What Is Home Automation?
The first step is to define what home automation actually is. The short answer is that home automation is a way of installing and then controlling how devices in your home work. These devices, from lights to your doorbell, can communicate with you through an app or, in some cases, with voice commands. These can be isolated items or devices that you control on their own. Or, they can be designed to work within a controlled network where one hub or device controls the functions of others throughout the space.
Home automation can focus on security and is often a component of the home security systems that are in use today. However, it can also focus on making life a bit easier for you.
Incorporating Automation into the Home
The term automation is specifically defined as an ability to program an event or to schedule something to happen, and then the device does it for you. There is no need for you to turn the lights on by flipping the switch. Instead, you tell a device to turn them on at a specific time, and it does it for you. Automation includes both scheduled events (such as arming the home security system at 7 pm every night) to direct commands needed at that moment (such as telling a device to show you the view at the front door).
Accessing the Home Remotely
There is a secondary component to home automation that’s growing in value and prominence. That’s the ability to access the home remotely. While home automation is designed to make managing tasks at home easy, you also want to be able to have those skills away from home. Since many home automation systems now are managed through apps or website interfaces, this is easy to do with remote control features.
Home automation goes further than to provide simplistic one-way communication with a connected device. Rather, it provides for a way to monitor the entire home from a single app. This means benefits that range from real-time video access to being able to turn on and off the security system from remote locations. The ultimate goal with these systems is that they allow you to control every facet of their function from any location, depending on the features you invest in.
What Is a Smart Home?
The term “smart home” has been used for years to describe a home that could handle various tasks. In short, today, we know it as a home that has a variety of devices that can automate various tasks so that humans don’t have to do so. These are tasks that humans normally have to do. Over the last few years, the smart home trend has meant that these homes now incorporate more artificial intelligence into them than ever, though AI is not the only component that makes up a smart home any longer.
In many ways, a smart home is simply a home with built-in automation. There is a growing trend towards creating homes that are designed from the ground up to include smart home features. Builders are now adding more of these features at a faster rate because the demand for them is so high. Consumers are definitely interested. According to another Statista report, a projected 54 million individual smart home security cameras alone would be sold in 2018.
Though a full smart home may not be readily accessible to most consumers today, it is likely that we will see fully capable and automated systems in the future. The true smart home will incorporate ever-increasing types of technology to give it the power to do whatever a human wants and need at the flip of a switch or, more precisely, with a voice command.
What Is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
The term Internet of Things, more commonly called IoT, refers to technology that communicates with the internet. These are devices that are able to accomplish a wide range of tasks on their own, generally by connecting to a hub that tells them what to do or by connecting to an app.
IoT in homes is used for devices to connect to each other over your home’s Wi-Fi or other internet connection. This allows for these devices to send information back and forth, communicating a wide range of tasks and sharing data from one device to the next.
Some of the most connected components for the home also send data to third parties. For example, there are Dash buttons from Amazon that allow a user to simply push one, and the company re-sends specific supplies on demand.
IoT is an important component within the smart home and with home automation as a whole. It provides a way to communicate in real-time over an internet connection. By definition, IoT allows consumers to make the devices they want within a smart home to communicate with each other. For example, you may want your smart alarms to connect with your smart home hub, which can then send a message to your phone about the problem – or even better connect right to the fire department in an emergency. This occurs because of smart home technology, including IoT.
Benefits of Home Automation
All of this seems like a good thing, and there is no doubt it also seems overwhelming, especially if you are just getting started with home automation. The question many people ask is why. Why should you invest in smart home automation? What benefit is this going to bring to the way you live your life right now?
There are many specific types of benefits that home automation can present to the consumer depending on the way you wish to use it. Here are a few of the key advantages:
One of the very first and most prominent reasons people started investing in home automation was the promise that it would save them money. Yes, you do need to purchase the system, and you need to maintain an internet connection for it to work. However, once you have a system in place, it can save you money overall.
Consider, for example, that it can save you money on your energy consumption. By incorporating a smart thermostat, either as a stand-alone device or as a connected component to your whole-home system, you are better able to control the heating and cooling within your home. The system can turn the heat down when no one is home in the winter and get the home ready for your preferred comfort level just before you get home. This saves you money.
