Smart homes: The Internet of Things moving us toward connected homes – Montreal Gazette
Itâ€™s lunchtime at race car driver Alex Taglianiâ€™s house, and there are no fewer than a dozen people buzzing around. Landscapers are putting in a new front yard, a curtain company employee is up on a ladder, wrestling with the motorized drapes for a product photo shoot and a toddler is running around, demanding to be fed.
Tagliani has made a name for himself on the Indy and NASCAR circuits. But, after years of living in Las Vegas and Indianapolis, he has returned to his native Quebec, settling down in an impressive $1.4(ish)-million home nestled in the scenic suburbs of Lorraine with his wife, Bronte, and their daughter Eva-Rose.
The house was custom built according to Taglianiâ€™s vision of a modern smart home. He was the general contractor on the project, coordinating the architect, interior designers and a small army of independent contractors, including a home-automation team.
â€œI spent a year and a half messing around with the build,â€ Tagliani says.
From the moment he considered building a house, Tagliani knew he wanted it to be â€œsmartâ€ â€” a connected home that learns from and syncs to his familyâ€™s behaviours. He hired HomeSync, a Montreal-based home-automation installer that heâ€™d previously worked with when customizing his last place, a condo in Laval. (HomeSync doesnâ€™t manufacture its own hardware, but rather connects other companiesâ€™ components.)
â€œA smart home allows you to customize upon your needs â€” thatâ€™s the advantage,â€ Tagliani says.
HomeSyncâ€™s technicians installed custom-made motorized window shades that recede into the ceiling, as well as programmable lighting, heating and air conditioning, and Taglianiâ€™s entire audiovisual setup, which include: Dolbyâ€™s Atmos 3D sound, a powerful Epson TV projector, aÂ 4K video setupÂ andÂ high-end Bowers & Wilkins speakers that are embedded in the walls and ceiling (the company is a sponsor of Taglianiâ€™s racing). The setup has removed the electronics clutter that punctuates so many of our homes, making his home look minimalist and streamlined.
Tagliani points to a series of switches and a screen at the front door that allows him to turn everything in his home on or off. The â€œgoodbyeâ€ setting can turn off all the lights and TVs, adjust the house temperature and lower the blinds, all with the push of a single button. And if something unexpected happens while heâ€™s out of the house â€” like a sudden drop in outdoor temperature â€” he can use a smartphone app to remotely control the thermostat.
â€œYou have no idea how practical it is,â€ he says.
The Internet of Things drives smart homes
The Internet of Things (IoT) â€” that is, embedding wireless connectivity, sensors and electronics into traditionally non-smart items â€” is the driving force behind the connected home. Regular, seemingly mundane household items are getting a tech upgrade, such as light switches, thermostats, light bulbs, power outlets and door locks. Samsung even makes a fridge that can order groceries.
These connected devices learn usersâ€™ habits and can be trained to recognize their owners, thanks to technology like the location services on a smartphone, which can connect to beacons and other location-tracking devices. All this can, for example, be harnessed to greet you with your own customized music playlist and lighting scenarios the moment you walk through your front door, or ping your phone if someone who isnâ€™t you walks through your front door.Â
Countless reports and studies project connected devices will be the next multi-billion-dollar market. This technology hasnâ€™t made a very big splash in Canada yet, though. Only 12 per cent of us actually own a smart-home device, despite more than a third of Canadians being interested in the technology, according to an Ipsos poll. Cost is listed as the primary barrier to more widespread adoption.
It certainly isnâ€™t cheap to set up a smart home, though it may lead to some energy and water savings down the road. Tagliani and HomeSync both remain tight-lipped on the exact pricetag of this particular homeâ€™s automation, although Rolland Dean Winters, a HomeSync integrator, estimates itâ€™s upward of $100,000.
Winters notes that the company has automated homes worth more than $30 million, and those contracts routinely get into the six-figure range. â€œIf youâ€™re spending $1 millionÂ (or more) on a house, whatâ€™s another $100,000?â€ he says.
The price of smart home ownership
Of course, most people in Canada donâ€™t own homes worth nearly that much, if they own homes at all. According to Statistics Canadaâ€™s 2011 National Household Survey, one-eighth of Canadians actually live in condos, and a quarter of those condo dwellers living in Canadaâ€™s 10 biggest cities were renters.
Home automation isnâ€™t just for million-dollar mansions, though. Canadians earning an average salary â€” whether theyâ€™re owners or tenants â€” can affordably introduce elements of automation to their homes. In Taglianiâ€™s case, his high-end audiovisualÂ equipment and custom blinds were the priciest parts of his homeâ€™s automation. People of lesser means (and with smaller homes) can opt for cheaper solutions.
Winters says HomeSync routinely sets up one-bedroom or studio-sized condos with fairly comprehensive systems for about $5,000. Automating a single-family house worth $300,000 or so could run $20,000-$30,000, including lighting, video and audio, shades and temperature control. Home-automation companies also partner up with developers to offer turnkey smart condos, where the new condos come with a base network and owners can upgrade as they wish according to a pricing menu.
