What is Home Automation?
Home Automation Developments
Until fairly recently, automated central control of building-wide systems was found only in larger commercial buildings and expensive homes. Typically involving only lighting, heating and cooling systems, building automation rarely provided more than basic control, monitoring and scheduling functions and was accessible only from specific control points within the building itself.
The first and most obvious beneficiaries of this approach are “smart” devices and appliances that can be connected to a local area network, via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. However, electrical systems and even individual points, like light switches and electrical outlets, were also integrated into home automation networks, and businesses have even explored the potential of IP-based inventory tracking. Although the day is still far off when you’ll be able to use your mobile browser to track down a lost sock, home networks are capable of including an increasing number of devices and systems.
Automation is, unsurprisingly, one of the two main characteristics of home automation. Automation refers to the ability to program and schedule events for the devices on the network. The programming may include time-related commands, such as having your lights turn on or off at specific times each day. It can also include non-scheduled events, such as turning on all the lights in your home when your security system alarm is triggered.
Once you start to understand the possibilities of home automation scheduling, you can come up with any number of useful and creative solutions to make your life better. Is that west-facing window letting in too much light? Plug your motorized blinds into a “smart” outlet and program it to close at noon each day. Do you have someone come by at the same time each day to walk the dog? Program your home automation system to unlock the front door for them, and lock it up again when they’re done.
The other main characteristic of cutting-edge home automation is remote monitoring and access. While a limited amount of one-way remote monitoring has been possible for some time, it’s only since the rise in smartphones and tablets that we’ve had the ability to truly connect to our home networks while we’re away. With the right home automation system, you can use any Internet-connected device to view and control the system itself and any attached devices.
Monitoring apps can provide a wealth of information about your home, from the status of the current moment to a detailed history of what has happened up to now. You can check your security system’s status, whether the lights are on, whether the doors are locked, what the current temperature of your home is and much more. With cameras as part of your home automation system, you can even pull up real-time video feeds and literally see what’s going on in your home while you’re away.
Even simple notifications can be used to perform many important tasks. You can program your system to send you a text message or email whenever your security system registers a potential problem, from severe weather alerts to motion detector warnings to fire alarms. You can also get notified for more mundane events, such as programming your “smart” front door lock to let you know when your child returns home from school.
The real hands-on control comes in when you start interacting with the home automation system from your remote app. In addition to arming and disarming your security system, you can reprogram the scheduling, lock and unlock doors, reset the thermostat and adjust the lights all from your phone, from anywhere in the world. As manufacturers are creating more and more “smart” devices and appliances all the time, the possibilities for home automation are virtually limitless.
Home Automation Components
What kinds of things can be part of a home automation system? Ideally, anything that can be connected to a network can be automated and controlled remotely. In the real world (outside of research labs and the homes of the rich and famous), home automation most commonly connects simple binary devices. This includes “on and off” devices such as lights, power outlets and electronic locks, but also devices such as security sensors which have only two states, open and closed.
Where home automation becomes truly “smart” is in the Internet-enabled devices that attach to this network and control it. The classic control unit is the home computer, for which many of the earlier home automation systems were designed. Today’s home automation systems are more likely to distribute programming and monitoring control between a dedicated device in the home, like the control panel of a security system, and a user-friendly app interface that can be accessed via an Internet-enabled PC, smartphone or tablet.
Manufacturers have produced a wide variety of “smart” devices, many of which are full of innovative features but few of which offer the kind of integration needed to be part of a complete home automation system. Much of the problem has been that each manufacturer has a different idea of how these devices should be connected and controlled. So while you may have a “smart” TV, washing machine, refrigerator, thermostat, coffee maker or any of the other Internet-ready household devices on the market, the end result is usually a separate control scheme for each device.
In the near future, home automation may be standardized to let us truly take advantage of all of these additional possibilities. For the time being, the home security providers that specialize in home automation have focused on the most critical and useful parts of a connected home. At a basic level, this means the doors and windows and environmental devices (thermostat, smoke detectors, temperature, humidity, fire and carbon dioxide sensors) that keep you safe and comfortable. For additional real-time security, convenience and control, home automation systems from security providers should also include options for video cameras. With the best systems, you’ll also be able to include lights and individual electrical outlets into your home automation package.
One clear advantage of home automation is the unmatched potential for energy savings, and therefore cost savings. Your thermostat is already “smart” in the sense that it uses a temperature threshold to govern the home’s heating and cooling system. In most cases, thermostats can also be programmed with different target temperatures in order to keep energy usage at a minimum during the hours when you’re least likely to benefit from the heating and cooling.
At the most basic level, home automation extends that scheduled programmability to lighting, so that you can suit your energy usage to your usual daily schedule. With more flexible home automation systems, electrical outlets or even individual devices can also be automatically powered down during hours of the day when they’re not needed. As with isolated devices like thermostats and sprinkler systems, the scheduling can be further broken down to distinguish between weekends and even seasons of the year, in some cases.
