Voice automated lights, virtual assistants that can order a pizza from Antonino’s, and fridges that you can talk to…modern home automation can be a complicated web to navigate.
That’s why we wrote this Comprehensive Guide to Home Automation. This comprehensive guide to smart home automation will answer the following questions:
- What is home automation?
- What is a smart home?
- How does smart home technology work?
- What are the benefits of smart home technology?
- What are the most common smart home devices?
- Is home automation worth the price?
- What concerns are there around privacy?
- I’m interested in a home automation system, where do I even start?
Most importantly, by the end of this guide, you’ll know whether or not a smart home investment is right for you. And if it is, you’ll have a plan for automating your home to fit your specific needs.
If you’re one of the 19% of Canadian households that already have some sort of smart device installed in their home, then you’re ahead of the game! But, the rest of the nation is catching up quickly.
It is estimated that one-third of homeowners will have some sort of smart home technology installed in their homes by 2023. With all of this excitement and uptake, there must be some clear benefits of smart home technology – but before we get there, what is smart home technology and home automation?
What is home automation?
Home Automation is building automation for a home, called a smart home or smart house. A smart home allows you to monitor and control the devices in your home from a mobile device, anywhere in the world. Popular smart home devices include alarm systems, door and window locks, surveillance cameras, sensors, doorbell cameras, smart sprinklers, thermostats, and smoke detectors.
When connected to the Internet, these devices are sometimes referred to as the Internet of Things (IOT).
At this point you may be saying to yourself: “Self, this sounds nice but I don’t see myself ever using anything like this…”
Before you dismiss this trend as a fad, consider these common ways that home and business owners are using smart business and home technology to improve their lives:
Garage Door Openers
Last week I was out for a walk with my kids, and I left the garage door open. 15 minutes into the walk, I received a notification on my phone alerting me that the door was left open. While sitting at a Tim Horton’s, I closed it!
Ever been running back to meet someone at your house but they’re 10 minutes early (or you’re 10 minutes late)? With smart home technology, you can see who’s at the front door via a doorbell camera, and let them know you’re on the way.
Now that you know who’s at the door, wouldn’t it be nice to let them in? You can unlock the door with the touch of a button from your smartphone. Perfect for the grand kids, or cleaning person. Or, wondering if you locked the door before you left the house this morning? Check on it from your smartphone, and lock the door with the push of a button.
Did you know smart thermostats can save you up to up to $20/month on your energy bills? Being able to remotely control the temperature of your home is a breeze with smart home technology.
These simple sensors detect the early warning signals of an imminent basement flood and will notify you before it’s too late.
We’ve had many customers this season call to thank us for saving them thousands of dollars.
(By the way, you can also turn off your main water line in case of a leak!)
Added Benefits for Business Owners: Reporting and Analytics
Did you know that using the information from your access management or security system can help you understand foot traffic patterns and trends in your business? Understanding these trends can help you improve opening hours, and drive more sales.
Here are a handful of other smart home technology applications:
- Get a notification when the kids come home from school and even lock the door behind them
- Turn lights and appliances on and off using your smartphone
- Receive a notification in case of security, carbon monoxide detection or fire alarms
- Save energy by turning lights on at dusk, and off at dawn or set up timers to turn lights on and off at your discretion
- Control heat or air conditioning while you’re away or before you arrive back at home or at the cottage
- Remotely arm or disarm locks, check video footage, or just check in to make sure your doors are locked from anywhere, any time
How does the technology work?
A home automation system is typically controlled by a central ‘hub’ which we referred to in our previous guide on How Home Security Systems REALLY Work.
The hub is the central ‘brain’ of the system. The hub is built into the control panel, which is typically placed near a main entrance. Modern control panels include a keypad, allowing users to interact with the system (arm, disarm, call for help, etc.).
The ‘spokes’ of the system are all of the other devices that communicate with the control panel. These would include any other hardware (as mentioned above), such as: motion sensors, door sensors, glass break panels, etc.
The ‘spokes’ communicate wirelessly with the control panel, which will then ‘react’ to a given input.
Home automation technology acts as one of the ‘spokes’ of the system. All of the top smart home products (door locks, garage door openers, thermostats, lighting, blind controls) are controlled using Z-Wave technology.
Z-wave technology is similar to Bluetooth, but the difference is that the devices connect to the hub instead of individual devices or one another.
Before Z-wave technology, X10 was the way that smart home technology devices communicated with one another. Because it was the original solution from decades ago, this technology was built into the existing wires in your home or office.
The drawback with X10 based systems is that networks can pickup on small interferences in electrical lines, which made these systems less reliable.
ZigBee is another example of a “mesh network.” Unlike Z-Wave, it is an open source platform that developers can use to build their own products. This is the platform that the do-it-yourself folks like to build their own creations with. For example, we’ve come across home-owners creating their own automated blinds or automated window shades, sprinkler systems, and lights.
What kinds of smart devices are there?
The smart home industry can be intimidating. There are plenty of devices to choose from that all have unique benefits. What’s great about smart home technology is that it is modular and highly customizable, which means that you can hand pick the devices that add value to your life and build an ideal smart home that suits your specific needs.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of common smart home devices:
Allow you to schedule, monitor, and remotely control the temperature of your home. These devices also track patterns and seamlessly modify settings on their own to optimize energy consumption, without making the adjustment uncomfortable for you. They can also give you energy usage metrics and provide recommendations.
