Intelligent homes are no longer the preserve of the wealthy or the technocratic. To prove it, Peter Caplehorn of Scott Brownrigg runs through the five steps to consider when installing home automation systems

Technology has now reached a point where it has become reasonable to ask clients what sort of entertainment and home automation they would like, because those systems can now be joined up relatively easily and on a modest budget.

1 - What sort of technology do you want?

We are quite used to the wireless internet concept these days and the popularity of broadband has led many householders to install hubs and routers to share digital information from a large range of computing, entertainment and peripheral devices around the home, or even in the garden.

But there is a lot more scope than this for technology in the home. For many years burglar, fire and emergency systems have been increasing in sophistication and flexibility and we are now seeing the emergence of wireless products that are capable of commercial levels of alarm sensing, not just the simple broken contact or movement detector.

On top of this, many domestic appliances, including a large percentage of white goods, heating and cooling systems and lighting, have the facility to be remotely controlled. This means that they can be set up and programmed from locations within and outside the home.

Assistive technology aimed at elderly, disabled and vulnerable residents, is a growing consideration. It includes features such as touchscreen and keyless entry and remote door-access to properties.

2 - Entertainment systems

Designing and specifying these types of systems can be quite daunting and, for many, employing a specialist will be a sensible option.

On the entertainment front, broadband, television, radio and other services are available through a large range of platforms including satellite, cable, optical fibre and microwave. The route you opt for will dictate what provision needs to be made for cabling and peripherals.

On top of this, the layout of spaces will be influenced by what output devices are required in the form of displays, speakers and the like. You need to consider what effect you are trying to create and how this will work with the furniture in the room in terms of the positioning of screens and speakers. To get a clearer idea of what is possible, specialist installers have demonstration rooms and can advise on individual setting. For top-of-the-range installation it should be possible to trial the equipment and make adjustments to get optimum performance.

3 - Security systems

Emergency systems should always be designed by a qualified engineer. However, in the overall design at least one sensor in each room is needed, several if the room is a large and complex shape. Contacts on all or most openings should also be considered and multiple detectors on critical points might be necessary. These are normally linked to a central control unit, often in the form of a panel by the main entry door.

Linking the security system to cameras is now possible without a huge budget. Cameras to pick up movement and record it is possible, but you will need to consider the position of cameras and sight-lines, as well as power provision.

4 - Energy efficiency

If you are considering controls to improve efficiency in the home, you need to bear in mind the equipment in question. Condensing or biomass boilers, micro-CHP and heat pumps may be linked to solar collectors or energy stores. Optimum control can maximise the energy available – for instance, producing hot water in the middle of night, or making most of solar output in the afternoon. Control units with energy algorithms are available that can take into account the mass of the building.

5 - New build, retro-fit and futureproofing

If the right planning is done, new build installations should be straightforward. Retrofitting can be more challenging, particularly when it comes to wiring. Wireways can generally be built into the new finishes. Wireless systems can be used although this may cause interference and reliability problems with audio and vision.

Plan ahead so that the locations of wiring sockets and future permanent fixtures are identified. Adding wiring for all possible future systems is relatively cheap and can go a long way to futureproofing the installation.