For many homeowners, the idea of home automation conjures up images of futuristic living. While home automation technology is relatively new, it has improved the comfort, convenience and security of many homes.
What Does “Smart Home” Mean?
Home automation deals with syncing household devices and systems with schedules or responsive sensors. Smart home technology is only possible with modern devices like smartphone applications and wireless internet routers. Devices that turn on or off with a switch, remote control or timer are not considered smart. Smart devices activate according to a program or input from a wireless device. Examples of this include:
A thermostat that adjusts itself according to your work schedule.
A sensor that calls your smartphone and gives you a visual image of your front door when someone rings the doorbell.
A refrigerator that keeps a running inventory and suggests menus and healthy choices.
Modern home automation and smart technology go a long way toward improving your home’s convenience and comfort. But this technology isn’t without drawbacks. Here are several pros and cons of home automation and smart technology:
Money saving – Modern smart homes are 30 percent cheaper to operate than conventional homes. Some insurance companies even offer discounts to homes using smart technology.
Convenience – Auto-preheating ovens, self-adjusting shades and self-managing appliances will help increase your peace of mind.
Security – Door sensors will let you know if a door is opened while you’re away. Door alarms will help you keep track of your children and the people coming and going from your house. Some systems will also alert you when someone is at your front door and let you speak to your visitor remotely.
Ease of use – Smart technology is designed with the user in mind. You won’t need a degree in programming to install or maintain your system.
Online vulnerability – Smart home technology is vulnerable to cyber attacks. In some cases, online criminals can steal your home automation passwords and information if they are stored on your computer. Make sure to store your passwords and other access information in a safe place.
Expense – Smart technology is more expensive than conventional options. A normal light switch might cost several dollars, while a smart replacement may cost around $40.
Reliability – Electronic signals from other devices can sometimes confuse your smart home systems. Hardwired setups aren’t prone to signal interference, but they are very costly and require professional installation.
Home automation technology is grouped into six categories: energy management, climate control, security and access control systems, lighting/window/appliance control, home appliances and healthcare/assisted living systems. Some homeowners choose to focus on one category at a time, while others opt for full automation right away.
Here are several candidates for home automation:
Interior and exterior lighting
Alarm and security systems
Door and window locks
Pool, hot tub and steam bath temperatures
Home theater systems and speakers
Phone and Internet lines
Shades, blinds, shutters and curtains
Turning off or lowering water heaters and HVAC functions
The We-Mo Switch is a combination of motion sensors and programmable technology. Plug your appliances into the We-Mo and control them through the smartphone application. The We-Mo Switch boasts impressive functionality for the price and makes a great beginning automation system.
Frontpoint: Components cost less than $100.
Frontpoint is an automated home security system that is supported by over 200 manufacturers of over 600 devices. It has no installation charge and offers a full range of security upgrades. Frontpoint can expand to meet your home’s needs, regardless of its size or security level.
Nest offers smart thermostats, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and cameras. Thermostats take about a week of manual setting to learn your schedule and adjust accordingly. You can also control your thermostats from your smartphone. Smoke and CO detectors alert you to a problem through an alarm and text. Cameras have a 130-degree view and can automatically turn on, depending on your phone’s location. The cameras can differentiate between leaves blowing in the wind and more significant movement, like someone at the door or window.
Control 4 My Home: $100 annually.
Control 4 My Home allows you to control your lighting, temperature, security, energy and entertainment systems. It will even let you turn off monitors and televisions remotely.
Crestron: Costs depend on the features.
Crestron offers a full suite of tech, including systems that pre-heat your shower, tune your TV to your favorite morning news station and handle security while you’re at work or on vacation.
Savant: Basic system, $499. Full systems, $1,600.
Savant offers a remote controlled system. You can program profiles into the Savant system so that each person in your home can set a room to their ideal levels. Savant also works with Z-Wave and other wireless platforms.
There are many providers of home automation systems. If you’re interested in home automation, research the big names like Vivint, Honeywell and ADT. These brands have an established history in commercial and industrial security and automation.
Once you have chosen your smart technology, you will have several additional factors to consider. Make a list of the features you want before you begin shopping.
What are the Costs?
Here are some basic costs of installing home automation:
Basic starter kit (lights or deadbolt controls): $40 to $500.
Wireless mesh systems (Z-Wave, etc.): $300 to $600.
Monthly service: $35 to $70 per month, plus activation fees, which normally cost around $200 to $500. Equipment is usually free.
Cloud automation – $179 to $299.
Hardwired – Unlike the above choices, which simply plug into your existing outlets, hardwired systems become part of your home. Hardwired systems are much more reliable and cost from $3,000 to $15,000 to install.
Cost to Install?
In general, the cost to have a professional install your system is around $85 an hour. Most homeowners can install plug-in systems, but it’s best to have a professional install hard-wired systems.
Wireless or Hardwired?
Wireless systems are cost friendly and simple to install. It’s best to have a professional install a hardwired system because of the complex nature of the job. Most hardwired electrical systems are substantially more expensive than wireless options.
Security is the biggest difference when it comes to wireless and hardwired setups. Wireless systems are prone to interference and hacking. If your phone network goes down, any control apps on your phone become inaccessible. Hardwired systems are less prone to interference and can be very difficult to hack. But a battery backup is a necessity in case of power outages. Also, hardwired systems aren’t mobile, meaning you can’t take them with you if you move. But hardwired systems can increase a home’s resale value.
Which Systems Should I Automate?
The complexity of a system will affect your cost. Lights are often either on or off, unless you have dimmers. Systems like showers require specific settings, making them more expensive to automate.
Do I Need an Internet Connection?
If you intend to control or monitor your home from a distance, you will need to have a secure internet connection. Some apps require an internet connection in order to function properly. If your internet connection goes down, so do your controls.
Can I Synchronize Systems?
Synchronizing systems means that your devices will activate or deactivate according to certain conditions. For example, if you set your thermostat to the away setting, then your coffee pot knows not to turn on in the morning. If your alarm clock goes off, then the shower turns on and heats up to your desired temperature. Different brands may have trouble syncing with one another. Fortunately, there are hubs like Wink -- which cost around $49 -- that ensure your systems work in harmony.
Pros and Cons
Some systems allow you to better monitor and regulate your energy use.
Lighting and remote communication help keep your house secure by creating the illusion of someone being at home.
Automated watering systems keep your yard looking nice, even adjusting watering times according to outside temperatures.
Checking your doors and windows remotely reduces your security concerns while you’re away.
Many buyers want a house with automation already installed. A robust system can increase the value of your home.
Available systems are incredibly varied. Be sure to research your system thoroughly before you buy.
Different brands aren’t always compatible with one another.
Most systems now have a monthly subscription fee. It’s important to also be aware of additional fees hidden within contracts. Read contracts thoroughly to avoid unpleasant surprises.
All systems require power to operate, so be sure your home has a back-up power supply. Blackouts and brownouts can render your systems inoperable.
Smart technology and home automation systems won’t work without a reliable internet connection.
How Secure is My Data?
Your data, programs and account information are stored by your service provider. Make sure to ask about your data’s security before signing a contract. You should also ask if your information is shared with other companies.
Why Should I Automate?
There are many benefits to home automation and smart technology. Many homeowners who use smart and automated technology enjoy lower energy costs, time savings and boosted security.