Home Entertainment / Buying Guide

A Guide to Home Automation

         

2015 is here, and it’s almost gone. Cars aren’t whizzing by above our heads, and there isn’t a fleet of robots waiting to make our beds and take out the trash. Ah, the potential of technology that’s yet to come—having to walk to the kitchen and prepare my own latte is so yesteryear. Looking back to a childhood filled with Jetsons-like expectations for the future, present-day technology hasn’t quite lived up to my wild and probably unrealistic imagination. However, a number of useful technological advancements have been made, adding an element of convenience to our lives that we now consider essential. Yes, the Internet is glorious—thank you, Al Gore; but if you would have told me 25 years ago that I could look up a local pizzeria and order a large pepperoni pie directly from an Internet-connected smartphone without talking to another human being or having to shuffle through a VCR-sized phone book, you would have been met with a facial expression that spelled confusion and disbelief. Back then, the antenna on my cordless phone was nearly scraping the ceiling, so I couldn’t fathom this wireless sorcery you speak of. I would like to think that previous generations shared our anticipation for the next step in technology, staring at their rotary phones and tangled cords with disdain; fun times.

When you think of home automation, it’s OK to imagine the place you affectionately call home doing its own thing; bulbs are getting changed automatically, the grass is always cut, and the fence is always painted. While we haven’t yet reached that level of automation, I don’t think we’re too far behind. What if I told you that you could turn on the lights in your living room, monitor a wireless camera, or control an irrigation system from your smartphone or tablet, even when you’re away from your home? Better still, what if I also said all of these household tasks can be done simultaneously or on a schedule of your choosing? Well they can be, and having the power to wield this level of control isn’t as far away or expensive as you may think. Furthermore, many home automation systems and components offer the simplicity of do-it-yourself installation. While some devices may require a little more know-how and elbow grease than others, no major construction is required. Your main requirement for installation is Internet connectivity and control devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. In this guide, we’re going to explore some home automation devices from a few manufacturers in an effort to help you choose which components best suit your operating environment.

Belkin WeMo

Belkin is a well-known and established player in the crowded arena of computer peripherals and portable electronics. The WeMo branding represents Belkin’s impressive lineup of home automation products, offering components such as LED bulbs, light switches, power outlets, cameras, and more. The WeMo LED Lighting Starter Set consists of two 800 Lumens (60-Watt equivalent) Smart LED bulbs and the WeMo Link. The WeMo Link allows you to greatly expand your home’s lighting conditions, as it can control up to 50 WeMo Smart LED Bulbs, should you need them. You can conveniently control the bulbs from your Android, iOS, and Kindle smart devices. The free WeMo app even allows you to create custom lighting schedules or dim your connected bulbs when softer light is desired, such as when watching movies or eating dinner.

If you’re looking to expand the functionality of your WeMo network, devices such as the Insight Switch allow you to interface the things you already own, such as lamps and space heaters, thanks to its onboard three-prong power outlet. Simply plug your appliance into your network-connected Insight Switch and wirelessly power the outlet on or off from remote locations, wherever Internet access is available. Do you want to see what’s going on inside your home when you’re not there? Check out Belkin’s Netcam HD+ Wi-Fi Camera. True to its name, this camera offers high-definition 720p recording and is outfitted with a wide-angle glass lens that provides up to 26 feet of night-vision viewing. You can also receive motion alerts and view video directly on your smart devices. The built-in microphone also allows the camera to conveniently pick up in-room audio, enabling the camera to effectively serve as a security device or baby monitor.

INSTEON

As we outlined here, INSTEON is one of the more comprehensive home automation manufacturers on the market, offering a vast array of components and bundles that are designed to control and monitor various aspects of your home. Once the INSTEON Hub Central Controller is connected to your home’s network via its Ethernet interface, you can then add devices such as thermostats, motion sensors, dimmer switchers, outdoor cameras, and more. Featuring RF communication, the Hub can communicate with your other INSTEON-connected devices up to 250 feet away. The Hub also enables you to control your system from smartphones, tablets, and even the Apple Watch. You can also receive push notifications directly to your smart devices, as well as configure schedules and scenes for a customized home automation experience.

