How does home automation work?
In a typical home automation setup, you have a smart device like a light bulb working in conjunction with a smart hub. The hub then connects to your Wi-Fi Internet router so it can go online.
The hub works like a central command HQ for your smart device, and you can add more and more smart devices to it as time passes. But the hub and the smart device communicate via a specific protocol, with examples like ZigBee and Z-Wave. Your hub should be able to accommodate the protocol of your smart device, and when you buy new devices then its protocol should be compatible with your hub.
You’ll also need a smartphone because your smart device often comes with an app you can download. Usually the app is free to download, and it’s available for Android or iOS devices. You then use this app to communicate with your smart hub, which also has its own app for you to download. It’s this app that enables you to monitor and control all your smart devices, instead of using a separate app for each.
With this app, you can set schedules for your other apps. The hub’s app can also make it easier for you to program the smart devices to work with each other. Or you can program a smart device such as your video camera to start recording or transmitting video when someone tries to access your home unauthorized.
Uses of the Smartphone
A smartphone is typically integral to any home automation setup.
- Through it, your smart devices can contact you for any potential issues. For example, you may get emails or notifications when there’s something wrong with your smart device. It can notify you when an alarm rings or if your motion detectors sense movement in the house. It may even warn you if you’ve left some appliances running. Your smartphone can also let you live stream what your video camera is seeing.
- Smartphones also don’t have to use the Internet all the time to communicate with your smart devices if they can use Bluetooth. You can use your smartphone like a regular remote control device, and control a smart appliance when you’re both in the same room. Bluetooth usually has a range of 10 meters.
- Your smart devices can even be programmed to turn on or off when you (and not some other person) are nearby. It can use the GPS service on your phone or it can sense your proximity through Bluetooth.
Of course, home automation may not always work smoothly all the time. Sometimes the smart device you add to your hub doesn’t integrate properly. In some cases, it may not work with another device in your home automation network. For example, your hub may work with both Z-Wave and ZigBee devices, but a ZigBee device and a Z-Wave gadget connected to the same hub may not work properly together.
What are the benefits of home automation?
When home automation first appeared on the horizon, some people were enthusiastic simply because it was new, high tech, and invariably cool. But as time passed, its true benefits became more and more apparent. More people became interested because it offered so many benefits.
So what are these benefits? There are too many to mention individually, so let’s list them in more general terms:
1. Convenience. This is often the first reason why people get into home automation. These things make it just so easy, and pretty soon you’ll begin to wonder how you ever managed without smart devices.
Take the concept of a remote control. Can you imagine having a TV without a remote? But that’s a convenience you can have with all your smart appliances. In fact, with liberal uses of smart outlets, even conventional appliances may have smart properties.
And this time the concept of “remote” has been extended far beyond the range of your TV remote. You can control your devices when you’re at work or even when you’re in Thailand enjoying the beach. So if your son comes in to your door requesting a place to stay while you’re on vacation, you can use your home cameras to confirm that it is him at your door and that he’s alone. You can then let him in remotely with a “key”, while the smart lock to your bedroom can keep him out. And your home monitors can also tell you if he uses your place for a party!
2. Security. There’s no need to spend lots of money on an expensive home security system, because with home automation you can protect yourself and your home with the right smart devices. You can have smart video cameras equipped with night vision and motion detectors who can warn you if there are people inside your property when you’re asleep or when you’re out at work. You can then use your smartphone to see what’s going on.
Your system can use lights to turn on inside the house to make people believe you’re home. Alarms can blare when sensors detect people skulking around. You can even have sensors notify you when someone breaks a window.
Your sensors can also protect you and your home from environmental hazards. Sensors can detect smoke, carbon monoxide, and other air contaminants. It may also detect leaks as well. With home automation, you can get peace of mind.
3. Money savings. Because of your security system, you’re able to save money by preventing any damage to your home or any loss property due to burglars. But that’s not the only way you can save money by using home automation.
Home automation lets you turn your appliances off remotely, so if you accidentally left them running when you go to work then you can just turn them off with your smartphone. Your smartphone shows you which smart devices are still running, and some may even notify you when they’re running and you’re not home.
Smart devices can also be turned off on schedule as well so you can reduce your energy bills and save money.
How can I benefit from smart home technology?
Here are just some of the benefits of smart home technology:
1. Convenience. Most people today don’t realize that TV remote controllers weren’t always available. For many years, TVs had dials and controls attached to the set, so you actually had to go to the TV set to change the channel, adjust the volume, and set your color preferences. Today, remote controllers are standard, so for decades now people can just stay on the couch while they surf the channels and adjust the volume controls.
With smart technology, you can now have remote control features on every appliance in your home. With smart outlets, you can even have this feature on “dumb” appliances. And remote control in this case means being able to control your smart devices from even the other side of the world.
And the convenience doesn’t stop there. With your smartphone, you have a single controller for everything and you can monitor your devices. You can also set your devices to work on a schedule you set, or have them work together in various ways. The possibilities are virtually endless.
2. Savings. While it’s true that these devices can cost you money at first, they can also save you enough money that in several years you can recoup your expenses. Most of these devices are quite energy-efficient, and they can give you info about your energy uses so that you can become more conscientious about your energy use.
For example, the monitoring system and the remote control can prevent you from wasting energy. If you’re at the office you can check your home automation systems at home and see that they’re all powered down. If they’re not, then you can then turn it off.
