What a “Smart Home” Can Do (and What it Can’t)


The average Bungalow or Greystone on any street corner in Chicago is a miracle of modern technology – plumbing, electricity and heat – when compared to the most grandiose palace from a few hundred years back.  However, the homes built (or remodeled) in the next few years will put those miracles of 19th century technology into the shade.  Today we explore … the Smart Home.

Like many of our blog post subjects, this comes directly from a meeting.  Wrapping up our first Schematic Design meeting, a client added “we want this to be a smart home.”  That’s a phrase with a lot of meanings these days. We’ll explore it with them as the design progresses.  There are a wealth of new technologies coming on the market and we want to make new homes – and remodels – as future-proof as possible.

So … what makes a smart home smart?

At the moment there is no such thing as a unified “smart home” system.  No one company has cornered the market on smart technology so assembling smart parts requires coordination.

Ample Wifi

‘What’s your wifi password?’ has become one of the first questions someone asks when overnighting with a friend these days.  Making sure that the house has a well placed router (or routers) that can transmit through any intervening surfaces is vital to allowing for wireless computer backups and file sharing, to wireless music and TV controls and for general internet access from all the various laptops, tablets and phones that pervade modern life.

Programmable Interior Environment

These days you can remotely control everything from your thermostat to interior lights to refrigerator temperature.  Nest is one of the most popular versions of the programmable thermostat – it “learns” your daily routine and turns the heat up and down to match those patterns.  A newer app – Tado – (currently available in Europe only) geocaches your location and turns up the temperature at your house as you approach it.

But you can control more than your thermostat via smart phone – there are also remote controlled ceiling fan controls, light switches and dimmers, sprinkler systems … you name it!

GE sells a device that works like a remote power strip.  Plug any device into it, instead of the wall, and you can turn it on and off wirelessly.  Or eliminate the middle man and use a smart wall outlet which is adjustable remotely.  Similarly, the Emberlight light socket turns any existing light socket into a remote device.  Philips LivingColors Bloom LED light bulbs will change color at the touch of an iPhone (there’s an app for that).

Remote Monitoring

There are electronic monitoring systems available that can check your house for unusually high moisture or water leaks, sending text updates of any problem.  A variety of smart meter devices plug into existing outlets to monitor power usage or clamp directly onto your breaker panel or meter and measure the whole house electricity draw.  Keeping track of your home systems and being self aware about power usage has never been easier

Could a House be Too Smart?

We don’t recommend going really overboard with incorporating technology into your home a la Bill Gates.  His home, completed in 1997, is not only as crazy huge as you’d expect (24 bathrooms and 6 kitchens) but it also individually calibrates the temperature, light, music and digital art collection to people as they move around the house by tracking an electronic pin they pick up when they come in the front door.  That level of technological integration is actually still impressive nearly 20 years later – which is impressive in itself – but a bit over the top.

Is any of this Smart Home tech really necessary?  Not really, we can still flip light switches on and off by hand. And we are still a few years … and some major programming hurdles … away from the perfect Smart Home.  What would you want to make “smart” in your home?