In some of my recent blogs, I’ve touched on various aspects of home automation. The topic doesn’t always start out as my focus but ends up being so, mainly because home automation is one of those tangibles that my clients increasingly ask about and want in their new homes or remodeled homes (example: see my blogs about contemporary home lighting and building for the Millennial generation). When speaking of home automation, the first two questions I often get from clients are: What are the different types of home automation options on the market today, and which of these should I incorporate into my home? Let me take a stab at answering both of these questions.
Home automation refers to the ability to control home appliances, communication devices, electronics, HVAC and security systems with technology (wireless remote control and other). It may be worth looking into a comparison of home automation protocols to understand how it works before committing to purchasing anything for your home.
Home automation systems range from very simple packages to more intricate capabilities, all driven by the level of complexity and sophistication desired by the homeowners.
Different Packages and Sub-Systems
Our clients tend to choose home automation packages for the ease and convenience, safety and security, and energy efficiency and cost-savings they provide. Examples include:
- Indoor and outdoor lighting
- Communications systems: Internet, phone, computer, intercom
- Home theaters / home entertainment systems
- Whole-house audio systems
- Heating and cooling systems (wifi thermostat)
- Window / shade controls
- Security systems (cameras, sensors, more)
- Access controls (shutting garage doors and locking your home’s doors)
- Exterior / Irrigation (plant / lawn watering)
Before deciding on a home automation package, you may want to talk to a trusted general contractor or home design professional. They should ask you a number of questions about your lifestyle to create a customized home automation package that’s right for you and your family. Questions to think about:
- Who lives in this home?
- Do you entertain often?
- Do you have young children or teenagers?
- Are you or your kids into gaming?
- Are you music or movie-lovers?
- Do you work from home?
- Do you travel often, for long periods of time or on occasional weekends?
- Do you have elderly parents out-of-state who you’d like to keep an eye on? (If so, read this article)
The home automation company you entrust to develop your system will be able to offer suggestions based on your level of acceptance.
On a side note, vacation homes especially lend themselves well to home automation. You can arm/disarm your security system, adjust the thermostat and much more while you’re away or perhaps driving to your location in advance of your arrival. Many homeowners I know with second homes tell me they’re “stressed” about their property when not there, worrying about what might go wrong. Home automation systems allow owners to keep an eye on their property from anywhere else with the touch of a button.
Importance of the Network
I regularly talk to Tim Imrick of Grand Home Automation. We’re collaborating with Tim on one of our current projects, a whole-house renovation in suburban Chicago. Tim said that the foundation for any home automation package is the network, whether it’s hard-wired or wireless. Think of the network as the central nervous system in our body that controls everything and communicates with everything else, or the brain stem that’s connected to the spinal cord, which controls our body’s automatic functions such as breathing and heart rate.
“Above anything, homeowners need a reliable and secure network. Little boxes provided by cable companies aren’t designed to adequately handle the types of things needed to control the home with handheld or other devices,” said Tim. “We most often recommend that our clients choose a commercial-grade network which will properly interface with – or ‘talk to’ – every component of their smart home.”
All controls of an automated home are application-based. These apps have become the extension of remote controls. According to Tim, the next major decision homeowners need to make is whether they prefer one unified system or individual applications to control specific functions (an audio app, security app, etc.).
“Our clients definitely opt for the single, unified system, which is sort of like a one-stop shop that controls everything. Once the systems are unified together, we can base the condition of one system on variables from another system,” said Tim. An example of this would be when you arm your security system, the program automatically knows to lower the thermostat, turn off specific lights, and shut off televisions and other electronic equipment that won’t be used while you’re not home.
Integration and Compatibility
Again, I want to circle back to the importance of working with the right professionals here. Proper planning for your smart home is the key part of its success. It’s imperative that you work with someone who understands the languages that each of these sub-systems speak. You also need someone who can make product recommendations based on past successful experiences. When creating a ‘smart home’, it is crucial that the products you buy work well within the environment of your home. You might want to check out a site like iDisrupted for more information on the best smart home products.
Determining the right system to use to remotely control your home is critical. The technology you use has to “play well with others,” meaning it needs to be compatible with different products. Tim warns homeowners to be cautious of overextending systems, which means knowing the limits of a system’s intended use. Ignoring this may lead to long-term consistency and reliability issues and a loss of trust in the integrator and the platform.
When it comes to actually purchasing a home automation system, there are currently two prevailing models: the leased model and the ownership model. Each model has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, with the leased model offered by companies like Xfinity and AT&T, there’s a lower initial cost of entry but a monthly fee. They often bundle packages, and if you want to subscribe to a different service in the future, you might find yourself bound by a contract that won’t allow you to change without a paying an additional penalty. In an ownership model, on the other hand, the homeowner buys all of the equipment and programming upfront. This results in a higher cost of entry but a much lower service cost over the long term.
If you want to impress your friends at the next dinner party, you can tell them what’s ahead as far as trends go. They may think you’re talking science fiction, but you’ll know better. In fact, all major appliance manufacturers are designing their products to communicate over wireless technology. For example, a Sub-zero refrigerator will be able to send you a text message when its water filter needs to be changed, and you might get an email alert when your Whirlpool dryer is clogged with lint.
I have a lot of experience with home automation systems, and I’m glad to be a custom home builder at a time of such exciting technological advancement. I firmly embrace these new technologies, as I suspect many of you do as well. Give me a call if anything in this post has sparked your interest!