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By Willow Aliento
October 8, 2017
Imagine this – you arrive home from work on a stinking hot day but you don’t need to lift a finger to turn on the air conditioning, close the blinds on the western side, or open windows. As an added bonus, when you collect the mail you can grin at the news that your energy retailer owes YOU money, not the other way round!
The new luxury trend in residential is definitely the smart home – comfortable, energy-efficient, connected, controllable, and cheap as chips to operate. Automated, weather-responsive control of windows, blinds, and air conditioning is one of the options that is in demand right now.
The systems are driven by weather stations that monitor temperature, humidity, wind, daylight, and UV levels. These savvy devices communicate conditions to a CBUS system that can either automatically or manually control the opening and closing of windows, the level of artificial light, angle of internal blind slats, and the air conditioning or heating system.
Home owners can pre-set “scenes” in the CBUS system for their preferred conditions. They can also manage or monitor the operation of the system via apps on a smartphone or tablet, as well as digital screens mounted in the home.
Such systems can be retrofitted as part of a renovation job, or be part of the package in a new build. As they need to be responsive to actual conditions, suppliers like WAREMA recommend they be installed where they will not be shaded by trees or other buildings.
Also, because they form part of the “brains” of a smart home system, they need to be in a location that is free from interference by other electronics, such as TV aerials.
Installing LED lighting is becoming the business-as-usual option for many home builders. For the occupant, this has advantages including lower energy use than halogens, less frequent replacement of bulbs, and reduced fire risk.
Now, the technology of Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) systems is starting to gain some traction in the residential sphere. It has been around in high-end commercial properties for some years. What DALI systems do is replace the old-school dimmer switch with a digital platform and associated switching that can control light levels according to pre-selected “scenes”.
Think mood lighting on steroids!
One of the advantages of DALI systems is that while a dimmer switch will turn light levels up or down, the luminaire they are controlling will still draw the same amount of electricity. That is not the case with a DALI system: it can reduce the energy used when lux levels are turned down.
Something builders and electrical trades need to keep in mind, with all this smart home technology, is the type of wiring installed in a home. Smart building consultants, Intelligent Home, note that normal phone cabling or even WiFi is not always up to scratch when it comes to the level of digital connectivity people need in their homes.
Even without home automation and other smart systems, the company says that the proliferation of connected devices in the average household including smart phones, laptops, tablets, network-enabled appliances, and media streaming devices means needing smart wiring. That means using cabling such as CAT 6 data cabling as a smart wiring platform throughout a home.
It gives the occupant a plug-and-play option for a wide array of devices, including Voice Over Internet Protocol [VOIP] telephony and digital streaming TV and movies. Even if they are not keen on those technologies yet, there will be no need for re-wiring if they change their mind in the future.
Heating and air conditioning is another area where new technologies are making homes less energy-intensive. There’s growing momentum around hydronic heating and cooling systems for new builds, where water pipes embedded in the home’s concrete slab provide either heating or cooling. These systems are energy-efficient because instead of changing the temperature of the air from above, they can use the thermal mass of the concrete as a way of storing and transferring heat or coolth.
While it' is not a system that can be easily retrofitted, the geothermal heating and cooling technology sometimes used with it can be, given the right site and conditions. This technology utilises the stable temperature of sub-surface soil to either dump heat on hot days or add heat on cold ones.
A closed-loop system involves pipes buried either vertically or horizontally that reticulate water down through the ground and up again, coupled with a heat pump. The pump either sends hot air from the home into the water for it to be cooled via the earth loop and then sends the cooler air back via ducted systems or hydronic systems, or sends cold air in to be made warmer and then recirculated.
It is also possible to couple these systems with the hot water system and shed excess heat into it to pre-heat water and reduce energy use.
There are a couple of caveats though. Whether it’s a retrofit or a new build, the site needs to have adequate access for the necessary bore-drilling plant, and the soil conditions need to be appropriate.
All of these technologies reduce energy use – and there’s another innovation that can ensure home owners can slash bills even further. Australian company, Tractile, has invented a roof tile that combines solar photovoltaics and solar hot water provision. What's more, it is as simple to install as a standard concrete-based roof tile. Trac Group managing director and founder Jason Perkins tells Jobsite that roofers have needed no special training to install the tiles.
The tile is manufactured from a light-weight, impact-resistant composite that has been proven to have lower embodied energy than concrete-based and metal-based alternatives.. One of the advantages of the tiles, compared to other solar PV roof tiles such as the Tesla tile, is the reticulation of water for hot water creation acts as a coolant for the tiles, improving their power generation efficiency.
They are also cheaper than the Tesla option, which is of the essence in a building market where tight margins are a real concern. They have been installed on numerous homes and other buildings around Australia, and the company is currently expanding its market into the USA and Europe.
The Roof Integrated Photovoltaic and Thermal product [RIPV-T] system has push fittings so it is no more complicated to connect to the hot water system than stand-alone solar hot water technology, Perkins says. It will still need a certified solar installer to connect it to the home’s electrical system, just like any solar panel array.
The company has also partnered with battery provider, 360 Storage, to leverage another hot trend – smart storage and optimisation of solar PV generated power. According to solar market analysts Sunwiz, the first half of 2017 saw 7,000 home energy storage systems installed in Australia – the same amount as was installed in the entire year of 2016.
Good news for builders and installers is that Standards Australia has gone back to the drawing board with the somewhat controversial proposed AS/NZ standard for on-site battery installation, which proposed requirements for battery installs including needing a dedicated, separate space for them.
All up, the future for homes is all about smart, sustainable and comfortable – and leading-edge builders, trades, and suppliers are part of the program.
If you liked this article, here are a few webinars and articles you may enjoy:
Cool Cutting Edge Technology: What’s Ahead
Implementing Technologies as a Subcontractor
The Biggest Mistakes in Construction Innovation
Smarter Buildings = A More Intelligent Future
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