In the first post for Home Automation 101, we explored some of the terms you should get familiar with before embarking on automating your home. Now, let’s look at some of the things in your house that can be automated. From a hardcore DIY perspective, you can really automate anything. The only prevention is your pocketbook and technical know-how.
For reference, I automate the following elements in my house: lights, TV source distribution, centralized audio, HVAC and the beginnings of a security system.
What Can Be Automated?
- Lights: One of the elements most often controlled by a home automation system is lighting but this is not limited to indoors. Systems can control landscape lights, motion sensors, even pool lights. Once automated, you can set specific brightness levels, times when the lights go on/off or trigger them with specific events (example: “When I get home from work, light me a path to the beer fridge …”). Lights can be grouped together to form scenes such as “all lights on for a panic situation” or “turn off everything when I want to go to bed.” Wall light switches are typically replaced with a home automation switch while lamps and other plug-in lights have a unit that sits between the plug and the outlet.
- Audio/Visual: This, I would consider, is the second most popular element to automate. How many of us have four or more remotes and hate switching back or forth? Combining remotes is a simple form of home automation and can often be done with a trip to a local electronics store. The real pay off is centralizing gear. Placing cable, receivers and even media players in the basement saves space in your living space and opens the possibilities to routing the same source video feed to multiple rooms in the house. This is what bars do for watching the same game on many different TVs.
- HVAC or Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning: Automating these devices starts getting into energy saving (lights, to some extent, do too). Most modern thermostats allow you to set programs to conserve energy while you are at work or asleep. You can make those programs smarter by triggering them to events (example: “Turn-up the heat when I open the garage door.”). Units like Nest allow you to monitor your energy usage over long periods of time and log-in to your home’s HVAC from on the road via WIFI.
- Security/Access: Homes can be a scary place when it’s late or loved ones are away. Security systems help with that and can be tied into systems. More and more security companies are offering packages that tie into an existing home automation system and some are even offering their own home automation package. Some systems will allow you to log-in to your system from the road to check out security cameras or to open doors for friends to water plants or get mail. Or if you can’t tear yourself away from the TV, just push the button on your phone and Mr. Pizza Man can let himself in. It is delivery, after all.
- Power Consumption: While this can be done on a small scale with devices like the Kill A Watt, they also make centralized systems that tie into your computer or home automation system to track your whole house. These systems get pricey fast but the money saved in monitoring your usage could pay it back in a few years. Some cities are installing digital power meters that can be accessed, with a little bit of third party hardware, as well.
- Shading: Shading is such a fun thing to add to your home but it is fairly costly. Units can start at $1,200 per window. There are some DIY options as well. Most major blind and home automation companies have options but prepare for sticker shock.
- Other (Fireplace): Each home automation company has other little goodies that you might not think about. Electric fireplaces, for example, can turn your loft into a swinging Austin Powers-inspired bachelor or bachelorette pad.