Why do I need a smart home control system?

Smart home control systems are becoming more affordable and useful everyday. They allow you to simplify your world by streamlining the comfort and control of your home. But how do you know if you need a custom smart home in your home?

Replaces many remote and apps

Sometimes the trigger for a smart home control system is to simplify a TV system. You can go from many remotes to one unified remote that turns on and sets up the TV and related equipment with one press of a button. Sometimes its that you want to use one app vs. a multitude of apps to control your smart devices like your smart doorbell, smart lock or smart lights. Or maybe its both – you just want one system that you can control all your TV systems and smart devices.

Simplifies a complicated home

If you have many home tech devices in your home, then its tricky to get them to work together. For example, when you press the “Watch TV” button on your remote control, you might want it to not just turn on your TV system, but also drop the shades and dim the lights for better viewing. Maybe its a ‘Goodbye” button at your door that turns off all your smart lights, stops your music streamers and adjusts the temperature when you leave your home. You can also have device like your thermostats, lights and shades on schedules or based on sunrise and sunset to set them for you. Or check and close your garage door if its left open, or alert you there’s a water leak before you have a major issue.

A smart home control system can also bridge smart devices that aren’t inherently compatible with each other and have them play well together for your comfort and control. Increasingly homes have more and more complicated tech – these can be coordinated into one simple-to-use interface.

Provides flexibility

Life gets busy. You shouldn’t have to search around for the right remote or app to control or check on something. You should be able have control and be informed if you’re at home or far away. A smart home control system can coordinate hand-held remote controls, touch screens, and smartphone and tablet apps so you just use what’s within reach.

A professionally installed smart home control system can simplify your life. One simple-to-use system, can provide convenience and comfort so you have have more time to relax and enjoy your home.

Top Smart Home Products from CES 2018

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is North America’s largest electronics and tech show. You can find everything from electronic gadgets to smart home gems. While there’s a lot of hoopla and noise around all the products, we think some of this year’s products were not only cool, but they could also be instrumental for smart home tech.

Samsungs “The Wall” TV

Samsung Electronics showed off “The Wall”, a modular MicroLED 146-inch TV. The self-emitting TV display is not only bright, but being modular – its like TV Lego – you can build TV screens sized to meet your needs. May be a nice way to dial in right sized TV for your room. Perhaps even literally create a TV wall that is a multimedia art installation until you want to watch TV.

LG rollable TV

LG demonstrated a prototype rollable 65” TV. When not being watched, it rolls away using a remote. It can be left partially unrolled to allow some information to be displayed, such as weather or what’s playing on a streaming music player. Looks like a nice way to have a large TV while minimizing its impact in your space when not being used.

Z-Wave makes a smart home splash

Z-Wave is a technology that enables low-energy wireless communication from device to device. There’s a growing list of Z-Wave devices including lighting, smart thermostats, locks, and window sensors. You start with a hub that’s the brains to control your personal universe of devices, and then add the devices as you like. This hub can be a DIY type like a Samsung SmartThings Hub, or a professional system such as RTI’s ZW-9 Z-Wave Interface Module with a control processor.

Smart devices to help prevent fires

There’s already smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors such as from Nest and First Alert, but 2Gig, iGuardStove and Innohome want to prevent a fire in the first place. These new products intend to shut down stoves or burners before bigger issues develop. A very interesting direction for smart home smarts.

We’ll keep an eye on these, and we should know how these fare by next CES. We’re always hands-on testing products for their real world usefulness where we can, so we can provide advice where needed.

CES 2016 home tech wrap-up

stack responsive

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is North America’s big electronics show. Its the event where companies show off their latest and greatest products. It wrapped up on Saturday, and as in past years, there was an overwhelming amount of gadgets from wearable tech to drones to car tech (all of which created their own buzz). With so much going on, we’ll narrow our focus to a couple home tech related themes; 4K TV and smart home products.

Like last year, 4K TV was hot at CES. This year though it looks like 4K TV is heading quickly towards the mainstream. While 4K TVevery TV manufacturer showed of their latest 4K TVs at CES, manufactures like Hisense and Sharp announced more affordable sets. They may skimp on some features and quality, such as back lighting and HDR, but they may be satisfying for the price.

