15 Things You Need to Know About Smart Home Security and Automation

Most of us suffer from a sense of insecurity when we are away from home. You keep getting those little nagging doubts on your mind. Did you turn the security alarm on? Did you leave the coffee maker on or worse still, did you turn off the gas? What about the kids? Are they at home yet and if so are they doing homework or watching TV? You can eliminate these pesky nagging thoughts by monitoring everything back at home easily and conveniently via your smartphone or tablet. That’s what the concept of smart home security and automation is all about. It is a smart way of staying in control of everything in your home away from home.

If you have a smart home, you eliminate all the fears and insecurities about the current status of your home with a quick glance at your mobile device. Thanks to smart home security technology, you can now connect and sync most of the appliances and devices in your home to communicate with you whether you are at home or not. Every electrical device or appliance in your home can be connected to a home network and be controlled wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet.

With a smart home, you give specific commands to your home appliances by remote control, internet-enabled mobile device, or even by voice. You have full control of all applications in your home associated with home security, lighting, entertainment, thermostat regulation, kitchen, and much more. Sounds convenient?
Well, let’s take a look at the top 15 things you need to know about smart home security and automation before you install one in your home. 

1. What is Smart Home Security and Automation?

The smart home concept uses home automation technology to give you a better, easier, and more convenient control over most of the electronic devices and appliances in your home. A smart home is a residence where security alarms, lighting, air conditioning, heating, televisions, video and audio entertainment systems, surveillance cameras, and other electronic appliances are connected to a central hub that allows the appliances to communicate with each other and be controlled remotely by the home owner by a time schedule or from any location via phone or internet. The smart home gives you a higher level of security, comfort, energy efficiency with low operating costs, and convenience whether you are at home or not.

2. Smart Home Technology is Made Possible by The Internet of Things (IoT)

The unstoppable success and advances in smartphone and tablet computer technology has made it possible to control appliances and other systems in your home such as air conditioning and heating. Smartphones and tablets are not only ultra portable but are readily available on the market today. They can be configured to monitor and control any device that can connect to the Internet. This is all due to a concept known as the Internet of Things (IoT).

IOT refers to products and objects that can be connected and identified via digital networks. The interconnectivity of devices on the Internet is growing bigger and better every day. It is an ever-expanding web-like sprawl that includes most of the electronics in most homes from fridges, heating systems, and lighting to TVs and other entertainment systems. The interconnectivity is made possible by the Internet of Things concept.

3. What Can You Control in a Smart Home?

You can control virtually every electronic system or appliance on your home that can connect to the Internet or Bluetooth technology. There are six categories of home automation technology namely:

  • Energy management
  • Smart home security and access control 
  • Climate control
  • Home appliances
  • Lighting, appliance, and window control
  • Assisted living and healthcare systems

Homeowners have a choice of focusing on a specific category or going for full home automation that covers multiple categories.
Home automation systems and apps are becoming more intelligent by the day giving homeowners endless options of monitoring and controlling their homes remotely. You can do most of the simple tasks by remote or with a voice command. Here are a few cool tricks and functions you can automate in a smart home:

  • Set your lights or thermostat to turn off at a specified time
  • A full interior and exterior surveillance of your home
  •  Automatically turn light on and off as you walk towards the bathroom at night
  • Automatically unlock the door when you approach
  • Create mood lighting in your living room or bedroom 
  • Program the TV so that your children can watch at specific times only
  • Switch on the coffee maker before you leave the bed remotely by a voice command
  • Feed pets with a preset amount of food when you are out of the house
  • Give you a visual image of who’s at the front door when the doorbell rings
  • A fridge that maintains an inventory of content inside it and even gives you suggestions of healthy menus and food choices
  • Close your curtains with a simple voice command
  • And so much more

4. What are the Benefits of a Smart Home?

The whole purpose of having a smart home is to make your life secure, easier, and more convenient. Every home owner would love to control lighting, temperature, entertainment systems, and security alarm remotely. Here are some of the key benefits of home automation:

  • The system enhances your home security when you are at work or on vacation. It will alert you remotely when an intrusion or break in is about to happen.
  • Home automation helps in times of emergency. For example, in the event of a fire emergency, the system sets off the fire alarm, unlocks all doors and exit points, lights the path to safety, and automatically dials the fire department. Home automation gives the home owner a higher level of security.
  • Home automation provides energy efficiency savings. Smart home systems such as ZigBee and Z-Wave ensure that all connected devices run at a low level of functionality unless required to operate optimally. The appliances automatically go to sleep when not in use and restart after commands are given. For example, when lights automatically turn off when nobody is at home or when rooms are only heated when occupied, there is less power consumption and reduced electricity bills. Studies show that the heating bill of a smart home is three times less than that of an equally sized normal home.
  • Automation helps elderly people who live alone too. The smart home can remind the elderly resident when to take medicine, track the resident’s diet, and even alert the hospital if the person falls sick. Elderly people can be forgetful but home automation helps to control simple but potentially dangerous tasks such as automatically turning off bathtub water or an oven the elderly person forgot to turn off.

