Help at home

Smart homes are not just for wealthy, high-end homeowners, they can be utilised for assisted living too. Amy Wallington finds out how this home lends a helping hand.

It could be to do with money and that governments do not give enough grants, or perhaps there is not enough education around it yet, but smart homes for assisted living is a bit of an untouched market. It is often the case that the client cannot stretch their budget to cover smart home technology and government grants usually only cover the essentials for a person to be living safely at home.

Although rare, every now and then a high-end home for the assisted living comes to the surface and really demonstrates how home technology, sometimes seen as a rich man’s gadget, can really help those in need.

Suffering from a degenerative, progressive disorder such as Parkinson’s disease, the client wanted to ensure he could live at home for as long as possible without having to rely solely on nurses and carers. German integrator, Klaus Geyer Elektrotechnik, came on board to provide the whole home project following a recommendation from another customer. Although the client had no experience in home technology, he had done his research and was very well informed as to what he needed for safe and smart living.

“At the beginning of the process, we created a room book which we used to work out the client’s desired functions for each space,” says Klaus Geyer, director of the integration company. “After the brief had been determined, we then sampled and chose which components, interfaces and surfaces we would use.”

Located in Mannheim, Germany, this property was originally built in the 1970s and has had a complete renovation with an added extension to better suit the needs of the owner. Beginning the project in autumn 2016 and finishing in spring 2019, this was a big development spanning almost 950m2.

“The client wanted a building that he could continue to live in independently despite his disability,” adds Geyer. “Since he is very keen on music and video, great importance was attached to an easy-to-use entertainment system. The operation of the systems had to be created in scenes so that the main functions could be triggered with the press of one button.”

It was important that the technology installed was intuitive and easy-to-use for all ages, particularly as the owner has frequently-changing nursing staff who often stay at the property in a flat in the basement.

Level of control

A lot of time was spent building the brief as the integrator had to listen to and understand his exact needs in order to specify equipment that would benefit him and, most importantly, keep him safe. “It was important in order to give the right advice, especially with regards to usability,” says Geyer. “Movements become slower over time and dexterity decreases, which is why operation via the iPad only did not make sense. In the long term, the owner of the house gets along much better with a remote control.”

The technology installed is based on a KNX system with Gira HomeServer 4 acting as the ‘brain’ of the home. It had to be programmed to be suitable for all ages and all levels of technical ability, so the integrator created different levels of control.

Basic functions such as switching lights on and off can be done through push button switches to make it easy for the constantly changing carers to operate. For the homeowners and the more regular carers who are more tech savvy, there are Gira room control units installed just above the normal switches which control functions such as audio and blinds.

An iPad is another user interface used in this home to control the house. However, the private photo and video database is locked down to ensure no privacy is breached.

“This is a control device that, thanks to its large tiles, can also be operated by people with a handicap.”

The building has been split into two apartments that are occupied by two friends. Both floors have been installed as two separate units to allow them to be run independently if needed. The system covers DALI controlled lighting, shading, door intercoms, CCTV, multimedia and AV, water treatment, heating, alarms, and filters for the outdoor pool.

The client stipulated in the brief that an easy-to-use entertainment system was a very important aspect of this project so that he could have easy access to his photos, videos, music collections and external entertainment. The integrator chose to use a Censys media system and a Sonos multiroom system, all controlled with an RTI controller or iPad. Geyer states: “The interaction of the Censys media system as a server client solution is the only system that allows music, video and images from the customer as well as the entire TV world and interaction via the Gira HomeServer with the building technology. The TV serves as the user interface.”

Thanks to presence detectors installed throughout the house, audio automatically follows the homeowner to whatever room he goes in. It can also be controlled as four separate zones, which includes the garden, or grouped together for a multiroom set up.

Gira HomeServer was an obvious choice for this project, as Geyer explains: “This is a control device that, thanks to its large tiles, can also be operated by people with a handicap. Another advantage is that it integrates with the front door’s intercom.”

