Home automation has been making headlines lately as new and really cool home automation products start to be released on the market. Things are now becoming possible that once seemed like the most far-fetched parts of science fiction.
These products and systems are transforming the way we live and the way we interact with our devices. With such “smart” home automation devices, we can now trust our home to work for us in ways that were never possible before.
But what exactly does home automation refer to? How does it work? What’s the point? These are probably just a few of the questions running through your head as you encounter that phrase in your news feed. Well, it’s time to have all those questions and more answered right here.
What Is Home Automation?
The core idea behind home automation is that there are a lot of tasks that we have to do every single day or on a regular basis. And although these tasks are necessary, they can be time-consuming and tedious.
So how do we take care of our basic needs without having to spend the bulk of our days on them? We automate those tasks. In this sense, home automation has existed since the late 19th century.
Engineers back then started working on a thermostat—something that not only told you what the temperature was but was capable of adjusting that temperature on its own. Until then, heating a stove or oven or your home was more or less a guessing game.
It wasn’t until the early to mid-20th century that other devices started to become available and find their way into everyday homes. It is at this point that we see sewing machines, dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers.
These machines that we now take for granted saved people countless hours of labor intensive chores. We no longer had to exhaust ourselves with painstakingly scrubbing, rinsing, and hanging our clothes. We no longer had to wait whole days for those clothes to dry (and pray that it didn’t rain while they were out on the line).
Such machines have become so commonplace today that you are probably surprised if you enter a home without say, a dryer or a dishwasher. Imagine a home without an oven! But back in their day, these appliances were revolutionary. They freed up so much time for people who might otherwise spend their entire day on household chores.
Today, home automation is being revolutionized once again by the internet of things. Those once-revolutionary appliances are getting a brand new makeover and becoming smart appliances.
Now, you can save even more time and energy by getting an appliance that is smart enough to know what you need and can take matters into its own hands.
Imagine the look on those 19th century engineer’s faces if you showed them a thermostat that could not only adjust the temperature but knew exactly when to adjust it and what to set it to just by learning what you prefer and recognizing when you are home.
The applications of IoT home automation are just about endless. Here are just a few aspects of the home that can be improved by the internet of things:
- Heating and cooling: as mentioned before, there are now smart thermostats that learn your habits and your preferences. They will automatically shut off when they notice you leave and turn themselves back on when they notice you are home. They will turn themselves down when you go to sleep and turn themselves back up when you wake up. They will even adjust for the seasons.
- Lighting: smart lights can also turn themselves on when you walk into a room and turn themselves off when they notice you have left. They can automatically adjust their intensity to suit your needs. For example, turning themselves on at the right intensity to help you wake up or dimming themselves to the right intensity to help you relax in the evening so that you can fall asleep more easily later on.
- Appliance control: you can turn smart appliances (or appliances plugged into smart outlets) on and off right from your smartphone. With some appliances, you can even adjust settings from your phone like adjusting the heat in the oven or instructing your washing machine to keep tumbling gently to prevent your clothes from smelling like mildew when you get home.
- Security: you can equip your house with a highly advanced security system that does things like send alerts to your phone about any unusual activity, give you access to live feeds from your cameras so you can check things out for yourself, sound a siren (which you can control from your home), and automatically call the authorities.
- Indoor positioning system: you can locate objects or people in your home using indoor positioning. This is a great complement to GPS which is not able to work effectively indoors. It’s good for security (so you can see where people are in your home and notice if there are any extra bodies present) and for finding lost objects.
Home Automation for the Elderly and Disabled
One of the most cutting edge applications of home automation is for the elderly and disabled. For most of us, home automation is about making our lives more convenient. For the elderly and disabled, it can mean the difference between living independently and being sent to a care facility.
Many everyday tasks are too difficult for the elderly and disabled so home automation takes the hard work out of it and makes it possible to live independently. Things that were once impossible can now be done easily from a smartphone.