5. What are the Disadvantages of Home Automation? 

Here are a few downsides of having a smart home:

  • It exposes the homeowner to online cyber attacks. Hackers can steal passwords and other critical information stored in your system or computer. Fortunately, most home automation systems recognize this threat and often provide the homeowner with high levels of data security. The homeowner should also ensure that his or her passwords and information are stored in a secure place and never shared with strangers.
  • Smart home technology is also more expensive to install than conventional security systems. However, over time, the system pays for itself in energy savings. Smart lighting systems are scheduled to turn on only when they are needed and therefore consume less electricity.
  • Smart home systems can also be confused by signals coming from other devices. To avoid this get a hardwired setup that is immune to signal interference.

6. How Secure is My Data in a Smart Home System? 

This is one of the most common questions asked by homeowners interested in installing smart home features in their residences. It is indeed true that every time you use a smart home device, you provide data to the service running your home automation system. This raises a privacy issue because your personal data can be shared with other third parties without your consent. It is therefore important to understand the company’s privacy policy and data management before you sign up for a smart home service.

Amazon and Google provide smart home accessories and virtual assistants with the highest level of privacy to ensure discretion and security. Some of these security features may be disabled by default in most accessories so make sure to turn on privacy features. Most importantly, ask and have a good understanding about the security of your data before you sign a contract with the company.

7. Home Automation Technology and Software 

Home automation has gone through a rapid evolution in the recent past. The first home automation products known as X10 were launched by a Scotland-based company in 1975. The X10 technology made it possible to sync compatible products and enable them to communicate with each other via the home’s electrical lines. The appliances were equipped with receivers and could be controlled by remote control, transmitters, and keypads.

There are many X10 devices on the market today but they have been overrun by today’s technology which uses radio waves rather than power lines to provide better and seamless communication between devices. Examples of today’s radio wave communication include Bluetooth, WiFi and cell phone signals. The most popular home automation radio networks used in smart homes today are Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Insteon. The new technologies have wireless mesh networks which provide more than the one way means of communication used by the old technology.

Today’s wireless devices have greater flexibility but similar to electrical lines, they also suffer from occasional interference. To combat this problem, Insteon provides a way for home networks to communicate with appliances using both electrical and wireless radio waves. This dual mesh-network ensures that the signal reaches the device in one way or the other. With more Insteon devices installed in a smart home, the stronger and more reliable the signal will be.

8. Availability of Smart Home Products

Are smart home products readily available on the market today? Home automation technologies and developers such as X10, Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Insteon don’t manufacture home appliances. Thy only provide the fundamental technology known as protocols which enables smart home communication. The developers have created alliances with leading manufacturers to build compatible end-user devices that can work with their communication technology. These devices include compatible smart home security cameras, alarms, thermostats, LED lights, motion sensors, door and garage locks, and many more appliances that can be integrated with your smartphone or tablet.

Smart home products are readily available online and in leading electronics and home security stores. You can also get installation technicians in online companies that deal with smart home products and installation. However, before you buy any appliance to include in your smart home, make sure it uses the same technology as your home automation. It is possible to connect an X10-enabled device to a Z-Wave system but you’ll need a bridging device which comes at an additional cost. 

9. Must I have an Internet Connection in a Smart Home?

You’ll be required to have a good internet connection if you want to monitor and control your home remotely. Most products and apps used in a smart home require high speed internet connection to function properly. When your home internet goes down, you’ll lose control of the appliances. Fortunately, high speed internet should not be a problem as it is readily available everywhere today. 

10. What is the Difference between Wireless and Hardwired Smart Home Systems?

When you install a home automation system, you’ll either choose a wireless or hardwired system. A wireless system is less expensive and simpler to install than a hardwired system. The main difference between the two systems is security and interference. Wireless systems are more vulnerable to hacking and interference. You’ll not be able to control apps in a wireless system if your telephone network goes down.

Hardwired systems on the other hand provide a higher level of security and functionality. They are extremely hard to hack and less vulnerable to interference. Just make sure to have a back up battery in case of power outage. The downside with hardwired systems is that they are more expensive and difficult to install. You’ll need the services of a professional to install the system. Hardwired systems are permanent and cannot be moved to another location when you move but will increase the resale value of your home. 

11. Can the Devices and Systems be Synchronized with Each Other?

Yes, you can. Synchronizing is the goal of home automation. Synchronizing basically means that the devices or appliances activate or deactivate depending on specific conditions or commands from another device. For example, in a smart home, it is possible to set the thermostat to deactivate when you are away and as a result, the coffee pot will not automatically turn on in the morning. The thermostat in this case is synchronized with the coffee pot. You can also synchronize your alarm clock with the shower in such a way that when the alarm goes off the shower heats water to your preferred temperature. Most smart home products come with syncing features. There are also hubs such as Wink that you can use to make all your enabled systems work in perfect harmony. 