Set schedules are helpful, but many of us keep different hours from day to day. Energy costs can be even further reduced by programming “macros” into the syste
m and controlling it remotely whenever needed. In other words, you could set up a “coming home” event that turns on lights and heating as you’re driving home after work, for example, and activate it all with one tap on your smartphone. An opposite “leaving home” event could save you from wasting energy on forgotten lights and appliances once you’ve left for the day.
Smart Living Thermostat Guide
Why Choose a Smart Thermostat?
Smart thermostats offer many benefits over standard thermostats that can only be adjusted manually by the thermostat on the wall or by programming a schedule. The problem with manual thermostats are that your daily activity may not follow the schedule you program, a smart thermostat learns your activity and responds accordingly. This means:
- Energy Savings: Connectivity allows you to adjust temperature from remote locations increasing potential to reduce cooling and heating energy use.
- Peace of mind: Always know what is going on at home and receive alerts if the temperature is out of range.
Maximum comfort: Come home to a comfortable home by adjusting the thermostat from work.
Things to Consider
- Would you like to control your thermostat remotely?
- Will you ever want to expand and add more “connected” products in your home?
- Do you want one app to control multiple products or separate apps for products throughout your home?
- Do you want to integrate your connected thermostat into a broader home automation system?
Remote Control and Connecting to the Internet
Connected or remote thermostats connect to the internet so you can control them via your smartphone, tablet, or computer.
There are different ways for thermostats to connect to the internet. Some thermostats use Wi-Fi to connect to your router and others connect to a home automation gateway in the home that connects to your router. Let’s take a closer look at different types:
- Wi-Fi – Some thermostats use Wi-Fi to connect directly with your router. These thermostats work well for people who just want to control a thermostat because it typically doesn’t require any other components as long as you have a wireless router.
- Zigbee – Some utilities are using Zigbee enabled thermostats to control thermostats and save energy during periods of peak demand. A thermostat with Zigbee could be a good choice if your utility offers incentives.
- Z-Wave – Products that speak Z-wave can interact with other products in your home and are compatible with a variety of home automation and security systems. Z-wave enabled thermostats typically speak to a home automation gateway that can control products throughout your home and connects to your router.
Compatibility With Your Heating and Cooling System
In addition to compatibility with home automation systems, you should consider what type of heating and cooling system you have to ensure the thermostat is compatible. Types of thermostats:
- 24 volt – 1 stage heat or cool – Separate heating and air conditioning units.
- 24 volt – 2 stage or multi-stage heat or cool – Heating or cooling units that have a high and low stage.
- Communicating controls –proprietary communicating protocol (not applicable with 24 volt systems)
- Line Voltage – 110 or 240 direct current power source (mainly used in older homes)
- 24mV – Use with fireplace or wall furnace.
- Zoned HVAC – Heating and cooling is individually controlled in different areas of the home from the same heating and cooling system.
By programming your thermostat to let your home’s temperature fluctuate when you are not home it will reduce the number of hours your system runs and reduce your energy consumption saving you money. You can feel good knowing that you are doing your part to reduce energy consumption and help the environment. Additionally, when you program your thermostat to fit your lifestyle, you can always come home to a comfortable home.
Types of schedules
There are a few different types of programmable thermostats to consider.
- 7-day – Program each day of the week separately.
- 5-2 – Set a standard program during the week and another one for the weekend.
- 5-1-1 – Set a standard program during the week and two separate programs for weekends.
- 1-week – Set one basic program that runs all week.
Smart Living – Smart Locks Guide
What is a Smart Lock?
Smart locks attach to your doors and can allow you to access your locks remotely from your smartphone, tablet, or computer. These capabilities may include checking the status of a lock to tell if it’s locked or unlocked, engaging the deadbolt or lever to lock or unlock your door remotely, or getting notifications when specific individuals enter your home. Many connected home door locks allow you to assign unique user codes so that you can receive notifications when the lock is used and by who.
Additionally, the smart locks allow your door to wirelessly interact with a variety of other connected products in your home, such as thermostats, lighting controls, sensors, and cameras that when working together increase the overall lifestyle benefits of your home automation system.
How do Smart Locks Work?
Smart locks can wirelessly communicate with other devices in a number of different ways. Some smart locks can communicate with mobile devices using built in capabilities such as Z-wave, Bluetooth, or ZigBee, to name a few. Some smart door locks and devices require hardware known as a “gateway” to facilitate communication between your door lock, other connected devices within the home, and your mobile device. Specifications for communication protocols vary by product; please refer to the individual product details to determine the appropriate communication protocol along with any additional products required to ensure full lock functionality. If your smart lock can’t communicate with your other devices – they wont work!
What are the Benefits of a Smart Lock?
Door hardware with connected home capabilities allows your door lock to wirelessly communicate with other devices in your home. When integrated with other devices, these products can enable you to lock your door from your cell phone or receive a text message letting you know your child just got home from school.
- Convenience — remotely check the status of your lock and be able to lock your door while you’re away.
