Written by: Paweł Nicewicz, Designer-Programmer
You may be wondering why a software house designer and programmer is writing an article about IoT. Well, first of all – I am a man of many talents and a DIY enthusiast. And I do not mean repairing taps, which I will talk about in a moment Secondly, at Solwit we can transform everyday products into smart ones. We will delve into this soon. Today, I have decided to tell you a few things about creating your own IoT home system, how much it costs, and how much you will save on your bills, thanks to a few small improvements.
You can find many interpretations of IoT on the web, but the simplest description is the “Internet of things”. You can also come across the IIoT, in which the double “I” is not a typo, but an extension to the “Industrial Internet of Things.” In general, IoT and IIoT are practically the same, differing only on the business layer – depending on how they are used. In the current “digital” world, we can very often come across those terms, but what are they actually?
Most of us live without realizing that we use IoT every day at home or at work. Have you ever, while relaxing on vacation, decided to use your smartphone to run or monitor a device at home? Do you receive an electricity bill even though no one wrote down your meter?
In the office, your workplace, can you feel like a Jedi and remotely open the window or close the blinds? If so, you are just using IoT! IoT is a set of devices communicating with each other via the Internet or an internal network, which make our everyday life easier, increase efficiency, and ensure our safety, or the safety of our houses. In industry, IoT, or rather IIoT, is mainly used to improve efficiency, reduce costs, or monitor, for example, the production process to increase the quality of manufactured products.
Companies that use IIoT are all around us. For example, Solwit’s offices use a system that manages and monitors the entire building. This solution turned out to be so innovative that it has become a commercially-available product.
Today, almost all new office buildings, and often even newly-constructed residential buildings, are already equipped with IoT solutions.
Why do we need IoT at home? This question is quite tricky because most of us will think for a moment and say that it would be silly to spend a few hundred, or even a few thousand polish zlotys, to get such minor benefits, like the automation of the light in the living room or an autonomous vacuum cleaner.
The answer, however, is very simple. IoT at home will save us a lot of money. The solutions themselves do not have to cost a lot to start.
The internet removes boundaries and broadens horizons. With some quick research, we can find solutions created by enthusiasts that will cost a lot less than even those budget ready-made solutions and will provide us with the functionality of top-notch solutions.
So, returning to the question, “Why do we need IoT at home?” if saving money on house expenses does not convince you, maybe the satisfaction of creating something yourself, following the path of a DIY enthusiast, will.
Another seemingly difficult question, but with a surprisingly simple answer. Thanks to energy savings. Here it may be surprising because the greatest savings do not lie specifically in electricity but in the energy that we use to heat our houses or apartments.
Nowadays, most of the lighting is LED, so shortening the lighting time of lamps by a few minutes a day will not significantly affect our bills unless we have a lot of lamps, but these are rather extreme cases. In the case of power-hungry devices, such as washing machines or dryers, we have to be consistent or limit the usage, because IoT will not help much here.
How much can we save on heating? The exact amount is a very individual matter, but I am already able to answer it in terms of percentage. Depending on the technology of the building and its isolation it ranges from 15% to 30%.
Taking, for example, a 60m2 flat in a new building, it is up to PLN 2000 during the heating period so that the entire heating control solution will pay off with interest within the first year.
Such a significant difference in the amount of energy used to heat an apartment is caused mainly by two factors.
These calculations and conclusions result from experiments that I conducted in my apartment – every case may be different – this must be taken into account.
It is mainly about building security, as in extreme cases, IoT can save our lives. You can install many devices that will monitor the temperature or air quality and detect potential fire danger or gas poisoning, e.g., by carbon monoxide build-up. The system will warn us and even automatically call the appropriate services.
There is even an IoT functionality that will start to improve the security of our property without increasing costs. Amazing, huh? This functionality is simulating your presence at home.
Most IoT systems are able to learn our activity and simulate our routine behaviors in our absence, such as turning on the lights in the living room or bedroom at certain times or closing and opening the blinds. You may be asking how this improves the security of your property. It’s pretty simple; because it protects you from burglary by deterring potential robbers. Such people usually observe the place they are about to rob and wait for the moment when it is empty to enter.
