If you’re of a certain age, you remember the days before internet and smartphones. You went to the library to seek out information, digging through card catalogs and aisles of books. The television required direct input or, at the very least, standing five feet away from it with a remote in hand.
Today looks completely different. If you need information, you usually ask Google or Siri. Your television most likely operates in high definition, and you probably stream Netflix through a device like a Roku or Sling.
If you possess one of those devices, you belong to the realm of home automation—whether you knew it or not. But home automation is vast, meaning you should read on to learn what the technology is and how it could benefit you (or not) before investing in a smart home.
What Is Home Automation?
Home automation acts as a specific application of the Internet of Things (IoT). With IoT, you can connect almost anything, from cars and light bulbs to cameras and doorbells. Home automation is when you use these devices to automate everyday tasks in your home.
Most home automation devices connect to a Hub—a central system from which all the connected devices take orders, such as turning on interior lights at a particular time or adjusting the thermostat to prepare for your arrival at home. By installing these devices throughout your house, you create a smart, or connected, home.
If the words “central system” make you think of a brain, they should. Your home automation system works much like your central nervous system. As such, you could view home automation as an extension of yourself. You give the system instructions, and it carries them out through connected “appendages,” such as the lights, thermostat, locks, or doorbells.
Should I Invest in Home Automation?
Answering this question involves three parts: what analysts say about home automation tech, how the tech will benefit you, and whether you actually need it. Several research firms study the IoT, as well as home automation systems and products, to gauge consumer and commercial interest:
Market analysts predict the global smart home market will be valued at almost $138 billion by 2023, growing at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 14% between now and then.
McKinsey & Company project that every home in the United States will be “connected” in some form or fashion within the next five to ten years.
When it comes to specific applications, homeowners currently prioritize home security solutions over any other connected device or system.
Considering how big the projections are, it makes sense to invest in home automation now rather than later. If nothing else, you can use the information to inform stock purchases.
The second consideration before investing is how home automation directly impacts you with the benefits or drawbacks the technology has.
Home Automation Benefits:
Security. Homeowners employ smart home devices to protect their properties from theft. They also use them to ensure their kids stay safe. For example, parents with a pool might use smart gate sensors to ensure kids don’t get into the pool area unsupervised.
Convenience. Homeowners also turn to home automation products to save time on routine tasks, such as making coffee in the morning or closing the garage when they leave for work. Smart thermostats, lights, and window shades also build a more convenient home, not to mention save on heating and cooling costs.
Independence. Many homeowners like connected devices because of how they enable greater independence. Pet owners, for example, no longer worry about arriving home at a particular time to feed their pets. Older adults also benefit from home automation devices as they use them to avoid having to move to assisted living. Devices can monitor a person’s movement to call for help if they need it or devices can be controlled through voice activation to help those with poor vision or lessened mobility.
Home Automation Drawbacks:
Standards. Home automation products use any number of communication standards, ranging from Wi-Fi and Z-Wave to Bluetooth and X10. The different languages can sometimes make it difficult to find compatible products. Fortunately, CNET’s smart home compatibility tracker is here to let you know what works with what.
Cyber Security. Homeowners express concerns about hackers using smart home gadgets to gain entry to the home or to connect to and steal data from a home computer or smartphone. The fear is warranted. However, you can take steps to secure your home’s digital perimeter and prevent cyber attacks.
Do I Need a Home Automation System?
Finally, ask yourself if you really need home automation. Some people might answer this question with an unequivocal yes. However, you should think about your plans and stage of life before purchasing home automation products. Renters, for example, may not be able to install a home automation system without a lengthy conversation with a landlord. Plus, if a renter’s only connected device is a smart thermostat or a couple of lightbulbs, they might be better off to use a standalone app instead of a system.
Homeowners, however, present a different case. Some homeowners connect everything, from the kitchen to the bedroom and back again. Others need only a device or two to gain their desired objectives, such as lowering utilities or enhancing home security. And many homeowners would rather “test the waters” before investing in a fully connected home.
Fortunately, home automation is malleable. It allows you to start wherever you’re comfortable and go from there. If you already know you’ll purchase at least three smart home devices or invest in additional products over the years, you should start with an entire home automation system.
Doing so not only helps determine products to buy but also eases integration and management. Plus, some systems offer added benefits, such as increased security. The Vivint Smart Home, for example, houses home security and automation within a single system.
What Home Automation Products Are Available Today?
If you think something in your home has a smart tech version, it probably does. But just because something can be connected doesn’t mean it can be automated. The difference seems slight, especially as more and more devices can be automated, but it helps trim the list of home automation products somewhat. The following three devices are top contenders in the home automation space:
Virtual personal assistants. Gartner says interest in virtual personal assistants—think smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo—will continue to grow growing forward. These assistants augment a home automation system, making it easier to manage your devices and home.
Security systems. Business Insider predicted in 2015 that safety and security systems would become “popular first, leading the way to broader consumption.” The recent reports from Gartner confirm the statement. Security systems attract customers because almost all their features double as both security and convenience. If you’re worried you forgot to lock all your doors, a system with smart locks will let you take care of it from the office.
Plugs and switches. If you look for “best sellers in home automation devices” on Amazon, you see a list that begins with smart plugs. These devices are small but mighty, allowing for automated scheduling and remote monitoring and management of almost any device plugged into them, smart or not.
Obviously, the above list is a short one. Smart thermostats, locks, doorbells, cameras, and lightbulbs stand as equally popular products. The secret to choosing one, or five, lies in thinking about your home and its residents. If you know what you want to accomplish with home automation products and systems, you’ll successfully choose and integrate the best items available on the market today.
Where Should I Start with Home Automation?
Now that you know more about home automation technology, you arrive at the inevitable question of where to start. The answer rests in your lifestyle and residence. Think about daily, routine activities. Then, assess whether automating those actions would benefit you in some way.
Maybe an automated coffeepot would help get you up or out the door in the morning. Then again, you might care more about home safety and security. If so, your purchases could span exterior motion-sensing lights, cameras, and a home security system. The more you think about actual applications rather than theoretical ones, the more informed and ready to invest in home automation you’ll be.