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Protecting the Smart Home from Corrosion: Inside and Out

Posted on September 17th, 2021 by

I recently moved into a house in the humid suburbs of North Carolina. It struck me how different the ‘getting settled’ process in a home today is today compared to just ten years ago. I prioritized scheduling Google Fiber internet well before ensuring power, gas, and water were flowing. I could finally relax when I replaced the ancient thermostat with a smart Ecobee thermostat. Amazon Echo units were strategically placed throughout the house before many of our boxes were unpacked. I can now know the temperature of my fridge from my phone. I even installed my first wireless home security system and purchased my first smart lock.

Some may view this behavior as an outlier or even a bit eccentric, but as a designer, engineer, or manager developing smart home and automation hardware, you know your market is on the rise. According to Facts and Factors market research report, the Global Home Automation Market size & share revenue is expected to grow from USD 48.7 Billion in 2020 to reach USD 89.6 Billion by 2026, at 11.5% annual CAGR growth during the forecast period of 2021-2026. And as a critical participant in the smart home industry, you also understand the risks that smart home products face every day from the environments they perform in much more deeply than customers do.

 

What is a Smart Home?

What defines a smart home or encapsulates home automation? The definitions can vary, but it comes down to automated or electronic functions within the home that make it more comfortable, safe, or convenient. These functions can either be isolated to a single appliance or networked among multiple products. Isolated function examples include smart thermostats when no one is detected in the home or a dusk-to-dawn porch light turning off or on depending on the time of day. Networked appliance examples are typically much richer in functionality and convenience. By simply saying “Alexa, good morning,” you can turn on your bedroom lights, open your shades, begin a morning playlist on your stereo, start a pot of coffee, and disarm your home alarm system. Each device talks to one another through wireless connections, following a preset routine to make lives more convenient…if it all works as expected.

Unfortunately, as you may know, technology doesn’t always work as advertised. Network interference, protocol confusion, and even battery loss can be weak links that take down a carefully planned smart routine, adding unplanned troubleshooting and frustration to the lives of your customers. Typically, these snags can be resolved with a network reboot, re-pairing of devices, or a fresh coin cell battery. It’s part of the gamble of automation that users take on for the overall convenience and safety they can find with today’s smart homes.

 

Reducing the Risk of Failure

But maybe smart home convenience doesn’t have to be such a gamble. After all, you recognize that there is a failure risk that many smart home users don’t anticipate, one that can’t be solved with a network refresh or turning ‘it’ off and on again. That risk is corrosion. Not a temporary misalignment of zeros and ones causing a headache, but an actual act of nature as old as the earth itself, rendering your customer’s smart home ‘dumb’ by bringing catastrophic damage and failure to their expensive hardware and your company’s valuable product and reputation. And you can avoid this risk of premature, permanent failure with protective coatings.

Watch our webinar on proven methods of corrosion resistance

Smart home technologies that can be affected by corrosion in harsh environments fall under four general categories: monitoring/security, sensor applications, entertainment, and smart appliances.

Image of a smart home security device

 

Home Monitoring/Security

So much value is within the walls of your customer’s home. The home must be kept safe through monitoring systems with various components, including outdoor doorbells, security cameras, smart door locks, lights, and more. Many of these products are found outside the home, guarding what is within. Their outdoor operating environments make them susceptible to all the hazards any outdoor electronic faces: rain, humidity, pollution, cleaning solutions, and more. Your products can protect against human intrusion, but are they protected against liquid intrusion?

HZO worked with leading smart home product provider, Netatmo to apply our microns-thin Parylene conformal coating to their outdoor smart security camera’s circuitry as well as their new smart video doorbell. This circuit protection brought peace of mind to Netatmo’s customers, who knew their homes would be monitored no matter the circumstance. It brought peace of mind to Netatmo’s design teams as well, knowing their products would work reliably, no matter the weather. Their devices wouldn’t need to be recalled or returned due to liquid damage.

Download HZO’s Parylene datasheet

 

Picture of a smart home sensor device

 

Sensor Applications

Not every corrosion threat lives outside the home. Wet and humid environments threaten often overlooked electronics inside as well. Take, for example, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms. They are installed and rarely thought about until they make their chirping presence known at 3 am when their batteries run low. The reality is that these crucial sensors have built-in PCBs that can experience a slow buildup of corrosion in humid rooms such as the kitchen or bathroom. Though slow-growing, this corrosion can eventually overcome the circuitry of a sensor when your customer may need it most.

Understanding this challenge, HZO has worked with smoke and carbon monoxide alarm companies to apply protective coatings to their PCBs, extending the life of their products, no matter the room in which they are installed.

Picture of a smart home entertainment device

 

Entertainment Devices

Though not on the critical level of safety, the loss of smart home entertainment devices is no fun for customers and leaves them disillusioned. Smart speakers throughout the home are easy targets for humidity and spills as users place them anywhere. Smart displays can face a similar fate when whatever is cooked for dinner spills across the counter and onto the product.

Brand loyalty is established when users shake off, dry off, or let dry a device, and it continues to function as before, corrosion-free.

Picture of a smart home appliance

 

Smart Appliances

Finally, smart appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, and more find themselves in liquid-rich environments and, therefore, susceptible to failure in the very settings in which they are expected to function. Spills in the fridge can make their way down into the circuitry of the unit and cause corrosion. Smart air conditioners naturally build condensation, which can creep into the PCB when not kept at bay.

Even smart washing machines are susceptible to unseen threats, including sulfur gas. Sulfur can form from decaying organic material and is one of the more common well water contaminants. Sulfur gas is very corrosive and is released from the water, leading to the damage of many household items, even electronics.

 

Smart Home Corrosion Protection with HZO

Fortunately, HZO’s protection capabilities are as extensive as the environments and functions of smart home products. By applying a microns-thin, clear HZO coating to a PCB, we’re able to prevent virtually any failure potentially caused by corrosion. The images below show our Parylene coating performance when subjected to the IEC 60068-2-30 environmental testing, which consisted of 96 hours of humidity exposure under the following conditions:

The parameters within the chamber were set to 25°C with 96%RH to being the cycle. Each cycle consisted of:
• From 25°C with 96%RH to 55°C with 96%RH, ramp time set for 3 hours
• Hold at 55°C with 96%RH for 9 hours
• From 55°C with 96%RH to 25°C with 96%RH, ramp time set for 3 hours
• Hold at 25°C with 96%RH for 9 hours
This 24-hour cycle was repeated for the duration of 96 hours.
The samples were biased using 50VDC for the time of the test.

 

Visual results of HZO coatings subjected to IEC 60068-2-30 environmental testing

 

Along with our proven performance, HZO has a trusted track record of partnerships with smart home manufacturers and a variety of other industry leaders with the capability to enhance virtually any electronic found in harsh environments. Are you looking to prevent corrosion on your next product? Reach out today.

Ryan MooreRyan Moore

Ryan is a 9-year veteran to the world of protecting electronics from harsh environments and a lover of all things technology.

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