How to make the smart choice by Steve Detmer, Residential Product Manager at Lutron Electronics
This year we have all been faced with our workplaces and homes blurring into one. As work/life schedules continue to evolve, so too have our priorities. In most cases we are spending more time in our homes, bringing increased awareness of the comfort, convenience, aesthetics and flexibility of our environment. This trend has driven smart home technology sales, including new TVs for the many weekends spent at home and headphones for all the virtual meetings, as well as smart speakers, lighting and voice assistants. Each has the role of improving specific aspects of the home, from entertainment to productivity to energy efficiency.
With the increased demand for smart home technology, there is an ever-growing list of products with varied settings, functions and standards. Although this technology is designed to make our lives easier, choosing the right solution has become increasingly difficult, even for those in the industry. Independently choosing between two solutions, that look almost identical, can be a painstaking task. Anyone who has invested in a technology that was subsequently made redundant (built-in CD or DVD players, iPod docks, etc.) understands the frustration this can cause.
As technology continues to develop so quickly, looking at individual products can be unhelpful and overwhelming. Instead, it’s more important to focus on the non-negotiable, fundamental elements of smart home tech to guide your decision.
Creating a list of rules to stick to, and features or benefits to look out for, can help you to make the smart choice that will not restrict your home in years to come. From how to prioritise the technology to buy, to the role of automation and wireless technology, there are some key aspects that cannot be ignored in the buying process.
Wireless leads the way
It’s no secret that wireless is becoming the standard in the consumer technology industry. But in the era of the home-office, it’s a necessity. To create an optimal home-working environment, we need a certain level of intuitive, wireless control to change the setting to suit our needs. Occupants need to be able to adapt a space based on the task or activity at hand, as well as have the ability to install and upgrade simply and cost-effectively. With an increased focus on connectivity to support productivity and flexibility in the home, wireless technology provides a clear, future-proof solution for homeowners.
Solutions that offer easy-to-use setup and control also minimise the need to call a contractor and save on maintenance and time costs, while meaning spaces can continue to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of the modern occupant. Smart lighting solutions, for example, can be installed and upgraded without the need to tear down walls and invest in disruptive rewiring.
With space at a premium, many of us are looking to renovate and retrofit our properties to create more room and optimise the space we already have. On top of control and maintenance, a wireless system has huge installation benefits – they are ideal for retrofit applications and can save costs in new construction. Technology that does not require any intrusive work means it can fit in seamlessly with decorations and cause minimal hassle.
The connected home
Alongside wireless, the growth of inexpensive voice assistants has been one of the greatest technological advances of the decade. Today, products from Apple, Amazon or Google, each with their own unique benefits, can be found in nearly every home. With just a tap of an app, or a simple command, these assistants can turn on lights, close blinds and even alert you when someone is at your door. However, the vast choice of home assistants on the market can also be intimidating – What if the next must-have feature means you need to swap? How much extra will it cost?
Unsurprisingly, in the race to own the gargantuan sector, these brands have siloed much of their technology – forcing users to make a choice, and in most cases, stick with it for the long term, making the decision-making process far more time-consuming.
When choosing technology, homeowners need to think about interoperability – the ability for the product to communicate with other products in their home. Ideally, solutions should be able to integrate with all the major vendors and be free from forced loyalties which could pigeon-hole users into only using one brand.
At the same time, the smart home industry is constantly seeing new players enter the market. Some are start-ups that may not be around for the lifetime of your product and may not provide the support you deserve – homeowners need to be sure they choose brands with a solid history and a certain future.
While we all have the best of intentions when choosing technology, it’s easy to make mistakes. When making a decision, we all have to factor in the inevitable changes in our lives over the years to come and ensure that the space continues to meet our needs and grow with us.
Flexible control is the best solution - adaptable systems make a solid investment, with the knowledge that they can easily make adjustments following changes in lifestyle, season or daily schedule. By investing in flexible, discreet technology, homeowners can capture and develop style, convenience and comfort with the times. That includes purchasing connected technology that can be wirelessly updated to include the latest features without having to buy new equipment or go through inconvenient reinstalments.
Making the smart choice in 2021
The key piece of advice when looking at creating a smart home is starting with the solutions you use most often, whether you realise it or not – those things that are working away in the background day in, day out. Heating and lighting specifically should be the first port of call – these solutions will make a fundamental difference to the comfort and cost of your home and should be prioritised above more superficial, recreational features.
Approaching smart home technology can seem daunting. On occasions it can seem the deeper you dig, the more you realise you don’t know. Even where to start can seem impossible – AV, heating, security – they are all important, but we all are working to a budget. This choice is set to get somewhat easier, as the industry continues to innovate. In 2021, we can expect smart technology performance to take great strides as the manufacturers learn more and prices come down, creating more accessible and widely adopted smart-home options for all.