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Getting Started With Home Automation – The Basics

December 7, 2016

Getting Started with Home Automation – The Basics

So, you have decided you want to automate your home, live in the present, and bring the changing technology trends into your house, control stuff by voice commands, but you have no idea how to go about it. In this article, we will bring out the basics to help you understand and get started with home automation.

What is Home Automation?

It is probably the first thing we should define so that you know what you are about to do to your home! Home automation is the use of a central computer to control all home functions, aspects, and electronics. It means all appliances are connected to a network so as to give seamless control over them from one point or remotely, using a mobile device anywhere in the world. Automation also includes security appliances like lighting, alarm system, doors, windows, smoke detectors, surveillance cameras and other wireless sensors around the home. ‘Automation’ is the ability to schedule and program events for the devices on the home network.

Home automation is brought about by ‘Internet of Things‘ – a technology term referring to all devices networked on the Internet. Let’s dig into the basics of home automation. The goal is to get all devices networked – clocks, lights, doors, windows, doorbells, thermostats, water heaters, cookers – just about everything. After the connection, those devices should be able to communicate and receive commands. To achieve this, we need some technologies to get us started. Some activities are simple and may cost less, while others, you may have to dig deeper into your pockets. Nevertheless, it is worth it – consider monitoring and controlling things in your home from a laptop or a small mobile device interface.
The Technologies You Will Need

When choosing an automation technology, you have to ensure you choose one that can communicate with your devices. Here are the current automation protocols you can choose one from:

  1. X10

    This technology has been in existence since the 70’s. Probably the first home automation technology. Initially, it was powerline based – wired into the walls for a long time, till recently it has started migrating to wireless due to changing technology trends. X10 systems are exceptionally difficult to install, and you will need a technician.

  2. UPB

    UPB stands for Universal Powerline Bus. It is powerline only, no wireless protocol and hence expensive and rather hard to install. I would not advise you to go for this technology as it may not work with most modern devices.

  3. Insteon

    It uses both powerline and wireless protocols, basically bridging the gap between X10 and UPB. There is a broad range of Insteon devices you can choose from in the market.

  4. Z-Wave

    Z-Wave is an entirely wireless home automation protocol with over 1000 different compatible devices. It uses a “mesh network,” this means once relayed through one Z-Wave product, the signal will be passed through all other devices on the network until it reaches the intended destination. It can scale and extend its network. Also, the technology consumes relatively less power compared to other technologies, making it compatible with devices that depend on battery power.

  5. ZigBee

    ZigBee is also a modern wireless communication protocol that has seen significant improvements in the recent years. Many devices support it as well. It is more like the Z-Wave as it uses “mesh network” and also a considerably lower amount of power. However, some devices from other manufacturers are not compatible with ZigBee technology, which is a discouragement if you want seamless interoperability amongst your other devices.

  6. WI-FI

    Wi-Fi is a widely known wireless protocol. Almost all devices support Wi-Fi, and you might even have Wi-Fi in your home already. A broad range of smart home devices supports Wi-Fi unanimously. Wi-Fi devices only need a router, and you are ready! It is probably the easiest technology to setup, and the most used. The drawback to this technology is bandwidth interference especially when you have so many gadgets connected to the Wi-Fi hotspot. Wi-Fi consumes a considerable amount of power and hence not suitable for devices that rely on battery power.

  7. Bluetooth

    Bluetooth is a short-range wireless protocol. It uses very minimum power and works with devices that are close to each other. It may not be suitable for full automation as you will place devices far apart.
    Making A Choice

So which one should you choose? Consider the devices you plan to connect, the size of your home, and whether you would prefer wired or wireless technology. As you are starting out, you can go with ZigBee or Z-Wave as they are both fast, wireless, support a great range, and come with hundreds of different products. If you already have Wi-Fi, then you can just stick with that.

The Starter Home Automation Products

Once you have an automation technology to support communication between the devices, you are ready to get your smart home into play. Here are some products to start:

  1. Controllers

    Controllers receive your voice or written commands and pass the command to the intended device like the thermostat, TVs, doors, or lights. Some of the controllers include the Amazon Echo and the Logitech Harmony Elite.

  2. Surveillance Cameras

    One advantage of having a smart home is the ability to monitor it from anywhere. That is where surveillance cameras come in. Some monitoring systems you can get for your home includes Canary All-In-One Home Security Device, Flir FX WiFi Home Monitoring Camera FXV101-H, Blink Home Security Camera System, etc.

  3. Heating and Cooling

    Another advantage of automation is getting to control the temperature of your room without getting up from your chair. Nest Learning Thermostat is a useful accessory that connects to Wi-Fi and can let you control the temperature of your living room from your smartphone.

  4. Lighting

    You will need complete control over the lights in your home so you can get to turn them off or on from anywhere. Some smart lights that you can control remotely include the Philips Hue Lux Starter Kit, Cree Connected LED Bulb, GE Link Connected LED, and more.

  5. Locks and Home Security Systems

    We can’t talk about home automation and leave out the security issue; they go hand-in-hand. Smart Alarm Systems activate automatically when a given programmed condition happens or doesn’t happen as expected. There are also a lot of smart locks to choose from that works with smartphones. An example of a smart lock is the new Schlage Sense Lock that works with Apple’s Siri voice control.

There you have it! These basics should help you get an understanding of a smart home and how you can get started with the automation process. We have not included a comprehensive list of automation devices, but you can get more details on these products from our sites and our other blog posts. We hope you succeed in your automation process.

– Jenni

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