HPH292 : What home automation do you really need? – with Mark McCall and Scott McMurray
After years of dabbling with various smart home technology, Mark McCall and system provider Scott McMurray explain how a fully integrated system is providing home automation in Mark's new self build.
Interview with Mark McCall and Scott McMurray
Having spent years experimenting with smart technology on his first self build, when Mark decided to build for a second time, home automation was always going to be integral to his plans. After meeting Scott from Epitome Living at a trade show, they worked together to create an integrated system for the house.
Mark has been blogging on the subject for 25 years
While not claiming to be an expert in the field, Mark started blogging about home automation when he did his first self build, back in the mid '90s. Automated Home was born as a result of Mark being unable to find much useful information about smart homes. Over the last couple of decades, Mark has been writing about his experiences of trying out numerous different systems, and says he knows a little about a lot, which is why he went to Scott for his expertise in the particular system he had chosen.
It was Loxone, or nothing!
For Mark, the Loxone system provides the right balance of security, reliability, functionality, integration, and affordability. Although not as cheap, or as expensive, as many other systems, Mark felt the extra benefits Loxone provides were more than enough to justify any higher price, and it became the only system that he wanted to use.
And for Scott, his research across Europe had convinced him that at the heart of his business was going to be a Loxone based solution. He cites the fact that half of all new homes being built in Austria are using a Loxone system, as being evidence of its reliability and reputation.
Design the system as early as possible
It is important to try and avoid a situation where you are having to retrofit equipment and cables into a building that is already going up. It should be a case of designing a system that is going to work for the occupant, rather than having to make it fit around what is already there. Ideally the best time to be designing it is around the time the planning application is submitted.
Be prepared to extend your wishlist!
Mark's initial brief for Scott was largely based around what he had already tried out and got on well with in his previous house, such as the automated lighting that switches on when walking into a room.
From working with Scott and finding out about the different capabilities available, his original modest specification grew and grew into a fairly comprehensive system. The appeal was that the individual systems could be integrated and work seamlessly together, incorporating things like heating, multi-room audio, the doorbell to ring through chosen speakers and text to speech alerts.
It contributes to the minimal feel of the house
Most of the hardware and infrastructure are contained in a plant room so there is very little on show. Some speakers have even been concealed in ceilings and the sub-woofer is hidden in the kitchen island.
A screen in the kitchen controls all of the subsystems and each room has a glass switch that can control lighting, audio volume, and operation of the blinds.
To keep things minimal it is important to have a good cabling plan. Ideally have all the cabling in the walls when the house is being built, even using extra to allow for additions later on, but wireless, battery-powered additions can also be incorporated if needed.
The system is not reliant on the internet
The Loxone system doesn't use an internet connection or cloud servers to operate. Instead, it has it's own mini-server within the house.
It is possible to enable remote access to the system though using a secure SSL link, which can provide access and monitoring when you're away from the home.
By keeping the system off the internet you aren't opening yourself up to possible security failings that WiFi enabled bulbs and speakers etc could have, or risking operational failure if the internet connection goes down!
The more subsystems that feed into it, the more intelligent it is
Mark's is a high performance home and the smart technology can feed into controlling energy usage. The system can pull-in weather forecasts and they are hoping to work out a way of using information from that to have the heat pump adjust automatically to compensate for likely solar gain during the day.
The same system that controls the heating can also control the shading. So if shades come down automatically based on time of day, sun position, or external temperature, the heating will know that it shouldn't be on. And if a window is opened to cool down a room it can automatically turn off the heating.
The rooflights are also connected to the system so that if the room starts to overheat they can open automatically. There is a connected weather station on the roof, so if it starts to rain or the wind picks up, the rooflights will automatically close again.
Mark says there is a synergy from all the subsystems being interconnected.
The more complicated the system, the easier it is for the occupant
The installer will tackle the complexity of the system, meaning that there is inevitably less for the homeowner to do. With much of the heating, lighting, window and rooflight opening etc being reactive and controlled autonomously, it can mean little more than reaching for your mobile phone or using a touchscreen if needed.
Smart home is not the same as integrated home automation
The usual understanding of a smart home is based around different apps on a mobile device providing a remote control function of different parts of the home, such as curtains, lighting, heating, audio, etc. Mark says these don't always provide a great user experience and he is keen to point out how this differs from what he calls integrated home automation, which is entirely customisable to the individual.
One example in his own house, is where the operation of a light switch in his utility room as he exits the house will activate the garage door so that it is open ready for him to drive away.
Don't be put off by bad experiences
Scott explains that some people might be put off the idea of home automation, based on previous experience of bad DIY products that homeowners install themselves and then find out don't work terribly well.
He recommends they try and put those experiences to one side and go somewhere where they can fully experience a truly smart home.
“It’s not the kind of thing that everybody feels that they need, but then not everybody needed automatic lights in their car, electric windows in their car, remote central locking, all these things that we’ve come to maybe expect from our vehicles. For some reason, we still put a key in our door and open our windows manually and adjust the heating manually.”
Find out more
Check out Mark's Automated Home blog
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About The Author
Lucy Cowell is owner of the Virtual Assistant company Quantum PA. Being immersed in the world of architecture for over 20 years and since working with Ben Adam-Smith, she is now determined to build her own house one day too!