From a speaking fire alarm to a loo that wipes your bottom, there is no end to the things your house can do for you
Picture the scene: you’re on the train on your way home from work, knackered. All you want is to be in a nice, deep, hot bath, relaxing. So, with 10 minutes of your journey left, you whip out your phone, call up the Bath-O-Matic app and run the tub ready for your arrival, complete with just the right amount of bubbles. Oh, and it’s a raw night – so while you’re at it you turn your heating on remotely to make sure that everything’s cosy when you get home.
Off the train, you don’t fancy being greeted by a dark house, so you flick on the smartphone-controlled light bulbs. But wait! You’ve arrived at your front door and your favourite track has just started playing on your iPod. No worries – Samsung’s new music system seamlessly transitions it from your headphones to your home speakers. All you need to do now is make yourself a hot chocolate (or get your phone to do it for you – it can talk to your coffee machine, naturally), and hop into your now-steaming bath.
Whether it’s your idea of heaven or hell, the technology to do all this already exists – and the likelihood is that at least some of it is coming to a home near you. The British Smart Homes sector grew by 30 per cent last year, and is now worth between £910 million and £975 million, according to the most recent report from the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. Last year, the average spend on installing smart lighting in a renovation project was almost £28,000.
OK, so we probably don’t really need some of the things that are available, such as Bosch’s Indego robotic lawnmower, for example – ideal if you don’t fancy pushing a mower around the lawn yourself (£1,299.99; bosch-indego.com). Or the Geberit AquaClean 8000plus, a loo that washes your bottom with a special spray (it has five different intensity levels). It also has a variety of special “pampering functions”, including a massage setting which “has an invigorating effect”, and an integrated warm-air dryer, as well as the most useful part – an automatic “odour-extraction function” (£4,422; geberit-aquaclean.co.uk).
Luxury loos and musical baths
Sir Stirling Moss is apparently a fan of Geberit’s rival, the Japanese brand TOTO’s new “washlet”, which cleans itself and has a heated seat, as well as a slightly scary-sounding “Tornado Flush” (£11,400; gb.toto.com). Does the world really need a musical bath? The developers behind 250 City Road obviously think so – their show apartment has one, operated by Bluetooth, which effectively turns the bath into a speaker. Or how about Natuzzi Italia’s egg-shaped Sound chair, which comes with an iPhone dock and loudspeakers concealed in the headrest? (from £2,200; natuzzi.com).
Despite these outlandish examples, incorporating smart technology into your home can make sense. After all, most of us have got a Sky box these days, or Apple TV. So if you’re doing a whole renovation project, it makes sense to install a little bit extra.
That’s what Viki and Mike Lander thought when they bought a Seventies property in Clapham two years ago. The couple, who set up their own interior design and development company last year (ensoul.co.uk), gutted the house, which hadn’t been touched for 30 years. “As we were building from scratch, we wanted to put in everything we wanted to enjoy, but also try to future proof for new things coming down the line,” says Viki. So, they installed the works.
There’s the Sonos sound system, with speakers in all the main rooms and the ability to play different music in each one, because “as a family we’re really into music, and it’s a big thing for us to have it seamlessly through the house”, (and having no dangling wires or loose cables means their two-year-old son Leo can’t get his hands on anything dangerous). The sound system is controlled through the couple’s iPads, iPhones and the computer, but a separate system, Control4, manages the media content: two Sky boxes (so they can watch different things at the same time) and a big media server with the couple’s music and film collection.
Security in their wealthy area of London is paramount, so an IP security system of three cameras patrols the front and back of the house, plus the basement – the cameras can be viewed anywhere in the world as long as there’s a wireless network. A separate IP video entry system means that Viki can hear the doorbell on her phone if she’s in the garden or the park. The couple also put in a combined heating/cooling system, digital taps in the bath, shower and basins and a commercial grade IT network for super-fast broadband and IP telephony, which lowers the cost of phone calls. They didn’t bother with controllable mood lighting, but did fit the light switch back boxes to accommodate a wireless solution at a later point if necessary. “At a guess we probably invested about £35,000 on all of the gadgets,” says Viki. “It’s a lot of money. But this is the perfect home for us and our family – and we’ve designed it as such.”
So if you want to do it yourself, what’s worth installing and what isn’t?
Forget the fancy gadgets, says Stas Lawicki, who six months ago set up Onyx Technologies, an independent technology consultancy that advises on smart tech for the home. Instead, focus on the fundamentals: lighting (a system such as Lutron, for example), heating and cooling, television and music. To that you can also add superfast broadband (many of these things are controlled via Wi-Fi anyway), and security in some form, particularly if your home is full of expensive gadgetry. “Running your bath from the back of the car when you’re half an hour away is great, but what if you’re late or stuck in traffic?” says Lawicki. “It comes down to what you’re actually going to use.”
Keep it simple
Malcolm Stewart, founder and owner of Kensington Audio Visual, agrees, adding that the overall aim should be simplicity combined with practicality. That means yes to heating that can be switched on before you get home, and yes to streaming music throughout the house, but out with washing machines that tell you when you need to buy more powder and “intelligent” fridges that inform you when you’re running low on milk (you can just open the door and see for yourself). A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything mechanical: bath-filling technology that requires mechanics to make the plug go down or the water switch on; curtains that can be drawn by remote control but require a mechanism to do so. And think carefully before installing anything that can be set to only one specified programme. “Post-fitting, I’ve discovered you can’t control the flow of the water,” says Viki of her digital taps. “It’s really style over function – I’d prefer to be able to adjust the water flow manually.”
Once you’ve worked out what you want to install, the next thing is to ensure that you have a reliable, simple system you can integrate all the elements with – and which allows you to control them from one central keypad. Annabella Nassetti, a property developer who routinely installs thousands of pounds’ worth of smart technology in the homes she works on, recommends Crestron, Control 4 and Apple’s new Savant system, all of which will pull together the various elements in your home and make it easy to manage them. “Make sure you’re buying into something that is rock solid in terms of business,” she says. “Home automation systems change so often, you want to go for something that isn’t going to fail.”
Other points to consider: although most of what you’re installing can be controlled via Wi-Fi, make sure there’s some solid wiring behind the walls with an access point on every floor, just in case the Wi-Fi cuts out. And employ a decent electrician with experience to install it all – there’s a lot of cabling involved and you don’t want to get it wrong. Make sure you’re going to use what you put in – Lutron mood lighting is all very well, but if you know you won’t bother fiddling around with different settings, just installing a single switch at the front door that controls all the lights in the house might be a better option. And think about future-proofing wherever possible. “We used to put iPad docks in the wall, but you can’t do that any more because the iPads will change next week,” says Nicole Salvesen, founder of interior design company Salvesen Graham. Instead, she advises, make sure you have plenty of cabling installed behind the walls, ready for systems to be wired into it as things change.
The key thing to remember is that this is your home, and you have to live in it. If you’re a technophobe, start simple. Lawicki tells the cautionary tale of one client “who got so fed up with his system that he threw his iPad in the swimming pool”. First World problems…
This article was written by Lucy Denyer from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.