Most of the hard work in building a smart house is best left to the professionals, but it pays to do some research so you can understand what you want, how to get it and how to use the technology to its full potential.

Most of us want better things for our homes. A bigger kitchen, home office, a top AV or hi-fi setup, right through to new security network or lighting systems. These structural modifications add conveniences and comforts to our domestic lives by offering a larger, more modern living space in which to relax, entertain or just go about our daily grind.

But space is only one factor in a home design. A home must also possess a certain level of intelligence to truly accommodate the needs of a 21st century family. Intelligence for a home comes in the form of technology components and systems.

There are security systems that flash the lights when an alarm trips, lighting systems which adjust the exterior lights gradually as the sun sets, entertainment systems that fill the home with digital quality music and video. These and thousands of other electronic functions and features are the cornerstones of ultimate comfort and convenience and the keys to a smarter home and lifestyle.

Building or renovating a house follows a certain process. You hire an architect, they draw up the plans, you organise carpenters, bricklayers and other assorted subcontractors, and building begins.

The integration of smart technology adds a completely different dimension to the construction of a home. It requires certain system design and installation specialists, and just as you need to be careful in selecting finishes likes tiles or carpets, you also have to pay close attention to the choice of smart house technology.

Deciding to invest in a smart house is often the most difficult. Once this decision is made, it’s a case of gathering information and finding the right partners. The only way to feel confident about your decision to integrate sophisticated technology into your new home is by understanding the benefits and value these systems can provide. This series will be an essential guide for anyone wanting to build or renovate, or for a property investor looking for a commercial advantage.

Of course, your home building budget will influence your decision on including certain electronic amenities to your home. In this feature, we also offer some financial advice on how to roll systems into the mortgage.

Now the real work begins. Depending on the types of systems you decide to integrate into your new home, you or your builder will need to contact specialists to design and install those systems. The skill level of each specialist is ultimately what affects the performance of the house, so finding and hiring the right people is one of the most important steps in the process.



Getting a smart house

Building a home equipped with state of the art technologies adds time to a construction schedule. There’s additional wiring and gear to install. Of course, many more decisions need to be made. How many speakers and where should they be installed? What about lighting? Security cameras?

Because it’s extremely difficult and costly to reroute a piece of wire or reposition an in-wall speaker once a home is finished, it’s crucial that most of the decisions regarding the types of equipment, location and the functions of electronic systems you want be made before the plans are completed.

However, that doesn’t mean electronics systems can’t be added after your home is built, or if you are renovating an existing house or apartment. Smart technologies can help modernise an existing home, just as new appliances, a fresh coat of paint or new carpet can. Not only that, new pieces of electronic hardware can dramatically enhance the performance of devices you already own, or even solve problems such as climate control.


Sources for smart systems

Electronic components and systems for the home are becoming as widespread as TVs, computers, dishwashers and garage door openers.

There are several places where you can go to find state of the art components and smart systems for your new home. The obvious place to start your search is a department store. These are havens for home cinema and hi-fi kit, computers, stereo systems and, in some cases, simple lighting control systems, networking systems and basic home control systems.

The internet is one of the best places to research specific products, as well for gathering information about the home electronics industry in general. You can compare specs on different surround sound receivers without leaving your house. Even better, you can learn about the importance of those specs by visiting one of several sites dedicated to the education of consumers.

Retailers such as department stores are also a wonderful place to gather background information and purchase technology at bargain prices. You can visually compare the differences between TVs, test drive a computer and feel the full impact of the bass in a surround sound system at your leisure. Given the inexperience of most salespeople, however, you will learn little else about the products and systems. Specialist dealers and showrooms are a better bet for expert knowledge, and you can be fairly certain the range of equipment carried is high quality. However, you will likely pay a premium for this expertise.



Home systems installers

In order for a system to perform its best for your home and family, some amount of customisation is required, which needs the expertise of a professional home systems installer. In addition to system design, many home systems installers operate retail stores so that home owners can experience a variety of systems.

Many installers display these systems in realistic home settings, which are ideal environments for understanding and learning about the benefits and workings of a variety of home systems. Some of them, like TVs and stereo gear, the retailer may sell off the shelf; for other, more custom-configurable systems, they may suggest that someone install them for you. That’s the real beauty of buying your smart technology through a specialty retailer – a professional installation.

Specialty retailers can instantly recommend speakers that work well in a room with a vaulted ceiling, for example. They know different techniques to hide otherwise obtrusive technology. And, most importantly, they can configure and tailor the systems so that they are easy for all the family to use.

Unlike the salespeople at a retail chain, or the tech support you get via phone or website, a home systems installer works hand-in-hand with the architect, the builder, the plumber, the electrician, the interior designer, and other tradespeople on the job to make sure the systems installed coexist peacefully with the architecture, the interior design, the light fixtures, the electrical wiring and all the other amenities of the home.

Often, the home systems installer will work directly with the other tradespeople when designing and installing electronic systems. Given the level of teamwork between a home systems installer and other trades, it’s critical that they be introduced to the homebuilding project before the plans are drawn.

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