Learning models that simulate our behavior in a natural way play an important role here. After all, we remember the scene from “Home Alone” where the robbers watch the houses and know perfectly well which one is empty because specific lights turn on at exact intervals, in an obviously mechanical way. In the case of self-learning models that simulate our presence, this will not be the case. The model will activate the lighting, but in the way we would do it naturally – differently each time. It will effectively scare off criminals because they will never be sure if the house is empty.
This scenario is also a case of IoT elements that make our lives easier, such as lighting, fulfilling another function that significantly increases our security. In Solwit, we work on very similar industrial solutions that are able to learn by themselves and thus detect potential threats or defects of manufactured elements. These are also elements of IoT and, in fact IIoT.
As I said, there are several ways to make your house become “smart”. A ready-made solution that offers a “Lego” approach, low-quality equivalents of such systems, and the most budget-friendly way – the way of the DIY enthusiast.
Following the DIY path, which may seem difficult, there is nothing to be afraid of because it does not require special skills or knowledge, just a little time to put together the dream solution. The way has already been paved – on the web, you can find step-by-step descriptions of what to do, how to do it, and what components to use.
If you don’t have access to dedicated servers to put the “brain” of our IoT in, don’t worry. A raspberry pi microcomputer, which costs about PLN 150, will be perfect. Compared to control units used in complete solutions, the prices of which are around PLN 500-600, this is nothing. And the software for our “brain” is free and widely available – there are several options to choose from, but the most popular one is HomeAssistant, a powerful tool created by enthusiasts. Using it, even someone with no technical skills is able to run and configure IoT for themselves.
Going further, let’s take the example of a light switch. To convert lighting in any room to the smart option, we can spend PLN 120-200 on each “ready-made” switch. It is not an astronomically high price, but when multiplied by the number of switches to fit the entire house, the cost rises to at least a four-digit number. Or, we can go the DIY enthusiast way and choose PLN 15-20 modules, such as the sonoof mini, which do not differ in any significant way from the ready-made system options. This will also allow us to keep the physical switches without having to replace them. And the same goes for all pieces involved in the IoT configuration.
The conclusion is this: the more time we spend reading and collecting information, the less money we spend, obviously following the DIY path.
This can be considered in two ways – short-term and long-term. In both cases, the answer is the same – a lot.
In the short term, we will consider the investment in equipment. Following the DIY path, the costs will be about 70-80% lower than that of a ready-made solution. How much the costs differ depends entirely on particular cases’ characteristics and the amount of equipment we want to install. One person will be satisfied with intelligent lighting and will spend PLN 300 instead of PLN 1000, others will want heating, monitoring, activity supervision, and automatic blinds for this. In such cases, the amount to save by not choosing an off-the-shelf product may range from several to tens of thousands of PLN.
Moving on to saving in the long term. As I said earlier, the heating itself is a difference of 15-30% depending on the technology of the building, so the investment related to heating will pay off in the first heating period. Later, it is pure profit or rather money that does not flow out of our pocket. Lighting will pay off later because the difference in electricity bills will be marginal unless we do not use energy-saving or LED bulbs. Savings here do not exceed 3-5% a month.
As a third, bonus point, in the case of the safety area, the rate of return cannot be expressed in terms of money. It is enough to scare off the robbers once, and the investment pays off, saving us much stress related to the potential burglary.
IoT is the future. We live in a world where technology is moving forward constantly and becoming more available and cheaper every day. Not only does it allow us to add functionality to an apartment or a house and increase our comfort, but above all, it significantly reduces operating costs.
By investing in new technology and implementing IoT at home, we take a step into the future, lower our bills, and contribute to the improvement of the energy economy. We make a positive environmental impact. Today IoT is available for practically everyone. It is enough to find a solution tailored to your needs and if it is too expensive, build it yourself using the materials available on the Internet, therefore becoming a DIY enthusiast.