Overview and benefits
Home automation refers to the use of computer and information technology to control home appliances and features (such as windows or lighting). Systems can range from simple remote control of lighting through to complex computer/micro-controller based networks with varying degrees of intelligence and automation. Home automation is adopted for reasons of ease, security and energy efficiency.
In modern construction in industrialized nations, most homes have been wired for electrical power, telephones, TV outlets (cable or antenna), and a doorbell. Many household tasks were automated by the development of specialized automated appliances. For instance, automatic washing machines were developed to reduce the manual labor of cleaning clothes, and water heaters reduced the labor necessary for bathing.
The use of gaseous or liquid fuels, and later the use of electricity enabled increased automation in heating, reducing the labor necessary to manually refuel heatersand stoves. Development of thermostats allowed more automated control of heating, and later cooling.
As the number of controllable devices in the home rises, interconnection and communication becomes a useful and desirable feature. For example, a furnace can send an alert message when it needs cleaning, or a refrigerator when it needs service. If no one is supposed to be home and the alarm system is set, the home automation system could call the owner, or the neighbors, or an emergency number if an intruder is detected.
In simple installations, automation may be as straightforward as turning on the lights when a person enters the room. In advanced installations, rooms can sense not only the presence of a person inside but know who that person is and perhaps set appropriate lighting, temperature, music levels or television channels, taking into account the day of the week, the time of day, and other factors.
Other automated tasks may include reduced setting of the heating or air conditioning when the house is unoccupied, and restoring the normal setting when an occupant is about to return. More sophisticated systems can maintain an inventory of products, recording their usage through bar codes, or an RFID tag, and prepare a shopping list or even automatically order replacements.
Home automation can also provide a remote interface to home appliances or the automation system itself, to provide control and monitoring on a smartphone or web browser.
An example of remote monitoring in home automation could be triggered when a smoke detector detects a fire or smoke condition, causing all lights in the house to blink to alert any occupants of the house to the possible emergency. If the house is equipped with a home theater, a home automation system can shut down all audio and video components to avoid distractions, or make an audible announcement. The system could also call the home owner on their mobile phone to alert them, or call the fire department or alarm monitoring company.
Home automation systems include the following types of devices.
- Sensors to measure or detect things like temperature, humidity, daylight or motion.
- Controllers such as a PC or a dedicated home automation controller.
- Actuators such as motorized valves, light switches and motors.
- Buses for communication that can be wired or wireless.
- Interfaces for human-machine and/or machine-to-machine interaction.
One or more human-machine and/or machine-to-machine interface devices are required, so that the residents of the home can interact with the system for monitoring and control; this may be a specialized terminal or, increasingly, may be an application running on a smart phone or tablet computer. Devices may communicate over dedicated wiring, or over a wired network, or wirelessly using one or more protocols. Building automation networks developed for institutional or commercial buildings may be adapted to control in individual residences. A centralized controller can be used, or multiple intelligent devices can be distributed around the home.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can include temperature and humidity control, including fresh air heating and natural cooling. An Internet-controlled thermostat allows the homeowner to control the building’s heating and air conditioning systems remotely. The system may automatically open and close windows to cool the house. Today – there are also dedicated gateways that connect advanced VRV / VRF and Split HVAC Systems with Home Automation and BMS (Building Management Systems) controllers for centralized control and monitoring. In addition, such gateway solutions are capable of providing remote control operation of all HVAC indoor units over the internet incorporating a simple and friendly user interface.
Home automation products can be used for something as simple as adding Multiway switching to existing electric lighting circuits, or can include very complex interactions with other systems.
A Lighting control system can be used to switch lights based on a time cycle, or arranged to automatically go out when a room is unoccupied. Some electronically controlled lamps can be controlled for brightness or color to provide different light levels for different tasks. Lighting can be controlled remotely by a wireless control or over the Internet. Natural lighting (daylighting) can be used to automatically control window shades and draperies to make best use of natural light.
On the residential market, Z-Wave, Insteon and the older X10 protocol are very commonly used for lighting automation.
This category includes audio and video switching and distribution. Multiple audio or video sources can be selected and distributed to one or more rooms and can be linked with lighting and blinds to provide mood settings.
Automatic control of blinds and curtains can be used for:
- Presence simulation
- Temperature control
- Brightness control
- Glare control
- Security (in case of shutters)
A household security system integrated with a home automation system can provide additional services such as remote surveillance of security cameras over the Internet, or central locking of all perimeter doors and windows
With home automation, the user can select and watch cameras live from an Internet source to their home or business. Security systems can include motion sensors that will detect any kind of unauthorized movement and notify the user through the security system or via cell phone.
The automation system can simulate the appearance of an occupied home by automatically adjusting lighting or window coverings. Detection systems such as fire alarm, gas leak, carbon monoxide, or water leaks can be integrated. Personal medical alarm systems allow an injured home occupant to summon help.
An intercom system allows communication via a microphone and loud speaker between multiple rooms. Integration of the intercom to the telephone, or of the video door entry system to the television set, allowing the residents to view the door camera automatically.
Using special hardware, almost any household appliance can be monitored and controlled automatically or remotely, including cooking appliances, swimming pool systems, and others.
Costs mainly include equipment, components, furniture, and custom installation.
Ongoing costs include electricity to run the control systems, maintenance costs for the control and networking systems, including troubleshooting, and eventual cost of upgrading as standards change. Increased complexity may also increase maintenance costs for networked devices. Cloud-based services supporting an installation may also entail fees for setup, usage, or both.
Learning to use a complex system effectively may take significant time and training.
Control system security may be difficult and costly to maintain, especially if the control system extends beyond the home, for instance by wireless or by connection to the internet or other networks.