The amount of savings depends on a variety of factors, but consider a few key ways it can work for you like this:
- It can turn your lights on and off for you, reducing the amount of time lights are being used when there is no need for them.
- It can help to control temperatures at night when you may not need more significant conditioned air.
- You can set up systems that turn outlets on and off when there is no need to have them accessed. This can help to reduce costs.
- Motion detection lights can turn on only when they sense someone at the door, reducing the need to have pathway lighting and lights on all night long.
- Smart home appliances can be managed long distance, allowing you to turn them on and off anywhere – you don’t have to remember if you turned the coffee pot off. Now, you can check and make sure of it.
There are other savings options too. For example, you can use smart home systems that can better manage water usage, reduce the risk of smoke and fire damage by alerting you sooner to risks, and flood monitoring sensors that can help minimize losses. Some insurance companies will even lower your costs if you have a smart home system in place.
By far, the best reason to invest in home automation is that it can greatly enhance your home’s safety. You cannot be everywhere at one time, but with a smart home, you can most certainly manage every aspect of your home’s security on an ongoing basis.
Safety and security are a prime reason to invest, but there are countless ways these systems can work in this manner. Here are a few key examples:
- Home security systems can include night vision, motion detection, and loud sirens to help you to get people off your property. They can detect a person without alerting you to any animal that walks across your porch.
- They can monitor your doorstep, ensuring that package pirates don’t take your deliveries and, if they do, providing you with a clear view of who it is and what happened.
- Many systems incorporate professional monitoring. This type of service works to send an alert to a third party that can log into your device, see what is happening, and gets the police to your home fast.
- They can work to detect smoke, fire, water damage, and carbon monoxide for you, therefore protecting your family’s life from these common threats.
- They also allow you to remain in control over who enters your home and who does not get access.
Improving the overall safety of your home is a critical way these systems can work for you, but they are designed to do so in a way that works for you. Doorbell cameras, window sensors, door sensors, and many other components give you the freedom to protect against the risks that are most important for you.
In various ways, home automation makes life a bit easier to live. Imagine not having to worry about the details of what is happening at your home and being able to control just about anything from any location. It is this type of flexibility that has many people interested in investing in home automation and with good reason. Here are just a few examples.
- You’re enjoying a movie with the kids in the basement. Someone comes to the door. You can ask Alexa to give you a real-time view of who is at the door. You never have to answer if you don’t want to, but if you do, you can use the two-way audio to communicate without leaving your seat.
- You can set the washing machine to run a load of clothes at a specific time of the day each day. Imagine teaching the kids to put their dirty clothes right into the washer each day.
- Use the app to arm and disarm your system from work or school. Or, if you are unable to remember if you set the alarm, you can easily turn on the app to find out.
- Did your son or daughter forget his or her home key? Perhaps you have a dog walker coming by to help with your pets. You can give them access to your home for a specific amount of time with a push of a button.
- It saves you time by giving you control over everything happening at home with just access to an app. You can even use the indoor cameras to see what your teenager is up to in the middle of summer.
Convenience can be as comprehensive or as limited as you like. That is what makes home automation so unique. You can add the features you want to save money, saving time, and improve the overall security of your home.
How to Make a Smart Home
From turning off our oven with our voice to sussing out a package thief, smart home technology is truly transforming the way we live. But when it comes to making our own smart home, this can get pretty overwhelming. Where should we start? What will we need? How much is this all going to cost?
FYI: To keep things in perspective, we always suggest looking first at energy efficiency. What areas of your home generate the most electricity? Your HVAC system? Your refrigerator? Your lights? How could smart home technology reduce this – while also adding convenience to your daily life?
While we certainly can’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution here, we can share one way our smart home has improved our lives – and we weren’t even home.
Not long ago, we took a week away at the beach. After planning and packing and organizing and shoring up all the details, we took off, and then realized right after landing at our destination that we’d forgotten to adjust our Nest thermostat.
As this was the middle of winter in the Midwest, we certainly did not want our heat running at full force for six days straight in our absence. A simple adjustment in our Nest app, and we were all set. When we landed back home, we turned the temp back up so we’d return to a warm home at the end of our trip.
