How do I get started with Home Automation?
Today there is an extensive assortment of products available, ranging from simple starter kits such as plug-ins designed for a singular purpose (like lighting) and tethered to a smartphone app, to full systems designed to run the entire home.
For this, or any significant project, the best advice is usually to step back, define your objectives, and let those objectives inform your budget and timeline. Are you interested in simply adjusting your thermostat via your smartphone, or are you a technology enthusiast wanting to run your entire home? The former is often a simple do-it-yourself project, while the latter more likely requires a custom electronics (CE) professional, along with considerably more time and money.
Let’s assume you are interested in this technology, and over time, may want to add more features. It’s definitely worth having a conversation with a CE professional; there are several firms in the area that work in the home automation field.
Some points of discussion could include:
Interoperability - The idea of interoperability is to link diverse electronic devices together so they can perform as one unified system. Depending on the system, that can be either easy or complex. For example, technology standards are in place, and some manufacturers have also formed connectivity partnerships with other manufacturers. The more partnerships a manufacturer has formed, and the greater the adherence to standards, the greater your ability to have devices ‘talk’ to each other.
Expandability - Similarly, it’s important that a home automation system have the ability to expand to new products, new rooms, and new applications. As you look at products and systems, check to see if they speak a common ‘language’, and if they can be connected to an existing network wirelessly.
Upgradeability - The true power of home automation rests within the software. Check to determine if you will be able to download software updates automatically.
Return on investment – While the fun part of home automation may be the audio-visual components, it’s more likely controlling the heating and air conditioning will provide early payback. Have a conversation around costs and priorities.
Budgeting – Sometimes there are more economical ways to deliver the features you want. For example, in an effort to broaden appeal, some manufacturers offer ‘lite’ versions of their larger systems, with fewer bells and whistles. Also ask for costs on a line-by-line basis, so you know the cost/ estimated time, labor and expenses for each sub-system.
The above is just a starting point in a market that is quickly advancing. Home automation is a relatively new marketplace, so you should expect products to evolve over time, and market consolidation as companies form alliances and partnerships. For example, Apple has launched ‘HomeKit’ to unite devices under a single software platform. Similarly, Google’s ‘Works with Nest’ initiative has added a number of brands as partners. In home automation the trick is to find a system that will meet your needs today, as well as in the future.