Smart Home Automation

Home automation means a lot of very different things to different people. To some it means being able to see and control every device in your home via an iPad (or a similar device). Whilst we agree that there are some devices that you need to control on a regular basis using a simple and clear user interface, our view of home automation is less technology focussed and more abstract than this.

We define home automation as the ability to remotely control things or for them to react to external inputs. Smart home automation is sits at a higher level and provides an invisible layer of intelligence above these manual interfaces (switches, etc.) and the remote control layer (home automation), to ensure that you don't need to use them. Smart home automation learns and adapts to your needs, anticipating or reacting as required.

Most people already have some form of home control or automation in their home. Most don't realise this or think of it as automation but, there are many levels of home automation:

Switches

Jeani switch
An example of very simple home automation might be a simple switch operated when a cupboard door is opened, to turn on a light in the cupboard. These may also feature a timer, so that they light goes off automatically after a defined time period, if the door is left open.

Timers

Pretty much any home with a central heating system already has a controller that determines when the heating and hot water come on. Timers are one of the simplest and easiest forms of home automation and are there for convenience and to improve efficiency. In addition, many of these central heating controllers will have sensors to provide feedback, further improving the efficiency. The hot water tank also has a thermostat to provide feedback on the temperature of the water in the hot water tank. A thermostat will be located in one or more rooms, to provide feedback on the temperature inside your home. Many shower fans also have delay timers.

Plug-in wall socket timers are commonly used around UK homes. They come in two forms; 24-hour and 7-day. The latter gives you more flexible control over a whole week, the former only provides the ability to set the same timer sequence for each day of the week. Some timers also plug into light fittings and some have light level sensors to switch lights on at dusk for a defined period of time.

Mechanical Automation

Mechanical (or physics based) devices have the advantage of being self contained and thus local to the required installation point. They are also generally low in complexity (no wiring) and very reliable. The objective of these simple devices is to improve the efficiency and convenience of your home.

Mechanical automation includes door self closers and devices like this automated roof vent opener. It uses a gas pressure strut and opens the roof vent when the temperature exceeds 28°C in our conservator. As the temperature increases, so does the size of the opening. The strut is both the sensor and the actuator.

Simple Lighting Control

PIR sensors are commonly found in UK homes and are used to automate external and internal lighting. They are used for convenience lighting and security lighting. Some will also feature timers for delays and many also feature a light level sensor to stop them coming on during the day. Lighting such as this is most efficient, when used with a twilight sensor.

Alarm Systems

Security and safety alarm systems are a form of home automation. Some are quite simple, with wired sensors going back to a central control box. Others feature wireless sensors and multiple zones. This is basically a bunch of sensors, a controller with some basic logic and timers and some actuators in the form of an alarm sounder and alarm strobe light.

Entertainment

Home automation in the entertainment space is generally about media access and distribution around the home.

Home Control Systems

The next level of home automation is when a specific controller is used to monitor and control the environment and security in your home. The simplest installations are based around a single controller and generally one technology.

The ultimate Home Control System (HCS) is achieved when using a mix of technologies or a hybrid technology solution.

The Cloud

The cloud is an important aspect of our home automation and home control system but, we are very mindful of its limitations and restrictions. The cloud is not 100% reliable and the network connectivity between your home and the cloud is even less so.

The security of the cloud is also a major consideration and limits the type of data you may trust to be stored in the cloud.

The performance of the cloud is also an issue as it is heavily dependent on the design and network connectivity implemented by each cloud service provider. As an example, many cloud storage services have physical restrictions on the rate at which data can be uploaded and downloaded. For cloud services that are geographically remote, the speed and congestion of the Internet links between them and you can hugely impact the performance seen.

Why Automate?

Convenience

For many this is the primary reason for automating your home but, in reality convenience is a side effect of intelligent steps to improve efficiency. Having lights come on an off automatically and when occupancy is detected in a room is extremely convenient but, is also very efficient.

Efficiency

Efficiency leads to lower energy use and thus lower costs. It is very easy to get a quick payback with home automation, if done correctly.

Security

Security is also a major driver for many. A good automation system uses components for both automation and security.

Safety

Outside of the security elements, there are big opportunities to re-use components for safety. Temperature sensors can be used to detect fires, security alarms can double up as safety alarms, etc.

Gadget Factor

For some, this is a big factor in automating their home but, this is not a valid reason to do it in our view. Good home automation should be intelligent and invisible, part of the fabric of your home and not a shiny layer on top. Convenience and efficiency means minimal intervention. If you have to get an iPad out to control your home, something is wrong!

Planning

If you look in the 'plans' section, you will see that we are already some way down the path of home automation (also called domotics). New technologies and devices are emerging all the time though so we are tracking developments closely.

In an existing property, wired devices can prove problematic and many people go down the wireless route. Wireless devices still require power though and communications reliability can suffer. For this reason our preference is for wired solutions to key systems and services in our home. These also offer much improved security by being on an isolated 'network'. In a new build the installation is simplified through structured wiring.

Further Reading

Forums & Groups

UK Suppliers & Installers

European Companies

US Companies

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