This guide has been designed to answer your beginner’s questions relating to smart homes.
So if you’re thinking to yourself “why home automation?” then hopefully I can convince you into learning more about this exciting and rewarding subject.
Some of these questions may need explaining in further detail and so I will link to other posts on both this website and others where possible.
By the end of reading this guide you will have the fundamental knowledge of basic concepts of what home automation is all about.
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1. What Is The Meaning Of Home Automation? / What Are Home Automation Systems?
The Wikipedia defines the term “Home Automation” synonomous with “Smart Home” and “Smart House” and so I will use all of these terms throughout this post.
Home automation consists of electronic devices placed around the home.
These devices can either independently and automatically control various systems such as heating and lighting or can be controlled manually by us.
It’s possible to control these systems from both within the home it’s self or from a remote location.
The remote location could well be thousands of miles away from home and controlled via the internet.
A home occupant can manually control home automation systems from a computer or mobile device or from a central hub located in the home.
Usually the devices will all link to the central hub as to allow them all to be controlled from a single or multiple locations by using a touch screen for example.
To be able to control these devices remotely, a gateway is needed. The hub can act as the gateway or can be connected to a gateway. A gateway is usually in the form of a home router such as a wifi router.
2. What Is The Purpose Of Home Automation?
The main purpose of home automation is to allow a computer controlled system to carry out daily activities throughout the home with little to no human interaction.
Home automation can be described as being multi-purpose and is usually custom built to fit the users needs.
There are seemingly unlimited ways to automate functionality in the home and it all starts with imagination.
Reduce Human Repetition
As a home occupier we can delegate our everyday and somewhat boring tasks to computer systems.
These could include repetitive tasks that may need to be carried out throughout the day. These can be achieved when the home occupier is either busy, sleeping or not at home for example.
Tasks such as boiling the kettle, watering the plants, feeding the fish and opening the curtains are ideal jobs to give to our automated system.
The time we save from not only carrying out these tasks but also thinking about them can soon add up.
This frees up more time for us to spend else where such as hobbies or work for example.
3. What Can Home Automation Do & What Can Home Automation Control?
I’ve previously mentioned some tasks that home automation can achieve throughout the home but what other possibilities exist?
In my post: What can home automation control? I explain this question in more detail.
I cover the many electronic components that can be used to control our environment and give examples where possible.
Some tasks are easier than others to automate and other tasks may not be possible as of yet.
Tasks such as loading the washing machine or ironing the clothes can’t be achieved by home automation.
However I can imagine that robotics engineers will be working on this right now!
4. Why Home Automation Is Needed
There may be many reasons as to why home automation is needed today.
The most obvious reason is to assist people with illness or disabilities who require help around the home to carry out daily activities.
However the average household won’t need home automation as of yet and the concept is still in it’s infancy.
It’s more of a gimmick for most people right now.
But as we use this technology more each day we will slowly start to become more dependant upon it.
Similar to how we use mobile phones today.
As smart homes become more popular over the years then the technology will also mature and progress.
Who knows if some functions become so popular in the future that it drives home automation to become a necessity in every home.
5. What Are The Benefits Of Home Automation?
In point number 2 of this list I covered the purpose of smart homes and here I will explain some of the benefits that we receive.
Other than it’s main objective to reduce human repetition, being efficient is a major benefit of a home automation system. This includes:
- Saving time
- Saving energy
- Saving money
- Saving environment
Computers can adjust settings such as turning the heating off at the precise temperature and without human interaction for example.
This can make our smart homes much more efficient in time, energy, money and reduce pollution.
6. What Are The Disadvantages Of Smart Homes?
Smart homes may have many disadvantages associated with them including:
- Cost of initial setup
- Technology learning curve
- Security & Privacy
- Promoting laziness
An interesting article on use-tech-wisely.com covers these points in detail and is worth checking out.
7. Is Home Automation IoT (Internet of Things)?
Home automation can be considered as a sub category of IoT (Internet of Things).
Many other IoT sub categories can include (but not limited to):
- Garden Automation
- Medical/Health care
- Smart Cities
- Smart Cars
- Industrial IoT (IIoT)
- Military Defence
Technically a device needs to be connected to the internet to be considered an IoT device.
This would allow devices to be monitored and to allow the transmission of data between remote locations.
However, home automation does not necessarily need to be connected to the internet and this would depend on what features the user wants.
If someone wants to view their home surveillance system from 100 miles away then their home automated system would most likely require internet connectivity for example.
It’s possible to run a home automation system without internet connectivity if that’s what was required of the user.
Although some functionality wouldn’t be possible in this instance.
