Welcome to our smart home Part 2: what makes a home smart?

Amazon's echo dot allows you to control voice appliances with your voice through Alexa.

Living in a home that's smart is primarily about convenience - how would my life be made easier using technology? To see a demonstration of this in our own home, you can read part 1 of our tour of the house here.

Google Home, the voice assistant that allows you to control your smart home.

Smart home devices

Smart home devices are meant to help you do things automatically. These are generally internet-connected devices that are "smart" because they automate what you would otherwise have to do manually.

Google Home and Amazon Echo can:

  • control the electrical appliances (the lights, fan, air conditioner, blinds etc.)
  • play movies and music
  • set timers and alarms
  • update you on your calendar and lists
  • answer simple questions without having to use your phone
  • even act as an intercom

There's more to a smart home than just voice commands, though. You can also set automations in action that follow your routine - for example, opening the blinds and turning the air conditioner off in the morning.

Automations are controlled by smart home devices known as "hubs". Smart home hubs are the brains behind any smart home system. You may have heard of some of these hubs before - like Samsung's SmartThings, the various Vera home controllers, Home Assistant, OpenHAB, HomeSeer, the list goes on.

Smart home hubs are usually connected to the internet, and have various "radios" in them that are able to communicate with other smart home devices and appliances.

The "logic" behind each automation is what makes the hub smart. So you can programme the hub to do things like open the blinds in the morning or get your TV set ready when you tell Alexa it's movie time.

Amazon's echo dot, which also comes in white, is an internet-connected "smart" device.

Other devices

Then there are also the other gadgets and devices that aren't internet-connected. They may not be "smart" in the sense of having AI, but they're still smart because they make life easier. Good examples are our robot vacuum cleaners and robot floor scrubbers.

The iRobot Scooba does not have artificial intelligence, but it's smart to use it to scrub your floors for you.

In fact, even the right choice of clothes dryer (read our guide here and our review here) and water heater (read our guide here and review here) can improve your quality of life. You could save loads of time using a clothes dryer. And of course you'd want hot water to be provided quickly and cheaply when taking a shower.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to smart living. We intend to carry out more projects to make life better, incrementally. This page will be updated as our home is improved. In the meantime, here are more ways we enjoy the smart life.

In the kitchen

An important part of cooking is timing - a minute too long and your steak might be ruined. Because of this, one of the greatest uses of our home assistants (Google Home or Alexa) when cooking is setting timers.

Google is also useful when cooking. It can answer simple questions (like what's the rice to water ratio to to make porridge). In fact, Google Home can even provide simple recipes, all hands free (which is perfect when your hands are dirty in the kitchen)!

A lot of smarts are required in the kitchen.

One of my favourite gadgets in the kitchen is our sous vide immersion circulator. That's a mouthful of words, but essentially it's a device that heats up the water in any pot to a preset temperature.

Bag up your food and place it together with the sous vide circulator in the water for a set number of hours, and you'll have precision-cooked food! Food cooked sous vide is really delicious with minimal effort.

The benefits of sous vide cooking are boundless - the food tastes better and is succulent because it's cooked in its own juices, the precise temperature means the food is never overcooked, and you get to experiment with new textures and taste.

Best of all, cooking sous vide is really convenient because after preparation you don't have to do much while the food is being cooked! 

When cleaning

Cleaning your home is important if you want it spick and span. But cleaning also takes an inordinate amount of time.

To resolve this, we've resorted to robot cleaners for far greater convenience. At this point, iRobot's Roombas and Neato's robot vacuums are already well-known. Thanks to the generosity of some friends, we have a Neato Botvac D85 at home, and it's perfect for daily vacuuming of the house.

Neato maps out the layout of the house using LIDAR, and also has a front touch sensor. These features make the Neato naturally "smart". Neato knows where the tables, chairs and walls are and avoids them. It also knows where it's already cleaned and where it hasn't. It's very efficient and cleans every spot in the house (other than narrow corners).