They can even check whose at the door and let the person in from their phone, without having to get up. It is also possible to set reminders about doctor appointments, medications, and other daily tasks so that the person is reminded via an intercom what they need to do.
For those with difficulty remembering which medications to take and when, there are automated medication dispensers that alert users when it is time to take their medicine and dispenses the exact pills and the precise amount they need. It can even have a lock feature so that those with Alzheimer’s don’t accidentally overdose because they forgot they already took their medication.
Unobtrusive wristbands can monitor their vitals and send that data to their doctors and caretakers. Any troublesome change in their vitals can automatically trigger a call to their caretaker or an ambulance so that they get the help they need even if they are incapable of making a call.
How Does Home Automation Work?
Some of the more advanced aspects of home automation can sound too good to be true. That is, until you understand how it works. The technology is actually surprisingly simple. Without getting too much into the technical details, a smart system is made up of the following 4 basic components:
- A system protocol (like Z Wave). You can think of this as the language that your device speaks. And it’s important that all your devices speak the same language so that they can talk to each other.
- Software: this is the interface that allows you to get in on that conversation. Think of it like a translator that tells you what your devices are saying and allows you communicate messages to them.
- Coordinater/transceiver: this is essentially your messenger. It wirelessly transmits commands and signals through your network to your devices.
- Sensors, switches, peripherals: these are the actual devices that carry out your command, whether that’s the door lock, the window, the lights, the fridge, or anything else that is connected.
If those 4 things are involved, you have the makings of a smart device that can communicate easily with you, with other devices, and even learn from its environment and from the internet.
Are Home Automation and the Internet of Things the Same?
The above components apply to IoT (Internet of Things) home automation devices. The more basic ones you read about earlier that aren’t “smart” (connected to the internet) do not need these components.
So with that in mind, how exactly do home automation and the internet of things relate? Are they the same thing? Are they totally different? Well, the answer to both questions is no. Home automation and the internet of things are two separate and distinct categories that do overlap on some points.
Home automation refers to any device for the home that saves you labor. By this definition, your home is likely already automated to a certain extent. If you have a dishwasher, a washing machine, a fridge, a water heater or anything like these devices, your home is already on the path to automation.
The internet of things, on the other hand, refers to any device that connects to the internet and is capable of communicating with other devices. Many of the ones being developed are designed for the home but there is a lot of IoT technology meant for use out of the home.
So the overlap between these categories happens wherever you see an IoT device that is meant to be used for home automation. That might be a fridge that texts you when you are out of eggs or a window that can darken itself to block out the light.
When the categories overlap, your automated home becomes a smart home. We will talk about a few examples of these cross-category IoT home automation products in the section below.
Which Parts of the House Can Be Connected?
Just about everything you can think of can be connected. If there isn’t a connected smart version of it now, there will be in the near future because this is one of the fastest growing markets right now.
One of the best investments you can make is in smart security. Home automation and security go hand in hand. By automating things in your home, you can make sure you never forget to turn off the stove or leave the door unlocked.
Beyond that, home automation security systems also offer some amazing features that go above and beyond a normal home security system.
To give you just a brief overview of the kinds of things that can be connected, here are a few example of the best home automation devices we have seen:
- Smart Lighting: as mentioned earlier, smart lighting can recognize when you are in the room and when you leave so that they can automatically turn on and off. Some also have different color settings so that you can precisely set whatever mood you desire. The colors can also be used to help trigger you to wake up in the morning or fall asleep at night.
- Smart security: there are some great IoT security systems available. Motion detectors can send alerts to your phone when they detect unusual activity (and some can even recognize the difference between humans and pets so your dog won’t accidentally trigger it). Some security devices can recognizes when they are being picked up or tampered with and will send you an alert immediately (along with a live video feed of who is messing with your device). There are so many security devices and features it is impossible to cover them all here.
