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Home Control or Automation?

Posted by Clint Stevens on March 27, 2015
Home Control or Automation?
One of the motion sensors in my home.

I have been involved in home automation heavily over the last few years. At my home in Utah, I started by using a Mi Casa Verde and slowly moved over to SmartThings. The path has been long and hard, and littered with various devices, some of which are still in use. Belkin Wemo, Phillips Hue, Revolv, TCP bulbs, and Nest, along with several others make up the pack. Along the way, I’ve come to several important realizations that I wish to share in order to help others avoid my mistakes and gain from my experiences.

I have always been slightly embarrassed by the promotion of home automation devices. Most of the marketing out there should be relabeled as “home control.” The overwhelming majority of products focus on the ability to control your lights, outlets, thermostat, and even garage door from across the country. This is not home “automation.” Automation is the use of various control systems for operating equipment with minimal or reduced human intervention. An automated home will turn down the thermostat when you aren’t home, turn off the lights when nobody is in the room, and generally serve these two purposes:

  1. Minimize everyday mundane actions such as flipping light switches, adjusting thermostats, and remembering to lock your doors.
  2. Conserve energy by performing these actions automatically without impacting the residents’ comfort.

Most home automation solutions that I’ve come across fail at one or both of these purposes. Pulling out my phone, putting in the passcode, opening the Wemo app, waiting for it to load, and then pushing a button often takes longer than simply walking into the other room and flipping the switch manually. Even SmartThings, my current favorite home automation base (because of its support for so many various platforms), still suffers from the occasional random device failure. However, SmartThings does an admirable job at providing actual automation and is the most user-friendly design I’ve found so far. The best true smart home automation device I have used is the Nest thermostat. It does have a couple shortcomings, but it is designed to fulfill both of the automation requirements listed above. It minimizes user interaction, while focusing on energy savings.

Although rarely thought of, there are several other important facets to a true automated home. Going back to our definition of automation (minimizing human intervention), home automation should also include various “subscription” services. I’ve come to love the Subscribe & Save program at Amazon, getting everyday things shipped to me at the rate in which my family consumes them. Things such as soap, tissues, toilet paper, and more show up at our door to make sure our supply never runs out. Recently, I have been using Quality Air Filters to supply air filters to my home every 2 months. (Side note: I can’t stress the importance of replacing your furnace filter regularly enough, as it has a huge impact on furnace performance and can save you up to 5% or more on your electricity bill—wow, that sounded like a Geico ad.)

A truly automated home seeks to reduce human interaction with everyday actions and save energy through performing these actions automatically. With time, I believe home automation solutions will come to be more in line with these qualifications and we will truly have smart homes. (Followed shortly by an attack from Skynet.)

 

Clint Stevens has worked in construction and manufacturing for most of his life. He's very passionate about smart homes, energy conservation, and everything sci-fi.

 

 

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