There are about as many ways to set up your smart home automation system as there are homes. You can start with an overall plan and fill in the devices you need to carry out that plan, or you can start with a couple of devices and wind up with a houseful in two or three years. The choice is entirely up to you.
But before you go and just try something, let us first get to know what a smart home automation system is and what devices can be used for your smart home. In this way, it will be easier to choose which smart products are worth buying. You’ll also have a better sense of when you need to take your system to the next level.
What is a smart home automation system
Technology advancements have made a huge impact on our homes. Nowadays, many homes are already fitted with a smart home automation system to provide better control of various devices. Through it, you can control your lights, heating and cooling system, electrical outlets and various appliances, entertainment systems and home security simply by using your smart phones.
In the early days of home automation, building a system that could run a whole building or a home took a big budget and a lot of pre-planning. Nowadays, smart home automation systems can easily be incorporated into almost any home that has a local network running through Wi-Fi or Ethernet. It is easy to fit and install home automation products because they don’t really require anything beyond that connection.
Yet despite this open environment, we find most home systems are usually limited to the lighting and temperature control of a house. These two aspects are basic and are most common to all houses, showing just how much room for growth there really is.
How is home automation used today?
We also see that most people are just beginning to understand how much more control they can have over their home when they embark on building a home automation system.
One way to make the most out of your smart home automation system is to program various devices to run on a schedule that you select. It is possible to have different devices automatically run different commands at different times of days. This is very useful in so many ways that once you find a schedule that works for you, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without automation. How did you ever stumble downstairs in the dark to turn the coffee pot on before heading back upstairs to take your shower in the morning? Now, you know it’s turned on as part of your “wake-up” scene.
Scheduling what a device does at a specific time is just one of the things you can do to automate your home. Another thing that can be done is to have triggered events; this is where you can really see that there is a system that works with all of your smart devices.
With triggered events, a smart home device automatically performs a command as a result of the action of another smart home device that you have at home. A great example of such is triggering the lights to turn off when the blinds are opened in the morning to make use of the natural light from the sun instead of electricity. You can also set up the cooling and heating system to turn on when it detects that the controller (which is usually your phone) is within a certain radius of the house.
True remote control
Smart home automation systems also enable homeowners to control various devices at home, even when they are not at home or even near their home. This is thanks to a smart hub that connects through a home network to the internet. Through it, you can control various devices through the app on your smartphones, which are also connected to the internet.
The app on your smartphone that provides information about a particular device or a whole set of devices. It is possible to check whether doors are locked or if your heating or cooling system is turned off to save on energy, even if you are at the office. You can even program your security system to send you alerts or alarms when someone enters the house when you are not there.
How home automation systems work best
The system works best if you have the right smart home devices that offer you the customization that you need. Smart lighting can let you control the brightness or even the color of the lights you have at home. Smart thermostats can help control the room’s temperature. Both of these can work separately, and control over them is possible by opening the app for each specific smart device.
Although that kind of smart home automation system may work well for those who only have a few smart devices running in their home, the control can be quite limited and daunting when you use separate apps for separate devices. Having multiple apps on your smart phone can also take too much storage. For a better home automation experience, you need a central hub to connect and control all your smart devices.
Like the human body, the smart hub acts like the brain of your system with each device creating a sort of central nervous system that passes messages back and forth with the brain to a particular lamp in the den or to the one in the master bedroom. Through this kind of system, you could also turn all of the lights on when your security sensors are triggered. This also makes it possible for a homeowner to control multiple smart home devices from just a single app. In this way, it is easier and faster to control different things from just one screen.
What makes smart home devices different?
Smart home devices are products that you usually find at home but are “smarter” in a sense that they let you have more granular control over them. They can easily be modified and automated through controllers. Sticking with our lights example, you can buy a three-way light bulb for example, that allows you to dial the intensity of the light to three different levels. A smart bulb, by contrast, could be dimmed or brightened to many different levels. Some smart bulbs can even change color depending on conditions you set.
Smart lights, such as the very popular Philips Hue, Lutron Caseta and Sylvania Lightify lighting, are simple and easy to use or install. They are also very efficient when it comes to energy use and can be scheduled to switch on or off at different times of day. They work great together with smart thermostats to provide a very relaxing and comfortable environment at home.
Controlling temperatures controls comfort and cost
Your home should always be a comfortable place to go to at the end of the day. Although you can’t control the weather outside, you can control the temperature and environment inside your home. Thermostats to control heating have been around as long as central heating has.
Over the last 75 years, there have also been “set-back” thermostats that allowed you to set a limited number of desired temperatures based on the time of day. You could turn the heat down at night when you went to bed and have the furnace kick in again to warm things up a half hour before your alarm clock went off in the morning.
Nowadays, smart thermostats such as the Nest, Ecobee 4 and Sensei are available. These “smarter” versions offer you control over the temperature without having to manually adjust them or rely on a limited time-based control. Although manual adjustments can still be done with smart thermostats, a handier way to control them is through the use of your smartphone. These thermostats may have sensors that detect the current temperature of the home. Either the home’s cooling or heating devices is turned on, up or down to achieve or maintain the set temperature over several time periods each day. Add a voice controller like Alexa and you can override your normal temperature requests with a simple command to “make it warmer or cooler” in the room.