- Peace of Mind — receive text alerts when your kids get home from school after they use their access code on the lock.
- Safety — no more giving out keys or wondering who’s accessing your home. Easily manage and control access to your home by adding or deleting users for friends, neighbors, or service personnel.
- Control — easily use the door lock to control other devices in your home when you enter or exit. When your door lock is connected to your gateway, you could turn on lights when entering your home or set back your thermostat to an away mode when you leave to save money.
What are Important Considerations When Purchasing a Smart Lock?
Lock Function — there are different types of smart locks depending on your intended application, this could include a deadbolt or a knob/lever latch. Ensure that you have selected the appropriate lock function for your needs.
Door Prep — there are different types of door that the locks are designed to fit which include the door thickness, bore size, and latch backset. Most doors are a standard sized and the locks are designed to fit these, however, please refer to the individual product details to determine the appropriate fit of the locks to your door prep needs.
Lock Security — different locks have varying security features that include drill resistant cylinders, bump and pick resistant designs, and saw proof latch bolts. There are also ANSI/BHMA grading standards that provide industry performance testing certifications that fall into one of three grades that determines the mechanical durability and security of the lock. For connected home locks, communication encryption levels are also an important consideration.
Communication Protocol — there are several different ways that your home automation door lock can communicate with other devices in your home as well as deliver any mobile device functionality. In most cases, the connected lock is entirely dependent on other products working together to support the lock to deliver its full functionality. When purchasing one of these locks, it is important to ensure that it can integrate and work with any supporting products, especially any connected home gateway that supports wireless communications. Communication protocols for connected home door locks include Z Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and Wifi which can all require different supporting products. Please refer to the individual connected home product details to ensure compatibility of all your specific product needs.
Smart Living – Smart Audio Guide
What’s best for your needs, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi?
Bluetooth speakers easily let you take your tunes from room to room or on-the-go. Wi-Fi speakers are larger and louder, and they’re also part of a multiroom system: you can keep adding Wi-Fi speakers to play the same music throughout your house, or even to play different songs in every room. If sound quality is important, keep in mind that larger speakers generally have better sound, and that larger rooms will need bigger sound. Most compact Bluetooth speakers aren’t intended for high-quality, room-filling sound.
For many, a Bluetooth speaker will get the job done while also offering portability when you want to take your music with you. These speakers use rechargeable batteries and stream music by pairing with your Bluetooth-enabled phone, tablet or computer. This means any music you have on these devices, whether you store your music in a digital library or stream music from an online music service like Spotify, can be played on a Bluetooth speaker. Just be sure to keep your device near the speaker to prevent any drop-outs.
Keep in mind two important factors when deciding to go with a Bluetooth speaker: sound quality and battery life. For bigger rooms, you’ll want louder speakers that fill the room with sound without distortion. To listen for extended periods of time without worrying about battery life, you’ll want to place the speaker near an outlet to keep it charged.
fill every room in your home with music
Multiroom audio systems connect directly to your home’s Wi-Fi network, which is a stronger and longer-reaching connection than Bluetooth. They have one key advantage over Bluetooth speakers: you can set up wireless speakers throughout your house to play music in perfect sync, or even to play different songs in different rooms. It’s all controlled by a dedicated app on your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Start your search by checking out some of the the top-rated Wi-Fi speakers from SONOS and Bose. You can start with one speaker, and add more from the same system over time to fill your home with music. Some Wi-Fi speakers, like the Bose Soundtouch Portable, have rechargeable batteries so you can unplug the speaker and bring your music to the patio or anywhere your Wi-Fi network reaches.
How do you want to control your music?
Wireless speakers make listening to your music easier than ever, whether you’ve downloaded music to build a library or you stream music from online music services like Spotify and Pandora. Once paired, Bluetooth speakers will play music directly from your device’s music apps without any additional setup. You control your music using these apps, just as if you were using headphones. Multiroom systems use a dedicated app that centralises all your music sources and controls your speakers, letting you choose which speakers are playing what music source.
Play music throughout your home in perfect sync, or play a different song in every room, and control it all from a free app on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can start with one speaker, and add more over time to fill your home with music.
Fill your home with music
Stream all your favourite songs, whether they’re in your digital music collection, online radio stations or online music services like Pandora, Spotify or Deezer. These music services integrate directly into a free, dedicated app used to control your multiroom system. Most platforms support all major online services, but look into compatibility for the system you’re considering to make sure it supports your favorite service.
Control your music from your phone, tablet or computer
A free app is used to control what speakers play which songs. You can group speakers together to play the same song across your whole home, or keep them separate to play different music in each room.
Bring streaming music to any room
Wireless speakers come in different form factors, making it easy to expand throughout your house. Take a look at what different speakers are offered by each multiroom system to understand what form factors best suit your needs. For example, the Bose SoundTouch Portable has a battery to easily be moved from room to room, and the SONOS PLAYBAR brings streaming music to your TV room.