Getting Started with Home Automation

By now, you have seen the advantages and the incredible things you can do with a Smart Home system and you are convinced this will make your life at home easier, safer, and more fun, right?
If you still aren’t sure about why you would want a smart home, I invite you to read our “What Is A Smart Home And Why Do I Want One?” blog, but if you are ready to get started and can’t wait to jump in, then I invite you to take a few minutes and read through before you start buying things! I know it’s hard to resist the temptation, but a little planning and consideration before you start will save you a lot of time and headaches in the future and will make sure your home automation works the right way and fits into your lifestyle.

To simplify things, I’m going to break our needs into two large categories. The first one will be the infrastructure for our home automation system, and the second one will be the smart home system itself.

Home Infrastructure

Let’s start by talking about the infrastructure we need to get things going. Although this is often an afterthought, this is probably the most important thing we need to plan for, because no matter how good of a smart home system we have, if we don’t set up the right infrastructure it will never work as intended. It could be slow, unavailable at times, and simply not work in some areas of the house. So, let’s talk about the home network, as it will become the backbone for all the communications and data in our home.

We need to make sure we design it to be a robust, full-coverage network, ideally having both, wired and wireless access. I talk about the basics of your home network on my blog (Home Network Basics), but I want to highlight the fact that we need to make sure the network is well planned and not something we just forget about. Unfortunately, most people simply keep the basic router that the service provider installs at home, not realizing that those routers are very basic, lacking the capabilities to provide a stable, whole-home coverage for all the needs in the home.

I’ll mention several things for you to consider when designing your home network to make sure you get the best coverage, high speed, and high-security network for your home.

– The first and simplest solution for you to upgrade your network is to consider enterprise-grade devices or high-quality consumer devices capable of meshing and handling high speed and high device requirements. There are many different options for you to consider, but I like to use UniFi devices as a starting point to upgrade a home system.
 -Consider installing several access points through the house. Depending on the size of your home, you might need 2, 3, or more! They could be a mesh system, or if possible, an access point + router system.
– Hardwire your backbone and offload as much as possible from your Wi-Fi. This is one of the best things you can do to speed up your Wi-Fi. By moving high bandwidth devices such as TV Streaming devices, iPad, TVs, etc. to a wired connection you’ll free up significant resources for those devices which cannot be wired.
– If you constantly have issues with your speed, have dead spots, and cannot figure out how to solve it consider hiring a network professional to take a look, it will definitely be an investment that pays off many times given the importance our home network has in our lives!

Home Automation System

Now let’s talk about the smart home system and what you are looking to get out of it. As I’ve mentioned, the possibilities for this are endless, so the first thing you need to ask yourself is what do you want your home to be capable of? Are you looking to automate just a few lights and maybe your doorbell, or are you thinking of going all in, including your lights, audio, video, HVAC, window blinds, home security, and appliances? Although there are DIY solutions for both options, the amount of work, programming, and complexity will change dramatically if you just want a couple of devices setup or if you want all your home to work seamlessly in a home automation system.

Start by making a list of what exactly you want your home to be able to do, write down each idea, and prioritize them based on your needs. Not everything needs to be done the first day, you may be able to grow your system as needed. Once you have the list of all the items, you’ll need to decide if you want to tackle the system yourself, or hire a professional to plan, design, and install the entire system. There are definitely advantages to both options, but also some important considerations. Let me help point out some things to help you make this decision.

DIY Smart Home System

This option is a great way to go if you are looking to only add a couple of devices to your home, you are quite tech-savvy and have a good understanding of how the different communication protocols for smart devices work, and which are compatible. If this sounds like you, and your home, then DIY might be a great approach for you.
If you’ve already decided this is your best route to having your smart home, then let me suggest a few steps for you to start.

– Decide what communication protocol you’ll be using for all your devices. Smart technology uses mainly 3 different protocols: Zigbee, Z-wave, and WiFi. Each one has unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to make sure your choice is the right one for your needs. (We’ll be posting about each one of these shortly!)

– Once you decided on the protocol to use, take the list of devices you want to automate and do a little research on what brands and options you have for each device. Pay attention to the need for additional hardware such as bridges, the compatibility amongst brands, and the security.

– Do a little research on the opportunity to grow your system in the future, will it be easy to add components?

– Decide your automation engine. Depending on the devices/brands you chose, you might want to consider a local hub or a cloud-based system, it could be something as simple as Amazon Alexa or something more complex such as Hubitat or Home Assistant. Either way, make sure you put enough consideration into this, as it will be very important, otherwise, you might end up with a bunch of individually controlled smart devices which need to be controlled in their own app, instead of a seamless single app to control everything in your home. This might not sound too bad if you have 2 different apps, but as things grow, having to go to five or ten different apps to be able to do everything you want will defeat the purpose of an enjoyable Smart Home.

– Finally purchase and install are your devices and program the scenes, routines, and automation you’d like

– You are now ready to enjoy your Smart Home System!

Professional Home Automation System

If you are looking to have a complex system with many different components being integrated, and want to make sure it all works perfectly together without having to go to different apps to control, or you aren’t too tech-savvy and capable of coding to achieve routines and automation, then hiring a professional is a great option for you!
Once you’ve decided this is the right way for you, you still want to think about some important aspects of your system so that you get the right installer for your project. There are many amazing Home Automation Systems out there, and most times companies will only use one or two of them, so when choosing your professional installer you are also going to be choosing your system, so make sure you know which is the best option for you before you hire someone. Let me help you think of a few things to consider before you start calling around and asking for options for your smart home!

– The first thing to think about is what you want from your home. Are you looking to bring everything in your home together or just a few components? The reason why this is important is that the more systems you integrate the more complex the install and therefore the system will be, so you want to make sure your system will be able to handle not only the current devices but whatever future growth you have! Most of the systems installed professionally will be capable of automating and integrating absolutely everything in your home, from your surveillance cameras, access control, and alarm systems to your HVAC, blinds, lights, and your music, audio, and home theatre systems.

– The second thing you might want to ask yourself is how much your budget is. Depending on the size of your home, the number of systems being integrated, and the choice of system you go with, the price can become an important factor.

– Once you have an answer to those two questions do a little research on what kind of system you’d like in your home. Consider the aesthetics of the devices as they are designed not only to give you amazing functionality but also to blend into your home. Are you looking for a smart in-wall control to be installed in each room, or are you looking for mobile devices to be placed on the table or nightstand for you to use? Make a full list of all the things you want your system to be able to do, and have it handy when you start calling pros. When talking to them ask them to make sure the system they are proposing will be able to do what you want and have them give you a couple of alternatives. I suggest you consider something such as Brilliant for a simple install with a few components added to it (it will also be much cheaper) and look into Control4, Savant, Elan, Crestron for your larger more complex systems.

Comment below and let us know your thoughts and experiences with your Home Automation projects and feel free to ask questions!

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