12. What is a Smart Home Hub?

The smart hub works like your home automation’s brain. It receives and relays signals from you or other appliances to ensure a fast seamless flow of communication. For example, the hub receives and sends signals to adjust temperature and lights, open or lock doors, close curtains, brew your morning coffee, and any other commend sent to a specific appliance or system. The smart hub integrates different devices to make them work in perfect harmony.

13. What to Look for in a Good Hub 

There are a few things you’ll need to consider before you invest in a smart hub for your home automation. These include:

  • Compatibility. You’ll need to ensure that the hub is compatible with the devices you have in your smart home. If not, you may end up buying additional hubs for different devices. Make sure the hub is compatible with all your present devices and any other device you may buy in future. Check the list of compatible devices and protocols that the hub can work with before you buy one. This will give you an idea of how compatible the hub is with other devices you intend to buy in future. 
  • Performance and ease of use. You don’t want a complex hub that will provide unnecessary challenges in usage. Check online reviews from those who have used the hub before to learn more about its usage. A good hub should be simple, have a user-friendly interface, and be versatile in connecting with different appliances.
  • Installation process. How easy or difficult is it to install the hub? Make sure that the hub doesn’t involve a complicated installation process that may end up incurring more expenses. A majority of manufacturers provide installation guides and tutorials to make things easier.

14. Which are the Best Smart Home Hubs on the Market Today?

Here are some of the top smart home hubs you’ll find on the market today.

Wink Hub 2
This is a great smart home hub that takes awaythe hard work with easy installation and versatile support for different protocols including Z-Wave, IFTTT, ZigBee, Bluetooth LE, Kidde, Lutron Clear Connect, and many more. It is even compatible with Amazon’s Alexa to allow you use voice commands in your smart home. The hub’s mobile app can be downloaded free of charge on both Android and iOS platforms. It has a simple easy-to-use interface as well as a powerful dual band Ethernet and Wi-Fi connection. The only problem with Wink Hub 2 is the absence of a USB port which limits the number of appliances you can connect manually.

Logitech Harmony Elite
This is another good smart hub that allows you to control your smart home appliances with the tap of a finger. It is perfect for entertainment. It has a color touchscreen interface from where you can select and watch your favorite movie, adjust temperature, and turn lights low from the comforts of your couch. Its app is available for both Android and iOs mobile devices. Unfortunately, you can use voice commands on this hub unless it is connected to Amazon’s Alexa.

Amazon Echo
The best thing about Amazon Echo is Alexa, a powerful voice recognition system that’s getting more intelligent by the day. Similar to other smart hubs, the Amazon Echo helps you control your home appliances hands free but Alexa gives it an edge over the rest. Alexa comes with advanced noise cancellation technology and can even pick up your commands in a noisy environment. Amazon Echo can play your music, read news, and even order food for you.

Google Home
The giant search engine has not been left behind in smart home hub technology. The Google Home brings Google’s smart algorithm to your home in an intelligent versatile virtual assistant. The hub combines home automation with a voice controlled assistant who wields control, under your command, over lights, TV, locks, small appliances, heating, and much more. The intelligent assistant even gets to know you better through your usual Google searches and Gmail.

Apple Homekit
This is a great option for fans of Apple products. The Apple Homekit allows you to control lights, locks, heating, and most of your home systems through connected devices. It is a simple hub that easy syncing of devices which allows you to do multiple things in your home with a single command. It comes with the OS virtual Assistant, Siri. The only problem, typical of othr iOS devices, is lack of compatibility with other technologies.

Samsung SmartThings Hub
This is one of the most versatile smart hubs on the market today. It may lack the best looks among the lot but it integrates with every protocol and most appliances. It is compatible with Z-Wave, IFTTT, ZigBee, Alexa, and many more. It also comes with Bluetooth capabilities and extra USB ports for more connections.

15. Finally, What is the Cost of Installing a Home Automation System?

The cost varies depending on the smart features you intend to have in your home. However, the cost can be significantly lower if you build your home from the ground with all the smart automation features you need included in your plan.

According to Home Advisor, the national average for installation of basic smart home features range from $1,083 to $3500. Some of the basic costs of installation include $40 to $500 for a basic starter kit, $300 to $600 for Z-Wave or other wireless mesh system, $35 to $70 monthly service, and $179 to $299 for cloud automation. Hardwired systems are more expensive and can cost between $3000 and $15000 to install.

Final Thoughts

As smart home technology continues to grow, people are changing the way they monitor, control, and interact with their homes. There are even smart homes today that can place your order for a dinner takeout besides handling the usual domestic tasks. The benefits of home automation technology have made life easier, safer, and more fulfilling.

About the Author Raymond Fretwell

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