Once the preserve of the aspiring Bond or gadget geek, but now literally in our pockets, smart home technology saves time and money, says Arabella Youens.
Do you know what a BMS is? If not, read on. In exceptionally high-tech new-build houses, or houses that have undergone a substantial refit, the chances are high that what was once commonly thought of as ‘the boiler room’ will have been converted into an ‘energy centre’, at the heart of which will be the Building Management System (BMS).
Looking not unlike something that Q might have devised, this is where the house’s lighting, sound and audio- visual equipment as well as burglar, smoke and any other sort of alarms are managed. And, unless the owners have a degree in electrical engineer- ing and computer science, they will need different specialists to reprogramme the systems in the event that they go wrong—which they do.
Smart home technology is a sort of halfway house, offering some of the clever remote-control aspects of the more complicated systems with lower costs and no rewiring. Now that the second generation of kit has been launched on the market, ironing out some of the teething problems of the first wave, country-house owners— particularly multiple-home owners— are reaping the benefits.
‘Heating and security systems that can be controlled from your phone are increasingly popular,’ says Luke Morgan of Strutt & Parker (020–7318 5095), who adds that he’s just as likely now to come across them in renovated old rectories as in new houses. ‘For example, you could check your CCTV cameras on your mobile and then turn the heating on as you drive home from holiday.’
Installation generally starts with a hub being connected to your broadband router; all other elements can be added wirelessly. ‘Heating costs in large country houses are almost always a concern,’ says James Carter-Brown of Knight Frank (01488 688523). ‘Traditionally, people have tried to control them by turning radiators up or down, which is inefficient. For owners who are out during the week, smart thermostats are a good way of taking control and reducing wastage.’
If you’re married to a heating harridan, this system may cause annoyance—one glance at the app could reveal that, in your absence, the house is basking in balmy heat, but it can take just two minutes to switch off the boiler remotely. British Gas says its smart thermostat, Hive Active Heating (www.hivehome.com), is popular with customers whose elderly parents live independently, as you can view multiple systems on one phone, therefore ensuring there is a good temperature maintained in each house.
Both Hive and Nest (https://nest.com/uk), the Google-owned company that first pioneered smart thermostats, continually release new products—some useful, others perhaps unnecessarily lazy-making (see below). Among those worth a look are smart plugs, a welcome alternative for anyone who, prior to going on holiday, has battled with those 24-hour-dial-operated security plugs, only to set the lights blazing at 3am rather than feigning your presence at 8pm. You can turn a smart plug on and off— or set it on a timer—via an app.
The security aspects don’t end there, either. Yale has produced a keyless lock that’s operated via an app—useful if you’ve got guests arriving early (a 24- hour passcode can be generated and sent to them) or if you’ve taken the dogs for a blustery walk and forgotten to lock the door. Just don’t forget to crank the heating up before you get home.
In a smart fridge, a large tablet is built into the front panel for creating online shopping lists, watching recipe clips on DeliaOnline and leaving notes. There’s also a camera inside the fridge that takes images of the contents, so, if you’re in Waitrose and aren’t sure if you’re running low on milk, you can take a look.
The iPad-controlled coffee-maker lets you preset your favourite morning frothy cup on an app and set it to brew while you’re in the shower. Philips Hue bulbs can be set to flash when a favourite football team scores. Amazon Echo and Google Home are speaker systems that listen and carry out your commands; they’ll give you traffic updates, order an Uber or read out the news headlines as well as operating your smart home devices for you.
Need to know
Smart thermostat: Remotely controls heating
Smart smoke detector: Views problems and silences false alarms
Smart switches: Feigns presence when away
Smart lock: Remotely opens front door to family/guests
Smart camera: Detects motion, records a clip and sends it to phone
Smart bulbs: Can change colour or flash when the doorbell rings