Home Automation Devices
The next question, then, is connectivity. How does all of this happen in your home? It is all done through the use of a number of connected devices. Remember, the key to home automation is that you can incorporate as many or as few of these technologies into your home as you would like to, and there is no need to use them all unless you desire to do so.
Each device can work on its own to provide specific benefits. Many of them will link together to provide you with more opportunity for control. Take a look at these popular options and how they can work for you.
Smart assistants are some of the easiest first steps into home automation you can find. You can purchase the device, implement it into your home, and use it for whatever tasks you decide to link to it. Smart assistants are voice-controlled. You can ask them questions, tell them to do things, or set specific timers for various actions.
There are a number of smart assistants today. The most commonly used and most widely available are these three:
Amazon Alexa is one of the most widely known of all of the smart assistants, mainly because of the heavy push from the e-commerce company to get it into the hands of the consumer. Alexia offers a great deal of support for users, including allowing you to play music from various apps. It can provide you with access to home entertainment through the Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. There’s also Fire TV Edition. You can also use Alexa to place orders on Amazon, to schedule shipments, manage to-do accounts, and create other types of reminders.
Another key advantage is that Alexa works with numerous other smart home devices, which makes it one of the easily options for those who want to link multiple systems to each other. At the time of this writing, Alexa connects with:
- Amazon-branded products including the Echo, Echo Show, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, and Echo Auto
- Smart thermostat including the Ecobee4
- Ring devices including Ring Doorbells
- Security cameras of numerous types, including the Logitech Circle models, ADT, Vivint, SimpliSafe, and others.
Google has also worked to provide more opportunities for smart home automation. Though the Google Home voice assistant is not as well known as Alexa, it has a lot of powerful tools and devices that make it just as easy and as useful to use. For entertainment, users can also use Google Chromecast Ultra, and the standard model to watch TV with 4k resolution. Here are some examples:
- Google-branded smart home tools including the Google Home Hub, Google Home Mini, and Google Home Max
- It works with all devices that link to Samsung SmartThings (including TVs and appliances)
- Nest Learning devices, which includes smart cameras and thermostats
- Honeywell Home thermostats
- Philips Hue light bulbs
- Smart lock systems including August
Perhaps a bit later to the party than other systems, Apple’s Siri voice assistant is making its way into more smart home applications than ever. What makes Siri so interesting is that it was one of the first choices for communicating with your smartphone using voice commands. Now, the technology is moving heavily into the smart home market.
To control your home using Siri, you need to set up HomeKit. This allows it to control any Apple devices using your mobile phone. With that, you may be able to accomplish a wide range of tasks you desire when you purchase HomeKit-recognized products. This may include:
- Ecobee smart thermostats
- Belkin WeMo for electric outlet management
- Security cameras including those from Omna
- August Smart Locks
- Apple HomePod, which connects other smart home gadgets
Home automation goes beyond just voice commands, though. You can use it to accomplish much more within your home, especially in the area of home security. Home automation allows you to monitor all areas of your home for security. A key feature of this may be professional monitoring services. In many systems, you are able to log into the system from any location using your app and see real-time views of what’s happening.
Security cameras, both indoors and outdoors, provide the hallmark of support for security benefits. These can include features that help them to be more useful to you, such as the inclusion of motion sensors and two-way audio. You can use them to automatically send you a notification whenever someone walks into their view.
Doorbell cameras have become increasingly important for homeowners who may not always want to answer to the door, but also because they can help record what’s happening when a package is dropped off. You can also use them to communicate with someone outside of your door even if you are not at home to do so.
Smart locks are very simple to use both to ensure your home remains safe and to help minimize access to your home. Some work with passcodes while others allow you to lock and unlock doors to allow access remotely. Some of the most advanced can pick up on your key fob and unlock the door for you when you approach it, giving you the ability to get into the home without having to fumble with keys.
Sensors typically provide key information to you. They can tell you when lights turn on, windows are opened, doors are opened, or when glass breaks. Some sensors can also provide motion sensing for outdoors. Others are designed to let you know if you left the garage door open.
Smart lights can work both through programming as well as reacting to outside light levels, turning on and off while maximizing energy use. These lights can be an excellent way to improve security when they have motion sensors.
