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How to choose the right Smart Home system for your house?

January 14, 2014

So, after CES 2014 and the introduction of a variety of new systems this year, what does the future look like for home automation.  Good! For starters.  A broad offering of products insures that the connected home will expand into all demographics.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF

A little history.  Many don’t realize the smart home industry is relatively mature, or at least in the late teens, in so far as reliable systems, robustness and the number of available systems on the market, is concerned.  There are 15-20 year old systems currently in homes, that function as expected today, with more being installed every day.  There are well established and reliable manufacturers on the market that have professionally installed custom built systems available and working for over 30+ years.

Companies such as Crestron, AMX, Leviton Automation (Formerly HAI), Lutron and others have been selling systems and products for well over 20 or even 30+ years and are known for being reliable, well built and long lasting.  Some of these companies have emerged better than others over the years, and others, have come and gone, during that same time.

Some newcomers to the professionally installed market are Control4 and Savant, who seem to be fairing well and their systems reliable, though it is common knowledge that Control4 has yet to make a profit and is now a public company, which in my opinion is one of the many reasons AMX hasn’t done so well in the home automation market in several years (shareholder interference).

If you buy a system and the manufacturer either switches up the technologies due to shareholder feedback (not backwards compatible) or goes belly up, you, as the end user are pretty much stuck with what you have.  So that is something to really consider when researching a professionally installed system, or purchasing any systems, in today’s market.   Cheap might seem great at first, but when the manufacturer goes out of business, that savings is typically now garbage.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

The trick in a growing and changing technology driven industry like the home automation industry, is to do your homework and understand the various products and systems available, not only what they can do for you, but more importantly, what they cannot.   If a system cannot meet a specific need and you spend X on it, you’ve basically wasted your money.

There are so many devices and systems on the market now that one of the main things to consider is what overall type of system is right for you.   There is DIY, the Telco systems (Comcast, AT&T, Etc),  the security company based system and finally the professionally installed custom systems.  There are a few questions to consider here in just determining where to start.

For starters, consider things like, are you renting, do you own the home, how big will your system be, how many devices will you control? These both consider whether a permanent installation is applicable and how much you might want to spend on it.   Are your home automation needs known, already perceived or are you unsure of what it can help you with? Do you simply want to know the front door is locked and the security is armed? Or do you want all of the lights and TVs to turn off and the HVAC to set back 10 degrees, when you arm the security? Do you have a few lights you want to integrate or many?

Do you want to research the products and systems or have a consultant or professional do that for you?  Is this something you want to program and configure yourself, typically meaning less automation and simpler controls, or something you want a professional to program and install, with more automation and almost limitless controls and expansion available?   Do you want only thermostats and security controls mainly and some lighting or are you looking for whole house audio, video and lighting as well as drapes/shades and more?

Most security and DIY based systems do not offer audio/video integration or distribution, meaning entertainment is not really a component of these systems.   Audio and Video switching and integration can add considerable cost to any system as it requires amplifiers and distribution switchers to make them work.

DO IT YOURSELF/DIY SYSTEMS

First up, are the Do It Yourself/DIY systems.   You pick these up from a store such as Lowes or Staples and install and configure yourself.  One thing to consider with the DIY devices is the reliability will often be the lowest of any products or systems on the market, they have caps on quantities, and they typically only work with the systems they were sold to work with.  The Tech support will be limited too, as there are probably multiple components to these systems including a router or hub, your own network, internet connection, various products made from various manufacturers and getting them to all work together in a DIY fashion can be frustrating, as best.  However, they are “designed” and marketed to be relatively easy to install, setup and use when used according to manufacturers specs.

Typically, these systems will be limited to a specific suite of products and devices that are known to work well together and within certain environments.  These systems are usually designed for the small home or system and limit how many things you can control or integrate.  You may only be able to install a max of 10 or 20 light switches, total.  Or it will only work with 1 thermostat or 2, and you may need 3.  You should insure you know how expandable any of these systems are.  What are it’s limits?

Staples and Lowes are both currently offering DIY systems you can purchase right off the shelf and install yourself.   These often come with a “brain”, hub, central controller or some main control system.  They usually bundle a lamp or appliance module or switch(es) with the system so you can start out with something simple.  Generally, simpler systems cost less, offer less and have fewer expansion options.  Additionally, most of these systems have caps or limits to them, so you might be able to do 20-25 light switches total, but no more, or 2 thermostats, but not 3,  as these are limited processors and systems and cannot handle the heavier loading.  Typically these systems start at around $300 or so and can go up to thousands with adding devices.

If your needs are simple, you can install and set things up yourself and you want to keep the cost really low, you might start out with a DIY system.   A few of which are listed in this review from the TheNextWeb.com   http://thenextweb.com/gadgets/2014/01/10/smart-home-system-best-suited/ .  Some others that come to mind are the WeMo system from Belkin, who has a variety of system and components available, and iRule, which is an app to control multiple systems and devices that are all networkable.

You can also find these systems online in many outlets, including;  Smarthome.com, Leviton.comHomeControls.com, WeMO (Belkin), too name a few, plus many others.

Next time we’ll review the next few tiers of automation.  The Telco/Cable Co systems, the security panel based systems and the professionally installed custom control systems.

Until then, happy automating!

2 Responses to “How to choose the right Smart Home system for your house?”

  1. This is a good posting, I was wondering if I could use this write-up on my website, I will link it back to your website though. If this is a problem please let me know and I will take it down right away

  2. What is your site URL?
    Thanks,

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