We’re always dreaming of what a home of the future will be like – From having our own personal robot like Rosie from The Jetsons to a home that learns, responds and relates with people like a human does like Samantha on Her, we are constantly thinking about and developing new ways that our homes and lives will change with technology. We may not be there quite yet, but, with today’s technology, we’re moving quickly in that direction.
Today, making simple smart home upgrades is easy and accessible for many, and it can be achieved by something as simple as automated lighting, heating and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by a phone or computer. At one time, smart homes seemed to be a thing of the distant future — appliances that could communicate with one another and automated from afar — but advancement in technology has made home automation a very attainable reality in recent years.
What is a smart home, and how does it work?
As mentioned above, smart homes rely on wireless technology to communicate and be monitored remotely. Appliances that can be integrated with smart home technology include thermostats, light fixtures, televisions, coffee makers, computers, audio/video devices, motion detectors, security cameras, and basically anything else that can be plugged into an outlet or emit wireless signals.
Today, these appliances typically communicate with one another via one of four protocols: Zigbee, Z-Wave, EnOcean, or Insteon. All three of these technology use wireless radio signals to communicate, eliminating the need for hard wiring between devices, which can often be invasive to your home’s infrastructure and more cumbersome to install.
EnOcean is the less common of the three, and works by harvesting energy from its surroundings, such as motion, light and changes in temperature, and converting it into usable electrical energy. This means that EnOcean-enabled devices operate on ultra low power, often not needing any external power source to keep running, making it a very sustainable option when considering a smart home system.
Zigbee and Z-Wave
Zigbee and Z-Wave are by far the most commonly used, and operate through mesh technology, which routes each command through an algorithm before determining the fastest way to complete the task. Each Z-Wave or Zigbee device is embedded with a code, and, when that code is received by the network, it determines its location and adds to the larger network of devices. When a command comes through for a device, such as “turn off,” it is fed through the algorithm then sent via cell signals, WiFi, or bluetooth, depending on which is most efficient. The major difference between Zigbee and Z-Wave is that Z-Wave uses a proprietary technology for its operating system, while ZigBee bases its technology on the standard set by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for wireless personal networks. This means that any company can create a Zigbee-enabled device without paying licensing fees to Zigbee, which eventually may mean that Zigbee devices are lower cost than Z-Wave.
UPB and X10
Older smart home technology such as Universal Powerline Bus (UPB) and X10 still exist in the marketplace, though they use your home’s existing electrical wiring to communicate between devices. UPB or X10 take a command and transmit it across power lines to the correct device and enable remote controls to do so from afar. Like radio wave technology, UPB and X10 can be programmed with timers, alerts, etc. to automate your home and save energy.
A cross between the two, Insteon takes both electrical line communication and radio wave technology and routes each message through the most effective means. Insteon is often considered the most reliable home automation protocol, since it utilizes both technologies to maximize efficiency.
How to make your home “smart”
Now that you understand the technology behind home automation, you just need to install and use it in your home. Pick the technology that’s right for you — radio wave or electrical — and purchase the devices that are compatible with that technology.
All protocols, especially Zigbee and Z-Wave, have a number of devices on the market that are enabled with their technology. These include things like plug-ins for your outlets that will enable them to communicate wirelessly to receive commands, thermostats, door locks, security cameras, motion sensors, and light switches and dimmers. You’ll need to make sure that all devices purchased are compatible with the same protocol; X10 devices won’t communicate with Z-Wave, and vice versa. If you do have two different technologies on your products, a bridging device can be purchased to allow them to communicate, but this is often not worth the cost and programming required to make them compatible.
Common Smart Home Upgrades
The extent of your home automation is up to you. The most common applications are typically lighting and temperature controls, as this can save you the most on your energy bill each month. All smart home devices should be integrated with smartphone apps and controls so that you can control them from afar, and check to make sure that you didn’t leave the heat on when you went on vacation or the lights on when you left for work. You can also set each device to a schedule, making sure that all the lights turn off at 9am and turn back on at 6pm, coordinating them with your daily routine.
You can also integrate your home automation with your wireless security system, enabling security cameras, motion sensors and door locks to all be controlled wirelessly from your smartphone or computer. This can prove extremely useful when you’re away from home, allowing you to keep an eye on your belongings from anywhere in the world and be immediately notified via text message or push notification if anything goes awry.
The newest smart home devices go the extra mile in home intelligence, with refrigerators that create recipes for you based on what’s inside or remind you when you’re out of milk, dryers that send you a text when the cycle is done and trash cans that monitor what you throw away.
Smart homes are feasible for any technology user today, with the basics costing as low a few hundred dollars. Of course, the more you integrate your home, the more costly it will become, though if you begin when your security system is installed, you can save money from retrofitting your system later to integrate with your smarthome technology.
All in all, a smart home can save significant stress and energy and automate many of your daily routines. Be sure to contact a top security system company to learn more about how you can integrate this technology into a new or existing system today.
The Jetsons image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.