Home automation and smart homes are increasingly becoming part of the electrician’s repertoire. Sean Carroll looks at ABB’s free@home solution and finds out how electricians can get involved.
Home automation is no longer just around the corner, it’s here now. Whether it be a DIY job, a full bespoke smart home, a single smart lightbulb or somewhere in the middle, smart homes, of all costs and functionalities, are popping up all over the country.
The best part about the home automation boom is that electricians are becoming increasingly involved in the process.
ABB has spent the past few years developing and fine-tuning its free@home solution, a flexible, scalable and extensive home automation solution that lets users pick and choose what smart home elements they want in their household.
Winner of the Red Dot Design Award in 2020 and NAN Architecture and Construction Award in the same year, free@home has separated itself from the competition as a smart home solution that’s well designed, easy-to-use and comes with simple commissioning.
In the past, ABB has worked with the high-end and commercial KNX home automation solutions, but this free@home smart home alternative is designed for the electrician and works as a new build or retrofit.
“With the free@home solution, we needed to make not only an affordable solution but a step up from 240V convention to smart homes. We also needed to make a solution that’s easy and intuitive enough for the end user,” ABB market development manager Christian Schiemann explains.
“Very often after a systems integrator has finished with the installation and commissioning, they’ll hand over a 50-page manual with how to operate the house. The free@home solution is simple to use and doesn’t require a lot of learning.”
Christian’s role is to help bring these smart home solutions to the market. He says that in his time, he has seen two clear markets: one with the high-end, commercial solutions and one with electricians looking to offer smart home capabilities to their customers.
At the moment, the free@home solution gives users lighting control, blind control, door communication, HVAC control and security among other features. I write “at the moment” because, as Christian explains, free@home’s open API means it’s constantly improving and building on what it does.
“Let’s say you have a manufacturer who has an API for a gardening irrigation system and would like to control it from the home. Maybe the home owner wants to integrate the irrigation system into a scene or timer as well,” he explains.
“You can write that API yourself and integrate that into free@home. It’ll naturally appear in the interface and automatically join the other features of ABB’s free@home system, making life a bit easier.”
Aside from the software point of view, it’s easy to install from a hardware standpoint, only a few components are required: a two-wire bus line, a system access point, power supply and the desired sensors and actuators (up to 150 devices in one system).
In new buildings, the walls should already be open for the electrical installation – which means that the bus cable can simply be added. This makes planning easy for the electrician since the line routing does not determine the function.
For retrofit solutions free@home also works wirelessly, so no need for a buss cable, making it easy to extend at any time. Wired and wireless solutions can also be combined.
One of the better parts about having all these home automation elements under the one umbrella is scenes. Both the electrician and end user can set up simultaneous events, dubbed scenes, that activate in unison.
An example of a scene is a morning one. When the user wakes up (or set on a timer for when they wake up), the free@home solution could gradually turn the lights on, set the AC to a certain temperature and open the blinds. And with the new integration of home appliances, your coffee could already be waiting for you.
There could also be a party scene, one where the lights dim, the blinds shut halfway, and a certain playlist starts on the home’s audio system. Here, a native integration of Sonos Multiroom audio system is available.
The home automation market is opening up and sparkies who act fast can take advantage of a unique opportunity to expand their range and expertise. ABB offers training for its free@home platform and it’s an ideal spot to start.
“We are in charge of training the installers to make sure they are able to provide a great solution. And it gives them the confidence to really stand up to the market,” Christian explains.
To find out more about ABB-free@home solutions and the steps for becoming an ABB-free@home certified installer, contact ABB via this link or call 1800 60 20 20.