And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that type of power? There was a time when home automation was only found in sci-fi novels. Now we’re starting to see the products hit the shelves and consumers are taking notice.
A brief history of home automation
Home automation is nothing new and it’s not magic. To automate is to carry out any repetitive task by using machines, computers, etc., in place of a person.
Nikola Tesla recognized the potential benefits and demand of automation all the way back in 1898.
…As early as 1898 I proposed to representatives of a large manufacturing concern the construction and public exhibition of an automobile carriage which, left to itself, would perform a great variety of operations involving something akin to judgment. But my proposal was deemed chimerical at that time and nothing came from it.
And who could forget The Clapper from the 80’s?
By the end of the 1990’s interest was growing in the technology. However, there were two major problems preventing the widespread adoption of home automation. When there should have been one standard protocol for home automation, there were many—X10, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi and Insteon to name a few. And you would need to take out a personal loan to buy everything.
Why should you automate your home?
Because your time is valuable. Every year I feel like I have less free time. One year I’ll start a career, the next I’ll get a girlfriend, then a dog, I’ll turn that girlfriend into my wife, have a baby and another. Naturally my focus and energy gravitates towards them instead of myself. How am I ever going to have the free time I want to better take care of my family and myself? I’ll tell you how.
I’ve had a dream for awhile now to remove the time I waste on repetitive tasks at home. So 3 years ago I picked up a Nest Learning Thermostat in hopes that it would save me time. It did, but not enough. Turns out controlling the thermostat daily only takes about a minute out of my day.
But what if I could automate nearly every repetitive task at home? Now we’re talking. Imagine how much time you could save if you left all of your vacuuming up to a Roomba. Actually you don’t have to because I already calculated it out. If you vacuumed a minimum of once per week for 15 minutes, over the course of 50 years you would have spent almost an entire month pushing a vacuum. With people spending 2-3 hours on household activities during an average day, the time saving benefits of automating those activities start to stack up.
What tasks can your turn over to the robots?
That used to be the question. Now it’s what can’t you automate in your home? There are many different methods to doing the same thing. It really comes down to how deep your wallet is. Here are a few examples of tasks you can automate at home:
Make sure your dog or cat always gets their dinner on time with a programmable feeding dish like the Qpets 6-Meal Automatic Pet Feeder. It will save you time and guarantee they are getting just the right amount of food. Completely automate their daily nutrition by paring that programmable food bowl with a pet drinking fountain that holds 128 ounces of charcoal filtered water.
After tucking your daughter in for bed, push a button as you’re leaving the room to have the lights dim, close the blinds, turn off the television, shut the garage door, lock all of the doors and arm the security system.
Home automation for beginners
Getting a home automation system up and running can now be accomplished by the novice. Below are a few systems currently available that will make people in your neighborhood envious of the power you have over your home.
If you are looking for the basics, look no further than Belkin’s WeMo line of home automation products. WeMo is a series of internet connected home automation products that allow you to control your home electronics from anywhere with an app on your Android or Apple device. The WeMo product line includes the WeMo Switch, WeMo Motion Sensor, WeMo Insight Switch, WeMo Light Switch, NetCam HD+ and more.
WeMo products are attractive because they’re modular and affordable for beginners. The entire system operates over a Wi-Fi signal. If you have a Wi-Fi router connected to the internet, you’re more than halfway there. Your router will handle the heavy lifting while you pocket the money from not having to purchase a dedicated hub. Pick up a WeMo Light Switch at the store and you can be up and running in minutes.
Pair it with an Amazon Echo and you can control your devices with the commanding sound of your voice.
Another easy home automation system to setup is Samsung’s SmartThings. You will purchase their hub, connect it to your home network, install the devices you want to automate and download their app. Unlike WeMo, the SmartThings Hub can control its branded family of sensors plus numerous 3rd party products. It can handle all of these products because it contains ZigBee and Z-Wave radios, and is also compatible with IP-accessible devices. You can even connect and control some of the Belkin WeMo products using the SmartThings Hub.
Initially released in 2014, Wink is the latest home automation system I’m going to talk about. Wink was created from a partnership between Quirky and GE. In both cost and protocol support, Wink has the upper hand. You can pick up the Wink Hub for $50 less than the SmartThings Hub and control more than a hundred devices from companies like Philips, Kwikset and GE. The Wink Hub is able to communicate via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, ZigBee, ZWave and the proprietary Lutron ClearConnect.
For those looking for something more than a hub, there is the Wink Relay. For $300 you will get a touchscreen on your wall that runs the Wink app. You’ll get all of the product support of the hub, minus Lutron’s ClearConnect.
Some disturbing news came September 22, 2015 from parent company Quirky. An important update on their blog announced that Quirky, Inc. and it’s affiliates had filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. What does this mean for Wink? According to the blog post, it’s business as usual. You will still be able to purchase their products from Home Depot and Amazon. They are still engineering and designing new products for Wink. And their customer support team will be there for you when you need them while they are looking for a new buyer.
Vera is well known for their VeraLite Home Controller. They have a huge developer following thanks to a well built API and they receive outstanding reviews. But the VeraLite only supports Z-Wave devices. When you look at the number of protocols supported by Wink and SmartThings, a beginner in home automation would probably enjoy one of them over a VeraLite controller.
Insteon has been around for a long time. It’s the oldest of the four platforms mentioned here. But their lack of support for other protocols other than old X10 systems make them hard to recommend for people entering the world of smart homes.
I know the news of bankruptcy from Quirky will leave some people cautious. Yes, there is a chance that they would completely close the doors in the future. However, they did say they already have a potential buyer for Wink and if that falls through they will hold an auction. I have read the reviews for Wink. There is no reason why this product cannot be profitable for its next buyer. So my recommendation is Wink. If they ever do decide to close up shop, you’ll likely have a home full of devices that will work just as well with my second choice Samsung’s SmartThings.
Advanced Home Automation
If you ever run into a situation where you can’t automate what you want, there are companies out there that would love to talk to you. Control4 is one of them.
Control4 is not as much a product as it is a service. You can’t walk into any supermarket or home improvement store, take it off the shelf and put it into your cart. Instead, what you get is the automation of nearly every device in your home installed by a knowledgeable professional from a licensed dealer. A Control4 system can run for under $1,000 to over $250,000! A quote will only come after your dealer has had a chance to review your situation and needs. The quote that you receive will include the cost for the hardware and labor.
If you’re not the DIY type, Control4 might be the perfect choice for you assuming you have the money. Their site includes an easy search to find the closest dealer. If you decide to go with Control4, make friends with your dealer. Chances are you will want to expand your system in the future and they will be more than happy to help.
Whether you decide to go with a single light switch or a complete Control4 system, see if your devices support IFTTT recipes. IFTTT stands for “If this, then that.” (a commonly used conditional in the field of programming). Using IFTTT you could tell your Nest Thermostat to monitor the temperature outside and adjust your thermostat accordingly. This is something that is not possible with the Nest Thermostat out of the box but is with IFTTT integrated.
After that you can try some of these other cool recipe ideas to automate not just your home but your life:
- Connect a Fitbit to your smart home so when you wake up you can have the lights turn on and start the coffee maker.
- Call your phone if unexpected motion is detected in your home.
- Unlock your front door when your iPhone knows you are in the driveway.
My mind is overflowing with ideas of how to use IFTTT to further automate my life. What are some of your ideas? I would love to read them in the comments below.