Do I have to make my whole house smart?
Technically, you don’t have to make your entire home smart at all. You also don’t really need to have your entire home wired for electricity either. We have thousands of years of history proving that.
But of course, living without electricity in this day and age is just crazy. And in fact, it can be downright irresponsible. If you have kids at home and you still insist on living without electricity in the 21st century, then Social Services may decide to pay you a visit just to make sure you’re actually a fit guardian for your children.
When electricity first came into the scene, it was seen by some as a fad and as a gimmick. But then everyone soon realized that homes with electricity were more comfortable and convenient for residents, and soon it became a necessity for modern living. Soon the streets were lit up with electric lights, and traffic lights were powered by electricity as well
Home automation seems poised to follow the same path. More and more homes are being out up with smart device systems already built in, while many existing and older homes are being upgraded with smart devices every day. Soon, just about every home will have some sort of smart device system. Its benefits are rather obvious.
In fact, in some cases its benefits are only maximized when the entire house is fitted with smart devices. Here are some examples:
1. Total security. A home security system is an obvious example of how coverage must include the whole house. It’s not entirely logical to focus solely on securing the front door when you have other possible modes of entry to the house, including back doors and unsecured windows. So if all these entry points but one are secured, then that lone exception turns your entire security setup into a farce.
So what should you do? For a complete security coverage, you need smart locks one each door, and window sensors that can detect if any window is broken by an intruder. Then you need several security cameras with night vision and motion detectors all over around and inside the house. Your cameras should cover the front doors and other potential entry points, as well as your vaults and your jewelry shelves.
2. Thermostat systems. A device like this can help adjust the temperature inside an entire home. But the reality is that often the temperature inside an upstairs bedroom may be very different that the temperature in the living room. So how can a single thermostat know what to do to heat or cool an entire home properly?
This will have to be done through sensors spread out all over the house. This kind of sensor overload isn’t always available right now, but it’s probably going to happen in the near future.
3. Maximized energy savings. It’s a well-known fact that smart appliances are more energy-efficient than their conventional counterparts. So why limit yourself to just a few key smart appliances. Get crucial smart features for each appliance, such as remote control for everything, and you can maximize your energy savings to the full.
When should I enhance my home with smart home automation?
Why wait? Now is always a good time. There are always some arguments to be made about waiting a while before you delve in to home automation. Some of these arguments may even have a valid point. But then again, we’re not telling you to use all types of automation across the board.
Here are some arguments against starting now and counterarguments that refute these claims:
1. It’s expensive. If you outfit your entire home with smart devices across the board, then yes, it will be expensive. And if you subscribe to a home automation cloud service that charges you hundreds of dollars a month, it may not really fit your budget at all. And if you get a smart fridge, you’re going to add another thousand dollars to your purchase.
But start with something small and inexpensive first. A smart outlet may cost you just $50. You pay the same thing for a smart light bulb. It can really be cheap if you start with the more affordable types of gadgets.
2. It’s too complicated. The level of complexity for a simple smart device like an outlet is just about the same as with a smartphone. In other words, if you’re able to use a smartphone, then a smart device won’t pose any problems for you.
The problem here is that some devices or some apps are complicated, that’s true. But that’s not true for all smart devices at all. Many are child’s play.
3. Installation is a problem. Do you have a router? Just how difficult did you find it to be able to use this router so your smartphone can have Internet access? Installing many smart devices is often just as easy.
If you find it difficult at first to understand the installation manual, just Google the problem. You’ll often find online videos that can make everything so much clearer with their step-by-step instructions. You can post questions on forums, or even talk to your smart device customer support.
If it’s really difficult, then consider a professional installer especially when you have lots of devices you want to install at the same time. And if it involves any work on the electrical wiring, then you should consider having an electrician doing the work for you.
4. You don’t really need it. Who really needs anything? But consider the idea of the smartphone. Once upon a time cellphones just allowed us to talk or send messages. Now with smartphones you don’t just get to go online easily. You also get to use apps that have become integral to your life.
That’s what home automation is right now. It doesn’t seem necessary, but soon it will be a natural part of your life. If you’re always worried that you’ve left the lights or some other appliance on when you go on vacation or if you’re tired of manually turning on or off lights at the same time, then you need the remote control and the scheduling feature offered by smart devices. It’s the same thing if you’re paying too much for electricity.
How many modules can I add to my home automation system?
Before we can answer this question properly, let’s discuss what a module is. The general definition for “module” is that it is a separate component that can perform a single task, and it can be linked with other similar components to form a larger system.
In automation, it’s simpler to regard a module as the component that makes a gadget “smart”. It can also refer to any smart device (in much the same way that some people refer to cars as just “wheels”) that performs a specific function. So your smart light bulbs, thermostats, door locks, video cameras, motion sensors, smoke detectors, and all the other smart devices are called modules.