As noted, thermostats can help you to save a significant amount of money on your energy bills. These smart thermostats can even learn your habits, adjusting to better meet your needs without needing a lot of programming. On the other hand, if you are coming home in the middle of the day unexpectedly, they let you log in and make changes as you would like to.
Home Automation Apps
Though many home automation systems have direct interfaces that allow you to work directly with them, most also include apps. You can download these apps to your smartphone or tablet. They give you full control over the device, including access to video recordings or most settings. Most companies make these apps applicable for all devices, and they are overall easy to use.
Home Automation Technology
What helps all of this work? The technology in home automation continues to change to allow devices to communicate with you. Here is a look at some of the most common types of technology used to help these devices communicate.
One of the more common types of home automation technology that is helping to connect more devices to each other is Z-Wave. It is a way to wirelessly communicate between various devices. It works using low energy radio waves through a mesh network. Simply, it allows for appliances or other devices to connect to share data.
This is another widely used type of communication in smart home automation devices. It is what is used in Amazon’s Echo Plus, for example. It is a set of high-level communication protocols that creates a unique personal area network. This can help to connect devices to each other. Generally, it has a range of 10 to 20 meters, though this changes.
Many people recognized Bluetooth for the technology that’s used in gaming or in headsets. It is also used in a variety of smart home automation devices as well. It generally connects devices that are closer together using short-wavelength UHF radio waves. It builds these short, personal area networks within your home to open communications.
Wi-Fi is perhaps the most well-recognized of all home automation connection tools. It’s the term used to refer to the in-home internet connection many people have. It helps provide high-speed internet connectivity across a network, generally the entire home. For home automation devices, Wi-Fi is one way that devices can connect and is a common way for them to connect to the app on your phone.
Common Home Automation Tasks
Home automation is a wide network of opportunities. What you choose to do with it is up to your needs. You can get fairly recreative in the tasks you have your systems do. Basic commands are a good way to start seeing the benefit in your life. For example, asking Amazon Alexa what the weather is going to be like at 3 pm can tell you if you need to pick the kids up at the bus stop.
Yet, more complex and elaborate home automation tasks can help you to do much more, providing you with a higher level of communication and better benefits. Here is a look at just a few of the commonly used home automation tasks.
Arming and Disarming Security Systems
Perhaps the most powerful when it comes to protecting your home, with home automation, you know it is safe and protected. You can use your app to arm and disarm your system from any location – work, school, or even 100 miles away. This lets you control when the pet sitter can come into the home or give you peace of mind knowing your doors are locked in the middle of the night (and you don’t have to get out of bed to check!)
Turning Lights On and Off
It seems like such a simple thing to do – flip a switch to turn the lights on. Yet, everyone has those moments when they forget to turn the basement lights off. Or, perhaps you want to make it look like someone is at home even when you are gone all day for work or gone over the weekend. Allowing home automation to turn the lights on and off for you minimizes the need to do this physically whether you are at home or not.
Locking and Unlocking Doors
Home automation gives you control over your doors no matter where you are. You can unlock the doors when your parent stops by to drop something off. You can make sure your doors are locked after your son or daughter gets home late at night. More so, smart locks make it easy for you to use things like fingerprints, passcodes, or even key fobs to enter and exit with ease.
Smoke and Fire Alarm Communication
Linking your home’s smoke and fire alarms to each other is an excellent way to protect your home. When you have a smart system, they connect over a network. If the basement corner detector picks up the scent of smoke, it alarms, but also sends a message to the others in the home to alarm as well, giving you more time to react. These also allow you to get help right away from the police and fire department if you need to. With professional monitoring, you can count on the police learning about the fire as soon as you do.
Front Door Communications and Video
Your front door can be connected in many ways, giving you ample control. For example, the system can include cameras that pick up on someone walking up the driveway. Big, bright lights on those cameras can help deter the wrong person from even approaching the home. Two-way audio allows you to tell them to leave. If they do come to the door, your doorbell camera gives you the ability to talk to someone and see what’s happening in real-time. It can also let you capture the image of who is at your door.
Home automation is incredible and growing. It is changing quickly as new technology, and innovative solutions become available. For those who are ready to add it to their home, there are countless first steps to take. From a whole-home system to a single voice assistant, each device you add gives you more control over your home, making it safer, saving you time, and improving your quality of life.