What is a Smart Home? Home Automation? Connected Home?
Smart Home is a concept that continually evolves. From legacy products like sprinkler, light, and device timers to sensor-activated lights triggered by motion, light, sound and other various elements. These triggers work like cause and effect to make a convenient recipe, scene, activity of a single event or series of event. Essentially all that consists of a Smart Home- is a network of devices speaking a common language (via wireless or hardwired) to communicate with each other. That said, some homes don’t have a full-blown breakout of devices, I’ll explain.
What Do You Need?
This answer varies a lot. Because you ultimately have to solve the right questions, so the right setup will suit your home. One homeowner may just want a garage door opener- to detect them when they are riding up on their motorcycles and can’t hit a clicker button to open the garage door. Another homeowner may want a security system- which is another aspect of smart home. The key point here is that the devices are a catalyst to whatever solutions you would like to have. Asking the right questions of what you are trying to solve will save you in the long run- because, you’ll get the right products if you have the right goals set ahead of time.
A Hub, Bridge, Controller – Your Smart Home Router:
Remember when I mentioned that the devices speak a common language? This is where a hub can come in- and it can honestly make-or-break your smart home. So, buy carefully. You’ll see weird jargon and technology that possibly won’t make any sense to you. Zigbee? Z-Wave? Lutron Connect? BLE 3.0? BLE 4.0? X-10? What the hell? These are all different languages in a way. BLE 3.0 and BLE 4.0 are just different variants of bluetooth. Just like Z-wave and Z-wave Plus… Annoying, I know… But very important.
Closed vs. Open-Hubs – Which To Choose:
If you buy devices for your hub later- this language is very important. If you buy a Zigbee light bulb like philips hue, and try to use it with a Z-wave hub (like Nexia’s hub), you’ll have problems trying to get the two to work together. They actually won’t work together, and you’ll be pretty upset, when you find out… I’m explaining this because there is a lot of hubs out there. Some hubs are considered “closed-hubs” while others are “open-hubs,” which simply means if they are proprietary languages (like Lutron Connect or iSmartAlarm) and only work with their line of products (Lutron Connect Switches/Dimmers, or iSmartAlarm motion sensor, door sensor, etc). In contrast, other hubs work with a variety of products – like SmartThings, Wink, or the newer generation Amazon Echo, because they can speak multiple languages. These hubs are called open-hubs, as they can work with multiple wireless languages. Although they speak multiple languages and maybe even speak the same languages as other devices that you want to get for your hub- they still might not work together. Still frustrating, right? I know… Keep reading.
Here’s a list of a few Smart Home Hubs:
Hub Compatibility – An Important Note:
However, if you go to the manufacturer’s website of the hub you buy or intend to buy- usually there is a compatibility list of products that work with that hub. Even with closed-hubs out there- they still likely have a list. Check out smartthings compatibility, as an example- by clicking this link here. Simple as that. There’s a ton of certified devices that work with it- just like you would do if you were checking compatibility of Homekit, Google Home or Amazon Echo compatibility. Wait, wait – shouldn’t Homekit, Google Home and Echo all have hubs as well? The answer is yes and no. Homekit is primarily using software to integrate products together, and other open/closed hubs and devices under those hubs, all via software. It’s actually quite similar as well with Google Home and Amazon Echo- they’ve just decided to break out and expand their horizon by offering hubs now essentially.
The only benefit a hub will bring- is more devices to add to your smart home that might not otherwise be available without the hub. So, the best rule of thumb is to always see what you are trying to solve- simply check out the options of hubs or even smart home “ecosystems” out there- and then see if the devices that are compatible with that hub or ecosystem- can essentially solve whatever it is you are looking to do. That said, you wouldn’t get iSmartAlarm’s hub and devices if you were ultimately looking to add lighting all around your home. On the flipside, you wouldn’t get Philips Hue lighting if you were trying to add security to your home. However, Smartthings can solve both of these solutions, which is honestly the #1 reason why I’m explaining all of this in so much detail, because it CAN and will literally make-or-break your home automation experience. Seem fair enough? Choose wisely.
