Managing your home in a digital age
Imagine living in a home that’s capable of observing your preferences and customizing your living space to make it as comfortable as possible for you. The science fiction fantasy of a smart home includes custom indoor climate settings that adjust to your desired temperatures at certain times of the day, lighting preferences that automatically update when you enter a room, door locks that grant entrance to allowed parties, security cameras that give you the ability to communicate with people who ring your doorbell even when you’re not at home, and so much more.
Today, the fantasy home of our imaginations has become reality. Best of all, popular technology makes smart houses accessible for regular folks, not just multimillionaires and tech geniuses. The components needed to automate your home can be acquired easily and, in most cases, affordably.
Why Automate Your Home?
There are many reasons why a homeowner or even renter may choose to automate a living space. Some of the reasons for home automation include:
- Remote access to home
- Customization of living space
- Safety and security
Each user will have specific reasons why they choose to automate their home. While one homeowner or renter may wish to create an efficient network so they can save money on their utility bills, another may simply want to create a more convenient lifestyle for their family. One of the greatest benefits of home automation is that no matter what your reason is for setting it up, you will reap even more benefits.
Getting Started With Home Automation
Before you begin setting up your smart home, it’s important to think about what you would like your home to do. Usually it’s a good idea to begin with a few basic automations to make setup simple, but now is also a great time to consider what you may want to add in the future. This way, you can make sure that you select technology that will be capable of incorporating the other automations you may want to add down the road. We recommend creating a list of ideas you have about what you’ll eventually want to accomplish, such as:
- Opening and closing the living room blinds based on the time of day, levels of daylight, and internal temperature of the house
- Unlocking the door for my teenager when she gets home from school
- Alerting me when a delivery person brings a package to my porch or when someone rings my doorbell
- Dropping the temperature of the house after the last person goes to bed and raising it back up when the first person wakes up in the morning
- Adjusting the temperature of the house to make sure that energy isn’t being wasted when no one’s at home
- Programming my television so that my children can only watch at times I’ve allowed
- Feeding my pet the right amount of food at the appropriate time each day
There are countless more possibilities for automating your own home, and as the technology develops, more options will become available. Having a reference list like this can help you when you’re researching and budgeting your home automation plan.
Now that you have an idea about what you’d like your house to be capable of, you will need to choose the specific technology, or home automation protocol, that you will use to create a basic framework for your home’s automation.
Step 1: Choosing Your Home Automation Protocol
A home automation protocol refers to the communication style used by a device to communicate with another device. Using the same technology across the board makes it possible for all of your devices to communicate with each other, allowing you to expand your system as needed. There are a number of different protocols that can be used in home automation, but as a consumer, it’s important for you to know which types are the most widely used and why. The following four home automation protocols are the most commonly seen on the market today and are listed from least to most popular.
X10 is the original home automation protocol, introduced to the market in the 1970s. Originally, X10 products were hardwired into the walls of a home, but over time the protocol was developed into a wireless system. X10 devices are not as fast as newer systems and are less likely to be compatible with newer products. Some homeowners already have X10 systems in place and want to add onto them, but generally X10 is not the protocol of choice for users just getting started with home automation.
Insteon is a wireless home automation protocol that is able to function wirelessly while also being compatible with existing X10 technology. This is a good choice for users who already have some X10 technology in their homes but are looking to expand into more modern wireless choices.
ZigBee home automation protocol is among the most popular technology on the market. It is an 802 wireless communication standard introduced into the market by the IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers). ZigBee uses a “mesh network” which means that each device connected to the network passes information along from one device to the next until the message reaches its destination. The technology is available for development by different manufacturers, but many users feel that the system works best when all devices on the network are from the same manufacturer.
Z-Wave is a wireless home automation protocol that uses a 908.42MHz frequency band. Z-Wave is one of the newest home automation protocols in use and is the most reliable technology in this category to date. Z-Wave also utilizes a “mesh network” but devices on the network are much more likely to play nicely together. Currently there are more than a thousand compatible devices on the market, giving users a wide range of options for home automation.
When establishing your home automation system, it’s important to consider your home to be a complete system in which all devices work together and communicate with each other. This means that before you choose your first component for your home, it’s necessary to make sure that you’re aware of your system’s compatibility with other components you may want to add in the future. All devices will have to use a protocol that allows for communication between them. In other words, make sure your devices all “speak the same language” so they can communicate with each other with ease.
Step 2: Setting Up the System
Once you’ve chosen your desired home automation protocol (Z-Wave, ZigBee, etc.) you can begin choosing your components and your base station. Your system will need a smart hub, which could either be a smartphone or a dedicated control panel, to act as central communication station for your connected devices. Once you’ve chosen your home automation protocol, set up your base station, and installed your initial home automation products, your smart home foundation has been laid. Your home is now connected, but it’s not yet “smart.” That comes next.
Step 3: Letting the System Learn About You
What makes an automated home truly automated? It’s more than the ability to use voice commands to make your electronics do what you want them to do or to turn off the downstairs lights with your smartphone from your bed. In order for your house to become truly automated, it must begin to learn your needs, and often this requires internet-enabled devices to work together. Devices that can communicate with each other through the same home automation protocol will cooperate with each other to learn your needs. Some examples of things that your internet-enabled devices may be able to learn about you are:
- What time you usually get home from work
- What time you usually wake up on weekdays or weekends
- What temperature you like your bedroom while you sleep
- When you want your coffee to start in the morning
- Who to unlock the door for
- Which activities around the home should be cause for an alert
- What time the blinds need to be opened or shut
- What times the lights need to be turned on or off
Of course, the nature of what your home can learn about you depends on which smart devices you choose to use. Over time, as your system begins to learn these things about you and automate these processes, your home life will become more and more comfortable, without any additional effort required on your part. That’s the whole point of home automation!
Your Home Automation Will Keep Working for You
As you grow into your automated home, you will have the added benefit of being able to continually expand and add new modules to your existing network. Many homeowners start small, setting up their smart home with door locks and sensors, a thermostat, a smart doorbell , and other simple peripherals. As their system begins to understand their needs better, many users will be interested in expanding to even more interesting devices. System expansions can be almost endless, from security cameras and alarm systems to intelligent household items like washing machines, refrigerators, and trash cans.
No matter which home automation protocol you’ve chosen to use, your system will be able to learn your needs and adapt to you as it comes to understand you. An automated home is expandable, giving you the opportunity to let your system grow with you as your needs, lifestyle, and circumstances change. Adding additional modules is simple and will ensure that your home is able to provide for your needs. With today’s home automation technology, things we used to think were science fiction from the distant future can actually benefit us today.
Published December 19th, 2016