As modern technology keeps evolving, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand. We asked an expert on home automation systems – Mark Warburton – to answer all the tough questions: What is a Smart Home? How do you plan or retrofit your own system? And what are the latest innovations on the market?

Mark has been working in the Smart Home industry both in New Zealand and the UK for over 17 years – including system integration, project management, and sales. As a Director of Ivory Egg, he is now responsible for ensuring that the organisation lives up to its reputation as the most knowledgeable KNX distributor.

Gira editorial team: Hi Mark, thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of our questions. Let's start right away with the most important one: what is a Smart Home?

Warburton: We can split Smart Homes into two different types. On one hand, we’ve got wired systems that are installed and designed together with the building. On the other hand, we also have the option to add smart functions to a home later on. Due to the wide range of solutions available now, homes can easily become more intelligent.

One example of a smart function you can add to an existing home is intelligent thermostats that connect to an app, enabling you to turn on your heating from work or on your way home. Another common smart function is intelligent lighting, using something like the Gira System 3000 with a Bluetooth plug-in – which allows you to sit on the couch and change your lights from your phone.

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Gira editorial team: Why should you want a Smart Home?

Warburton: I think there are lots of reasons. I've been slowly adding some intelligence to my own home, and mainly it’s about the ease of use: for example, walking into the hallway and the lights coming on automatically and then turning off automatically.

But there's also energy saving – my home is using as little energy as possible so that it’s not a drain on resources.

Security is another good reason. Personally, I do not like people being able to look into my home at night when I’ve got the light on. So, having the curtains shut automatically at dusk makes me feel more secure.

Lastly, there is the control aspect. Why not have control over your home the same way you control everything else in your life? If you want a haircut, you can book an appointment on your phone – so why wouldn’t you want to control your house with your phone as well?"

Gira editorial team: What should you look for when planning a Smart Home?

Warburton: The key is talking to a system integrator, someone who has the experience to guide you through your journey. The first thing you should do with your integrator is a user needs assessment, so you and the integrator are clear about how you are going to live in the building, and what you want your Smart Home to do for you.

You should also think about making the building fit for the future. If you are building or rewiring a house, you want it to stay like that for ten, twenty, maybe even thirty years. So, you should use a smart automation system that gives you control today and in the future.

Gira editorial team: Are Smart Home automation systems popular in the UK?

Mark Warburton: In the UK, there have always been high-end homes with a lot of audio/video systems. However, underlying functions like lighting and heating have traditionally been based on quite outdated systems.

Over the last ten to fifteen years, people have started to understand that more parts of a building can be smart. What makes a significant difference in all buildings is intelligent lighting, and that really has become an essential part of making our buildings more comfortable in recent years.

Gira editorial team: Which product does every Smart Home need, and which is the most forgotten one?

Warburton: The most forgotten one is the network. If you're building a house from the ground up, you can use a wired technology to make it smart. However, a lot of retrofit solutions rely on wireless network connections – and in most homes, the router that your internet provider supplies is not designed to cope with the number of devices that a Smart Home can have. This will start to affect your network in general, especially if you are working from home.

A good place where most people start is with smart heating control, because it ensures that your home is not using too much energy. Also, adding motion detection is one of the cheapest and simplest ways to make your home smart.

Gira editorial team: Can any building or home be smart?

Warburton: In short, yes, any home can be smart. It is surprisingly easy to add more control to an existing building. The market continues to evolve very fast. We are seeing more and more products that convert an existing building into a more intelligent building. Like the new Gira RF for KNXtop units, for example: they can quickly replace regular light switches.

Gira editorial team: What is a KNX Smart Home automation system?

Warburton: KNX is the glue that holds everything together. It is a wired system that allows you to control your complete Smart Home. KNX systems have been around for more than thirty years and are incredibly reliable, scalable, and standardised. In a span of ten or fifteen years, you won’t have to pay a large amount of money to change the full system as KNX systems are designed to last for the whole lifetime of a building.

With existing homes, it is also possible to use KNX RF to convert your home into a Smart Home, or further extend it. This increases the modular functionality of the KNX system.

Gira editorial team: What are your favourite Gira products?

Warburton: One of my favourite products is the Gira pushbutton sensor 4. Yes, it looks great, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. It has an integrated humidity sensor along with the more standard temperature sensor. Humidity has a big impact on health and wellbeing so it’s great to see a product integrating sensors for this.

My other favourite is the Gira S1. It makes KNX systems accessible from anywhere for either the homeowner or the integrator – in an inherently secure way. In years gone by, remote access was complicated, requiring VPNs or putting security at risk by opening ports. With the S1, that problem is solved.

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