And how many can you add to your home automation system? As many as you want, that’s how many. You’re limited only by your budget, the size of your home (you do need to have a place for these devices), and by your ability to manage them all.
A modern hub can accommodate about 200 or so modules at the same time. Some of the earliest hubs could only manage 16. But who says you can’t get another hub with another 2oo smart devices?
So no the real question becomes just what kind of modules and smart devices you can install and add to your home automation system. While there are the usual lights and thermostats and home security components, other smart devices are far more imaginative—they may even border on the wacky!
1. Fridges. Now the smart features you get will depend on the refrigerator brand and model you buy. But one feature is a camera that tells you what’s inside your fridge. So you can tell what you need to buy to the grocery store just by checking the contents of your fridge on your way to work. Adding smart features to a fridge may also another thousand dollars to the price, however.
2. Mugs. There’s now a cup that comes with an app. Seriously. The cup can tell if you’re drinking water or soda, coffee, tea, or alcohol, and it can tell you how the levels of calories, sugar, caffeine, protein, and other nutrients you consume. It can warn you of dehydration when you drink too much alcohol, and also alert you when you drink too much water.
3. Wastebasket sensors. This is sensor that scans barcodes, and it’s designed to slot to your trashcan. When you throw an item away, it’ll scan the barcode of the item and then it adds the item to a shopping list in your app.
4. Egg trays. This tray tells the app just how many eggs you have left in the tray. And it can also tell you which are the oldest among the eggs, so you can avoid salmonella.
5. Beddings. This device borrows the principle of smart thermostats, because it’s heat-adjustable. You can set it to your desired temperature, and you can even have individual zones so one side is warm while the other is cool. And it can even learn when you usually go to bed, so that after a few days it will adjust itself beforehand, so that you can go to bed with your beddings already as warm as you want them to be.
Imagine just how many of these you can put in your home!
What are some of the new advanced smart home systems on the technological cusp that we can look forward to? What are the future home automation trends?
A few years ago, wired home automation systems were the norm, but now these things have lost their value because most of the popular smart systems are wireless. So now what other trends are poised to take over the home automation industry? Here are some of the devices getting a lot of press:
1. Integration. Ideally, many different types of smart devices can work together for your purposes. You can have a morning “scene” that plays a gentle alarm through your speakers, your lights can slowly grow brighter to simulate a sunrise, your thermostat adjusts the temperature, and when get out of bed your coffeemaker has just finished a fresh cup of coffee for you. Or your home security system may include sensors, cameras, lights, alarms, and door locks.
Sadly, improvement in this aspect of home automation is slow and beset by a lack of agreed-upon standards. Most of the time, you just don’t know if smart devices can work together seamlessly. So often the only way you can be sure that two smart devices can work together is if they’re produced by the same company.
But some developments are very encouraging. Lately, Apple has offered the HomeKit platform which makes sure that every smart device that offers an app for the iOS will also work with other certified “made for Apple” smart gadgets.
2. Learning systems. In many smart devices, you have capabilities such as remote control from your office and even from another continent. You can set a scheduled for your smart device to follow. But now with the new learning capability, it can automatically set a schedule for you.
The schedule a learning smart device can formulate may depend on your own particular habits and preferences. For example, a smart thermostat with learning capabilities will note your home heating and cooling habits for a couple of weeks. And by the third week, you may no longer have to set a schedule for the entire week because it may have formulated a schedule for you on its own.
If you set a certain temperature for noon for two Tuesdays in a row, then it may set the same temperature at the same time for the next Tuesday that comes. If you set the same settings for both Monday and Tuesday, by Wednesday it may already have anticipated your wishes and your entire weekday schedule may be adjust for this particular setting.
3. Voice activation. Who says you’re limited to tapping on a touchscreen to have your smart devices obeying your commands? With voice control systems, you only need to speak up by calling the home automation system by name. This may be Alexa from Amazon or Siri from Apple.
These systems are always on call, and they monitor your voice at all times. So when you say “Alexa”, the system can then do what you tell it to do. It can also answer your question by automatically looking up the answer online.
If you’ve seen the Ironman movies, it’s a bit like Ironman talking to his Jarvis AI home computer.
Hopefully, these trends can continue to improve. Imagine a system that includes every type of smart device working together smoothly. Then you can just talk to it to get it to work, while it also anticipates your wishes!
What is X10, and is it different from Insteon, ZigBee, or Z-Wave?
When you use your smartphone to surf the Internet, you usually go online through a Wi-Fi connection. And when you have wireless keyboards and mouse for your PC at home, you use Bluetooth to connect to your computer. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are types of protocols which devices use to communicate to one another.
