Home Automation: A Homeowner's Guide to Smart Home Design and Products

Posted by Raphaela OBrien on

What is home automation? How does it work? What are the benefits of smart home design and are they worth it?
If you have questions about smart home solutions, you'll find all the answers you need right here. In this guide, we explain the 3 levels of smart home technology and their features. We'll also explain how they work and what the benefits are.
Plus, we give a lot of examples of specific smart home products and their applications. Lastly, we teach you the steps you can take to decide which smart home solutions are right for you.
To see what you've been missing, read this complete guide to smart home design and products.
What Is a Smart Home?
A smart home is a home that incorporates technology to give you an advanced level of control over your home. More specifically, this technology falls into the genre of the IOT (internet of things).
The IOT refers to a category of devices that can connect with and communicate with each other (usually via wifi or Bluetooth). This means you should be able to access or even control these devices using your smartphone as well. 
Additionally, since they communicate with each other, these devices can run autonomously as well. That is, they can "decide" how to function by sensing and communicating with other devices, even without user input.
Home Automation Vs Smart Home Solutions
First of all, let's clear up some confusion you may have. You see, many people use the terms "smart home" and "home automation" interchangeably. However, not all smart home solutions count as home automation.
Home automation is actually an advanced level of smart home technology. So let's start by clarifying the 3 levels of smart home design.
The 3 Levels Smart Home Design
The 3 levels of smart home design are monitoring, control, and home automation. This is a hierarchy: each of these categories is more advanced than the previous one.
Thus, each level offers more options, benefits, and overall convenience than the last. Understandably, this means that the price increases at each level, too.
For these reasons, most smart home systems used today are in the second category. It is the middle ground for both functionality and price. Now, let's take a look at each of these categories in detail.
The most basic level of smart home design allows you to monitor various features in your home, even if you're not at home. Smart monitoring systems can tell you the current temperature in your house and whether any lights or appliances are on. This information is typically reported to your smartphone so you can access it remotely.
For example, a smart doorbell lets you see who's at the door no matter where you are. If you're taking a bath or even out of the house, you can still view this information on your smartphone. 
Another common example is a smart home surveillance system. It can send live footage from your security cameras to your phone or alert you when someone enters or leaves the house. 
You may notice that none of the examples above include a way to command or control devices remotely. Such control is the next stage up, an upgrade to the same type of technology in the first category.
For instance, a smart doorbell in this category could let you answer someone at your door remotely. Similarly, you can respond to other notifications of your home monitoring system by remote command, too. That includes shutting off lights, closing the garage door, or adjusting the thermostat.
Alternatively, you can turn the indoor lights on to make it look like someone is home. This might discourage intruders if it appears that someone is attempting to break into your house while you're away.
The final upgrade to this technology is home automation. Mostly, this means taking the middle step (user input) out of the examples above. That is, instead of alerting you and waiting for your response, the smart home system decides the appropriate action and does it.
For example, if a light is left on when no one is home, the system will notice and shut it off for you. Also, it could notice that you are on your way home and adjust the thermostat for your arrival. When you pull up to your house, the garage door will open for you automatically.
Automated vs Automatic
There is a subtle difference between automatic/programmable devices and these examples of home automation. For example, a regular, programmable thermostat can be programmed according to your usual schedule. But it won't automatically adjust these settings if you happen to come home earlier than normal.
And a motion sensor can turn on the lights whenever you walk by. But it's also triggered by any other motion it senses, like another person or a cat. It can't tell the difference.
Devices like these will often activate at inappropriate or unnecessary times. Thus, they are not as efficient as true home automation.
Components of a Smart Home System: How Does It Work?
So, what components are required to make a smart home system work? The 3 main components are end devices, connection devices, and a network.
End Devices
End devices are the means by which the system communicates with anything outside of it, including you, the user. This includes devices from which information enters the system, like motion sensors and video cameras. And, it includes any destination where this information ends up, like an app on your phone.
A Network
Your smart home system also needs a network through which to communicate with connected devices. Some of these networks are specific to the brand of system you buy.
These systems can only communicate with certain, compatible devices so that you won't be able to incorporate devices from other brands. Other systems are more universal.
Most smart home solutions require an internet connection while some do not. 
Connection Devices
The more exclusive networks, like Zigbee or Thread, will require some sort of gateway or hub to host the network. Also, if the system works without an internet connection, it will require a connection device.
Why Choose Smart Home Design?
There are loads of significant reasons to consider smart home design. Below are a few of the most important benefits.
Keep in mind that these benefits are relative to the level of smart home design you invest in. That is, home automation is far more advantageous than a smart home monitoring system.
Save Money
We briefly touched on this already when we compared home automation to automatic or programmable devices. As you can see from those examples, smart home design increases the efficiency of how and when your home appliances function.
Your HVAC won't waste energy when no one is home. Your lights will shut off if you leave them on. And you can prevent others in the house from changing these settings.
Increased Safety
We also mentioned how your smart home design can prevent break-ins. What could save you more money than discouraging intruders before they rob your house and damage your property?
And think about the peace of mind it brings, knowing that your home is well taken care of while you're away. That's something you can't put a price on.
Increased Convenience
Also, let's not forget how convenient all this is, especially for parents. You don't have to worry about your kids leaving the lights on or messing with the thermostat. And you can unlock the door remotely if they ever forget their house key.
Anyone can benefit from the convenience of smart home solutions, though. For example, if you're busy, you can answer the door without dropping what you're doing. You can even keep an eye on that package that was left at your front door so no one steals it.
How to Choose Your Smart Home/Home Automation Setup
By now, you have a good idea about the types of smart home systems and products that are available to you. So how do you decide which system/features are right for you? Here are a few steps you can take to help you decide.
1. Figure Out Your Needs
First, which benefits of smart home design are most important to you? For example, if your packages keep getting stolen off of your front porch, you should definitely get a smart video doorbell. If you want to make sure your kids get home safely after school, a smart home monitoring system will help.
Make a list of your wants and needs. Then, look for a smart home design that offers these features.
2. Find Out How to Operate It
While these systems are supposed to offer convenience, some are more difficult to operate than others. Look into the user interface system of any smart home design you're considering.
Contact the company that sells it and ask them to explain it to you. Make sure you understand and are able to operate it.
3. Get Price Quotes
Eventually, you should be able to narrow your choices down to a few comparable systems. When you do, find out which is the cheapest.
4. Read Online Reviews
Lastly, don't let a low price override your good sense. Check reviews of the company/products online before you buy. It could be that the price is cheap because the service is terrible.
Check Out Home Automation For Yourself
Ready to try home automation for yourself? Or do you still have more questions? Either way, follow the link in the menu bar at the top of this page to contact us so we can help.
Now, check out the latest news and tips about smart homes on our blog.

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