- Smart thermostat: these are one of the best tools for saving money on your energy bills. Smart thermostats can learn your habits and preferences. They know what temperature you like and they know when you are home. They even know what season it is. So they can take care of all adjustments on their own. You never need to think about heating or cooling again. Some even send reports to your smartphone to show you how much less energy you used this month.
- Smart windows: technically it is smart glass which can be installed in your home. It can tint itself to block out sunlight more effectively than blinds or curtains (plus it is way easier to clean than blinds or curtains). One engineer has developed a smart window that can also block out the heat. It will soon be on the market and ready to install in your home. Blocking out the heat will also cut down on energy costs in the summer since you’re A/C won’t have to work as hard.
- Smart baby monitor: this doesn’t save on energy costs so much but it is a great device that does even more than those little walkie-talkies. The smart baby monitor keeps tabs on your baby’s vitals like breathing, heart rate, temperature and so on. It also monitors their activity level and lets you know what position they are sleeping in. This way, you can catch the early signs of any issues before they become serious.
As you can see, more and more things are becoming connected. The possibilities are endless. With all that in mind, your mind is probably racing with ideas about how to improve your own home. So where should you begin and what can you expect when you start? Learn more in the next section.
Quick DIY Home Automation Guide
Despite what you might believe, most home automation installation can be done yourself. Most are installed in your home like the regular version of that device. Of course, there is some additional set up in terms of software and syncing it with your phone, tablet or PC.
However, for the most part, you will not need to pay for any professional installation.
Make sure all of your devices run on the same platform or protocol so that they are compatible with each other and can all be connected via a home automation hub.
This allows your devices to communicate with you and each other easily so that they coordinate and send each other signals to do certain things. For example, when your smart door lock locks, it can automatically trigger your thermostat, lights and any other connected device to turn off or go into whatever “away mode” you have set for it.
Unless you are particularly wealthy, you probably won’t be automating every possible thing in your home all at once. But with all the exciting possibilities, it’s hard to know where to start.
So here is a basic home automation guide to help you figure out which areas you might want to focus on first. These tips are designed to get you the most results for your money. That is, these are the simple, easy home automation projects that save you a lot of money despite not costing very much (relative to other smart home devices).
- Smart outlets: smart outlets can be plugged into your regular wall outlets. Then, you can plug any device you wish into them. This allows you to control any device you wish from your phone. It usually only allows you to turn them on or off but this simple feature can save you a lot of money. You can easily make sure everything in your home is turned off while you are away or while it’s not in use.
- Automatic heating and cooling: hooking up your heating and cooling system to a smart thermostat will lead to some attractive cuts in your energy bill. This is a relatively cheap investment that will make sure your home’s heating and cooling are being run as efficiently as possible without waste.
- Shower heads and sprinkler systems: these will help cut down on the water bill. Smart showers can save you water by not starting until the water has reached your desired temperature and automatically adjusting the water pressure based on what you are doing. Smart sprinklers can recognize weather patterns and adjust their watering schedule to make sure they water at the right times.
These are some of the easiest changes you can make to start saving a lot of money. From there, you can start investing that saved money in other products that will help further lower your monthly energy costs while making your life a lot easier at the same time.
Another great thing about these home automation tips is that they can all be installed yourself. No need to pay for expensive professional installations!
What Are the Benefits of a Home Automation System?
Writing a list of the benefits of automating your home could fill an entire book. But you probably don’t want to read an entire book on the subject right now. So we have shortened it to our 7 favorite benefits.
And we promise we only very briefly discuss each of them. Just enough to give you an idea of how home automation might affect your own life.
Cameras, sensors, and Bluetooth home automation are just a few of the examples of how you can connect with your smart home wherever you are. This gives you more control over your home and the ability to make sure things are running smoothly while you are away or make adjustments as needed without having to leave work.
Security is one of the best things to have automated in your home. A system that can automatically detect a break in and can alert you and the police will give you a better chance at avoiding serious harm or damage.