8. Are Smart Homes Dangerous?
Smart homes can provide us with many advantages but it does introduce some new threats that will need to be carefully considered.
dangers such as hackers and equipment failure could be catastrophic to health, safety and security.
I cover the dangers of smart homes in detail in my post: “Are smart homes dangerous?” if you would like further information on this topic.
9. Why Open Source Home Automation?
Many reasons exist as to why open source hardware and software platforms are considered to be a better choice when constructing home automation systems.
Security & Privacy
Security and privacy are arguably the two most important factors for anyone with a smart home.
People carry out their day-to-day activities in their own home which will usually be heavily equipped with monitoring devices in smart homes.
These devices are designed to record and transmit information that most of us would not want to fall into the wrong hands.
Many commercial producers of smart home technology can (and possibly do) have access to your personal privacy.
But that’s the problem.. we simply do not know what information these companies have on us and what they do with it!
Open source platforms can help mitigate this threat to our personal privacy and security.
Another reason to setup an open source smart home is freedom to do what we like.
With open source there’s no constraints as what we can do with the equipment.
Whereas many closed source software and hardware vendors may have restrictions in place which limits capabilities.
For a more in depth explanation about open source smart homes why not check out my post: “Why open source home automation?“
10. Where To Learn Home Automation
installtekz.com is designed to teach the basics to beginner’s how to set up your own “Internet of Things” (IoT) and automation systems.
My IoT learning roadmap is updated on a regular basis whenever I have new content to add and is a great place to start.
Using open source hardware and software along with commercially available devices it’s possible to create your very own personal setup.
Here I cover everything from the electronic devices to networking and controlling. All you need to bring along is the willingness to learn.
11. How Do I Set Up Smart Home Automation? / How To Make A Home Automation System
There’s a few options available to anyone who wants a smart home. I’m guessing that you would fall into one of the following categories:
- Someone who wants to learn the technology and create an entirely bespoke system using open source platforms only. (This is the safest way in terms of personal privacy but has the steepest learning curve.
- Same as point number 1 above but mixing things up with some proprietary/commercial equipment.
- Create it yourself from proprietary/commercial equipment only (you won’t have as much freedom to do what you want here but much quicker than learning electronics, programming etc.)
- Someone who wants to throw lots of money in the general direction of anyone who is capable of installing such a system (this usually consists of closed source and proprietary equipment).
12. What Are Home Automation Applications?
A home automation application is a vague term that could indicate one or more of the following possibilities:
- An end-user electric/electronic appliance or device
- An electric/electronic device used as part of an automation system infrastructure
- Cloud servers, mobile apps or other software programs
Let me explain these concepts in more detail:
- These appliances or devices are designed to carry out a particular task such as a washing machine or a water heater. These appliances can be specifically designed to be used in a home automation setup and may have functionality that’s not normally seen in these types of devices.
- Devices such as microcontrollers can be programmed, configured and constructed to create custom home automation features required by the user (that’s us). Devices such as Arduino and NodeMCU fit in this category.
- It’s possible to control home automation from a mobile device and from anywhere in the world. Connecting these computer systems together can be done by constructing it manually or by purchasing a commercial system. Philips Hue, Google Nest and Samsung SmartThings are examples of these commercial applications.
13. Which Home Automation Platform?
Many vendors produce smart home devices such as the Amazon echo and the Google Nest.
However these devices will need a way of communicating with each other.
Home Assistant is an open source software application that can be installed onto a dedicated computer such as a Raspberry Pi or laptop.
It supports a huge variety of commercial equipment and is designed to allow us to connect these various devices together.
Using Home Assistant it’s possible then to setup many home automation applications from different vendors and is a great place to start interconnecting devices.
No matter which platform you decide to install into your home, there’s a good chance that Home Assistant supports it.
Many other open source software platforms exist that provides similar functionality to Home Assistant but this is the one I would recommend to a beginner.
14. Home Automation With Arduino
Arduino is a great place to start a home automation system as it’s cheap to buy and the internet provides a vast amount of help.
However using Arduino alone will eventually restrict functionality of a smart home and so other platforms will be needed to complement Arduino.
Arduino.cc website provides many smart home projects if you’re looking for inspiration on what to build.
If you would like more in depth information about what an Arduino is then I have a post here which will take you through an introduction.
This post aimed to answer the topic of “Why home automation?” where I covered many frequently asked questions from beginner’s about smart homes.
Hopefully I have convinced you to learn more about this topic and start thinking about how you can make your home a smart home.
If you liked this post then why not follow along with me on my IoT learning roadmap.
The “Internet of Things” covers home automation as well as many other related sub-categories such as garden automation too.