You can also turn off or dramatic raise or lower the temperature thresholds when you’re not at home. No more wondering whether you set the thermostat to away mode when you’re at the airport about to embark on your vacation.
Other devices can also affect the environment of your home; included on this list are smart mechanical blinds that can be programmed to open in the morning to let the light in and save on energy. They can also be automatically closed to reduce the heat in the home when the cooling systems are trying to lower the temperature. There are also water leak detectors that help make sure that the pipes are in order and also help avoid future costly damage.
Outdoor devices can also be brought in to your overall home automation system. Garage doors and irrigation systems are the two most common here. Motion detectors and outdoor lights are usually considered part of the home’s overall lighting system or home security system.
Hubs and controllers
As the list of devices grows, the need for hubs and controllers become more apparent. These seem similar to each other, but they are actually different. A hub is a device that connects to all of your smart devices and to your home’s Wi-Fi connection, while the controller enables you to give various commands to each of your devices through the hub. The controller can be in the form of your smartphone or a tablet that you designate as the controller. You can also add a voice-activated controller like Alexa or the Google Home Assistant for use when you are in your home.
There are different brands of controllers and hubs available in the market today but no one is really perfect. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few examples.
SmartThings is owned by Samsung and it is one of the hubs that offers the greatest number of supported smart devices. Apart from being compatible with many devices, there are also third-party apps created by other people to help make other non-compatible devices compatible with it. The only drawback is that setting it up can take time, especially when you have a lot of smart devices at home.
The Wink Hub 2
The Wink hub version 2 is SmartThings’ biggest rival. It also has an impressive list of compatible devices and it is also compatible with Google Home and Amazon Echo so that you can use voice controls to manage your smart devices.
Amazon Echo is actually a smart speaker with integrated Alexa technology. It is a great smart speaker, but it can do more than that. It can connect to many smart devices directly such as those produced by Philips, Honeywell, and Belkin. Or it can work through your smart hub to reach all the compatible devices in your network.
Google Home is similar to Amazon Echo because it also enables voice control over smart apps. It is quite new, which is why the list of compatible products may not be as impressive as the list for the Amazon Echo.
The Apple HomeKit, provides control over your home through the use of different Apple devices. Although Apple is a huge brand that offers a lot of different smart devices, it isn’t only compatible to the brand alone. There are also many other smart home devices produced by other brands that are compatible with it.
Although there are still others that can help control all your smart devices, these 5 are among the best available today. They have proven that they are capable of making it easier for you to combine control over many of your smart home devices. It is up to you to choose one that you are more comfortable with, and one that is compatible with your existing smart devices.
Choosing a Hub for your smart home automation system
There are different ways in which you can make your home into a smart home. You can choose to gradually build your smart home system by getting it from a single brand (SmartThings), or from various brands and then just finding a hub that is compatible with all of them (Wink 2). You can also build by gradually purchasing the parts of your home system piece by piece, or you may also purchase all that you need at once.
The great thing about selecting a specific brand for your various smart devices is that you are sure that they work well with each other. Coming from the same brand makes their systems similar to each other and more compatible. If your budget permits, getting all your smart home devices from a specific brand all at once is great.
You might need to get used to the new system, but it is really cool to have full control over a home with smart devices. If you choose a single platform to control them all, you also save on the space of the app on your phone. You also make it easier to control different smart products at once.
If you have your heart set on a particular brand of thermostat and another brand for your lights, you’re not alone. It is very common for home owners to choose to start with their smart home journey piece by piece. We talk about them so much because most people start by buying smart lighting or a smart thermostat because it is something they can afford at the moment. Converting the home into a smart home all at once can be very hard on the budget because smart devices are not necessarily cheap. Even though most offer energy savings or budget savings in the long run, the initial costs can be dramatically higher than their “dumb” equivalents.
So cost might be the greatest benefit of choosing one smart device at a time. If you focus on how to use one specific smart home device to learn how to get the most out of it before purchasing another, you can also build up your confidence as you grow your home system.
Start with the hub…or not
For those of you who like the idea of building your smart home automation system piece by piece, but all from one brand, we recommend making your first purchase the hub itself. Our recommendation is the Samsung SmartThings hub because of the wide range of supporting Samsung SmartThings devices. On the other hand, those who purchase devices first will know when you’ve hit that point in your system growth when the individual control apps have gotten out of hand.
When you finally decide that you need a hub to tame the chaos, don’t be discouraged if it appears at first that the hub you’re considering doesn’t natively control all of your devices. Here we recommend the Wink 2 because it has the broadest protocol support out there, but also because there is an active community of developers that are creating third-party applications (sometimes referred to as recipes or IFTTT statements) that make the connections you need possible.
The bottom line is this: you can go forth and confidently complete your whole home automation set up in one fell swoop, or dip your toe in the water now and again until you reach the level of automation that’s right for you. Either way, there will be plenty of devices, hubs and controllers to support you.