It’s the smart age, isn’t it? From smart phones to smart cars, products and services are leveraging technology to provide convenience and efficiency with a touch of a button. Buildings or the homes we live in are also playing in that space. Worldwide, homeowners are increasingly building smart and in this part of the world, there’s evidence to show the uptake is increasing. Chances are that even without realising, you have an element of smart technology in your home. To have a better picture, let us take a closer look at what smart homes are, and assess if you are already plugged in or would want to make the shift.
A smart home is a convenient home set-up where appliances and devices can be automatically controlled remotely from any Internet-connected place in the world using a mobile or any other networked device. A smart home has its devices interconnected through the Internet, and the user can control functions such as security access to the home, temperature, lighting and home electrical appliances. An illustration by Lamudi below best captures what a smart home is:
“From the moment you wake up in the morning, the house reacts to your needs. The automated lights turn on slowly to wake you up at a scheduled time. From the comfort of your bed, you switch on your coffee machine so your morning cup is fresh and hot by the time you arrive downstairs for breakfast.
You enter the bathroom and stand in front of your intelligent mirror. The mirror’s reflective surface springs to life with all the information you need to kick-start your day, including the weather and the morning’s top news. The device also plays your favourite music so you are always guaranteed to start the day in a good mood. After getting ready, you go to the kitchen for breakfast where your smart refrigerator alerts you that you are nearly out of milk. With the tap of a finger on the fridge’s touch screen, you can restock your fridge and order all your groceries for the week through an online store.
The infiltration of technology to assist with these small daily tasks may just be the beginning. The fully-connected home is designed to boost energy efficiency, protect against intruders and even monitor your family’s health.”
Growing uptake of mobile subscription and Internet connectivity. Ghana has close to 19 million unique mobile subscribers – equivalent to 67 percent of the population, well above the average of 44 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Access to the Internet via mobile has increased from 2 percent in 2005 to 45 percent of the population today. These numbers show that with growing uptake of Internet connectivity, services will also result in a correspondent increase in associated connectivity service like smart home devices.
Growing demand for secure homes and assisted living via automation. Devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are the latest voice-controlled devices making home automation more attractive than ever with respect to security, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting controllers, entertainment, energy management and home health.
Growing population and middle class. A report by Oxford Business Group predicts that consumer spending is set to continue increasing through 2030. The population is growing by 2.2 percent each year. The long-term opportunities in the market are promising, thanks in large part to Ghana’s young and growing population. More than 50 percent of citizens are under the age of 25, providing a stream of tech-savvy and eager consumers to the potential retail market.
On the evidence of the ‘pink sheet’, the gains of going smart are obvious. Imagine sitting in one place and simply voice commanding your connected devices to play your new favourite jam or shut the blinds; at the press of a button on your phone in the office to remotely close your doors or put on the lights at home. Smart homes offer convenience and an effective management of all of your home devices from one place. Regarding security, you can remotely secure your home even if you are a thousand miles away, and same applies to energy efficiency as energy usage only applies to actual usage with devices like smart metres and motion sensors, etc.
The obvious negative has to do with upfront costs of automating your home, purchasing these smart devices, as well as connecting and configuring them under a single connected system. It could cost anywhere between 5-10 percent of construction cost. The costs are even more significant if you are retrofitting your home to incorporate these devices versus when you are incorporating them at time of construction. Then, there is also the issue of hiring skilled professionals at additional costs to install the devices, especially as misconfigured devices can be more costly in time and money.
While stability of Internet connectivity can cause inconveniences like being unable to open your door because your home is running an update and probably being locked out, that inconvenience is not as dire as when there are security breaches on your system by hackers. There is every possibility of them hacking to cause annoying inconveniences like turning devices on and off, to monitoring you and your family to downright opening your door and walking in to attack or steal whatever they want – an invasion of privacy that is definitely not pretty.
So, while some of the cons of going smart with our homes can be concerning, we definitely can’t escape technology as it is a great enabler and very much a part of our lives now. What we can do to forestall any invasion of privacy is to put in place some mitigation measures. Set a strong password on all your devices and make use of firewalls as it will help to protect your devices from hackers. You can do that at a touch of a button while curled up in your couch; after all, it’s the smart age, isn’t it?
The writer is the Executive director of Yecham Property Consult & Founder of Ghana Green Building Summit.
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Linkedin: Cyril Nii Ayitey Tetteh