Detect when occupants are in the room and adjust the brightness as needed. They can also regulate themselves based on daylight availability and can be turned on remotely. Lights can also be connected to voice automation devices so you can turn on and off lights in and around the home by simply saying the command out loud.
Smart Locks and Garage Door Openers
Allow you to grant access to specific visitors. They will automatically unlock to allow a resident to enter the building, while warding off potential intruders. You can also monitor and change whether they are locked or unlocked from anywhere in the world.
Smart Doorbell Cameras
Allow you to see who is on the other side of your door at any time from any place. This makes it easy for you to speak to them without answering the door, thus reducing the possibility of a forced entry.
Smart Security Cameras
Great for monitoring your home when you’re at work or on vacation. They notify you of any suspicious activity and can alert authorities as well. False alarms are rare as these devices can differentiate pets, residents, and common visitors from a potential intruder. These cameras can also be used to check who is standing on the other side of your door from a remote location.
Can be programmed to turn on and off at certain times of the day. You can be sure that your lawn and plants are getting the water they need, without any of the hassle that comes with finding the time to water them yourself. You can also set them up to turn on at night, to reduce the cost of water.
Smart Smoke Detector and Smart Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Tell you exactly what the problem is, before it escalates. All of the sensors are connected, and they speak together. This means that even if you’re in a bedroom, you’ll know if something is burning downstairs in the kitchen, or if there is smoke in the living room. They’ll also send a text to your phone in case you don’t hear the message.
At this point you may be thinking…this sounds exciting, but I bet it’s expensive?
Investing in automating your home or business may not be ‘cheap’ but it most definitely is an investment in time savings and peace of mind, but it may not be for you.
So what are you REALLY buying when you automate your home or business?
Headspace. First and foremost, you’re investing in a safety net that allows you to operate within a margin of error. You’re paying to have a few less things to worry about. With smart home technology you’ll know when your kids get home, you’ll be reminded to lock your doors in case you forget, and you’ll be the first to know if your security system is breached. How much are you willing to pay for that peace of mind? For some people it may not be important, but for others that extra assurance can relieve a lot of stress.
Monthly savings. Did you know that heating and cooling are your home’s biggest annual energy costs? A smart thermostat uses motion and occupancy sensors to make automatic adjustments to maximize your energy efficiency. Whether you own or rent, a smart thermostat is a smart investment that can pay for itself in as little as one season.
Many homeowners are realizing that simply investing in a smart thermostat can save up to 15% per year in energy costs.
Here is a calculator that you can use to see how smart thermostats can help you save on your energy bill every month.
Safety. Many of the smart home automation technologies fall under the category of home security. More and more consumers are wanting these devices to keep their home more secure. Automated lighting deters criminals, motion sensors ward off burglars, and security cameras offer real-time video, and allow you to monitor your home remotely.
Cool Factor. Let’s be honest, there is a certain ‘cool factor’ to new home automation technologies. The ability to start a playlist, turn on lights, unlock your front door, or even order a pizza simply by saying a few phrases out loud is a pretty neat party trick.
Are there any privacy issues with these new devices?
If you’re wondering about privacy implications of smart home automation, you’re not alone. Privacy concerns are the number one reason why many homeowners decide against using smart devices to make their lives easier.
These homeowners worry that their conversations will be recorded, and their data may be compromised.
Luckily, this isn’t the case.
These devices DO listen for their wake word, for instance: “Hey Google.” However, this trigger is processed locally, and no information is sent to Amazon or Google until that process is complete. The command that follows the wake word IS processed in the cloud, the words you say before it are not.
In spite of the truth, the idea that Alexa is “always listening,” remains a top concern for many people. Interestingly, a survey of homeowners that use these devices for security purposes showed that most of them don’t seem to mind.
Where do I start? There are so many options!
Automating your home or business is not a “one size fits all” process. It is important to pick devices that will fit in well with your lifestyle and add value.
Whether you’ve fully committed to automating your home, or if you’re just testing the waters, one of the best ways to start is with a voice assistant, like a Google Home Mini or an Amazon Echo Dot.
For a low cost, you can get a device that can answer questions, schedule events, set reminders, and control other smart devices. Once you’re comfortable with a voice assistant, consider purchasing a set of smart light bulbs, and use your voice assistant to control them.
From there you may want to consider a smart thermostat, or a smart security system.
There are many do-it-yourself options available online as well. However, since this may be a new investment for you, consider buying the product from a company that has good pre and post-sales technical support, and offers a warranty on their products.
Is the company willing to help onboard you with your new devices? If you ship something in, what is the cost of shipping, duty, brokerage, and potential returns if you order the wrong device?
All questions worth considering before making the investment.
How does the installation work?
At JM Security Canada, we use Z-Wave smart devices to automate your home. These devices don’t make your Wi-Fi slower, and don’t interrupt the existing electrical wiring in the building. The installation process is simple, easy, and reversible.
Our systems offer you complete flexibility: we recommend starting with what you need and then build on that foundation later.
That could mean adding new smart locks down the line or upgrading the thermostat. We’d be happy to speak to you specifically about how we can design an incredible smart security and automation system for your home.
Thank you for taking the time to learn about home automation and smart homes. If this resource was valuable, please share it with the people you care about, so we can all continue working toward building safer communities, for everyone.
For more information like this, check out all of our learning resources in our Learning Hub.
Want to speak with one of our representatives about your smart home and security options? Contact us today.