Oct 29, 2020|

Home Automation 101: The Complete Guide

Imagine how great it would be if your home's lights turned on automatically when you walked into the room, your doors locked by themselves when you left, and your thermostat automatically made sure your home's temperature was always just right.

With home automation, this is all possible—and more. Best of all, it's more accessible and affordable than ever, making a smart home a reality.

In this in-depth home automation guide, we'll explore what home automation is, how it works, and how it can make your home a more comfortable, convenient, and safer place to live for you and your family.

vivint home automation
Enjoy a more comfortable, convenient, and safe home with home automation.
 

Understanding home automation

Home automation may sound complicated, but the gist of what it is and how it works is actually pretty simple.  

What is home automation? 

In a nutshell, home automation is the use of technology to integrate various devices and systems around the house with each other to enable automation of various functions in your home. For example with a home automation system set up, your home has the power to automatically adjust the temperature, adjust lighting, lock doors, or arm your security system based on parameters you set.

The history of home automation

Many people think of home automation as a fairly recent phenomenon, but, in reality, it’s been in the works for decades. 

In 1975, the first home automation network technology was invented and allowed various home devices to communicate with each other. In these early days, this technology was mainly used for appliances and lamps. 

Smart home technology continued to advance and become more sophisticated, and by 2012, more than 1.5 million homes around the U.S. had some form of home automation. As more and more people began to see firsthand the benefits of home automation, demand took off. Today, home automation powers nearly 42 million smart homes.

vivint home automation
Over the past decade, home automation has grown exponentially in the United States.
 

Key components of home automation

When it comes to home control and automation, there are different levels of functionality. These include the following.

Automation 

With a complete home automation system set up, you can automate various functions around your home, so one action triggers another. For example, your smart thermostat adjusts the temperature to conserve energy when you leave or arrive, or the entryway lights turn on when the front door is unlocked.

Control

Another key part of an automated home is the ability to control your home remotely. Using an app on your smartphone, you can turn lights on and off, lock or unlock doors, or arm or disarm your security system from anywhere, to name a few.

Monitoring

This is the most basic level of home control, being able to monitor your home remotely. For example, you can log into an app to check the temperature of your home, watch your surveillance camera feeds, or see if your garage door is open. 

When these all work together, you can enjoy a complete home automation system, making life simpler for you and your family.

vivint home automation app
Control your home from anywhere with the Vivint Smart Home app.
 

How does home automation work?

Now that you know what home automation is, let’s take a deeper dive into how it actually works.

Home automation networking

In order for home automation to work, the devices need to be able to connect to and communicate with each other. As the popularity of home automation has grown, many companies have developed their own smart home devices.

As standalone devices, these smart products typically speak their own “language.” This means that when put together, they aren't always compatible.

You can build a smart home by either getting devices that are already compatible with each other or by using a central hub that “translates” for each device, allowing them to integrate.

There are various home automation networking protocols that can connect your devices together. The most common are:

  • WiFi. WiFi brings the Internet into your home and helps connect your smart devices together. Many smart home hubs, for example, operate via WiFi.
  • Bluetooth. You probably already use Bluetooth technology on your phone to connect speakers and headphones. You can also use it for smart home automation. The downside to Bluetooth is the close proximity that is required in order to function.
  • Z-Wave. Z-Wave is another form of connectivity. Smart devices connect to a Z-Wave hub, which then enables them to connect with each other via a mesh network. Simply defined, a mesh network creates multiple points of WiFi around your home. This allows signals to move from one device to another, without each device needing to be connected to WiFi. This keeps your router from becoming overloaded and your devices from losing their signal. Millions of devices around the world have Z-Wave connectivity.
  • Zigbee. Another mesh network, Zigbee is known for its security and long ranges. While it is considered a reliable network, it shares a 2.4GZh frequency with most Wi-Fi devices, making interference a possibility.
  • Thread. This mesh network is fairly new to the market and is an IP-based, open standard protocol that includes direct Internet and cloud access for each of the devices it connects (currently numbered at over 250).
  • Insteon. Insteon has a patented dual-band system that uses both existing power lines and radio frequency communication to connect your Insteon smart devices.