TI also announced a 4K chipset (the devices manufactures will use to build projectors with) that should bring more affordable 4K projectors to the market sometime towards the middle of the year. Many also announced 4K UHD Blu-ray players. There looks to be 4K UHD Blu-ray movies on the way as well this summer, but we’ll see if people will still choose physical discs over the convenience of streaming 4K TV from services like Netflix.

Although there was a fair amount of “smart home” gear, there weren’t really new complete solutions that solved pain points. For example, Samsung and LG had ‘smart’ refrigerators, but likely the best feature was that the Samsung took picture of what’s inside your fridge. Perhaps handy to check if you need to pick up milk on yoursmart fridge way home, but maybe not worth the $5K US. Whirlpool also has some appliances including a smart stove that is controlled via a phone app. While it will also work with a Nest thermostat to send alerts when the oven is on while the the Nest thinks you are away, it really should have the smarts to know when someone has completely forgotten a pot heating on the stove. This could save a forgetful or elderly person from a common danger.

There were also products like NanoLeaf and Stack’s responsive lights that make lights smarter. NanoLeaf integrates with Apple’s Siri. Stack’s can turn themselves off when you leave the room and adjust colour of light for the time of day. The idea is that it provides more natural lighting based on environmental conditions and time of day. Cool ideas, but the average home owner would have a patchwork of apps to control them with other home tech vs. simple whole home control. In general, its good to see that manufactures are trying, so hopefully they’ll move towards products that are simple to use and solve pain points.

The main takeaways from CES 2016 for the home were the solidifying of 4K TV and that homes will continue to get smarter. The good news is that great 4K TVs are getting to price points so we can all enjoy 4K TV, and there looks to be an increasing interest in making home tech products that improve our lives.

How to build a great home Wi-Fi network

Wi-Fi Access Point

Home Wi-Fi networks can’t be ignored. Not that long ago, you could go down to the local electronics big box store, buy a $99 Wi-Fi router, connect your laptop to the Internet, and call it done. These days most homes have a growing number of devices, and Wi-Fi networks are stretched extremely thin. You can apply the basics about how to get better Wi-Fi to help coverage, but if you’re building or renovating, you need to step it up to ensure your home will be fully functional now and the future. Let’s take a closer look at planning the wireless part of your home network.

You may think that there aren’t many Wi-Fi devices in your home, but sad wifiyou’ll likely be surprised if you count up your smartphones, tablets, laptops, Apple TVs, smart TVs, etc. It gets more complicated as people add devices like surveillance cameras, smart locks, smart thermostats and smart lighting. Pile on the fact that today’s devices are increasingly data hungry with the likes of HD video, and you’ll quickly understand why basic wi-fi routers and Internet Provider supplied gateways just aren’t built to take that kind of abuse.

Poor Wi-Fi coverage is the first thing that most of us notice with our smart TV Ethernethome networks. Perhaps its a bedroom where the Wi-Fi barely works or a TV room where the Apple TV takes what seems like forever to play Netflix. The first step is to plan to use wired connections wherever you can. For example, media players and smart TVs usually have an Ethernet port, so build in Ethernet wiring into your home to connect to anything that has an Ethernet (or LAN port) available.

The second step is to build your home to allow for additional Wi-Fi access points. Access points, like the Araknis Networks’ 100-series Access Point, are similar to Wi-Fi routers, but just have the Wi-Fi part. This will allow you to add ‘hot spots’ to expand your Wi-Fi coverage into dead spots. These can be tucked out of sight, such as in a closet, or discreetly on a ceiling. This way you don’t have to worry if your Wi-Fi router in the basement will reach to the top floor or if your home’s construction materials are blocking Wi-Fi signals.

The third step is to invest in good quality networking gear. A cheap Wi-Fi router from a big box store will give you a cheap experience – poor coverage and clogged data. If you have basic needs (one or two devices, no streaming media) and low expectations (don’t mind waiting), then a cheaper solution may work for you. Chances are though, that you’ll need several devices, including a Wi-Fi router, access points, etc. Invest in Wi-Fi networking gear that will provide good coverage and reliability. Better manufactures also provide high-end or business grade Wi-Fi wireless controllers that include allowing your devices to roam properly in your home. For example, this will connect your smartphone to a stronger access point when you move around in your home, instead of it holding on to a signal as you move too far away from it. Not only is higher-end equipment made to work well together, you can expect it to handle higher data and device loads. The right equipment will pay dividends in the future.

