What if all the devices in your home could connect to the Internet? Everything like clocks, garage doors, speakers, lights, doors, windows, window blinds, curtains, door bells, hot water heaters, appliances, you name it. And what if those devices could all communicate, send you information, and take your commands? It’s not science fiction; it’s the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s a key component of home automation.
Imagine monitoring your home using an interface on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, or even panels mounted around the house.
Home automation is going mainstream. Your house is going to get smart, no matter what. Here’s how to get started.
Home Automation Technologies
Before buying home automation products, it helps to understand the technologies involved in setting up and using them. These products use many different communication protocols. Some are wired, some wireless, and some are a combination. Try to stick with one protocol when buying products, or get a hub/gateway that supports multiple protocols.
This granddaddy of home automation protocols dates back to the 1970s and has gone from power line-based to wireless. X10 is not known for robust speed or great communication between units on the home automation network. It is, however, typically inexpensive.
ZigBee is a wireless 802 standard from the Institution of Elecrtical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE), before an outside group (the ZigBee Alliance) made up of vendors created products that use it. One of the key elements in IEEE 802.15.4 (its real name) is that it makes a mesh network so that most of the devices communicate equally. It’s also very low power. (You may also hear about Thread, a new wireless protocol that uses the same radio chips and frequency at ZigBee, and connects up to 250 devices in a home to the cloud.)
Another wireless home automation protocol, Z-Wave is owned by one company, Sigma Designs, which makes all the chips for other vendors to make Z-Wave-capable products, known as the Z-Wave Alliance.
This may be the best of all protocols because it combines a wired power line-based protocol with wireless. Both work as a mesh; all nodes on an Insteon home automation network are peers that can communicate when in proximity. If one fails, the other mesh can take over.
This is the networking protocol we’re all used to for sharing an Internet connection among laptops, game consoles, and so much more. It’s super-fast and ubiquitous. So, of course, it’s inevitable that some vendors would make home automation products to take advantage of it. The other protocols use less power and bandwidth but Wi-Fi’s reach can’t be understated, even if it is overkill to use it to turn a lamp on and off.
A staple of every PC, smartphone, and tablet, Bluetooth is better known for connecting items at a short range like keyboards, mice, headphones, and earbuds. But a lot of new products use the Bluetooth 4.0, aka Bluetooth Low Energy, aka Bluetooth Smart. It doesn’t require purposeful re-connection all the time, making it a good solution for select IoT items.
Top-Rated Home Automation Products
Just as there are many home automation protocols, there are many product categories, so you can control everything from lights and temperature to locks and security in your home. Here’s a quick rundown of our favorites.
LIFX (pronounced LIFE-X) pioneered the smart light in 2012 with the first Wi Fi-enabled, multi-colored LED that’s controllable via a smart device. Designed to last over 22 years, LIFX offers the brightest, most flexible smart light for your home or office.
LIFX works with Nest and other smart home devices to give consumers an easy way to experience the connected home, without needing additional hardware.
The smart and energy-efficient LED lights bring Philips Hue to life. They deliver bright and beautiful light for your daily activities, special moments, and immersive experiences. They’re practical too. They dim. They flash. They pulse. They do pretty much anything you want. And they’re available in different shapes, sizes and models to suit your home.
Samsung SmartThings Hub
Samsung SmartThings Hub works with devices that use Z-Wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. It got major improvements after Samsung bought SmartThings, including support for video surveillance cameras. There are more than 200 products that work with SmartThings.
The Fibaro Home Center is a complete home automation gateway. It communicates with sensors and devices located throughout your home using wired or Z-Wave wireless communications. It also supports external communication using an existing broadband connection (DSL or Cable).
It offers an array of advanced features, but like all Fibaro products, it is easy to install and use.
The Home Center allows you to easily manage your home automation network, whether you are at home, in the office or using a mobile phone.
Is this Bluetooth speaker really all that when it comes to home automation or controls? It can be, and will only get better. , Amazon’s voice-controlled audio concierge, pair with Web automation service IFTTT to control home devices like a thermostat or lights, via recipes you can create yourself. It might take a little work, but soon your house could be entirely controlled by the sound of your voice.
Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home
Harmony Ultimate Home
Don’t like talking and prefer to push buttons? Our review calls the Logitech Harmony the “ultimate universal remote” for a reason. It controls a lot more than just TV and stereo. The pricey unit connects with the included Harmony Home Hub that talks via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or infrared (you pay a little more to add ZigBee and Z-Wave connectivity).
HEATING AND COOLING
Nest Learning Thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat is like a piece of digital art that controls your temperature. It was designed by the guys who created the iPod. It has built-in Wi-Fi so you can remotely control the temperature from phone, tablet, or PC. Plus, Nest Labs (owned by Alphabet, parent company of Google), also makes networkable smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors that talk to you rather than blare alarms.
Some things you could do with home automation around the house are;
-Let there be light
Having your lights automatically come on when you walk in a room or being able to turn lights on throughout the house when you’re not home is more than just convenient – it’s a safety issue. You won’t have to worry about stumbling over footstools in the dark or potential vandals casing a home that appears empty.
-Get the temperature just right
Living an energy-efficient lifestyle not only helps save the planet, but it also puts more money in your wallet. It’s a win-win! A smart thermostat can help you cut down on energy bills by learning your habits and knows when to make the house warmer or cooler just for you.
Some days you might want to flood your house with sunlight. Other days, you might want to hibernate in the darkness. With automated window treatments, the decision is literally at your fingertips.
Automating your blinds, curtains or shutters can also help keep your home’s interior at a comfortable temperature (blocking that late afternoon sun!) and give you privacy in an instant from the outside world. Shades can be set to open at sunrise and close automatically at sunset, or whatever time you prefer.
-Under lock and key
Still hiding that spare key under the doormat? With the advances in electronic locks and wireless control, you don’t ever have to worry about losing your house key again. Electronic locks allow you to lock or unlock the door from your cell phone or you can set a temporary code and timeframe if you’re expecting a visitor. The lock will also send you a text message when your kid gets home from school – just like magic!
-Garage door assurance
How many times have you backed out of your driveway, driven halfway down the street and looked over your shoulder to make sure you actually closed your garage door? There’s no need to risk a neck sprain (or running off the road) anymore once you’ve installed a remote access package to your garage door opener. From your smartphone, you can open or close the door and also receive activity notifications of any door movement.