Some devices can even track your location through your phone. So if your thermostat detects you’re at work and there’s no one home, then it stop heating your home too much during the winter season, and it can turn of the air conditioner during the summer.
You can set a schedule for your devices as well, so that they’re never on when you don’t need them.
3. Safety and security. Your home can have sensors for smoke and carbon monoxide detection, and if a fire breaks out of your house then your smoke sensors can then send you an alarm. You may have a camera or a webcam operating inside the home, and if you confirm the fire then you can call the fire station at once.
Smart devices can also work together to provide your home with security against burglars. Video cameras with night vision and motion detectors can watch out for potential intruders, and they can start recording when they sense movement around the house. They can sound out an alarm illuminate the areas around your home with lights, and send you an alert so you can call 911. Smart locks can also secure your doors, while window sensors can warn against burglars breaking the window glass to get in.
These are the major benefits of smart home systems, described in general ways. If you want more specifics, then the benefits can run into the thousands, from being able to let close friends into your home while you’re away, or just tapping your smartphone screen once to have a suitable setting for a romantic date in your home.
What can be achieved with a home control system?
In other words, what exactly can you do with a home control system? There’s a lot!
- You can monitor the settings of all your smart devices. And with smart outlets, that includes all your conventional appliances too.
- You can turn appliances on or off remotely. You don’t have to be in the same city at all. If you’re at work, you can even feed your cat with an automatic dog feeder or keep your aquarium fish fed at certain times of the day.
- You can have your appliances working on a schedule. For example your smart sprinkler can turn on or off at certain times. But since it’s a smart sprinkler, it can even download weather data off the Internet so that it won’t activate when rain is predicted for the day.
Your schedules don’t even have to for an exact time. For example, ambient light sensors can automatically turn on lights when it gets too dark, or it can turn on depending on the sunrise or sunset time data gleaned over the Internet.
- Notifications and alerts can be sent to your smartphone. You’ll be notified if your smoke sensors detect smoke so you can contact emergency services. If your security camera finds people around the house, you can see the live stream on the phone for yourself so you can call the police.
- You can wake up gently. You don’t have to wake up to a rude alarm and then go forth through your house like a zombie. You can pick a nice tune to wake you up at a certain time, and your lights can even turn on gradually as if the sun is slowly shining on your face. And if you have a smart coffee maker, your coffee will be ready when you wake up.
- Settings in your home can change when you leave and when you come home. If you leave the house, your smart devices can automatically sense your absence and power down when they’re not needed. Your smart thermostat won’t have to warm up or cool your house unnecessarily.
And when you arrive, your smart devices can activate themselves as well. Lights can turn on automatically when you come home, and your door locks can disarm. Your thermostat can even keep track of you so that it can activate in advance, so when you arrive home the temperature is already at your preferred setting.
- You can program your various devices to work together for specific events. That means you can change the settings of numerous devices with just a tap on your screen. Tap “watching a movie”, and your lights can dim, your smartphone won’t ring for unimportant messages (you define which of these messages are important or unimportant), and your window drapes can close automatically.
Tap intimate date, and your lights can present a romantic light setting, and play romantic songs over the speakers.
With so many types of gadgets available today, you can do literally hundreds of different things.
How do I start exploring home automation? What advice can you give to someone starting out in smart home automation?
How you start with home automation depends greatly on your particular situation, preferences, and needs. But here are some tips that should help you take the first steps in using smart devices:
1. Buy a smartphone. That’s because you’re going to use an app to operate your smart devices.
2. Make sure you have a good Wi-Fi router. The router is the conduit through which you communicate with your smart devices.
3. Read up. Yes, we know you’re reading this FAQ page and that’s great but after that, you need to read some more. Read the more objective tech publications, and see what sites like CNN say about the idea and about the products. If you’ve read an advertisement about a smart gadget, read the reviews on Amazon as well.
4. Start with smart outlets. The smart outlet is one of the most helpful devices in the smart gadget lineup. It’s an adaptor you attach to a wall socket before you plug in a dumb appliance like a table lamp. Suddenly, that lamp can act like a smart device.
This smart outlet is sometimes called a smart switch, because you can remotely turn it on or off with your smartphone. Eve when you’re in the office, you can even see if it’s turned on or off. You may also set a schedule for the device you plug in. And in some cases, the outlet can even tell you how much electricity the appliance has used up—and you can set it to turn itself off after a certain number of kilowatts consumed.
5. Prioritize reliability over features. When you read official websites of various smart device manufacturers, you may find yourself excited about the so many things it can do for you. But the truth of the matter is that often these websites can be a bit overzealous in playing up their capabilities. They may not work well in real life.
That’s why you need reviews from actual customers who have actually used these things. See what they have to say, and pay special attention to updated reviews where customers who have raved about a smart device may later say that their gadget stopped working after a while.
6. Stay away from expensive setups. It doesn’t matter if you can afford it. What matters is that you start slow. So when you make a mistake or if your needs change, you’re not soured on the experience because you’ve wasted your money.
7. Stick to one brand. This is one way to make sure you avoid the hassle of smart devices not being able to work together. With this set up, you can be sure—no responsible smart device manufacturer release a smart device without making sure that it works with the other gadgets the company makes.
8. Let the pros do the wiring. There’s too much risk involved.