Switch off your lights by smart phone

DIANA DEKKER
Last updated 17:46 30/06/2012
Intelligent Houses
SMARTER HOUSES: Whether you want to generate your own electricity, join the swing back to timber construction or turn on your lights from your phone, intelligent houses are getting ever smarter.

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If you tried to future-proof your house 10 years ago with all the smart-house technology available, you might be "sitting on a dinosaur", says architect Simon Novak.

Like the ancient computers of the turn of the century, the electronic bits and pieces that looked like the latest thing in house-control have dated.

The whole definition of the "intelligent" house is being widely debated, says Novak. It goes far beyond sour-milk- detecting refrigerators and dust-sensing vacuum cleaners - and the wired home-helps that were once revolutionary.

"A smart house isn't just electronic gadgets. I have hesitation to build inflexible gadgetry into houses because it's more intelligent than what it was but it's a fast-growing area. One of the issues is the cost and the benefit at the end of the day. Building is an expensive business and it can be seen as the cherry on the top."

Novak, of Wellington's Novak and Middleton, has designed houses as electronically sophisticated as any but his focus is on "the fundamental, basic stuff you need anyway and has a greater impact on the performance of the house". He favours, first and foremost, along with style, things like energy efficiency, using the cheap warmth of the sun and environmental friendliness - "the sort of things that have traditionally been talked about as being green".

But what's the solution if the householder lusts after boys' toys and wants something more than a garage door that opens at button-press - like a gadget that pulls the blinds when the sun comes up and turns off the watering system when the skies have opened, or allows the lights and the heating to be remotely turned on and off.

It can be done, and the future, says Novak, will be in wireless systems, obviating the need for kilometres of cable.

The Fibaro system is one such wireless system about to be launched in New Zealand. It's new, impressive and flexible, dreamed up by a 30-something Polish techno- whiz who couldn't find exactly what he wanted by way of keeping the house in line.

He wanted to do at the touch of a smartphone everything that once required fiddling with a switch or two, and he wanted to be able to do it from wherever he was, all without ripping his house apart to enable installation.

Fibaro's big advantage, says Johnny Corry - based in Auckland and responsible for business development and strategy - is that you don't need to be building or renovating to install it.

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It relies on "Z-Wave" radio frequency and uses micro modules to control what the homeowner previously had to do by hand, like pressing buttons or getting up to pull the curtains.

With iPad apps, home- adjustments can be done from afar - closing things, turning things off. Forgot to switch off the iron? Turn it off by magic and smartphone. Left a window open? Your intelligent housemate will remind you.

This is not laziness, says Corry. "It's luxury. . . Our devices take what you have and make it automatic."

Each device is installed independently and connected to the system, and it can all be removed when the homeowner moves on.

"You don't need new fittings and light fittings. If you have dimmable bulbs you can make them function from your mobile phone."

Corry says wireless is the way of the future, "because it's not necessary to rip down walls and modules can be built to a budget".

Corry believes the system is the most advanced in New Zealand and, because it is expanded by software, "it's future-proof".

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Novak says the real question is "how are we best served going into the future". In the way of home automation, that will certainly be wireless, he agrees, and control via mobile phone.

He perceives more intelligent thinking around energy consumption and controlling energy loss "and the need to use the cheapest energy source available, which at the end of the day is the sun".

Novak and Middleton has just completed its first domestic wind turbine, which produces enough electricity to run a Seatoun house and puts power back into the national grid.

"It's very much intelligent thinking forward to the future to want your house to generate its own power. The definition of an intelligent house is changing. It's all about future needs, not fancy gadgets.

"At the heart of it is people being much more interested in energy."

The future ideal, he says, will be for houses to be standalone in energy terms. "Intelligent houses have an intelligent selection of materials in terms of life cycle, costs and maintenance. There's a swing back to timber, something we produce in New Zealand, on the back of the Christchurch earthquake.

"Gadgetry deals with smaller issues. We have to think what the really big issues are - energy consumption, use and longevity of materials and minimal effect on the environment.

"In the future minimising your energy footprint will be supremely important and houses will also be generators of energy."

He believes within 20 years new houses will be built with this capacity and old houses will be retro-fitted to conform.

"Smart homes have a minimal effect on the environment and a very smart home contributes in a positive way. There's a whole world out there. It affects everyone."

- The Dominion Post

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