Smart homes shaping up: how the rise of home automation impacts electricians

Typography
Opinion

Electricians can make big bucks by riding the smart home revolution, as Robert Aitken, controls director at Wandsworth Controls, explains. 

Over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in smart home technology, largely driven by accessible, low-cost accessories such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. As consumers have gained a ‘taste’ of these technologies, homes are now being built with smart technology programmed in.

The Sommar Place 2018 project in Milton Keynes saw the first new build smart homes with Apple Home implemented from the start. Now, 43% of Brits own at least one smart product in their homes and interest in devices is surging – driven largely by the ability to cheaply invest in a basic level of smart home from as little as £40.

However, as this interest surges and homes begin to be built with technology built-in, homeowners are faced with investing in smart heating, smart lighting, smart AV and even smart security – all of which carry far higher costs. Basic home-wired designs start from £3,000 and a fully wired lighting control system can rise to £10,000.

Benefits for electricians

For contractors and electricians, this presents a unique sales opportunity as you can help homeowners upgrade their homes to become ‘smart’ and to easily upgrade parts of their set-up when required. These benefits include the ability to easily upgrade products – because running on a serial bus allows you to connect a serial bus to a new device and map/address its function. This eliminates the need for point-to-point wiring and will mean that in future, when more homes are smart, you’ll need to spend less time wiring.

As a customer’s taste changes, you can secure repeat work that allows you to swap out unit types as their tastes change. You can, for example, quickly transform a traditional dimmer to a toggle or thermostat – all you’ll need to do is program the change in the serial bus. You don’t have to plan features in advance, they can be added on the fly.

Smart home safety bonus

Due to the low voltage of serial bus systems, electricians are actually safer when working with smart homes – they are typically SELV as opposed to traditional 230V that used to sit behind standard switches.

Challenges for electricians

The rise of smart homes also presents a clear challenge: how will integrated smart technology change the way electricians work?

Traditional twin and earth mains wiring is less common in smart homes, which often operate from serial bus systems. These are typically 4c or 5c serial bus devices, which are very different to the 1.5mm/2.5mm CSA wires that most electricians have to use.

Smart home systems are built with data transfer cables in mind, which means when wiring you must be aware of potential cross talk. Running a low voltage cable alongside mains creates issues for the communications line. This is why a screened (STP) cable is all but a necessity.

Virtually all smart home installations run from a PSU. To install this correctly, an electrician must size it correctly before installation to avoid any future issues. Alternatively, you can opt for a distributed power supply which allows you to essentially ‘plug in’ new capabilities through packs. Whichever choice is made, it’s important to pre-plan your installation with PSU requirements in mind.

Ultimately, the future of smart homes remains to be seen – but as companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon all pour money into basic smart devices and more developments are constructed with smart technology integrations, it seems that smart homes show no sign of slowing down. As an electrician, this is a welcome future: one where your role will become safer and simpler, but only if you take the time to understand these new and exciting technologies.