It's important to know the networking protocol(s) your smart devices are compatible with before you start adding devices to your home automation system.

Home automation and smart homes 

It’s hard to talk about home automation without mentioning smart homes. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re actually two different things. 

Smart homes refer to homes that contain various smart devices that are integrated with each other and can be controlled remotely via a smartphone app.

Home automation, on the other hand, is something that smart homes do. When your devices are connected to each other and can communicate with each other, you can make various tasks around the house occur automatically or trigger other events.

What can smart home automation do? 

Let’s take the smart thermostat as an example. One of the most popular smart home devices, the smart thermostat is a great example of home automation because it learns your temperature preferences and routine, then automatically adjusts the temperature in your home based on those preferences.

So if you’re away from home all day for work, your smart thermostat knows that and will adjust your temperature accordingly, helping you save money while you’re out of the house. But what if you come home early, or pop in for lunch? Motion sensors can detect you're home, adjusting the temperature without you having to lift a finger.

Certain actions within a smart home can trigger other smart devices as well; for example, home automation enables you to program your entryway lights to turn on when you unlock the front door. 

Pretty cool, huh? But that’s just the beginning. Other examples of home automation include: 

  • Lighting that turns on when you walk into a room, then turns off when you leave.
  • Doors that lock automatically after a certain amount of time.
  • Sprinkler systems that monitor the weather for you and adapt your watering schedule accordingly. 
  • Doors that unlock for an easier escape if a smoke detector goes off.
  • Water sensors that monitor moisture and temperature levels, and then notify you immediately if moisture is detected.
  • Surveillance cameras that automatically detect lurkers and begin recording.

There are hundreds of ways you can bring home automation to your home, provided you have the right devices and technology.

Why smart homes?

Home automation can benefit anyone, anywhere. Some of the benefits of smart home automation include:

  • Control from anywhere. With a smart home, you can control various aspects of your home from a different room or a different state, all from an app on your smartphone. There's no need to run home to let a repair person in or call your neighbor to check if you left a door unlocked—you can handle everything right from the palm of your hand.
  • Greater accessibility. Smart home automation also gives you increased accessibility to your home. You can check camera feeds remotely, for example.  
  • Convenience. Home automation makes life more convenient. The ability to automate functions around your home lets you focus on other, more important things.  
  • Comfort. With home automation, your home is also a more comfortable place to live. You can adjust lighting based on time of day, or automate your thermostat so it’s always set to your preferred temperature. 
  • Hands-free control. For people with disabilities, smart home technology can help them access and control their homes via hands-free control. Many functions, such as lighting and temperature, can be controlled via voice with a smart speaker. 
  • Safety. Forgetting to lock a door or accidentally leaving a garage door open can compromise the safety of your home and family. But with home automation, your smart devices will automatically keep your home safe or notify you if you forgot to lock up. Adding professional monitoring of your security system adds an extra layer of protection.
  • Savings. Did you know home automation can also help you save money? By turning off lights when they’re not in use and automatically adjusting the temperature so you’re not heating or cooling an empty home, you can save on your monthly bills. To give you an idea, a smart thermostat saves homeowners up to 12% on their energy bills every year. 
  • Energy conservation. With home automation, you not only save money, but energy as well. With lights that automatically turn off when no one is home, for example, you can help conserve power, reducing your carbon footprint.
vivint smart hub
Greater safety, control, and comfort: just a few of the reasons a smart home is worth it.
 

What can be automated?

Go to any electronics or home store and you'll find that many devices—from kitchen appliances to thermostats to door locks—have the ability to connect to the Internet and become part of a smart home.

With that in mind, here are some of the most common and popular systems included in the smart home automation category:

  • Temperature and climate control
  • Home security
  • Indoor and outdoor lighting
  • Fire and carbon monoxide monitoring
  • Entertainment
  • Air purification
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Home maintenance

Within each of these categories, you'll also find specific devices with various features and capabilities.

