Why our house is intelligent but not a ‘smart home’

We are not against technology in any way. Our house uses some of the latest advances in wood building technology. We will be using solar panels and the most recent developments in energy storage. We have wireless Internet – that’s how you’re reading this post. But there’s one kind of technology we will not be using: connected ‘smart home’ technology and anything to do with the ‘Internet of Things’.

There are very good reasons for this. Professionally, I work on issues of surveillance and security and it’s clear to me that connecting consumer items and homes has little to do with any benefit to users, and far more to do with infiltrating surveillance devices into more and more aspects of lives to generate data not for our benefit but data that can be packaged and sold in order to market more stuff to us. If you examine the claims made about smart devices, there are usually no coherent justifications, and at the same time each device creates a privacy and security vulnerability. At most there is a tiny element of ‘convenience.’ But that’s it. No one actually needs their refrigerator or your coffee maker to communicate via the Internet. It makes little sense to have your garage or front door lock connected and accessible via a smart phone.

So, our house is certainly intelligent in the sense that a lot of thought has gone into it, and it works, it does what it was intended to do. However, it is not and never will be a ‘smart home.’

Warm Inside

The coldest night we’ve had in the passive house so far saw the outside temperature drop to -20ºC (and that’s before we take account of wind chill). However, inside it was 15ºC when we got up, and with a couple of hours of the little room heater and the sunshine today, we’re now up to 19ºC. Plus, the place feels much warmer than this. It’s hard to describe what this means over and above physical temperature, but it’s something to do with the evenness of the temperature and the aesthetic warmth of the wood.

One other issue, apart from the Motura door seal which we discussed yesterday, is the lock on the front door. This might be passive house certified and highly insulated but the lock is essentially a metal tube which goes from one side of the door to the other, in other words a cold bridge surrounding an air leak. It might be a very small example of both, but the ice that forms on the inside of the lock when it’s as cold as it was last night, shows the truth!



Heating and low temperature performance

We finally had the little Thermolec 2kW heating element installed in the HRV intake last week, just in time for a cold snap. This element is a bit like a toaster and heats the air coming into the HRV manifold that distributes heat around the house. It is controlled via a thermostat, which is downstairs and not too far away from the kitchen so we are aware that it’s likely to be a bit warmer there than elsewhere, so we keep it at 20ºC, knowing that this is likely to mean 18ºC on average around the rest of the house.

All the other heat comes from passive solar, i.e. the south-side windows, but it’s been quite dull recently, so that has not been such a big factor. In addition we’ve been having further problems with the Motura sliding door. We already had to have it taken off and some new sealing rubber put on, but it’s still not tight. This was not apparent in the recent blower-door tests, we think, because when you pressurize the air inside the house, the sliding door would have been pushed outwards, against the seals. However, at other times, this is not the case, and the higher we have the HRV settings the looser it gets. Compared to most houses, it’s not at all bad, but there is still an appreciable draft around the edges of the sliding door. We have contacted the supplier and await some advice. We might just push some of the left-over rubber gasket from the CLT construction into the edges and tape them up, just for the winter.

We are recording temperature levels a project at Algonquin College, but that data won’t be available until it’s downloaded from the recorders. In the meantime, we are just keeping an eye on performance using simple thermometers, particularly when it’s cold outside. And last night, it was very cold outside. When we got up, the external thermometer was reading -15ºC, so it could have been even colder during the night, and the winds have been fierce here, so the effective temperature would have been around -25ºC.  When we got up the temperature inside was 14ºC upstairs and 16ºC downstairs. With some sunlight in the morning and a few hours of an additional 1kW heater, this was soon up to 19ºC downstairs and 18ºC upstairs, and it has pretty much stayed that way since, as the winds blow around the house. This is pretty good. But we shouldn’t need the additional heater, and until we resolve the problem with the Motura door, one way or another, we will not be able to get the more consistently warm temperature levels we would like. It’s certainly not cold – it’s very comfortable – but the house is not yet operating at its optimum.