How smart homes are changing the way we live

Living Well | Words: Peter Barrett | Illustration: Frank Maiorana | Posted on 03 April 2019

No longer science fiction, home automation is making its mark.

For some, the recent term ‘smart home’ might conjure up childhood memories of The Jetsons. But if recent Google Home and Amazon Alexa ad campaigns are anything to go by, maybe it’s time for a second look.

So, what exactly is a smart home? A smart home is any house with one or more devices such as lights, locks, TVs, speakers, appliances and security cameras that can connect to the internet and be controlled from anywhere through an app on your smart phone. A smart air-conditioner, for example, can work with temperature sensors in a room to automatically switch on and cool the house before you arrive home.

Illustration of couple in a smart home

These days a smart home doesn’t have to mean a major renovation or replacing every appliance in the house. Many people start small with things like lights and speakers to help save money and increase convenience.

It’s becoming big business. According to technology analysts Telsyte, the market grew by 55 per cent to $583 million in 2017. In 2018, the average Australian home had 17 connected devices, projected to soar to 37 by 2020. But while voice assistants like Google Home are becoming commonplace, is smart home technology just a gimmick, useful only for giving you the weather forecast or playing your favourite music?

RACV’s smart home senior manager Srinjoy De says the technology has many practical applications that can help save money, improve security and increase efficiency in the home. For example, lights that turn off automatically when you leave the house help cut power bills, while an alert that sounds if you leave a door or window open improves safety.

RMIT sociologist Dr Yolande Strengers recently completed a three-year study on how people use smart home technology. She says the shift to connected devices hasn’t happened as quickly as expected, mostly due to problems with reliable broadband and wifi. “And there are issues around digital competence, particularly with older people,” she says. “And concern for families with young children around access and use of smart technologies.”

The good news is smart home technology is already making a real difference for people living with disabilities. In Frankston, Yooralla has built six one-bedroom units for young people where, instead of living in an aged care facility, residents such as Jono Bredin can enjoy greater independence by using remote-controlled doors, blinds, lights, air-conditioning and heating – all via a tablet. “Without the technology I don’t think I would be the independent person I am,” says Jono. 

Smart home technology is an “absolute game changer”, agrees Yooralla’s Leanne Turner. “It allows people with disability to live in an inclusive environment within the wider community. Residents can choose how they spend their time, access high-quality care and, importantly, be with people their own age.”

Five clever ways to use your smart home technology

  1. Bushfire sensors Sensors monitor air quality around your holiday home and send alerts if smoke is detected, and can activate sprinkler systems.
  2. Front-door security Smart locks allow home owners to use their smart phone for swipe-entry, or you can give guests or cleaners pass codes for your Airbnb.
  3. Pet cam Check up on your pets while you’re away with livestream camera technology; if Rover starts chewing the furniture you can tell him ‘bad boy’ over the home audio system.
  4. Auto shading Some automated blind systems are sensitive to light and heat and will move accordingly, saving you money and keeping your house cool.
  5. Assisted living Elderly and infirm people can stay at home for longer by using bathroom emergency buttons, voice recognition for lights, TV and stereo, and external alerts, such as when a pill cabinet remains unopened.

RACV can help

RACV is helping Victorians get started with a smart home starter kit that includes a wifi hub, motion detectors and multipurpose sensors to enable simple automotions in the home. The new SmartThings kit, developed in partnership with Samsung, can connect to a wide range of smart devices and appliances from a range of different brands through one smartphone app to give people greater control over their home. Installation is offered to customers in the Melbourne metropolitan area, with an RACV expert on hand to set up and install the kit and show customers how to use it to make sure they get the most out of the technology.