There are many questions that are still un-answered related to Smart Homes a.k.a Home Automation; Recently there has been a big surge upwards about the confusion that consumers are facing trying to get their head around different types of home automation systems as we are flooded with thousands of brands and products in the market. I have received many calls and email enquiries from general public to clear up the confusion of what type of system to pick and to further explain home automation.
Smart homes are houses and buildings that have several smart devices which are interconnected with each other to form a wireless infrastructure. This type of network infrastructure allows us to control the temperature in the house, schedule a washing machine to start washing clothes at a specific time or turn on the hot water kettle just before waking up. Although this technology has been around for a long time nowadays smart homes are becoming more complex than ever before as there are more and more devices available. Smart homes are changing our way of living and we will rely on this technology as we move forward in to the future.
The consumer demand for smart-home technology has constantly been surging, with reports predicting the industry will reach well over $100 billion in-between 2020 and 2025. Although the idea of automating a home has increased in popularity, many people are unsure about what constitutes a smart home, how this technology works, and how it will contribute to the value of their home if and when it comes to selling their property.
I believe a lot of misunderstanding is between the terms used by general public versus the terms used by the industry professionals. It can get very technically at times trying to deal with various abbreviations and trying to make sense of it but we hope to set you on the right path by trying to provide you with various examples and scenarios.
As an example difference between the terms home automation and scheduled timer; simply setting your lights on a timer does not constitute it as a smart home. It is in fact much more than that. I will endeavour to elaborate more on it as we move forward in understanding and differentiating the terms used from a general public perspective.
A smart home system typically consists of a centralised hub which acts more like a brain and a command centre as the commands are sent to automation devices to perform a certain function. A smart home simply is a home that can replicate and automate our everyday actions without the need for human intervention. It is purely because of the configuration on the central hub that was mentioned earlier. It is a combination of commands set on the central hub that will eliminate the need of any manual intervention by us.
Since there is a massive outburst of unbranded home automation systems in the market it is very important for a buyer to ensure that they are buying the right technology. It is always a good idea to buy something where you are able to recognise the brand name specially if you are familiar with the name through a friend or a family member. A massive confusion is that many consumers think wireless home automation systems all run on a normal Wi-Fi signal therefore as long as there is a Wi-Fi connection, all smart-home devices will automatically work in tandem. This is absolutely incorrect, although Wi-Fi connectivity is a crucial part of smart-home technology, different devices have different means of exchanging information between them, and this is known as communication protocols.
Many wireless transmitters use infrared technology such as television remotes, split air-conditioning, while others use Bluetooth such as Sony PS3, Microsoft Xbox, similarly for automation there are many protocols such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, Insteon, Thread, Push, C-Bus, ZigBee, Z-Wave and X10. There are few more protocols in use which are more proprietary therefore not mentioned in this article. It is imperative that all of your devices are on the same wireless protocol; otherwise, they will not connect together due to communication issues hence won’t be compatible with your central home automation hub.
Although my comments above are correct but at the same time contradictory as traditionally all the central hubs consisted of one protocol but this is changing as in recent months many new hubs have been introduced to have support for two or more protocols which provides the flexibility of choosing a wider range of products that are not a part of the same protocol but yet work in harmony as the communication translations between these protocols are taken care of within the central hub and behind the scenes. The end result will be the device will work and you will not notice a thing in regards to conversion / communication translations. The table provides a short explanation of the protocol technologies to provide a better insight and to further your understanding.
Wi-Fi or WiFi is a technology for wireless local area networking with devices based on the IEEE 802.11 standards. Devices that can use Wi-Fi technology include personal computers, video-game consoles, smartphones and tablets, digital cameras, smart TVs, digital audio players and modern printers. Wi-Fi compatible devices can connect to the Internet via a WLAN and a wireless access point.
