Home automation is changing how we live, in ways we don't recognize. When starting to write this article, it seemed like home automation started with microwaves and coffee makers that would have your coffee ready when you woke up … with the early integration of electronics into home appliances.
With a little more research, it became obvious that home automation has been happening for many years, making our homes more comfortable and saving us time with many of the necessary chores of living, like cooking and doing laundry. Wikipedia defines home automation as “… automation of the home, housework or household activity … to provide improved convenience, comfort, energy efficiency and security.” They also recognize that home automation is making it possible for older people and those who are disabled, to live at home longer.
Home Automation Before Computers
Home automation like many improvements in home materials and design, evolves from building (commercial and industrial) automation. Here are just a few examples of home automation that have changed how we live, and became popular prior to the advent of computers.
- Heating and air conditioning systems turning on and off, based on temperature sensors.
- Washing machines and dishwashers that only need us to load and empty them.
- Motion sensor lights over the garage and lights on timers inside.
Home Automation Using the Internet
With the rapid adoption of smart phones in the US, home automation is becoming commonplace. Where yesterday's devices came with remote control units, today most new home appliances come with Internet apps that let you operate home devices from anywhere in the world.
Most homes will enter this new world with a few devices, connected through device specific applications. At the same time, there are more sophisticated home automation systems that connect multiple devices together so they can operate more efficiently, without human interaction. While these systems provide an integrated dashboard, with some promising to automate every digital device in your home, they're more complicated to install and of course, more expensive.
But wait. Like most things, there are pluses and minuses. You can monitor and control your home while you're at work or on vacation … but you need to know that in doing so, others may also be monitoring you and your home.
Yes, there are lots of people questioning why Google bought the Nest thermostat (company) for $3.2 billion dollars. And according to a Behind the Walls' article, Does Your Home Know Too Much About You? (pgs 26-33), there are plans to “… continue creating other home technologies to watch our behavior and learn from us.” So if you have concerns or just want to learn more about home automation, you might want to watch a video with industry experts including Deborah Hurley, a privacy expert at Harvard University along with manufacturers, an energy expert and the media.
Picking Your Home Automation Strategy
Unless you're building a new home or putting on a major addition, you're problem going to start slow with home automation … as you should. You should focus on the problem you're trying to solve, and include products with automation features in your selection process. Rather than buying the latest home gadget, you really want to think through how automation will simplify your life (save time or lower stress) and/or save you money with lower utility bills for energy or water.
So where can you expect to find new home automation features?
- Heating and air conditioning – with today's smarter thermostats (learn more about the Next Learning Thermostat) and smart heating “control systems” like Cozy from the UK, a wireless thermostat you can take with you. It lets you change modes between Comfy, Slumber or Hibernate when you’re going away, and it will protect your home from freezing.
- Home security – was one of the earliest devices to integrate home automation features. They've notified homeowners (or security companies) of potential problems identified via motion sensors, and many enable 7 x 24 monitoring of your home through surveillance cameras. Now they're extending their capability to include remote locking of all exterior doors and windows.
- Home safety – monitoring started with smoke alarms, followed by carbon monoxide alarms. Now you can get devices to monitor water leaks, well pumps, swimming pools and personal medical alarm systems for seniors to call for help when they have an accident. Some products offer one integrated dashboard to monitor everything in one place.
- Lighting and shading – covers anything from turning on lights from your smart phone (versus today's timers) to opening andclosing window shades and draperies automatically, to use natural light effectively.
- Kitchen appliances – that help with shopping and cooking, like the new refrigerators with automation, that keep track of what's in the refrigerator and tell you how long to cook a bag of frozen vegetables.
- Home offices, entertainment and family communications – can be enhanced when all of your digital products are integrated for seamless communication. Music can be stored centrally and played anywhere in your home, phone calls and an intercom system simplify conversations when all devices share a home network.
- Miscellaneous products – include water saving systems for houseplants and your yard, pet feeding and yes, it won't be too long until we start seeing domestic robots Roomba, taking over chores we don't like doing!