Even better, an audio/video feed that you can store and provide to the police so they know exactly who they are. Even better still, the ability to check the live feed from any of your cameras or the data from any other security device in your home whenever you want.
Advanced security systems and smart locks are better at both detecting and preventing unwelcome intruders. You can even get locks that don’t allow anyone but you (and the people you authorize to unlock them. And the lock will automatically notify you when anyone not authorized attempts to open the lock.
Increased Monitoring Ability
With smart cameras, audio feeds and more you can keep tabs on your pets, children or anyone else even while you aren’t at home. Make sure your children are doing their homework as soon as they get home or make sure the dog isn’t getting into the trash.
Beyond checking in on your loved ones, you can also monitor your home. Get up to date information about air quality, temperature, humidity, and be alerted to any gas or water leaks, excess carbon monoxide in the air, and more.
When you are aware of a problem as soon as it appears, you will be able to drastically cut down on the damage it causes.
If looking at your utilities bill each month makes you cringe, home automation is the perfect solution for you. You might have read some tips online about how to cut down on your energy uses.
Those tips sound really easy. They are usually simple things like turn off your appliances when they aren’t in use. Turn off lights in rooms you aren’t in. Don’t leave the thermostat on when you leave the house.
But remembering to do that day in and day out when you’ve already got plenty of other stuff to worry about is tedious and just downright impractical. With home automation, you don’t have to worry about it.
A smart thermostat can learn to tell when you are home and away so that it automatically turns itself on and off (and even learns which temperatures you like in different seasons and at different times of day).
A smart lighting system can also learn to turn themselves off when they notice you aren’t in the room or adjust their intensity depending on the activity you are doing. Smart appliances can be turned on and off from your smartphone so you never have to worry about forgetting to do it.
These things add up to a cheaper energy bill in the end because it trims away all the excess without you having to sacrifice your comfort or spend your days stressing about whether everything is turned off.
Usually, you can either save money or you can save time. It is very rare that you can do both at the same time. Home automation is one of those beautiful rare moments.
Not only can you automate regular tasks like turning lights on and off, watering the lawn, cooking dinner, and so on, you can also get devices that learn your habits. That means that you eventually no longer have to even tell them what to do. They will learn what you need and when you need it.
In other words, you get to save that 5 seconds you spend flipping a light switch, the minutes you spend starting the coffee machine, the minutes you spend running into the kitchen to check on dinner, and so on. Each of those little tasks you have to do every day add up.
When all of that is automated, you will find yourself with more time to do the things you love. Play a game with the family. Finally sit down and read that book you’ve been meaning to read. Take up painting or meditation. Put on your tennis shoes and finally get on track with your fitness goals (don’t forget your smartwatch!)
You can’t control everything that takes up your time but with home automation, you can trim away the excess and carve out a little more time for yourself.
When you already have so much on your plate, knowing that your home can more or less take care of itself is a comfort that shouldn’t go underrated. Just knowing that all those little things are already being taken care of helps clear away some of the clutter from your mind.
And whenever you just want to check in and be certain things are ok, you can do it from your smartphone, no matter where you are. This is a great way to put your mind at ease and quiet that sort of “background noise” kind of stress.
And with all those little worries put to rest, your destressed mind is free to focus on the more important things in life—whether it’s a big work project or spending time with the people you love.
Help the Environment
Using less energy and resources through home automation is a great way to save you time and money. But it also helps the environment. When your home is less wasteful with resources, it means you are putting less strain on the environment for those resources.
By automating your home and turning it into a smart home, you will be able to start doing your part to keep the environment healthy and happy for the generations to come. It’s a win for everyone involved.
Now that you have a firmer grasp of the concept, you can start brainstorming which home automation solutions will best suit your needs. Get started easily by choosing a home automation kit that takes out a lot of the guessing work. Or go piece by piece and invest in just the specific items that you need.
However you choose to approach home automation, you are going to love the benefits which you start to experience the moment it is installed.