Smart home technology: How to build the perfect high-tech home
A Wi-Fi kettle. Try that again in your best Peter Kay voice. “Wi-Fi? Kettle?” Yes folks, welcome to 2015, the year in which you can buy a kettle that connects to your home network so you can boil water from any room in your house, rather than having actually to be in the kitchen like some kind of bloody caveman.
While this sounds mildly preposterous – the kettle will, after all, have to have been pre-filled which involves you being physically proximate, and you’ll have to trudge to the kitchen to make the tea like said bloody caveman once the thing has boiled – this is nevertheless the moment when the long yearned-for utopian vision of the smart home is finally sputtering fitfully to life.
But how easy is it to give your home some smarts? What kinds of things can you do? And, ultimately, does any of this stuff bring genuine benefits or are we just drawn to the idea of adding a CPU and IP address to everything because we geeks just like tech? There was only one way to find out: add smart home devices to my flat and live with them for a while.
The landlord barrier
We drew up a list of kit I wanted to try, ensuring that I represented most types of smart home equipment – and this was where I hit my first problem.
“The stuff that builds into the very fabric of your home was off limits because our landlord wouldn’t allow it.”
My wife and I, like much of the population, rent our flat, so some of the really exciting stuff, stuff that builds into the very fabric of your home, was off limits because our landlord wouldn’t allow it. I wanted, for example, to replace the Yale lock on the front door with the Schlage Sense lock. This, compatible with Apple’s HomeKit system, uses Bluetooth so you can unlock the door with your iPhone, and since I’m much less likely to forget that than my keys, this would vastly decrease my chances of locking myself out of the flat. Indeed, since you can unlock using spoken commands with Siri, even if I manage to lock both my phone and my keys inside the house, I should be able to issue the command via my Apple Watch if it’s within Bluetooth range (or just punched in the lock’s backup PIN).
Similarly, since we are forced to endure the pointless charade of storage heaters rather than proper central heating, there was no way I could test a Nest, Hive, Tado, Ecobee3 or any of the other myriad smart thermostats now on the market. Ditto mains-powered smart smoke detectors. You can’t really blame the landlord – who knows if these devices will even be supported by the time you hand back the keys, never mind remain functional and compatible with the new tenants’ devices.
For many of us, therefore, the promise of the smart home is scuppered before we even begin – not by the limitations of technology or budget or compatibility or anything else, but simply because of the wider socio-economic climate.
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