You need to put a reasonable amount of planning and investment into your Wi-Fi networking design. In the future, we will look deeper into best practices for the wired part of your home network as well. This will propel your home network into a stable and enjoyable backbone for your entertainment, smart home and work devices. So go ahead, and turn that Wi-Fi frown upside down!

Retrofit your retro – lighting automation doesn’t have to be boring

Retrofit orange vintage lamp with lighting automation

A fun aspect of lighting automation is that you don’t have to sacrifice your style for functionality. You’re not just stuck with pot lights – you can use your favourite table and floor lamps too. Light control can be used in both new builds and existing homes, and it covers the whole gamut of home design. To get started, all you need is your imagination.

There are many solutions from do-it-yourself systems like WeMo, Philips Hue and INSTEON, or custom installer products like Lutron’s RadioRA2. Solutions include switches, receptacles and light bulbs that match the decor of your home. This gives you flexibility to use not only floor and table lamps, but also ceiling installed fixtures and pot lights.

INNSTEON lighting automation

There is a full range of functionality too. You can have standalone sensors like Lutron’s occupancy/vacancy switches, or deeper functionality like scheduling, mood setting and automated lighting to greet you when you arrive at your home. Lutron occupancy switchIf you’re looking for the more involved functions, you can include a controller like RTI’s XP6 to be the brains. If you’re taking that step, you can expand it to work in concert with window coverings, entertainment systems like music and home theaters, and more. This also plays into smartphone apps for full control when you’re away from home.

Start with a list of desired functions from simple timers and occupancy – to scheduling – to whole home integration. This will help you narrow down available products that match your requirements. If you need some help, feel free to contact us for some assistance.

RTI's XP6 control processor

Case Study: User Friendly – “nice and simple”

Living Room cropped shrunkThis busy couple were looking to update the home technology in their new high-rise home to work for their tastes and lifestyle. When they took over the space, it had a weak and dated music system in the living room, kitchen and master bedroom & bath. The old system didn’t provide any flexibility for their preference for satellite and iTunes music, and the only space to watch TV and movies was shoehorned into the den.

They previously had expensive and complex systems in other homes, but those didn’t live up to promises and were wrought with reoccurring issues. We decided to step back to focus the technology side of their home renovation on what truly mattered to them: simplicity with music throughout, and immersive but not overbearing TV & movie experiences. For this update, we worked with Sandra McIntyre of McIntyre Cresswell Design to meet this power couple’s aesthetic and home tech needs.

DenThe first task was to allow easy access for their satellite and iDevice music throughout the home.   For this, we employed Sonos Hi-Fi audio components and custom installed in-wall and in-celiling speakers for all the living spaces: living room & kitchen, den, guest bedroom & bath, and master bedroom & bath. The Sonos system not only offered full access to satellite and iPod music, but also Internet radio & streaming services and even their computers.

Next we turned our attention to design their unassuming but entertaining video spaces. In the living room, master bedroom and guest room, we layered Apple TV, cable boxes and high quality AV components with Sonos to allow flexibility and fun. Now the full range of options from broadcast TV to iDevice AirPlay to Netflix to satellite radio is at their finger tips.

Every room had its unique goals and needs, and as with most Vancouver homes, space is a premium. We countered this by designing the solution to tuck away AV amps and gear in a small laundry room cabinet. This not only saved valuable floor space, but also helped maintain living space aesthetics. We also retrofitted a Nexus21 TV lift in the master bedroom that conceals the TV and front speakers to work in conjunction with the master’s in-wall speakers for flexibility for music Connected Home In-Wall iPadand surround sound for movies. The home solution can be controlled using universal remotes and iDevices, including the convenient wall-mounted iPad Mini in the master bedroom. Care was also taken to ensure the wired and Wi-Fi network was solid not only for today’s work and play, but also for whatever tomorrow brings.

Home solutions should be easy to use and match lifestyles.  In the end this great couple got the perfect system they deserved – “Nice and simple!”

Master Bedroom TV Lift