‘It’s good for the environment and saves me money’: welcome to my smart home

When Chris Fletcher and his wife, アンジェラ, moved into their home in Hornsea on the Yorkshire coast he only had one concern – and it wasn’t the decor or making the most of the stunning period features. “All I was interested in was whether I could add some low-voltage wiring in for my smart devices,」と彼は言います. And so began his 10-year mission to bring their 100-year-old mid-terrace property “to life”.

によると 2019 survey, there are now 15m smart homes in the UK, と 57% of households using a smart device to control appliances such as the lights, security systems, kettles or vacuum cleaners. What’s more, 45% of adults polled said they intend to make their homes smarter in the future, believing it will save them time and money. And there’s some truth in that – another study found homeowners can save almost £318 a year on average by swapping to smart devices.

For Fletcher, his hi-tech updates began with 30 – yes 30! – smart plug sockets. Next came smart lights linked up to sensors around the house, smart radiators, a smart meter, smart TVs, a video doorbell, app-controlled security cameras, and nine Alexa speakers. The house also locks automatically, and the family’s three cats have smart cat flaps and food dispensers.

“My fixation with smart lighting has got us to the point where we no longer need to physically turn lights on or off any more,” says Fletcher, proudly. “We can go out without needing to carry keys knowing that the house secures itself, and we’re no longer worried whether the kids can get back in.”

The 61-year-old works as a practice lead architect for a telecommunications firm, and prides himself on being an early adopter. “I have bought more gadgets over the years than I’m willing to admit, and became a computer engineer before people really knew what the role was,」と彼は言います. “Those were the days when computers would kill you if one fell on you!」

Fletcher’s fascination with technology goes back to his childhood, when he remembers poring over catalogues of components that his father would bring home from his job as a sales representative for an electrical company. “He was a super-smart guy who, どうやら, built the first TV on our street before I was born,” says Fletcher. “I used to sit there absolutely fascinated by the resistors and components, trying to understand how it all worked.”

Today he lives with his wife, their 24-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter, who he says are all “very patient” with him. “My family are my guinea pigs,」と彼は言います, “but they’re used to it now. There’s a constant churn of technology around the house.”

Fletcher says that because he has a smart meter installed, he is able to see how much energy his son’s Xbox uses, so he can always tell when he is home. “My kids have no concept of how to turn switches off,” he adds. “They would come in and they would go out, and leave everything on all the time. Now the house knows if they’ve left a room, and it will turn off everything that shouldn’t be on, so we’re not heating or lighting unoccupied rooms. It saves me money and is good for the environment – I love that.”

There have been challenges along the way, もちろん. The house’s age and proximity to the sea mean it’s been built with very thick walls, so getting a wifi signal can sometimes be tricky. To get around the problem, Fletcher has added a “mesh network” of wifi and Z-Wave sensors. The whole system is also independent of the internet, in case there’s an outage. “We’d lose Alexa, but the rest of the system would still run. It still knows where you are, it still turns the lights on and off, and we don’t get locked out of the house,」と彼は言います.

Arguably, Fletcher’s most impressive innovation is a deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) system that learns behaviours and makes smart proactive decisions about the lighting and heating.

“Turning things on is easy; turning things off is hard,」と彼は言います. “That’s where the AI steps in. It tries to work out what we are doing, using the many sensors around the house.” It all sounds very impressive, but he admits the system has its flaws. “If the cats have one of their mad half hours, you’ll suddenly find the whole house lights up and the AI has no clue what’s going on,」と彼は言います.

It may all sound like fun and games, but the Fletchers’ smart home also has a more serious side. Angela has a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia, which causes palpitations. “Every now and again she will fall into a heap. It’s not life-threatening, but she collapses and can’t move,” he explains. “The system is set up so if she says a certain phrase, the house will alert me and the kids that there’s an issue.”

For anyone looking to embrace more smart technology at home, Fletcher advises to take it one step at a time. “Don’t get analysis paralysis looking for the ultimate solution, it doesn’t exist,」と彼は言います.

“Start with a non-proprietary smart hub built on a Raspberry Pi, and work from there as you build out with the right technology for you at that time.”

And of course, getting a smart meter – which is installed by your energy provider at no extra cost – is a no-brainer. “I love mine,」と彼は言います. “It helps me to save energy and money as I can retrospectively work out where last month’s salary went, a sort of black box for my wallet, all while helping to make Britain’s energy system more advanced. My future plans are looking at the wealth of the information I’m capturing and trying to make something useful from it.”

As for his next smart updates, Fletcher would love a robot vacuum if it wasn’t for the small issue of a two-inch step in the floor between rooms. He also likes the sound of a smart fridge that can turn down the sensitivity on the smoke detectors because it knows he’s about to cook some bacon, and a smart kettle that retains heat and only boils enough water for the requisite cups of tea. For now though, he’s content with the new high-definition security cameras he recently bought and is negotiating with Angela about some redecorating she wants to do. “As long as I don’t have to move too many of my sensors around, I can cope with that.”

Join the energy revolution and contact your energy supplier to request a smart meter. For more information visit smartenergygb.org

This article was paid for by Smart Energy GB – the not-for-profit, government-backed campaign helping everyone in Britain to understand the importance of smart meters and their benefits to people and the environment.

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