May 9, 2024

From talking thermostats to garage doors that greet you on arrival, the smart home seems like a modern marvel. But are these high-tech habitats really as “smart” as they claim, or just cleverly disguised remote controls for our comfort and convenience?

Smart homes incorporate a variety of sensors and devices that enable automation in several ways. Smartphone apps can control appliances, garage doors and sound systems. Lights can be controlled by voice commands. Thermostats can use artificial intelligence to determine a combination of energy usage and comfort. 

However, sensors that can monitor the house’s health are often overlooked. 

Structural health monitoring (SHM) sensors take things a step further, transforming smart homes into smarter homes. These sensors, alongside artificial intelligence, can monitor the structural health of the house, along with various systems such as heating and ventilation, electrical and plumbing. 

SHM systems, already used to protect infrastructure like bridges, dams and pipelines, are advanced technologies designed to monitor and assess the health of structures in real-time. These systems comprise a range of sensors, instrumentation devices and automatic data acquisition systems. They continuously monitor load, vibrations, displacement, strain, moisture and other factors using piezoelectric, accelerometers, ultrasound, strain gauges and fiber optics. This real-time data provides valuable insights into structural integrity to identify and address potential issues before they escalate. 

How sensors can make homes smart homes smarter

SHM systems combined with artificial intelligence can identify potential issues in “smarter homes” before they escalate into major problems, including:

Foundation problems: SHM systems can monitor the stability of the foundation and identify any developing cracks, allowing for fast repairs before the structural integrity is compromised.

Wall and ceiling issues: These systems can detect cracks in walls and ceilings, potentially indicating foundation issues, settling or shrinkage. Early intervention can prevent them from growing and compromising the structural integrity.

Roof problems: SHM sensors can monitor vibrations and displacement, potentially revealing issues like sagging or loose roof tiles before they escalate and lead to collapse.

Water damage: Moisture sensors can detect hidden leaks or excessive moisture buildup, preventing water damage and potential mold growth, which can compromise structural integrity and pose health risks.

The way forward for “smarter homes”

SHM systems can detect problems early to enable:

Proactive maintenance: Addressing minor issues before they become major repairs saves homeowners money in the long run.

Enhanced safety: Early detection of potential structural failures ensures a safer living environment for homeowners and their families.

Financial issues: Continuous monitoring can help in lowering insurance costs, keeping the maintenance cost low, and providing time to schedule repairs before systemic collapse. 

SHM systems can be tailored for making their way into smart homes considering their integration with smart home networks, wireless connectivity, simplified installation, user-friendly interfaces, customizable monitoring parameters, cost-effectiveness and scalability with security and privacy measures.

Optimizing SHM systems in smart homes can proactively ensure structural safety and longevity by preventing costly repairs. SHM systems can act as guardians of a smart home’s health.

About Our Authors

Nikhil Gupta is an IEEE Senior Member whose research focuses on cybersecurity in manufacturing, additive manufacturing, and structural health monitoring. Priyanka Nama is an IEEE Member whose research focuses on cybersecurity in sensors and the Internet of Things.


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