Understanding Home Automation Systems

Marcela Otero
Jun 9, 2017

In recent years, there’s been a surge of interest and investment into what is typically called the “Internet of Things,” in which many everyday objects have assigned IP addresses enabling them to be accessed and controlled remotely. This has resulted in the development of more and more “smart” devices and appliances that can all be connected to a local area network via WiFi or Ethernet. Gradually, electrical systems and things such as light switches, door locks, and electrical outlets, have also been integrated into networks.

What Is Home Automation?

At its most basic, home automation is the ability to remotely control a whole host of devices in your home, such as light fixtures, thermostats, and sprinkler systems. While these can be manipulated in isolation, home automation more accurately describes properties in which nearly every device is connected to a network that can be accessed and controlled via mobile device from anywhere in the world.

From a home security standpoint, home automation includes your alarm system, doors, windows, locks, smoke and flood detectors, cameras, and any other device or sensor included in the system. The ability to automate most of your home’s devices on a large scale is a fairly recent technological development. Central control of building-wide systems used to be the sole purview of larger commercial properties or luxury homes, and typically only involved heating, lighting, and cooling systems. However, this has changed rapidly, and home security companies are increasingly focused on automating most of the devices and appliances in your home.

How Home Automation Works

Home automation is composed of two distinct elements. The first component is the automation itself, which is the ability to program and schedule events for the devices on the network. This programming may include time related events (such as closing or opening window blinds on a schedule), or situational ones, (i.e. turning on all the lights in the event of the alarm system being triggered).

The second component of home automation is remote monitoring and access. This has benefited immensely from the recent prevalence of smartphones, which allow a much greater degree of control. Today, most home automation networks allow homeowners to use any internet-connected device to fully view and manipulate the systems in their home from any location.

Monitoring apps can not only offer information on current statuses of devices, but also allow homeowners to access detailed histories of what’s been going on in their home. If cameras are part of their home security system, they can pull up real-time video feeds of their home. Simple notifications can provide a wealth of information, from notifying you of severe weather, to programming your smart lock to tell you when your child comes home from school. The possibilities for home automation are virtually limitless, as more and more manufacturers are creating smart versions of every device in your home.

Ideally, any device that can be automated and controlled remotely should be part of your home automation system. In practice, this doesn’t always work out, and most systems usually just control devices with binary functions such as the on/off switches on lamps, power outlets, electronic locks, and security sensors. Home automation systems become truly “smart” when they can connect and control other internet-enabled devices. The problem is that the manufacturers of most of these appliances have different ideas of how they should be connected and controlled, which results in a different control scheme for each one.

For now, home security providers who work on home automation have focused on those elements most critical to your safety, such as entry points (doors and windows), and environmental devices (thermostat, smoke detectors, temperature, humidity, fire and carbon dioxide sensors, etc). For an additional layer of security, you can also incorporate cameras into your network. The most complete systems also include lights and individual electrical outlets.

When Home Automation Makes Sense

Home automation can add an unparalleled layer of safety to your home security system. Automated light systems and temperature adjustments not only save you money on your electrical bill, but can also make it seem like you’re home, thereby exerting a strong deterrent on potential intruders.

One of the most obvious benefits of a home automation system is the ability to control door and window locks. This provides not only peace of mind, but also allows you to open the door remotely for a dog-walker, for instance, or for a child coming home from school. The ability to view your home at any time via cameras is another huge advantage over traditional home security systems.

The bottom line is that, although investing in home automation for your home security can be costlier than a simpler system, the manifold benefits more than make up for the initial payout. In the long run, automation is cost-effective, saves you time and energy, and keeps you and your family safer and more secure.

Home Automation vs. Home Security - What's the Difference?

Home automation is often thought of as synonymous with home security, but this is not really the case. While home security systems can incorporate automation through remote monitoring of sensors, locks, thermostats, lights, and electrical fixtures, full automation includes many other devices in the home, such as entertainment centers, coffeemakers, and ovens.

Home security, on the other hand, is any system which allows you protect your home from unwanted intruders. This can be as simple as an alarm that gets triggered with a door or window sensor, to a system with home automation that integrates everything in your home wirelessly.

Depending on the company, and what the system includes, the cost of home security with or without automation can vary greatly. The sheer amount of different options available, however, ensures that you’ll be able to find a security or automation solution for any budget. Generally speaking, you should be aware that a home security system with automation will be more expensive than a simpler one, and will require professional installation, with its corresponding fees.

How to Find the Best Home Automation Systems

As with any other major investment you make in your home, you can never underestimate the importance of thorough, extensive research. Some good questions to ask yourself before even beginning your search are:

  • What are my daily activities? In evaluating the things you do around your home, you’ll get a better feel for which tasks you’d like automated. That brings us to our next question.
  • What would I like to have automated? Most people are surprised at the sheer amount of options available in home automation, way beyond light fixtures or controlling the A/C.
  • Think about your budget and level of technical proficiency. Though most automation features that come with home security systems require a professional installation, a few companies do allow the possibility of DIY. If you’re not particularly technologically inclined, then the latter may not be the best choice.
  • Consider whether you’d like to expand the system in the future. Technology in home automation is advancing in leaps and bounds, and you don’t want to invest in a system that you’ll outgrow in a short time, or that will become obsolete quickly.

There are some specific factors you ought to look for in any home automation system. For instance, most automation systems use a hub to control the different devices and elements in the network. This hub should be able to support each one of these devices, even if they connect in different ways, such as Bluetooth LE, Lutron ClearConnect, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or ZigBee.

Another element to consider is the app through which you’ll control the gadgets in your home. The app should be straightforward and easy to use, without having to spend an inordinate amount of time to look for specific devices.

Finally, as with any other major decision, consider your budget, and the terms and fees of each contract. It’s important that the company engage in transparency and that their representatives can answer any question you may have with professional efficiency.

What Else You Should Know

The bottom line is that home automation shouldn’t be an impossibly difficult proposition. The home automation field is booming, and the amount of competition is driving down prices making the technology increasingly accessible for the average homeowner. With some research and investment, you can obtain a customized, comprehensive smart home setup, that can be expanded as needed in the future. On the other hand, you can also choose to simply incorporate a few automated devices in a more scaled-back approach. In any case, an excellent place to begin your home security automation journey is from our list of top ten home security companies, many of which offer comprehensive automation plans.