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What is a Smart Home?

In short, a Smart Home is a digitally interactive home. One that can be managed through a remote device like a phone, iPad, or even technology activated by your proximity to the home... for instance a garage door opening as you turn into your driveway. There are some very basic examples of this that can be bought over the counter like Alexia. Typically used to purchase products from Amazon or to find out if it is going to rain today, but this and several other interactive apps are capable of doing much more, like controlling household devices. Of course, nothing is ever that simple... is it.

You walk into a room and ask Alexia to turn on the living room lights... so what exactly happens at that moment? Well, an entire integrated system is being activated that is carrying signals and data both wirelessly and hardwired through low voltage wires. Your words are translated into command codes which are then pointed to a specific device that receives and translates that code to control (LOL) yet another device. And many of the commands, codes, and interactions live in the cloud or on another companies' server outside your home. So... the Smart part of a Smart Home is the bi-directional exchange of information.

However, at the heart of any interactive system is a distribution of low voltage wires. This will be the case for some time as these systems become more complex, there is more of a data demand, tasking a wireless signals ability to keep up. And even now many rural locations are still using old and outdated phone lines as their only option to interact with the open internet. There seems to be very little appetite by government and/or large corporate service providers to install the infrastructure required to update rural homes.

If you live in an area that has access to high-speed internet providers, and if you are building a new home, you should seriously consider carefully planning and designing the kind of technology you want. It's a very common mistake for architects and designers to forget about low voltage wires in their plans. An example... just prior to COVID, as low voltage contractor and audio and video specialist my company was called by a well-known architect who was building a high-rise condominium complex. They asked my company to provide very basic pre-wire for in-ceiling speakers and television locations so anyone purchasing a condominium would have the option to install a sound system and TVs without having to tear up the walls to run new wire. Well... as it turned out the architect had not considered any low voltage wire in the building at all... none. So, while we were there, we were asked to run wire to all the exit doors for the alarm system, run wire to the basement for boiler control, run intercom wire to every apartment, run wire to all the security cameras, run wire to front desk for video, and run conduit to each apartment so Verizon could run fiber optic cable, run control wires from every thermostat to air handlers and servo controllers for heat, and run wire to the elevator control room for a hardwired phone in the elevator. Like I said... a common mistake, and for the Architectual team... a very costly one.

A Smart Home requires some planning and consideration if you want it to work well and most importantly, reliably. Here are some technologies to consider when building a new home. Do you want surround sound? There are some wireless options but even those require power and none of these are discreet. For in-ceiling speakers wires will need to be run. Do you want whole house audio? Again, if you want in-ceiling speakers wires will need to be run. The best option is to run these wires back to a central location and to set up equipment in a centralized location. Do you want a smart doorbell? Ring makes a great doorbell, but even it requires power and needs a low voltage wire to power it. We always run two wires in case one wire gets damaged for any reason. Do you want security cameras? There are excellent wireless cameras on the market that are smart and interactive like a Ring doorbell, however they require power as well and need a low voltage wire to work. Do you want motorized blinds and shades in your home? Some of these blinds run on low voltage and some require low voltage for control. Do you want solid Wi-Fi throughout your house? It's smart to run wires to locations through the house to add wireless extenders called WAPs (wireless access points). This will give you extensive coverage inside and even outside your home. Do you want TVs in your home? We always recommend running an internet cable to every TV so that it is hardwired and will be more responsive and will stream shows and movies faster and at higher resolutions. Do you want to have a lighting system? Lighting systems can be very complex, and many require wireless interfaces that need to be hardwired. Many of these systems work best if they are wired back to a hard switch and connected directly to your homes modem. Also, fewer wireless devices in a home and reducing EMI radiation is always a good thing.

A Smart Home can make our lives more enjoyable and possibly easier. Planning is key.

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