|Bluetooth LE||Bluetooth Low Energy – Bluetooth LE is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group aimed at novel applications in the healthcare, fitness, beacons, security, and home entertainment industries. Compared to Classic Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy is intended to provide considerably reduced power consumption and cost while maintaining a similar communication range.|
|Insteon||Insteon is a home automation technology that enables light switches, lights, thermostats, leak sensors, remote controls, motion sensors, and other electrically powered devices to interoperate through power lines, radio frequency (RF) communications, or both. It employs a dual-mesh networking topology in which all devices are peers and each device independently transmits, receives, and repeats messages. Like other home automation systems, it has been associated with the Internet of Things.|
|Thread||Thread is an open, IPv6-based, low-power, secure and future-proof mesh networking technology for IoT products.|
|Push||Push was developed in Melbourne, Australia and now belongs to Clipsal Australia who initially introduced C-Bus.|
|C-Bus||C-Bus was created by Clipsal Australia. The C-Bus System can be used to control lighting and other electrical systems and products automatically or via remote control and can also be interfaced to a home security system, AV products or other electrical items. The C-Bus system is available in a wired version and a wireless version, with a gateway available to allow messages to be sent between wired and wireless networks.|
|ZigBee||ZigBee is a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh network standard targeted at battery-powered devices in wireless control and monitoring applications. ZigBee delivers low-latency communication. ZigBee chips are typically integrated with radios and with microcontrollers. ZigBee operates in the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio bands: 2.4 GHz in most jurisdictions worldwide; In Australia it uses 915 MHz, ZigBee also uses 2.4 GHz for most commercial ZigBee devices for home use. Data rates vary from 20 kbit/s (868 MHz band) to 250 kbit/s (2.4 GHz band).|
|Z-Wave||Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol used primarily for home automation. It is a mesh network using low-energy radio waves to communicate from appliance to appliance, allowing for wireless control of residential appliances and other devices, such as lighting control, security systems, thermostats, windows, locks, swimming pools and garage door openers. Like other protocols and systems aimed at the home and office automation market, a Z-Wave automation system can be controlled via the Internet from a wireless keyfob, a wall-mounted keypad or through smartphones, tablets or computers, with a Z-Wave gateway or central control device serving as both the hub controller and portal to the outside. It provides interoperability between home control systems of different manufacturers that are a part of its alliance. It uses 921.4 MHz frequency band in Australia.|
|X10||X10 is the oldest technology available as it was previously a popular home automation protocol. It has been used since 1970’s. X10 is still worth knowing about as you may come across old devices which may be running on it.|
A central hub will always make it easy for users to automate, schedule, and control scenes and tasks on all of their smart devices, typically via a smartphone or tablet app. Most of the smart home systems also incorporate GPS positioning therefore it is possible to trigger a number of scenes automatically based on distance remaining to your premises. In most cases a possible scenario is to automate lights to come on at night while you are 100 meters away from approaching your home. The second scene to trigger would be to open the garage door once you pull up in your driveway. The third scene to trigger would be to switch on the air conditioning to a desired temperature once the car enters the garage. The fourth scene to trigger would be to close the garage door. The fifth scene to trigger would be to open the front door lock and the final sixth scene would be to close all the curtains and roller blinds to main privacy from outside. This type of workflow is totally possible based on various trigger points as demonstrated in the example above and therefore the end result is a whole automated process. There are many other factors that can be included in the above example scenario by incorporating IF THIS THEN THAT (IFTTT) conditions such as not to turn the lights on if it is day time or to send notification once the garage door is open etc. I am sure you get the idea behind how flexible home automation can be to program and to do unlimited scenarios. Your imagination is the key.
At times I have been questioned regarding the security of central home automations hubs. There are many people who are concerned about being hacked. Most of the systems in the market are very secure as they incorporate 128-bit or 256-bit encryption (depending on the type of hub) during the transmission and receiving of information over the internet. This type of security is normally bank grade therefore it is very hard for a low level hacker to hack in to it. Some providers also have the facility for their systems to connect directly via a private VPN tunnel which provides protection even further. As the adoption of home automation technology increases so will the data security protection and new laws are put in place to better the encryption technology to secure any data transmitted or received over the internet. If you want to protect yourself and your smart home further then you must also implement an attack prevention system such as firewalls that is normally inbuilt in all our home Wi-Fi routers.
The home automation systems come as DIY or can be professionally installed. Simple ones are easy to DIY but if you are planning a whole home to be automated then my advice would be to engage a professional as they know all the in’s and out’s and what devices to use in various scenarios.
If the home has been fully automated it then also boost the value of your home. Buyers are always willing to bid those extra few thousand dollars for the technology knowing that there is less work involved once they move in to the property. It is also a known fact that energy consumption is lowered when a home is automated since lights and other appliances will automatically turn off if certain areas are unoccupied in turn saving energy and dollars.
In terms of increase in your home value it is always a good idea before listing your property on market to have a meeting with the Real Estate Agent to make them aware of how home automation adds value to the home and to ensure they are well aware of the features offered by the automation system. A good real estate agent should be capable of demonstrating the features during the inspection this confirms the value of home automation to the buyer so they can always factor in the extra finances towards the bidding process or before placing an offer. Do create a quick guide for the agent and for a buyer that they can refer to during the inspection process. This extra work is always worthwhile as it will fetch you few extra thousand dollars towards your total home value.
I hope this article has provided some useful information and has assisted you in understanding a bit more about the home automation technologies.