How to identify your needs

As you can see, there are a lot of smart devices on the market today. With so many available, it can be daunting to determine what you really need and what you don't for your smart home.

The first thing you'll want to do is identify your needs. You can do this by taking a close look at your lifestyle, what's important to you, and your personal preferences.

Some questions you can ask yourself to identify your needs include:

  • Am I away from home often? If you travel frequently or spend long days at the office, you could benefit from a smart home security system, home automation features like lighting control or automatic door locks, or water and temperature settings that alert you to potential leaks or HVAC problems while you're away.
  • Am I a stay-at-home parent? For stay-at-home parents, a doorbell camera that lets you answer the door remotely or indoor cameras that let you check on a sleeping baby without opening the door may come in handy.
  • Do we frequently have company? If you host overnight guests or entertain often, smart locks that eliminate the need for spare keys can come in handy.
  • Does my family place a lot of online orders? The average American receives 21 packages each year. If you get a lot of deliveries, a doorbell camera that notifies you when a package is delivered and protects you from porch pirates makes perfect sense.
  • Do you have household help? Housekeepers, dog walkers, or others who may need to access your home can do so with keyless entry, eliminating the need for you to make multiple keys.

Ultimately, the best smart home devices for your home and family depend on your lifestyle, schedule, and what would make life easier for you overall.

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All about smart home devices

Now that you know what can be automated and have a general idea of what you'd like to automate, let's take a deeper dive into the various devices that you can integrate into your home.

  • Smart hubs and home automation controllers. As mentioned before, most smart homes require a central hub to ensure their devices work together.
  • Smart home app. You'll control your smart home devices via an app. Or, if you are integrating multiple devices, you may need separate apps for each device.
  • Thermostats. Smart thermostats like the Vivint Element Thermostat use in-home sensors and local weather information to learn your temperature preferences, then automatically adjust accordingly.
  • Door locks. With smart door locks like those from Kwikset, you can lock and unlock your door via an app. You can also set unique codes for each family member or guest, so you always know who's coming and going.
  • Smoke alarms. A must-have for any home, smart smoke alarms can detect both smoke and excessive heat, triggering the alarm even before the smoke is detected.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors. When combined with home automation, you'll be notified whenever a CO detector in your home goes off, whether you're home or not.
  • Smart lighting. Smart lighting from Philips Hue lets you turn lights on and off with your smartphone or your voice. You can also automate lighting to turn on when you enter a room and turn off when you leave.
  • Smart plugs. Smart plugs can turn small devices that plug into outlets, like lamps or fans, into smart devices you can control with an app or even your voice.
  • Water leak detector. Another smart home device that can help mitigate a potential disaster, water sensors notify you if a leak or excess moisture is detected.
  • Smart TVs. Smart TVs connect to the Internet automatically, allowing you to access the preloaded streaming, news, and entertainment apps right from your TV. You can also integrate your TV with your smart speakers.
  • Security cameras. Security cameras include both indoor and outdoor varieties. Indoor cameras like the Vivint Ping feature a wide-angle lens, two-way talk, and one-touch callout, providing a clear picture while also doubling as a way to stay in touch with loved ones.
  • Outdoor cameras. Smart outdoor cameras include HD video quality with night vision, motion sensitivity adjustment (so you're not notified every time a bird flies by), and weatherproof features.
  • Doorbell cameras. Doorbell cameras allow you to see who's at your door whether they ring the bell or not. Most feature two-way talk, so you can converse with whoever is at the door. Vivint's Doorbell Camera Pro goes a step further by offering proactive package protection.
  • Home maintenance devices. Who wouldn't want smart devices that help you clean? Robot vacuums are a popular tool that you can set and forget, so you come back to a freshly swept or vacuumed floor after a long day.
  • Outside maintenance. Sprinkler systems can also be part of home automation, monitoring weather and adjusting the watering schedule accordingly so you don't have to rush to turn off your sprinklers if it starts raining. Robotic lawnmowers can also help you keep your lawn manicured, freeing up your weekends. 