â€œWeâ€™re installing a base package into every unit. It doesnâ€™t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it puts the infrastructure in place,â€ Winters says.
HomeSync has delivered smart-home systems to more than 1,000 condos in the Greater Montreal area over the past two years, and is on deck for many more, including the YULÂ development projectÂ of condos, townhouses and penthouses. â€œWeâ€™re twice as busy as last year,â€ he says.
Putting in a smart system from the outset of construction can help future-proof homes, potentially making them more appealing to future owners. And making a home smart isnâ€™t just about nerding out over cool A/V equipment. Quebec-based startup Ubios has designed a smart water valve that turns the water off when nobodyâ€™s home.
Pierre Gourde, a member of Ubiosâ€™s founding team, says the majority of home insurance claims are due to water damage. The smart valve is designed to connect to existing pipes and be controlled by a smart wall console and a web app. The companyâ€™s wall console can also be used to control heating (including old-fashioned baseboard heaters), cooling, lighting and home security.
The young company recently exited Montrealâ€™s InnoCitÃ© startup accelerator program and scraped together $1.5 million through grants, angel investments, friends and family, and their own pocketbooks, as well as the first public equity crowdfunding campaign in North America. It also has a paying client with whom itâ€™s working to test out its technology: the owner of several multi-unit buildings in Mont-Tremblant.
Gourde says its focus is currently on the B2B market â€” so, directly to condo building owners. â€œAs soon as weâ€™re profitable weâ€™ll be able to go into smaller homes,â€ Gourde says.
Do-it-yourself smart home
Hiring an automation installation company isnâ€™t the only path to a smarter home.
Montreal web designer, Plateau-Mont-Royal renter and smart-home hobbyist Julien Gobi bought his first connected home device to condense all of his audiovisual remotes into a single, $150 universal remote (the Logitech Harmony Smart Control). The remote comes with a smartphone app, and can be programmed with different scenarios. â€œThatâ€™s where the power of this toy is,â€ Gobi says.
He presses his remoteâ€™s Netflix-and-chill mode, launching a set of actions with a single push.
â€œIt turns on the amplifier, it turns on the TV. Then, it puts the amplifier on the right HDMI input, wakes up the Apple TV and then all the buttons on the remote are dedicated to the action youâ€™re doing right now,â€ he continues. After buying Philips Hue WiFi-enabled LED light bulbs (typically $15-20 each), he realized he could connect his Logitech remote to it â€” and so his Netflix-and-chill scene now also automatically dims the lights.
Gobi later spent about $250 on Samsungâ€™s SmartThings kit, which comes with motion and presence sensors, smart electrical outlets and a hub. The system can act as a home security device, logging its ownersâ€™ ins and outs and detecting if doors are open when they shouldnâ€™t be.
(HomeSync has had so many requests from do-it-yourselfers asking for help in connecting off-the-shelfÂ smart-home products that it started a new company and app, HeroPin,Â to connect them with tech-savvy installers.)
Earlier this year, design flaws in Samsungâ€™s SmartThings allowed people to remotely hack a front-door lock. Thereâ€™s very little to stop a determined and tech-savvy criminal or mischief-maker to glean what your devices have learned about you and use it against you.
Gobi enjoys the convenience and novelty of the technology, but he is concerned about the SmartThings hack. Heâ€™s considering switching to Appleâ€™s recently launched HomeKit because it offers high-security encryption. â€œThe encryption theyâ€™re asking for is really, really high. If we think more about Big Brother issues with the Internet of Things and the smart home, I would be more comfortable to use high-security devices and Iâ€™m happy that Apple is now fighting a battle for privacy,â€ Gobi says.
Still, training connected devices to recognize your habits also means opting in to having an unprecedented amount of your deeply personal data compiled and kept on file by someone, somewhere, without knowing exactly if and how itâ€™s used.
In 2016, Canadaâ€™s privacy commission published a guide on connected devices and IoT and concerns related to them, particularly as it pertains to data harvesting. â€œThe full impact of the Internet of Things for our privacy may become more evident when its capabilities are combined with other innovations shaping our world today that track not only our activities, movements, behaviours and preferences, but our emotions and our thoughts,â€ the report concludes.
Thatâ€™s some serious food for thought to consider as our homes, and the world, move toward greater automation. On the one hand, automation can streamline and even minimize our interactions with electronic devices, giving us more coveted off-screen time. Plus, it can give us the futuristic, Jetsons-inspired lives some have always dreamed of.
Add to the mix that the very concept of privacy is continually challenged as technology and data policies evolve. In the future, will we feel more, less or as strongly as we do now about our data being harvested and used by technology intended to simplify our lives?
For people like Gobi and Tagliani, the potential privacy trade-offs are a small price to pay. Itâ€™s not only about convenience and vanity â€” itâ€™s about the pride of being an early adopter and the act of embracing the future, rather than fearing it.
Since taking the first plunge, Gobi expects heâ€™ll always have some smart component to his household, wherever it may be. Before that happens, though, heâ€™s got one item of business to take care of first.
â€œBuy an apartment!â€ he laughs.
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