What is home automation
Home automation can be defined as using smart devices in your home. But that just begs the question of what smart devices are. And to answer that, we will need to remember just how conventional “dumb” appliances work. Think of your ordinary light bulb, for example. You have to get up from the couch to switch it on or off.
But a smart light bulb (or any sort of smart device, for that matter) is different in several ways.
1. Remote control. In home automation, remote control is much more advanced than what you get with your ordinary TV remote. Usually you can use your smartphone, which is much more convenient for you because you have this device with you wherever yougo. You don’t have the TV remote with you all the time, right? In addition, you can use your single smartphone to control all your smart devices at home, such as your smart sensors, door locks, security cameras, and outlets.
And “remote” in this case isn’t just a matter of controlling your light bulb from a few feet away. Often, you can control it from your office, or even when you’re on the other side of the world.
2. Status monitor. You know when your light bulb is turned on or off, because you can see its status on your smartphone screen. A smart light bulb often has a dimmer, and it will even tell you how bright your light bulb is. In some cases, you can even learn just how much electricity your light bulb is consuming!
3. Updates and notifications. The smart light bulb can be programmed to notify you when it’s on or off. Or in some cases, tell you when it’s no longer functioning properly so you’ll need to replace it. If it uses batteries, it can tell you when you need new batteries.
4. Scheduling. This time, you can set your smart light bulb to turn itself on or off at certain times. You can even have different schedules for different days.
5. Programming automation. Your smart light bulb can turn itself on or off not just based on a specific time. It can turn itself on when it senses that the ambient light is too low, if you’re nearby, or if any person is in the room. And it can turn itself off when it becomes bright enough or if you leave the room (or the house).
6. Networking. Home automation can involve a system of many smart devices, so your light bulb can work in tandem with other devices. You can have many lights work in tandem to set a “scene”, so that you have a different lighting configuration when you wake up, you have a date at home, or you’re watching a movie.
You can program it to turn on when your alarm clock rings, or if your home security camera notices movement around the house. You can even program it to blink when you get an important message through your email or smartphone.
These are the most basic elements of home automation. And many new elements are being introduced everyday. Some have introduced learning smart devices, so your smart device can actually program itself in anticipation of your needs. Others are also using voice activation to interact with smart devices.
Read more of our Basic Home Automation FAQs
Are smart home systems easy to install?
Ease of installation is a rather subjective topic in home automation. There are several issues involved, and each may affect you differently than it affects other people. After all, the word “easy” means different things to different people.
So let’s tackle several possible levels of difficulty regarding the installation.
- Here’s one easy part: downloading theapp. Now if using a smartphone is beyond you, then you’re beyond all hope and you need to abandon this idea of home automation, unless you have some else who can install (and eventually operate) your home automation system.
- Having downloaded the app, you can then plug the hub (we’re assuming you’re older than 3 years old) then it will connect your Wi-Fi router. Your app will then give you the proper instructions as to what to do to complete the installation.
- Connecting a smart device to your hub is usually a similar procedure, so there should be no worries. Again, you download the app for the device, and then you plug in your smart gadget. Your app can then list your hub and your device, and you just follow the direction to get the two devices working together.
- Having two devices connected to the hub working together can be a bit more problematic. It’s because there’s a lack of standards regarding how these devices communicate with each other. These means of communications are called protocols. And there are lots of protocols. It’s not just a matter of choosing between iOS and Android for smartphones, or between Macs and Windows PCs. There are many protocols, such as Z-Wave and ZigBee which are two of the more popular ones.
Now a hub may be compatible with different protocols, so it may accommodate both ZigBee and Z-Wave devices. But you can’t be entirely sure that two different devices using different protocols can work seamlessly with each other. In fact, it’s often been reported that two devices that use the same protocol may not work together properly when they’re manufactured by two different companies!
So what can you do to make it easier for yourself? One option is to limit yourself to just the devices made by a single company. Or you can pick a system with a reliable certification method, so that you know for a fact which smart devices can work with the hub and with one another. Another option is to use the services of a professional installer who has the experience to know which devices can and will work together.
- Finally, some products will need wiring solutions. When you have to cut and strip wires, or if you have to work with electrical wiring and with your breaker panel, then you will need a heck of a lot of electrical DIY experience.
Or you can just hire an electrician to do the entire installation for you.
For the most part, installing single devices are generally very easy, with some notable exceptions. It’s when you want them to work together that it gets tricky!
Read more of our Installation & Usage FAQs
How much does home automation cost?
The short and simple answer is: It depends. Here are some factors that will determine how much it will cost you:
1. Number of devices. It’s like the difference between buying an entire wardrobe and buying a matching pair of shirt and trousers. So you can start with a modest budget and buy a couple of smart light bulbs or smart outlets, or you can make a major investment and outfit your entire house, including all the bedrooms and even the kitchen, with smart devices.
2. Brands. In some ways, brands do make a difference, just like buying a pair of Nike basketball shoes will cost you a whole lot more than when you buy a no-name brand. But sometimes it actually makes sense, and especially so in home automation. Some brands have built a good reputation for themselves, by offering reliable, easy to use, and durable gadgets.
3. Types of devices. It also matters whether you’re buying smart light bulbs (which are in general very affordable at just $50 or so each) to much more expensive appliances like refrigerators. Smart refrigerators are a good example of this, as even “dumb” fridges are expensive. But putting smart features on a fridge (like cameras in your fridge so you can find out if you’re out of milk while you’re at the grocery store) can easily add another $1,000 to the price tag.