Cleaning also involves mopping your floors. This is where our lesser known iRobot Scooba 390 comes in. The iRobot brand doesn't just have robot vacuums - they feature robot floor scrubbers as well.

The iRobot Scooba 390 floor scrubber.

What's unique about the Scooba is that it doesn't simply drag a wet cloth around your floor like other robot mops. That method of cleaning would eventually end up spreading dirty water all over your floor.

No, Scooba actually shoots out a thin film of clean water, scrubs the floor with a brush and then vacuums up the dirty water into a separate tank, all at the same time.

It's an amazing invention, and a greater surprise that this hasn't been more popular. You can even choose to add some soap to the water for an extra clean floor. It's brilliant.

When we designed our house, the furniture and layout of the house was intentionally designed to be robot friendly. As far as possible, our furniture had a clearance of at least 15cm from the ground to the bottom of the item so that Neato and Scooba can go under the furniture and clean the floor.

We also chose ceramic tiles, so they don't scratch easily and aren't susceptible to water damage. 

Other household chores

The Rinnai RD-600CG gas clothes dryer.

While clothes dryers are common in other parts of the world, it's not used quite as much in Singapore. This is really a pity, because it adds so much convenience when doing household chores.

Rather than spending time hanging clothes up, hoping for good weather (and waiting for the clothes to dry), you could just dump your clothes into a clothes dryer and be done with it.

Of course, electric dryers use quite a bit of electricity. Because of this, we opted to use a gas clothes dryer (we used the Rinnai RD-600CG from City Gas - read our review here).

Gas is a cheaper source of energy in Singapore, and it's also more efficient at heating. This allows gas dryers to dry your clothes relatively quickly - in about 30 - 45 minutes.

Do take note though that delicates might get damaged and socks (and other cotton clothes) might shrink in the dryer - it's better to air-dry these. You can more about clothes dryers in our guide here.

In the toilet

Hygiene is the bedrock of modern urban life, and you can make your visits to the toilet smarter, cleaner and more comfortable too.

The Toshiba SCS-T160 automated Japanese toilet seat.

If you've ever used a toilet in Japan, you'll understand what we mean - automated Japanese toilet seats can really improve your quality of life. Our toilet seat can automatically clean you using water at a comfortable temperature.

In fact, the automated toilet seat we use even has a deodorising function that works really well.

You can read our review of the toilet seat we use here, and our guide to buying your own automated Japanese toilet seat here.

That's not all there is though. Everyday devices can incrementally improve your experience into the toilet too.

We use an instantaneous gas heater at home, the Macro MA-10FE (read our review here). Because it uses gas for heating, it's more efficient and environmentally-friendly than an electric heater.

Also, being an instantaneous heater, you don't need a large space to store (or hide) a large water tank, unlike a storage water heater. The trade off of an instantaneous heater is a lower water pressure (depending on the water supply in your home). You can read more about how to choose a water heater in our guide here.

Our Macro MA-10FE heats water at a rate of 8.5kw and has a maximum water pressure of 8 bar (depending on your input water pressure). This means it can be used by up to 2 showers at the same time, saving space (compared to an electric heater).

The Macro MA-10FE gas heater is smart, too. It automatically activates when it detects hot water being used, and you can even set your desired temperature (up to 60°C).

A shower ledge looks good and is convenient for placing your shower necessities.

shower shelf.gif

You can also improve the aesthetics (and functionality) of your toilet with simple innovations.

Rather than installing an unsightly metal shelf in the shower for placing soap bottles, we got the contractors to use the same quartz shelving used for the vanity to create a "shower shelf" for the bottles. It looks great and works well!

You can enjoy the smart life too

Perhaps our illustrations and ideas have inspired you. We'll be demonstrating how to make your home smart in future posts (and link to them from here).

It's very much an incremental process for us, so it would be manageable project for nearly anyone. You could start by adding a component here and there, and before long you too will be enjoying the convenience of smart automations at home.

Technology is meant to be used to improve your life - experience it for yourself!