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Smart Thinking

The development of smart technology and subsequent creation of smart homes has been talked about for years, and since the announcement that all new dwellings in England will have to be carbon neutral by 2016, the topic has rocketed up the electrical industry’s more

Alastair Ramsay of Legrand talks to EPA about the impact smart technology will have on wiring devices and related installation processes.

“Even though the smart home concept has been around for years, the stumbling block it faces today is very much the same one it encountered when it was first trotted out on programmes such as Tomorrow’s World. That is, convincing the sceptics that it is an affordable reality.

Of course, if it’s proven that it can play an important role in helping housebuilders achieve the Government’s carbon neutral target, then a large step will have been taken in navigating this obstacle. But until then, the focus is very much aimed at convincing contractors that the technology is not the stuff of sci-fi, but rather based on simple to understand and install systems that really can transform any home.

In order to do this you first have to understand the concept of smart homes; what they are and what they can deliver. In essence a home is made smart by the integration of a structured wiring network that allows for separate aspects of the home environment to be controlled centrally and work together to enhance a living space. These technologies can then be harnessed in any number of ways to create a wide variety of scenarios that will prove beneficial to the homeowner.

For example, a green smart home could be developed with the aim of enabling the homeowner to reduce their impact on the environment by providing energy usage information, control strategies and automated operation of products. Meanwhile, a lifestyle smart home would be aimed at providing added benefits that cover everything from intelligent entertainment systems to on-line, on-demand services.

These two brief examples highlight one pertinent fact – that, without a proper understanding of smart technology, large numbers of contractors will be left confused by what, on the face of it, seems like a total reinvention of their trade.

Thankfully, things aren’t as complex as they sound. Put simply, a network needs to be created as the foundation for a smart home system and, at present, there are four main technologies, or carriers, which can be utilised to deliver this – mains cables, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi), proprietary 2+ wire and Category 5e network cables.

Using any one of these platforms as a basis, the question that next needs to be addressed is how are they harnessed in order to deliver a smart home system? Simplistically, there needs to be an interface between the operating system and the smart technologies and this is provided by wiring devices.

However, the smart home demands that these technologies need to work together to help harmonise a range of previously independent services.

So, what does this mean for wiring devices?

Well, there will be changes, but not as many as people would assume. From the end users perspective the key alterations will be in the types of controls used, which will be caused by an increase in the requirement for momentary push type switches that are able to send signals to remote control devices across the circuit.

Meanwhile, contractors, installers etc will find the new controls will increasingly need to be powered by the presence of a neutral source and, due to the in-built intelligence, will require deeper back boxes of 40mm or more. Additionally, there will be new functions, such as scenario controls and touch activated screens, and some of these will need to be accommodated in backboxes other than regular 1 and 2 gang flush mounting boxes due to their larger dimensions.

The manufacturers are paying particular heed to the installer and, as such, the most significant change is an overwhelmingly positive one, with the new generation of home system components being designed to need a lot less specialist knowledge and skills to install than previously needed.

These recent devices have introduced technologies that include self diagnostic tools and, in many cases, self-installation processes. In addition, much of the programming in these systems is delivered by a combination of ‘plug & play’ and simple ‘learn’ facilities. All of which combines to enable contractors to install functions that are a great deal more advanced than the products and systems they have previously worked on with very little additional training.

What all of this demonstrates is that while the functions of a smart home go far beyond anything many of us will have come across before, the job of installing such a system is very much in keeping with current installation practices – no thanks in part to the cement that wholes it all together, the wiring devices.

Legrand’s recently launched a Synergy lighting control system and its other Synergy system modules for audio, video and networking boast both ‘plug & play’ and ‘learn’ facilities.

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