a proper alarm siren. Sensors for the windows and cameras complete the offer for home security.
- FRITZ! Box Smart Home and FRITZ! Powerline 546E. In many households FRITZ! Boxes already work as a router, the manufacturer AVM wants to establish them additionally as a central interface for the home networking. The range of devices for the SmartHome is still limited, but the PowerLine 546E adapter still offers some possibilities. One is the data transmission via the power line supported, on the other hand it acts as intelligent socket. The power consumption of the connected devices can be measured and these can be switched as with the previously described intermediate connectors. In addition, the adapter is also a WLAN repeater, which can extend the range of the home network.
- Elgato Eve. Elgato uses the Smart Home products of the Eve series to support Apple’s HomeKit. That means the offered devices can be operated with the corresponding app of iPhone and iPad, with the help of Siri even voice-controlled. This solution does not need its own base station, because the Apple TV streaming box serves as a connection between the control and the terminals. The device communication runs through the Bluetooth smart radio standard. Offers are currently available for the room climate, doors and windows, a weather station and a smart socket. While the use of Apple devices is absolutely necessary during the operation, Elgato endeavors to provide integration possibilities for third-party products.
- HomeMatic and HomeMatic IP from eQ-3. The East Frisian technology manufacturer eQ-3 has two different SmartHome solutions on offer. The HomeMatic system is built around the CCU2 control center, the scope of the corresponding components is quite large. This results in a lot of settings – at the same time, HomeMatic requires most of the time to work on the systems. The new HomeMatic IP is specifically designed for beginners. Prerequisites are an access point and the corresponding app. All related components can then be controlled with the Internet protocol IPv6. So far, however, these elements have mainly been designed for heating control, and the two systems are not compatible because of the use of the IPv6. After all, products from third-party vendors should be integrated and the CCU2 system promises compatibility with the new solution. Unfortunately, this is not planned in the opposite direction.
- Devolo HomeControl. The company Devolo in Aachen is supplying powerline solutions, but HomeControl also has its own program for the intelligent home. The starter package includes the control panel, a contact sensor for windows or doors as well as a switch socket. The cost point is about 200 euros. The basis is connected to the router by LAN cable, the communication with the other devices is via Z-Wave. In addition to Devolo’s own components, third-party equipment can also be integrated more easily. The sockets can also be used as repeaters. Setup and operation of the system work via web browser or app, but in the possible offline mode, this is no longer from the outside. The focus on ease of use also makes HomeControl easy to use.
- Belkin WeMo. The WeMo system from Belkin is entirely designed for the control of the SmartHome via app. The available elements – smart sockets, lamps, motion detectors and cameras – can be programmed via the smartphone according to your own wishes. This can either be fixed times or scenarios, the call is also possible from the road – prerequisite is the possession of a mobile device from Apple. It is planned to expand the existing range of components by six additional sensors. The WeMo Water for controlling the water consumption is still in the test phase.
Conclusion – Living in Smart Homes
SmartHome solutions are now available for all tastes and budgets – living in the house of the future is already possible now.
Living in the House of the Future is now possible in many areas even in the present – not in the extent prophesied by science fiction, but in many areas of application with quite extensive possibilities. However, the multitude of providers with often incompatible products remains problematic.
Nevertheless, there are some entry-level products which not only score with their ease of use in terms of installation and furnishing, but also provide a good basis for further networking of the home network. It is, however, especially with regard to the future perspective that the radio standards used must be considered. The broad support of many manufacturers ensures that the chosen system can be upgraded or retrofitted in the long term.
Otherwise, the taste of the smart home system is largely defined by their own taste: depending on the thematic focus, different solutions offer different possibilities, as the example of the security orientation of the Gigaset Elements has shown. However, starter kits can help to gain an initial insight into how the home automation system works – without investing huge sums in the project’s own Smart Home.