For smart devices, there are several types of protocols for smart gadgets. Examples include ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Insteon. Two smart devices can only communicate with one another if they use the same protocol. And back in the 1970s and 1980s, these home automation devices used x10 to communicate with one another.
Here are some of the most important facts you’ll need to know about the x10:
- It’s old, so very few modern gadgets use it to communicate. Most modern smart devices use more modern protocols.
- Since it is very rare, it means that it is relatively more expensive. Yet it doesn’t really boast the necessary advantages to warrant its price tag.
- In the old days, it used the power lines for the gadgets to communicate with each other. It was only much later that a wireless version appeared. In any case, installing an x10 system is generally more complicated than more modern home automation systems.
- It can be very slow in transmitting the commands to the various modules. Let’s say that you have an x10 light system. The x10 delay is typically 0.75 seconds. So when you give a command for 10 lights to light up simultaneously, each light will take 0.75 seconds one at a time, for a total response time of 7.5 seconds.
- There’s also a practical limit to the number of smart devices you can use. The x10 system only offer 16 possible house codes (from A to P) with 16 possible unit codes for each house code. But the x10 is most reliable when you only have a single house code, so you’re really limited to just 16 modules in your home. You can then name then A1, A2, A3, etc.
- Now if you have a close neighbor who also uses an x10 system, you have to coordinate with them so you don’t end up using the same house codes. If the two of you have the same “A” house code, then your neighbor’s controls can end up controlling your x10 system.
- The x10 system is also very vulnerable to interference. A power surge, as well as high-powered appliances like ovens, air conditioners, heaters, and hair dryers can affect how your x10 system works. Nearby computers and TV can also weaken the x10 signals. Other wireless systems in your house, such as your Wi-Fi Internet and even your TV remote can wreak havoc on your home automation system.
- The data often travels only one way. So your controller can give commands to your smart devices, but these devices may not offer you any signals that they’ve received your instructions. You’ll need more advanced devices to get this capability, and you’ll have to pay for those.
So in effect, the x10 system is rather like the 56k modem of the 1990s. They offered lots of people many advantages back in the day, but in these times the x1o devices are more curiosities than anything else.
What is powerline networking?
Powerline networking is a way of networking various appliances. It is an alternative to Wi-Fi, although in some ways it can be complementary method of networking during instances when Wi-Fi is not the most suitable option. It uses your power lines to transmit data between devices.
How It Works
Let’s say you have a device that doesn’t have any wireless capabilities, such as a run of the mill HDTV. Now you want to stream videos from the Internet Wi-Fi, so you’re forced to run an Ethernet cable from your router to the TV. If these two devices are in different rooms or in different floors, then that can be a problem and you end up with a very long and quite ugly wire across your house.
But you can solve the problem easily with 2 Powerline adapters with 2 Ethernet cables. You can connect one adapter to the router with an Ethernet cable, and then you plug the adapter to a wall socket. Then you take the other adapter and connect it to the TV with the Ethernet cable, and you also plug this adapter to a wall socket.
With this setup, the two adapters can detect each other through the power lines and they can connect to each other automatically. Your TV is now part of your Internet network.
In general, wireless systems are superior to wired systems. But the Powerline networking system does offer certain advantages.
- The data transfer can offer consistent speeds, and these adapters can enable data transfer from 80 Mbps to about 200 Mbps. So if you have an appliance that requires lots of data from the Internet, then this can offer a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi. This may be a better option for game consoles, for example.
- Wi-Fi may also have some blind spots in your home, especially if you try to use your laptop in the attic or basement and you have very thick walls. So with the Powerline adapters, you can be sure you can get connected to your Internet network when you’re in a place where you can’t get your Wi-Fi.
- You can also use this system to extend your Wi-Fi range. You can use the Powerline networking system to connect a Wi-Fi extender to your router, and this can effectively increase the range of your Wi-Fi router.
- You don’t have to install new wires for your wired system, too. It only uses your power lines, and they’re already there installed in your house.
- This type of networking can also connect smart devices to smart hubs or to your Wi-Fi router.
- It’s also much more secure than your Wi-Fi when you use it in your own home. People outside your house can detect your Wi-Fi. But they can’t get into your power line network unless they also connect to your electrical system.
It’s not perfect, but new developments are now becoming available to deal with common issues.
- If you’re using this system in an apartment building, then other residents in the building may be able to access your network, since everyone is on the same electrical system. But you can use passwords for your adapters.
- Adapters can use up the wall socket so that you can’t use it to power up other appliances. But now some adapters offer a pass-through connection, so you can still use the plug socket.
- Some adapters may not be able to cope with the “noise” produced by certain motorized appliances such as fans, washers, and vacuum cleaners.
Powerline networking may not be all that popular yet, but recent developments in the field suggest that it should be more popular among consumers today. It offers a lot of benefits, with very few disadvantages.