This article was first published in the August/September 2021 issue of the Circuit Breaker.
The thought of a smart home can seem daunting to many. Extra frustrating gadgets and complex technology can be a lot to deal with for even the most tech-savvy of people. However, when done right these gadgets can make life so much easier. Have you ever wanted to heat a room on a cold morning before you get out of bed? Or how about dimming the lights when you want to watch a movie? What if I told you that this and more can be achieved through a click of a button on your smartphone without even standing up.
The idea of smart homes is not new. Bill Gates has had a functional smart home since 1995, and smart home technology dates back as early as the ’80s. The possibilities are endless, with Bill Gates’ home changing to the preferred temperature and lighting of each guest automatically when they enter a new room. Behind wall speakers also continue the music you’ve played in one room, for each new room you enter. This is just the beginning of the technology featured in the billionaire's 130-million-dollar home.
It is safe to say that we can’t all be Bill Gates, and these features may be a little (lot) out of our budgets. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t also integrate smart technology into our own homes. Over a third of New Zealanders have already added smart aspects to their homes, often doing this themselves with DIY technology. DIY smart homes are both cost-efficient and flexible to your specific needs, there is no reason to overcomplicate things. Starting small with devices such as an Amazon Alexa, or a smart plug can drastically change your everyday life for the better.
Smart devices are all connected to each other through a wireless network and can be accessed and controlled through one central point e.g., a smartphone or computer. Your devices then learn your preferences and adjust their settings to suit your needs. Their performance is also improved when they are connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the billions of different devices connected globally by the internet. These devices all collect and share data with each other to improve performance. This network makes our devices smarter and more responsive to our needs. The IoT plays a big part in the function of smart homes with smart devices most often having their own small computers that connect to this network.
Alternative energy sources are truly the way of the future, and eventually, we must all embrace them. Despite our own personal opinions on pollution and climate change, resources such as coal and oil are finite and can’t be relied on indefinitely. Energy solutions such as wind, water, and solar power are all sustainable resources that are ever-increasing in popularity. Solar energy has taken off, proving to be the most popular among individuals who want to make their homes more sustainable.
The great thing about solar devices is that they can be easily integrated into our smart homes to achieve true energy efficiency. Having our homes store our solar power and only use it when needed is a great way to save money while also being more sustainable. I’m sure it goes without saying that we’d love to save as much as possible when it comes to our energy bill at the end of the month, and it’s also always great to reduce our personal carbon footprints.
Unfortunately, we can’t just focus on the positives. Sadly, there are also downfalls of “smartifying” your home that must be considered. Extra costs and potential security and privacy breaches are just the beginning. Negative effects on the environment and the fact the devices may at any time be rendered useless if the internet crashes are also major factors.
Although smart homes can help with sustainability by being more energy-efficient, they also come with a cost. Many smart home devices are constructed using plastics and rare metals. Creation, mining, and disposal of these can contribute towards pollution and overuse of resources.
Initial installation can be expensive. Although you can get DIY devices for relatively cheap, if you are wanting to equip your home with the latest tech then the costs can stack up quite quickly. Unfortunately, technology is also constantly evolving meaning that these devices often need to be upgraded frequently. These upgrades can also become costly over time, re-purchasing new models is expensive.
Privacy can become a big issue with smart devices, especially devices that have cameras or microphones. All devices connected to the Internet of Things are vulnerable to data leaks and hackers. In some extreme cases, hackers have taken control and seen into peoples’ homes and recorded audio of their conversations. The likelihood of this happening is generally low, but if this is something you are worried about then definitely proceed with caution.
Other than privacy leaks, security may also become a risk if your smart system is linked to your home security devices. Make sure all your devices are pin code locked so that unwanted people are unable to access your smart system when you leave your devices unattended. Another tip is to never share how your smart security system works, even with friends and family who you think you trust.
For some, the idea of having the newest technology is an exciting prospect, but to others, their privacy is too important to take the risk. If we flash forward to the future, it is likely that most of our homes will include automated technology. But for now, it is personal preference whether you believe the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to smart homes.