Designing the ultimate smart home

Amazon has announced their move into smart home building, in partnership with home-building company Lennar. Their fully technology-integrated series of model homes is available to visit in eight American cities already.

While you certainly don’t have to buy in to the Amazon ecosystem (Google and Apple, among others, will happily take your money), the futuristic world of science fiction has already arrived. Your bed can make itself. Your coffee can make itself. Your teeth can brush themselves . . . or maybe not. That machine isn’t quite up to par yet, but the level of automation already available for your home is most impressive.

The voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa is at the heart of Amazon’s scheme for smart homes, providing a central control system for all the automated, remote control and next-generation systems and conveniences around the house. Google and Apple have their own units, of course. This provides an upgrade from the previous generation of home automation, which moved from remote control and digital wall-units to mobile, app-based control systems. It also adds a dimension beyond simply controlling household appliance and system functions. The digital assistants provide quick and easy access to information, a wider range of entertainment options and a much broader selection of functionality. They can already answer your questions, make suggestions, entertain, chat and shop for you. Soon, they’ll also be able to call and make your appointments.

Traditional elements of the home that have been revolutionized include climate control – Nest was the flagship advance there, and continues to provide the slickest features and interface. Until, that is, you factor in Elon Musk’s winning combination of solar panels disguised as designer roofing, and stylish, compact, wall-mounted batteries. Power your home for free (after the cost of installation), and maybe even sell energy back to the grid. Other features that may seem prosaic, but provide seamless efficiency, convenience and luxury, include fully automated and voice-controlled lighting and window coverings. The right system can optimize your energy use by making the most of natural light, promoting cooling or heating as appropriate to weather, season and orientation to the sun.

Security systems have enjoyed successive upgrades and now feature wireless streaming video, personalized and smart remote-control locks. Amazon is especially keen on this security technology breaking through to the general public, with their stated intent being to start delivering products not only to your doorstep, but also past it. In combination with the current generation of smart refrigerators (which can keep track of contents and create shopping lists) and Alexa’s ordering capacity, you may never have to go to a grocery store again. Small appliances such as smart cookers also add to convenience in the kitchen.

Sound systems have been popular for a while, but remain an essential component in luxury living, with theatre-style surround sound in entertainment rooms and sound zones throughout a property allowing high quality custom audio experiences anywhere in, around or outside the home. Voice-control is the key upgrade available in home A/V systems.

Smart storage is the kind of upgrade that most people wouldn’t think of, but which can really add convenience and luxury to your experience. Storage racks or units are great for organizing but can be underutilized because of the difficulty in accessing them. Mechanized storage with or without mobile app or voice controls makes it possible to store more in underutilized spaces and access that storage more easily.

Cleaning is a mostly-untapped frontier for automation. Your home can’t clean itself yet, sadly, but robotic vacuums get better with every generation. No longer cute, mildly anthropomorphic cat carriers, automated vacuums can take care of one of the least popular tasks with very little human intervention. Laundry machines are getting more user friendly, with integrated machines that complete the task from start to finish. Now, if only the bathrooms would start cleaning themselves.

For anyone who charts out plans for the ultimate smart home, it is important to invest in or update the home warranty plans in place. If you already have a home warranty plan, you should double-check what’s covered and consider broadening the coverage from a basic plan so your smart home features are fully covered. You don’t want to lose your investment if there’s a disaster or other damage.

Incredible smart home technology is already available on the market. While you may or may not be ready to go all-in with a sole-source, completely integrated system, chances are you already have some features in place and could benefit significantly from upgrading others. If your priority is better efficiency, investing in environmental comfort automation, lighting systems, solar power or mechanized window treatments could be a good choice. If you’re all about the convenience (and the shopping!), smart security, digital voice assistants or kitchen and cleaning system upgrades are going to transform your world.

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