Many homeowners are confused, even intimidated by the terms ‘home automation’ or the ‘Internet of Things.’ While it’s supposed to make life around the house simpler, safer and more energy-efficient, some feel it would make life more complicated. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
Today’s catchphrase is the Internet of Things (IoT) – connecting any device (or thing) to the Internet and to each other. For home automation, these ‘things’ include thermostats, lights, coffee makers, washing machines, TVs, audio systems, headphones, lamps, window shades, smartphones, door locks, garage doors and almost anything else that has an on/off switch.
We spoke to Bill Toms, President of Premier Smart Homes of Markham, Ontario to get the inside scoop on the basics of home automation systems and why homeowners should not attempt to DIY their own system.
Q1: What are the most common misconceptions people have about home automation systems?
A: Most homeowners believe when their high-speed internet goes down, the only solution is to call their internet service provider (ISP) and patiently wait for a technical support rep to help get it going again. With home automation, the system constantly checks the service and if it goes down it will automatically reboot it – so you may never notice there had been an outage. If the system cannot reboot by itself, it will send an alert to our office. We’ll try to fix it remotely and if we can’t, we’ll send an installer to fix it right away.
Q2: What are the simplest home devices to automate without breaking the bank?
A: Most people start their smart home by automating lights, thermostats, TVs and music. The next step may be to automate the security system, including door locks and security cameras. But you should still pay for a monitoring service who can dispatch security or police in the event of a burglary, fire or flood. Monthly monitoring fees are approximately $25 for a land-line connection or $35 for a more reliable cellular connection.
Q3: How can home automation make a home more energy efficient?
A: Lights and thermostats can be turned on/off or up/down in one of three ways:
i) FIXED based on a pre-set schedule. But that’s so yesterday. Home automation now provides two better ways to set these devices…
ii) DIRECTIVE based on instructions you give the devices while in the home or remotely from your smartphone.
iii) REACTIVE based on what the system senses or detects. Here’s how a home automation system can be programmed to detect and react accordingly: It can automatically close a garage door that it detects has been left open. If the system detects no motion in the house for a day because you’re on vacation, it can be programmed to turn down the thermostat in winter or up in summer to reduce energy consumption. If it detects smoke or a fire it will not only sound the alarm and notify the monitoring station, but will also turn on all lights and turn off the furnace to stop the flow of air through the house that would otherwise fuel the fire.
4) What are the best home automation systems?
For home automation, you can do-it-yourself and buy individual devices that connect to each other – just be sure the devices are compatible. But the best systems use a central hub to orchestrate all the devices. Our company recommends Control 4 home automation systems because they provide a user-friendly interface that is ready-to-go right out of the box without extensive programming.
It can be controlled from any touchscreen device or by voice commands from Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, or similar devices. For the homeowner that wants to design their own system there are customizable systems like Crestron, which are more expensive and require extensive programming by an expert installer during the installation.
5) What questions should homeowners ask before hiring a home automation company?
A: Service is the key. Working with a small company that has only one or two technicians means the after-installation service may be slower. And if you are comparing quotes from different companies, ensure the peripheral products are comparable to each other. Particularly in home theatre, the quality of speakers and large-screen TVs can radically affect the overall cost. Be sure you’re not comparing apples to oranges.
6) Best advice you ever gave a homeowner.
Wireless is good, but wired is better. Wireless speakers have gotten better, but their sound quality can’t match wired speakers. Also, wireless security cameras cannot match the resolution of wired cameras. If you’re doing a renovation, run all the wires you may ever need throughout your home and then you can add more components to the system later. Even if you’re not renovating, wires can be fished through ductwork and behind drywall with minimal disruption to the walls.
We run all wires to a central equipment rack that’s tucked away in a basement storage room, yet easily accessible by technicians when required. Because all the wires are hidden, it eliminates the hornet’s nest of wires that often lurk underneath and behind older TVs. This creates a clean and completely uncluttered aesthetic in every room of your house – just what the clutter doctor ordered!
Best of luck with your home automation system. And please consider writing a review when it’s done to share your experience with our HomeStars community.