Understanding Which Smart Home Automation System Is Best for You: PART 1 of 3
Building your dream home? Renovating your current one or just wanting to join the trend of smart home technology? If you have arrived at this article, then you have likely seen the literal ocean of information available and are hoping for some simplicity and clarity. There is an overwhelming amount of information to sift through and deciding which approach is best for you is where it all begins. We at Blackpoint Technology have done the heavy lifting and created this 3 part series to help you get your bearings. Over the next week, we will release 3 articles that weed through the techno-babble, acronym soup and make this entire easier for you.
PART 1: (This article.) Definitions. Getting your head around this industry. Understanding the basic categories and brands in the space.
PART 2a: Defining Home Automation
PART 2b: Defining Smart Home/(Internet of Things)
PART 3: It's all about the network.
Disclaimer: We at Blackpoint Technology are System Integrators. Our business designs installs and services “smart home” and automation systems for residential and commercial clients. Our hallmark is matching clients with the “right” system for them, within budget. This is done through educating our clients, as this series of articles will do. We try to be as “system agnostic” as possible, and this series of articles will do exactly that. We firmly believe that all the systems have benefits and drawbacks and will remain as neutral as possible in presenting our views.
The facts backing up our viewpoint come from actual field experience over 18 years and from industry reputable trade publications like CEPro, Electronic House and Residential Systems.
Caveat: Before we go any further, none of the following matters if your home network is substandard. All of this begins with a properly designed home network that can handle multiple streaming services for music and movies as well as the daily load of web surfing, videos, texting, print jobs and email. As for WiFi, its not going to cut it. If your “friend” or “I-gotta-guy” is telling you that modern WiFi is all you need, that is a red flag right there. WiFi depends on a solid network. If you are using a standard issue router you get from your utility or can pick up at Best Buy that will not support your future smart home needs. A well designed and installed network is imperative for any modern “smart home” system to function properly. And further more, for the money you are paying your Internet provider each month... you deserve it! (More on this in Part 3 in the series).
So you want a smart home system? Lets roll up our sleeves and get you the info you need.
Over the last decade, this category has grown in leaps and bounds. 2017 was a watershed year where it seemed everyone and their brother was getting into the Smart Home/Home Automation/Internet of Things (IoT) business. Small players backed by VCs or crowd sourcing and juggernauts like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple (GAFA) all bought their way into this exploding market. Its seems that everyday there is a new doorbell, light switch, thermostat, garage door opener or voice assistant that claims to be in the smart home market. Each one has a new App and all these businesses want access to your home and the marketing info side it.
So how do you choose? Lets start with a few key terms.
AUTOMATION or HOME AUTOMATION:
This is the overarching term. While it is not sexy and doesn't lend itself to marketing, it includes all the subsets. Interestingly, this industry, while growing over the last 30+ years has lacked definition and the federal government has yet to even create a SIC code for it. But this term is the Mother of all the other terms.
This is a fluff or Marketing term. It can mean different things to different people. Marketers like to label everything as “smart-home enabled” Further muddying the waters. This catch all phrase can include everything from luxury home automation systems to individual devices like doorbells and thermostats etc.
INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT)
Here again, this is largely a Marketing term, but over the last few years has morphed to include any device or piece of equipment that can interact and/or be controlled over a network (the Internet). So if you want to control your thermostat or doorbell with an App, its an IoT or smart home, device. Capiche?
HOME AUTOMATION SYSTEM
This is for the market leaders like Crestron, Control4 and Savant. These are serious, luxury systems that require professional installation and are at the pinnacle of the market. These systems use a single app and/or voice interface to control every subsystem in your home seamlessly. When designed and programmed correctly, they are an incredible feat of engineering and a thing to behold. The best systems manage multiple subsystems (Lighting, A/V, Security, HVAC, Surveillance and many more) all via a single app. The better the system, the more you can do on your own and can set up individualized “scenes” that kick off multiple commands or work on schedules that you set. If you prefer fine dining to fast food or luxury resorts to all-inclusive, you will love this approach.
If a comprehensive Home Automation System is for you, read more in Part 2a of this series.
SMART HOME SYSTEM
Some people use the terms Home Automation Systems and Smart-home System interchangeably. According to our definition, they are not the same. At Blackpoint Technology we view a Smart Home system as any device or series of devices that does one thing particularly well. More specifically, it controls a single subsystem with a single app and may or may not require professional installation. Examples of this are; Sonos for home audio, Nest for thermostat control, Ring for doorbell. There are many, MANY more, but each of them stands on their own and has a separate app for each function. Rather than have a one app for everything, you can open an independent app for each service you wish to control. Additionally, depending on your time and skills, you can have these installed either DIY (Do-it-yourself), DIFM (Do-it-for-me) or DIWM (Do-it-with-me). System Integrators like Blackpoint Technology can help you decide or install depending on your preference. Its what we do.
Pros: Start as slow as your budget permits and add as you grow. It's cheaper. Many forums and on line “how to's” for DIYers. Fun, gadget oriented. Some of these brands can be integrated into a comprehensive Home Automation system as your needs blossom, but not all, so be careful.
Cons: Can be time consuming and frustrating with a lot of time on hold for a newbie. Juggling multiple apps can be tedious or frustrating for the less tech savvy. May not integrate with a full home automation system later, down the road. Can always have something that doesn't work quite right or is a little off.
If a comprehensive Smart Home System is for you, read more in Part 2a of this series.
Here is another term to understand. A system integrator is trained professional, well versed in the design, installation and programming of Home Automation and Smart Home systems to work properly on your home or office. While all of the above systems will work reliably and accomplish your objective, there is no more important decision than who you will hire to help you choose wisely and get the right system for your needs. Many trades claim to understand and perform these services including electricians, handymen, and a variety of untrained subcontractors who claim to know what they are doing. As this field is unregulated, it is easy to make a bad choice here and then none of this information will help you.
Similar terms: Low voltage electrical, Electronic Systems Technician, Technologist,
Exercise caution when choosing a systems integrator. Do your due diligence, ask for references and meet with the owner of the firm. Typically, each job is important to their business and they will be willing to meet as often as you need. Remember, once the project is complete, they will be training you and there to back up their work. Choosing a Systems Integrator who you have vetted will save you time, money and anguish down the road and ensure you are thrilled with the outcome.
To find out more information about any of these systems, reach out to Blackpoint Technology, based in Monmouth County and serving greater New Jersey. If you call (732) 784-8429, a representative will walk you through more finer points of Crestron, Control4, Savant, Sonos, Nest, and many other products. Whether you want advice on home theater, WiFi, Lighting control, streaming media or any other technology, we can help. Learn more about the possibilities by visiting the company’s website.