Freedom through technology

This is where the technology really comes into its own for the user. The disabled client lives on the ground floor which is barrier-free to ensure he can move around freely in his wheelchair. There are even automatic sliding and revolving doors installed around the apartment which are connected to the KNX system and can be opened via a wall switch, a remote control or iPad.

If he wants to go to the apartment on the upper floor, there is a stair lift installed to enable him to go upstairs safely.

Technology can be utilised to really help with assisted living at home, especially to give disabled people dignity and independence. A KNX button positioned on the side rail of the bathroom operates the toilet flush. If the button is pressed twice, an emergency call is sent out to the nurses who can be there to help within minutes. There is also a similar emergency call system integrated into the pillars of the bed, which is again connected to the nursing staff who can provide quick help.

When using the user interfaces, the keystroke has been adapted to the slower movements caused by Parkinson’s and the cursor does not jump around.

Control options are simple and conveniently adapted to suit the client’s needs. Each room has four key scenes saved for quick and easy access. “All functions of the building can be controlled from the bed,” continues Geyer. “The TV set is the control centre, and a remote control with only four large buttons can trigger the most important scenes. The doors open and close according to the user.

“Functions were adapted to the schedule and automated. Detectors and sensors recognise some movements and behaviour patterns and corresponding functions are then actioned.”

Safe and secure

It is crucial that the system works well all the time, and if there are any issues, fault messages must be seen and reacted to immediately. These are sent by text to both the landlord and the responsible technician.

Remote maintenance is enabled and can be accessed any time a fault message appears, for example on the stair lift system. However, the integrator does a complete technical maintenance and support check every six months to ensure everything is still working well and fully updated.

A lover of cars, security cameras are installed in the garage, as well as around the exterior of the property. Sensors will trigger an alarm if movement is detected and the user can access the video stream on his devices at any time to check for anything unusual but also to admire his cars whenever he wants to. The Gira S1 remote access module makes sure images are encrypted and processed and transmitted to mobile devices securely.

Unobtrusive

Of course, no one wants their home to look like a hospital or care home. Instead, this client’s home demonstrates a modern and elegant aesthetic. Elderly and disabled people living at home can sometimes feel like they have lost their privacy and independence, having family members and carers constantly checking up on them and even spying with cameras to make sure they are safe. But, in a high-end smart home, this doesn’t have to be the case.

“Movements become slower over time and dexterity decreases, which is why operation via the iPad only did not make sense.”

Gira’s motion sensors have been installed to discretely ensure the client’s safety without compromising his privacy. The sensors and switches throughout the house are integrated into the ceilings and walls in an unobtrusive way by being flat and flush-mounted.

Intelligent tech

For convenience, entry to the property is keyless using transponders. They can be easily programmed to let people in, for example the gardener or nurses.

The bathroom and guest bedroom are also programmed to feature automatic ventilation, opening the motorised windows when humidity reaches a certain value. Even the garden is fully automated with the irrigation system communicating with the weather station for data and moisture measurement to analyse whether the garden needs watering or not. A robot lawn mower ensures the grass is always kept in good condition.

A fitness room, sauna and Kneipp pool (wading water for health treatments) are also installed into the property. For a nice touch, coloured lighting is built in around the sauna area and the homeowner can choose what colour he wants it depending on his mood.

Tech Spec

Apple iPad

Bega Lighting

Brumberg Lighting

Censys Server

DALI Lighting

Ekey Fingerprint Reader

ESYLUX Sensors

Gira Actuators

Gira System 106 Door Intercom

Gira G1 Central Control Unit

Gira HomeServer 4

Gira E22 Stainless Steel Series Sensors

Gira G1 Touch Displays

Google Assistant

Hager Handheld Remote Controllers

KNX System

LG TVs

Nimbus Lighting

PROLED Lighting

RTI Media Control

RTI Remote Controllers

Sonos Multiroom System

Steinel Sensons

Telenot Alarm System