Controlling your home automation setup

An important part of your overall smart home automation setup is how you will install and control your system and devices.

Do you need professional installation?

For some people, part of the appeal of home automation is the ability to set it up yourself. If you want to install a smart home device or two, such as smart thermostat or perhaps a smart front door lock, you can probably do this on your own.

When you want to take advantage of whole-house automation with an entire smart home ecosystem of devices that work together, however, professional installation is the way to go. There are several benefits to this, including:

  • Everything works in harmony. Your smart home is a big investment. In order to take full advantage of your investment and enjoy the many benefits home automation provides, the devices must be able to work together.
  • It saves you time. Researching compatible devices, installing your devices, syncing them together, and testing to make sure they work takes the average person hours. Add to that the time you spend on the phone with tech support, running back and forth to the store to exchange devices or get more equipment (or waiting for it to arrive online), and the average smart home installation could take days, if not weeks, to be fully up and running. Professional installation from an expert is well worth the time it saves.
  • Expert input. Professional installers will help you decide the best placement for your devices, how to hide cords, and train you on how to use each device.

When you're investing in a whole smart home system or you want to take full advantage of home automation, professional installation from a reputable smart home company will help you get the most out of your investment.

App control

Most smart devices come with apps you can control. The benefit of a complete home automation system (versus standalone devices) is the ability to control your entire smart home via a single app.

With the Vivint Smart Home app, for example, you can control and monitor your home from anywhere. You can also receive notifications and alerts that let you know things like a temperature dip in your home, a visitor to your front door, or a smoke alarm that has been triggered.

Using voice assistants

Smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home are certainly considered smart home devices, but they can also be used to control your smart home devices as well.

You can use your smart speaker's voice assistant ("Alexa" for Amazon or "Hey, Google" for Google Home) to make lists, set alarms, play songs, or even tell your kids a joke.

Smart assistants also help automate various functions around your house. For example, if you've settled into bed and find the temperature a bit too cold for your liking, you can say, "Hey Alexa, raise the temperature 2 degrees." Or, if your kids parked their bikes in the garage and forgot to close the garage door (which you know thanks to your smart home app notification) you can simply ask your smart assistant to close the garage door.

vivint smart home google home
Smart speakers add another level of convenience, allowing you to control your home with your voice.
 

Smart home security and safety

We already mentioned safety as a main benefit of home automation. Smart home devices such as smart door locks, doorbell cameras, or garage door control add an additional level of safety to your home.

You can take it a step further by integrating a home security system into your smart home or business. In addition to smart door locks and cameras, a smart security system should include:

  • Door and window sensors. When the alarm is set, door and window sensors will trip the alarm if a door or window is opened or if glass is broken.
  • Motion sensors. Strategically placed motion sensors throughout your home will capture any unexpected movement (pets excluded).
  • 24/7 monitoring. Professional monitoring ensures your home is protected around the clock. And should an alarm be tripped when you're away, the monitoring company will contact authorities on your behalf.

Home security and home automation

Home automation and home security fit together perfectly.

A complete Vivint Smart Home system combines home security with home automation, elevating each system's capabilities to make the smartest, safest home available.

For example, if smoke is detected, your Vivint system will automatically trigger your smart thermostat to cut off air flow, slowing the spread of fire. It will also automatically unlock your front doors, clearing the path to safety for your family. Or, if carbon monoxide is detected, your system automatically locks the front door, disarms window sensors, and cranks up the furnace fan, helping ventilate your home and clear the air of dangerous CO levels.

You can also automate many of your security system's functions. You can set your doors to lock automatically and your lights to turn off whenever you arm your security system. Think of how convenient this would be when you're in a rush to get out the door.

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Putting it all together

Home automation makes it easier than ever to put you in control of your home. Whether you want to automate tasks and systems around the house or control them yourself wherever you are, home automation makes it possible.

Want to learn more about how home automation can simplify your life? Contact our Smart Home Pros and see how a Vivint Smart Home system makes life more comfortable, convenient, and safe for the whole family. Call us today at 800.646.1469 for a free quote.

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