4. Installation. Many smart devices are easy to install all by yourself. But some can be very difficult to install. Now free installation may be part of the package, but then again it may not be. You may have to pay a professional installer or electrician out of pocket.
5. Cloud services. When you use your smartphone to communicate with your smart devices, often you do this via a cloud service provided by the hub manufacturer (the hub is the central unit to which you connect your smart devices). Sometimes this is free, and sometimes it isn’t.
Sometimes your use of the cloud service will require monthly fees. The most well-known (if not notorious”) example is the use of cloud services for home security cameras. Usually, the camera doesn’t allow for local storage of the footage it records. Instead the videos are sent to the cloud, and it’s there where you can download it. In some cases you’re not even allowed to download. You can just view the videos, and to keep the video in the cloud you’ll need to pay a monthly fee.
But the real question here isn’t about the cost of using home automation. It’s about the cost of not using this amazing technology. Saving money is one of the main benefits of smart devices, and you may find that you can recoup the cost of your gadgets in a year or two. Just one feature—the ability to turn off a devicewhen not in use—can really cut down your electricity bill.
Read More of our Cost and Savings FAQs
Can you upgrade existing and older homes with smart home technology?
Newly built homes these days usually have home automation as part of the design. But even your existing home can be upgraded with smart home technology, even if it is a bit older. And it won’t involve extensive renovations at all.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Your savings are greater in the long run. If you’re still looking for good reasons to get into home automation, then you should understand that it’s a good investment. It offers substantial savings for you, and that includes considerable reductions in your utility bills. It offers a good ROI, whether you plan on living in your home for a long time or you intend to sell your home in the near future.
2. Low cost automation. It may seem that upgrading to home automation can be a very expensive proposition, and in a way that’s true. But it doesn’t have to be all that expensive at all. You can start with the most affordable devices to start, and over time you can add more smart devices to your home automation network one at a time.
3. Go with wireless. Several years ago, wired systems were the most popular configurations for home automation. Today they’re considerably less popular, with wireless systems earning top spots in popularity. Wired home automation systems need more work with installation work, and all those wires don’t do much in making things look better inside the home. Also, they’re not portable at all—when you change the location of a wired smart device, you will have to completely overhaul its wiring setup.
With wireless, you don’t have to think about solutions to cover these unsightly cables and wires. And you can also locate your smart devices in more places, and you can do this quickly and easily without the bother of wires.
4. Start with smart outlets. We’re not actually advocating the complete replacement of your conventional appliances with mode modern smart devices. In fact, these conventional appliances can easily become smart simply by plugging them in with a smart outlet.
These smart outlets (also called smart plugs or switches) offer the most basic features that make smart gadgets the new trend in home convenience. A smart outlet can connect to your Wi-Fi, and that means you’re able to use your smartphone to turn your conventional appliance on and off with just your smartphone. It controls the outlet so that it can enable or disable the flow of electricity to the conventional appliance.
These outlets allow you to set a schedule for whatever appliance you plug into them. And what’s more, they can also monitor the appliance’s use of electricity. That lets you see how much energy an appliance use, if they’re wasteful you can then reduce its use or replace it with a more energy-efficient model.
Any old home can benefit from a new coat of paint or a more modern kitchen. But smart home technology not only improve the attractiveness of your home, it’s also more cost-efficient.
Read More of our Upgrade and Update FAQs
When I use home automation, is my information secure?
Now this can be a very tricky subject. The problem is that when you have devices that connect to the web, your devices are vulnerable to hacking in the same way that websites are vulnerable. The good news is, the ability to do these things is beyond most people, and especially burglars who like to smash and grab.
On the other hand, malicious hackers can invade your privacy. Your smart TVs and your indoor cameras may show them what’s happening in your home and valuable possessions you own. Some may even be burglars, and they can use the scheduling info and the logs to see your personal habits and behavior. They may even be able to take control of your smart devices, so they can control video cameras and prevent them from recording videos (or even from working as webcams), they can disable motion detectors, and open smart door locks.
So what can you do? Here are some tips to make your home automation more secure from hacking:
- Secure your router with non-obvious passwords. Don’t just use the default password that comes with your router. When you do this you’re making it easy for hackers to access your security system. Instead, change the password to something not so obvious. So don’t use your name, birthday, phone number, and other common memorable passwords. Use complex passwords.
- And once you have this password, change it often. Change the passwords on your router, smart devices, and your smartphone.
- Keep your smart apps updated. Updates for app are just like updates for your OS and for your computer programs. They don’t just offer new exciting features and bug fixes. Often they come with new security functions and updates as well. And make sure the router firmware is up to date as well.
- Keep your smart devices out of reach of strangers and people you don’t trust. This is especially true with home control panels on walls.
- If security against hackers is a very real concern, use a cloud service. While a cloud can certainly be hacked as well (even the iCloud was hacked which led to the celebrated Fappening scandal), normally the cloud service employs a more robust security protocol than whatever you may use at home.
Many smart devices already use a cloud service, and that’s where you keep your schedules and security videos.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi when you access your home automation system, because hackers can use public Wi-Fi to get your info. Instead, you may want to consider using a mobile data service, or you can make sure you use the secure network in your office.
- Trust only reputable manufacturers. Read customer reviews and then see which ones are popular. Usually, the devices made by the biggest manufacturers and name brands are the most secure smart devices you can get.
This may seem like an overreaction to some, but then again it these things are not all that hard to do. It doesn’t take much to make your home automation system much more secure.
Read More of our Security FAQs