What is my Setup?
I have a SmartThings 2nd gen hub, Philips Hue, LIFX and Osram for lighting, Belkin Wemo and TP-Link for Smart Plugs, Amazon Echo for voice control, and Logitech Harmony to control my entertainment devices and computers. It’s that simple. I also have SmartThings door/window sensors, first alert z-wave smoke alarms, Netgear Arlo – for security and fire safety. I did use iSmartAlarm and liked the seamlessness of the sync of devices in the closed-hub security system, but I wanted it all under ONE app, to simplify things. Less is more with Smart Home, trust me when I say that.
This is my Whole Setup Right Here:
How Do All These Devices Work Together In My Home?
It might seem confusing when looking at my setup. I have dozens of philips hue bulbs, also have philips hue light switches and dimmer switches, and variations of lamps. At the core of it all- I’m using SmartThings hub to control everything except my entertainment devices, and using logitech harmony to contol entertainment devices (because it is using infrared technology like remote controls use and then wifi to communicate back to my hub or echo), and then I’m simply using Amazon Echo or Google Home/Assistant to voice control it all.
The best part- you can either connect Logitech Harmony straight up to your Echo or better yet- to your smartthings hub. That way you can literally group entertainment center devices together (like receiver, tv, xbox) in a scene, and then use SmartThings to then take that scene from Logitech Harmony and group it up with lights to create different multi-triggered environements for when it is game or movie time. It’s really cool. The software is ultimately what is the binding ingredient when it goes beyond the wireless communication- but since I have SmartThings hub and it is compatible with both Z-wave and Zigbee- I have Philips hue devices (zigbee wireless language) and first alert (z-wave wireless language) devices that are being controlled by it.
Basically everything is under the umbrella of SmartThings, and then Amazon Echo or Google Home is directly connected to SmartThings to CONTROL IT ALL. This is very important and why it is important to first ask the right questions of what you are trying to solve- then picking out the hub, and deciding if you want voice control or not. Luckily- this system can work with both Alexa and Google Home.
The History Of Smart Home:
It first was a very simple concept, but after years and years of theory, formulas, thought processes behind the inventions- has evolved into a much more complex M2M (Machine-to-Machine) technology within the IoT (Internet of Things). It is fascinating in a way because it can benefit disabled, senior citizens, busy individuals that want to become more efficient or secure with a peace of mind in everyday life.
The more devices, variables and technologies that have surfaced are becoming more and more personalized, customizable, and fascinating- however it is also becoming a much more complex and confusing story to understand and integrated part of living. From figuring out what components you need, installing the devices to your existing network, and finally installing these devices- it can get very technical. Bluetooth, Bluetooth 4.0, Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE), and Bluetooth Smart would be a great example. Why do we need so many different languages, let alone different languages within a language? More on this later.
It has been an exciting and challenging evolution over the decades (yes decades) that Smart Home has been around. More-and-more, we are finding that it is returning to the source and the origin of Smart Home. Keeping it simple. This is a double-edged sword however, and the more features, benefits, and conveniences that we all want- comes the complexities that follow. For a simple trigger and recipe to fire off like lights turning on as you walk through rooms can actually be very complex with the current interoperability and technology involved to create this experience.
Smart Home is simply this. It has to involve more than one device, because a home can’t be smart due to one device changing your life. It is a series of devices working in unison to make your life better. Simple as that. Whether it be energy efficiency, security, or convenience- the Smart Home is a web of devices operating in synchrony to automatically replicate your normal patterns and behaviors through by using algorithms and formulas to let you LIVE life and save time for the important things. It is here to serve you, whether awake or asleep, to better your life. Enjoy it- because it isn’t going anywhere and is only going to surface and become mainstream more-and-more as time goes on. Welcome to the Jetsons, the future is here.