Home Automation or Smart Home Automation was a term that made people's eyes glaze over only a few years ago, but today it is attracting all kinds of press and interest from all of the major electronics players from big box stores to alarm dealers. The extra press has gone a long way to helping people understand that we're not just takling about geeky tech toys, but rather a way of life. The Smart Home concept is that you can control and/or monitor your lights, appliances and security system from your smart phone, tablet or maybe even your TV. As home automation systems get more advanced they become more useful and start offering some real benefits:
Email or SMS alerts when a door is unlocked by a specific family member (Johhny is home)
Email or SMS alerts in case of water leaks, doors opening (including things like gun safes perhaps), power failures
Email or SMS alerts in case of more critical events like smoke, CO or Fire or low batteries in detectors (yes - on top of loud sirens and calling emergency services)
Turning on lights automatically in case of an emergency like smoke, co or burglar alarm
Turning lights on at dusk, off at dawn or turning lights off when a room is unoccupied
Turning lights off and heat/AC down when we arm the alarm and leave the house
Turning up the heat or AC when we get home (or close to home even)
Getting an email image of anyone that comes to the front door, back door (or where they should not be)
Remotely arming, disarming alarms, checking video footage, checking to make sure the door is locked - from anywhere
Turn the heat or AC up on the way to the cottage, home or office so it's comfortable
These are just some examples of what is already possible with the right system. Granted, not everyone wants, needs, or expects the same out of their home automation system. An older couple may simply want a way to turn on the lights from bed to get to the bathroom, or to turn on the house lights from the bedroom if they hear a noise. Cottage and remote property owners may want a way to make sure the place is safe and secure. The insurance company might want to ensure a property is safe and protected, and not suffering from water leaks or freezing termperatures.
So the question is - how does one start to build their ideal Smart Home system? For starters, decide if you are looking for something bsaic or do you expect the world. Secondly, decide if you have what it takes? What? Well... if you are the type who gets frustrated operating the TV... you might want to enlist help. Of if you tend to hire someone to paint instead of doing it yourself - maybe you should talk to a pro. If you expect the answers to jump at you without reading anything... you need to hire someone.
But if you are up to a do-it-yourself project, give some thought to what you'd like to accomplish, do a bit of homework, ask some questions, and the results should be very rewarding.
The most popular technologies today for do it yourself home automation tend to be based around Zwave, WIFI or Insteon. Yes, there is also Zigbee, UPB, X10, Radio RA, etc but for the average person, at an affordable price, Zwave, WIFI and Insteon offer the best bang for the buck overall and have support from a number of major vendors. Insteon devices are primarily designed and manufactured by.. Insteon - a SmartLabs company. Insteon combines both AC powerline communications as well as RF/wireless to create a very strong and stable 'mesh network'. Geek speak for it works really well. Nice tactile feel, easy enough to link manually or use with a home automation controller.
Zwave is entirely RF/wireless and is supported by a huge number of alarm and technology companies including folks like GE, Linear, Leviton, Cooper as well as many alarm companies like GE, DSC and Honeywell. It requires a 'primary controller' to set up - wich can be an alarm system or hand held remote, or home automation controller. Zwave is very well respected an has proven to be reliable.
If you simply want some scene lighting, like a button on the wall to turn some lights on to pre-set levels, turn on or off a bunch of lights easily from a central location, Insteon offers in-wall keypads, wireless remotes, switches and dimmers that can be linked together WITHOUT any central controller, providing a luxury feel and easy of use at a very reasonable price point.
If you're looking for more - email alerts, remote control, security integration - then you're going to need to use a home automation controller. What's this? It's typicaly a network connected controller/box/hub that has smarts inside that lets it talk to automation devices, the Internet and create schedules.
The most popular we are currently selling at Aartech Canada:
The Insteon Hub V2 that is currently shipping, can provide basic on/off scheduling, email or SMS alerts based on a sensor or switch trigger, and can provide remote control of lights and appliances (any Insteon device). There are apps for iOS, Android and Windows Phone and those apps can also be used to view an Insteon camera. Inexpensive and simple.
Universal Devices ISY994
This is the switch army knife of Insteon controllers. It supports simple control, email alerts but it goes way beyond that. It can be used to set up and link your entire Insteon system whether it's 1 or 100 devices, creates scenes, offers scheduling. It also has very advanced conditional logic available that lets the user be more creative. For example, turn on the foyer lights when the front door opens, if it's dark or after 7pm. The ISY994 can be expanded to also support Zwave devices, to control network based devices, and can integrate with Elk alarm systems.
Vera is a very well respected home automation controller that is primarily designed to work with Zwave, with over 1000 Zwave devices supported out of the box. Add a 2413U Insteon interface and it can control basic Insteon devices or even old X10 devices. Vera's functionality can be expanded by adding free software 'plug-ins' to let it talk to alarm systems, some WIFI thermostats and almost anything you can think of. Vera can be used to set up scene lighting, create schedules and timers, send email or SMS alerts, and can tie security and other systems to your lights. It's inexpensive and very powerful.
Homeseer software was voted #1 by TopTenReviews last year and is primarily designed around Zwave, with some free and mostly paid software plug-ins to allow integration with alarm systems, other technologies like Insteon, even AV equipment. The Hometroller series combines a self contained mini computer (hardware box) that runs Homeseer inside. It is higher on the 'techie' scale but very powerful.
All of the above controllers require ZERO monthly fees. This is key to keeping costs down and actually being able to save money by automating your home or business. Paying monthly fees really eats in to any saving afforded by the technology.
There are several others available... Lowes has their 'Iris' system with some free functionality and then optional monthly fees to enable more advanced features. Home depot is focusing on Wink which is very inexpensive and supports a number of technologies. Although in our testing so far it's best to stick with their 'approved' devices. Trying to add 3rd part devices like Aeon Labs has not workd. Rogers is offering both security and automation systems but with (sometimes steep) monththly fees. Staples has their own system, and we shouldn't forget about SmartThings who were recently acquired by Samsung. Yes there are many others from Control4 to Raspberry Pi based solutions.
Smart Home Automation is moving from geekdom to main stream and it's going to be very exciting to watch as companies try to take their piece of the automation pie. The good news is that prices have dropped to where automation is very affordable especially in the do-it-yourself market and it's easy enough to sample technology without breaking the bank.
One last key thought. If you are doing to create a do-it-yourself smart home, consider where you buy the product. Does the seller offer pre and post sales technical support? Do you send product back locally for warranty or do you have to send it back to the vendor in another country? Does the vendor have any history or experience in the field to help guide a newbie? If you shop in another country, what is the cost of shipping, duties, brokerage and possible return costs in case something breaks? It's nice to walk to the local big box store... but can they really help you when you need it?
Have fun and feel free to write with any comments or questions!