So, you want to make a home automation project. Maybe you’d like to make your lights smart, measure your energy consumption or just make your life easier at home. Whatever your goal is, there are some basic things you need to consider before you start your DIY home automation project.
In this article, we will explain all the basics of how to start a smart home automation project and what devices you need to start.
What are the benefits of having a smart home?
Safety: A smart home is a safer home. You can automate your light to make it seem as if you’re at home, you can remotely check if your doors are locked, if windows are closed, which devices are active, etc.
Energy efficiency: Do you know how much energy your devices consume? Do your lights need to be on all the time? Automate them, to turn on only when you’re nearby. A smart home is a home you have control over.
Comfort: How many times do you wonder if you've locked the door, closed the windows or turned off the stove. With endless combinations and automation possibilities there are endless ways to make your life easier and more comfortable.
Let's get started.
What is your goal? To know when someone connects to your Wi-Fi, to have control over energy consumption, to receive an e-mail when the smoke alarm goes off?
You need to work backwards to find your idea. Think of the repetitive things you currently struggle with. Think of a problem and then work your way to a smart solution.
But sometimes, you don’t even know you have a problem until someone points it out! You’re just used to doing things the way you’ve always done them. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way to do certain things.
If you’re struggling with ideas, think about what could be made “smart”.
Remotely control your shades and windows.
Remotely control your water heating.
Control your energy consumption.
Automate your lighting.
Control electric heating and ventilation.
Automate your irrigation.
Measure and control pool and spa temperature, pumps and covers.
Remotely turn on/off all your electronic devices.
Remotely check/lock/open/close your front, back and garage door.
Get notifications to your phone when an event happens (alarm goes off, door opens, consumption threshold reached, etc.).
These are just a few examples of what you could do. Have an open mind - there are limitless combinations and possibilities.
Wired or wireless smart home?
Before you start, you need to decide on a few things about your DIY smart home automation project that will determine many of your future decisions. First one is to decide on wired or wireless home automation.
Is recommended for business establishments, e.g. hotels. With wired technology you will have a more secure and reliable network (in case of long distance between devices). While wireless comes with a certain level of uncertainty when it comes to long distance performance, with wired systems you can be more confident that the signal will come through.
When you’re operating with larger amount of data, wired system will provide a more stable connection. This comes in handy especially when you have business establishments and use many devices, TVs and CCTV. The downside of wired systems is that you cannot easily move wires to a different location when needed. You would have to completely rewire the space in order to move a device.
Is better suited for home use. Wireless technology is much easier to install (you don’t always need professional workers), and you can freely move your devices. Where complete reliability is not required, wireless systems are easier to setup and manage. With today’s technology, even wireless technologies, like Z-Wave, come very close to wired systems in terms of reliability. When trying to make your “old” home smart, wireless system is also much cheaper. If you haven’t built your house with all the smart features in mind, chances are, setting up a wired system is going to be a costly hassle.
If you’re trying to make your home smart with as little hassle and cost, we recommend that you choose the wireless automation.
The right technology for your home automation.
Second, you need to decide on a networking protocol. This is going to be the communication language between your devices. There are quite a few technologies you can choose from, like Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, UPB, etc. The protocol you choose will then determine your future choices and devices. Every new device you add will have to be compatible with this protocol and other devices.
The initial protocol that didn't require additional wiring was called X10. It used power supply wires for communication. Today we have other much more advanced wired and wireless technologies.
Stands for Universal Powerline Bus. Signals are sent to devices using the inbuilt home wiring. This technology improved on many shortcomings of the X10 protocol.
Technology operates both through powerlines and via wireless. It is quite friendly to non-tech people and also compatible with X10.
Is the standard technology for wireless home automation. It is very reliable, easy to setup and as it supports mesh network, it makes all devices work as repeaters too.
Is, like Z-Wave, a wireless technology. When using ZigBee, it is recommended to use the devices from the same manufacturer. If you have devices from different manufacturers and little experience, we recommend using a different protocol.
You can use your current Wi-Fi network to control your devices. It’s very easy to setup, but there is one major drawback - bandwidth. Our Wi-Fi network is often used by other devices (smartphones, laptops, etc.), which would increase the latency of your smart devices dramatically. Due to high energy consumption, batteries need to be exchanged at least once per 6 months, which is another major drawback of Wi-Fi network.
Is a simple and safe way to communicate with your devices. It is most often used for short distance communication (doors, lights, etc.)
Is a new technology that requires very little power and allows a high number of connected devices.
The System Architecture of Smart Home
1. Gateway / hub / controller
All your smart devices need to communicate somehow. Simply put, a gateway is a central workspace that controls all your devices, sensors and actuators. It is the communication line between all various devices and enables you to access them using just your smartphone. It does that using one of the protocols we mentioned above (like Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, etc.). The main features to look for in your next gateway are:
Voice control and compatibility with Google Home, Alexa or AppleProtocol support (Z-wave, Wi-Fi, etc.)Control via smartphoneSecureUse of IFTTT - “If this then that” rules
Once you pick your gateway, you should check which devices are most compatible with it.
Sensors are a part of the automation network that send data through the gateway, which then tells the devices what to do and how to do it. In practice, smoke sensors detect smoke, motion sensors detect movement, thermostat sensor measures temperature, etc. When a sensor detects a certain predefined action or measurement it sends data to a gateway, which then sends a predefined order to your smart devices. Here are some of the most used sensors:
Door & window sensorMotion detectorWater leak sensorTemperature sensorBrightness sensorWind sensor
For example; when a window sensor detects, that a window has been closed, it could send an order to your AC to turn on. When a temperature sensor detects that inside temperature has dropped to a certain level, it could send an order to your electrical heater to turn on, and so on.
An actuator can be seen as a motor that carries out a predefined order, triggered by the data sent from a sensor through a gateway. It’s a part of home automation network that physically completes an action. For example, if you have a rain sensor, the sensor would send the data to an actuator that it’s raining, which would then close all the windows in your home.
Once all your devices are able to communicate with each other through a gateway, you need a way to communicate with the gateway. You need a software for your hardware. This is basically a smartphone app that sends your orders to the gateway and then to your devices. Using the interface, you set all the automation rules. You define when you want the windows to close, how hot the water should be or how bright the light should be.
Think about what you want to do before you start doing it. Define your goal and then research how to do it. Pick your gateway carefully, as it will define what devices and protocols are compatible with it. Then, pick the sensors and actuators that will measure, control and perform your desired actions.
It can seem quite complicated at first, but once you get a hang of it, you will start to understand what can be done and how to do it.