The INSTEON Dimmer Switch is designed to replace your existing wall-mounted light switch and allows you to control lighting conditions wirelessly from your control device. Not only does this switch support dimming when used with compatible bulbs, but you can also control how bright your light output is when you first power on the switch. INSTEON’s Leak Sensor can be used in areas of your home where flooding or water damage is a concern, such as under a sink or, perhaps, in a basement. The sensor can be placed conveniently on the floor and it can send an automatic text message of email notification directly to your smart device if an event is detected. Because reliability is a key component of this device’s functionality, it is designed to offer up to 10 years of battery life from a single AA battery, and it communicates daily with the aforementioned Hub to notify you that the sensor is operational and ready to go if needed.

iSmartAlarm

iSmartAlarm showcases the flexibility and multiple–use scenarios of home automation by offering home security packages and individual components that are well equipped to safeguard your domain. Like the aforementioned INSTEON system, the iSmartAlarm CubeOne acts as a central controller and interfaces with your home network via Ethernet connectivity. Once installed, you can then add external devices like contact sensors, motion sensors, cameras, power outlets, and handheld remote controls. The CubeOne communicates with your other iSmartAlarm devices via wireless RF communication. Similar to the other home automation systems in this article, when paired with the free Android and iOS app you can receive push notifications directly to your smart devices.

To get your security needs up and running quickly, the iSmartAlarm Preferred and Premium packages are preassembled bundles that comprise the CubeOne Hub, which features a built-in 110 dB siren, two contact sensors for placement near windows, cabinets, or doors, two remote tags for easy handheld control, and a motion sensor that can detect movement in your secured location. The Preferred package ups the ante by also including the iSmartAlarm iCamera. This camera provides real-time video monitoring, as well as pan and tilt control that enables users to see their location from multiple angles, a great feature for placement in larger rooms.

Asante

Asante’s lineup of home automation products allows you to control multiple aspects of your home intuitively. The Garage Door Opener with Camera Kit is a great solution for those who not only want to control the opening and closing of their garage door from remote locations using their smart devices, but also want to monitor their location, thanks to the included camera. With built-in Infrared technology, the camera even allows you to view your garage door at night. When paired with the sold-separately Asante Garage Door Sensor, you can receive email and SMS notifications directly on your Android or iOS Smartphone, a common feature among the home automation devices we’ve highlighted in this article.

If you want to control your sprinkler system from your smart device, the Irrigation Controller Kit may be the solution you’re looking for. Simply turning your lawn’s water off and on is the easy part; this kit also allows you to create custom irrigation schedules with programmable start times. Asante also offers a Smoke Detector Kit, which consists of two detectors that can send alerts to your smartphone or tablet in the event of a fire or smoke event. As seen on typical smoke detectors, a test button is also onboard to ensure that the detectors are operational and to give users added peace of mind. All three of these kits include a Home Extender unit with integrated 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity that can communicate with your connected devices over a wide coverage area up to 5,000 square feet.

Choosing the System that’s Right for You

Some of the things in our lives still require a human touch, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s nice to rise from the sofa every now and then. Home automation isn’t designed to turn us into television-consuming couch potatoes; it’s designed to enhance the way we interact with our home using technology to which we are already accustomed. If you’re a hands-on type of person, you can continue doing the things around your home that you love to do. Go ahead—plow, paint, and build to your heart’s content, but while you do those things, you can use your smartphone to illuminate your work area, or grab your tablet to close the garage door you accidently left open. After a long day outdoors, why not set your thermostat remotely so your home is nice and comfortable upon your arrival?

At B&H, we even offer home automation starter kits from a number of home automation manufacturers to help aid in the selection process. Many of these kits also allow you to add additional components as the needs of your system grow. If you prefer a simple solution, complete home automation systems aren’t always necessary for basic control. Individual components like the Nest Learning Thermostat allow users to enjoy easy wireless control from smart devices without installing multiple components. We suspect, though, that once you see these devices at work, you will be tempted to turn more of your humble abode into an Internet-connected smart home. That’s the great thing about technology such as this, there is something for everyone. Whether you rent room, share an apartment, or have a multi-floor home, a home automation solution awaits. While the choices are plenty, we are also here to help you choose the devices that are just right for your 21st-Century home.

Discussion 5

Add new comment

Add comment Cancel

It's too bad x10 doesn't work with other systems, and with all the noise on the powerlines it no longer stable on it's own.  I have at least 300 modules for all the stuff I used to do and it was easy with x10. I don't think any of the new systems are for me as they are too sophisticated, hard to manage and require smart phones etc. I don't want anything that I have to depend on the net for operations in my house and for the ease of hackers to get in and intrude. Oh for the good ole days.

Mick "7"

I'm sure this will sound pretty "old school", but since these controllers are dealing with high voltage (110) devices and appliances, have any of them been tested by UL for fire safety?

what about X10???  Its been around for 20 years!?

Recently X10 has been more or less retired for newer systems like Z-wave and Zigbee. 

Hi Charles -

The X-10 protocol has actually been around for nearly 40 years and is becoming extinct for several reasons, key among them are: 

1.  Lack of encryption

2.  Slow speed

3.  X10 signals can only be transmitted one command at a time, first by addressing the device to control, and then sending an operation for that device to perform. If two X10 signals are transmitted at the same time they may collide or interleave, leading to commands that either cannot be decoded or that trigger incorrect operations.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions: askbh@bandh.com