Smart Home Project: Where to Start?

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Smart Home Project

Have you decided to independently design a smart home in an apartment or cottage? There are some very general rules that you should consider before getting started.

Like any other project, it is better to plan the installation of a smart home system in advance. Take some time to immediately identify with the general concept of smart home and think over some of the nuances. Then you do not have to bear the costs of unnecessary devices, hastily buy additional equipment, rebuild the network, and transfer already installed components from place to place. In this article, we’ll explain why it is important to plan a home automation system and how to do it.

Decide what you want from a smart home

Before starting your own smart home project, you need to make several important decisions that will determine all your further actions. First, answer the question, which system you want to mount – wired or wireless. Recently, wired systems are commonly installed in offices, hotels, clinics, etc. It is much more convenient to install a wireless system in a city apartment or a country cottage. It can be installed for a turnkey renovation without the dusty cabling work, so the total installation cost and time spent on it will be less than in the case of wired systems. We recommend staying at the wireless smart home option.

Second, you need to decide on the home automation network protocol. Today, we have the freedom to choose from several wireless technologies available such as Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth Low Energy Thread, WiFi, etc. You need to choose a smart home protocol carefully: in the future, it will determine which compatible devices you should buy for your project. Evaluate the technology in terms of its mass character, mutual compatibility of devices from different manufacturers, functionality, technical development prospects, and security. We have prepared a long article in which we talk in detail about the pros and cons of each of these technologies.

The choice of a smart home protocol will determine which devices that support this protocol you need to buy:

  • Smart home controller (hub). It is the control center for all devices, home automation scenarios, as well as remote access to the smart home from a computer and / or smartphone.
  • Sensors (sensors). Sensors are components of a wireless network that send data to a controller or other smart home devices. Based on this data, the smart home performs certain actions.
  • Actuators (executive devices). If the controller is the “brain” of the smart home, and the sensors are the “senses”, then the actuators are its “hands”. Actuators perform certain actions (turn on and off lighting, electric drives, etc.) at the command that the controller gives, based on the data sent by the sensors.

Start designing a smart home system

To do this, answer a few questions:

1. Who will use the smart home?

First, determine who will use the smart home. You live alone? If not, are there older people living in your apartment? Do you often have guests? Imagine that other people will have to use your smart devices frequently. Where is the best place to place smart gadgets so that they do not cause discomfort to others? For example, someone may be annoyed by the automatic on and off of smart lamps. Then, perhaps, instead of motion sensors in some rooms, it is better to install smart push buttons. Remember that not all people, even young people, are tech-savvy. Some people are comfortable using household and lighting fixtures only the old fashioned way.

Talk to potential users about how you plan to implement home automation and what benefits it brings. A good smart home should be such that is comfortable for everyone.

2. What are you planning to manage?

When planning, make sure to ask yourself first “what do I want to do”, and then “how do I want to do it”. What are the goals that you want to accomplish with your home automation? Whether you want to receive notifications if or when someone is in the house while you are away? Save energy? See alarms for smoke and other dangerous situations? Achieve some other goals?

Think about what routine activities you have to do every day and if you want to automate them. In other words, first, identify the problem, and only then choose a technical solution for it, and not vice versa. It is better to imagine in advance what a smart home can and cannot do. These are some of the cases with the most common use:

  • Automation through remote control of motorized curtains, blinds, windows, etc.
  • Energy monitoring and management.
  • Automatic control of electric water heaters (boilers).
  • Lighting automation.
  • Management of electrical heating and ventilation systems.
  • Automation of lawn and garden watering.
  • Water temperature control, control of pumps, and motorized swimming pool covers.
  • Remote control of household electrical appliances.
  • Home access control (smart locks control, burglar alarm, garage door, and entrance gate opening/closing).
  • Situational information: smart notifications from vibration sensors, door and window openings, movement (or lack thereof), gas leakage, smoke, water leakage, liquid level, etc.).

The possibilities of a smart home are by no means limited to these scenarios. But it is better to approach the choice of one or another option for using a smart home from the point of view of reasonable sufficiency and comfort for all users in your home.

3. How do you plan to manage your smart home?

Once you’ve decided what exactly you want to automate, think about how you will manage the system. Do you need a central control panel with a screen? Do you want to implement remote control of all home devices through a single network, or some “smart” home appliances will work automatically, of the network? Do you want convertible furniture for your home? What is the most convenient way for you to control devices – from your phone, using smart switches, by voice, in fully automatic mode, or a combination of these methods? And, of course, always remember your budget as well. Sometimes the choice in favor of one or another method of automation control is dictated by money, and not the best technical solutions available on the market.

4. What is your step-by-step plan?

Create a phased plan for your home automation project. It will allow you to assess the scale of work and take into account all critical stages. Always start with electrical wiring. First, assess her general condition. A smart home is clearly not the best way to spend money if your apartment or house has worn out and unsafe wiring.

If there is no wiring in the right places for the controller and actuators with constant power (relays, dimmers, smart lamp holders, etc.), then your automation project will not progress. Also, consider the prospect of smart home expansion in the future. Think about where you want to install smart devices with constant power, and then check if there is an opportunity to supply electricity to them.

If you plan to install built-in wireless modules into standard sockets and switches, then make sure that the socket boxes and mounting boxes are deep enough to fit the module.

There are some wireless relays and switches that require a neutral connection. Check with an electrician if your home has this option. If not, then look for versions of relays and switches that do not involve a neutral connection.

Mark the location of the sensors, actuators, and controller on the plan. If the controller is wireless, then it is always best to install it in the center of the apartment or house as much as possible. Some wireless protocols based on a mesh topology (such as Z-Wave and ZigBee) involve the use of radio signal repeaters. They are devices with constant power supply – built-in socket relays, dimmers, and some other devices. In general, the more signal repeaters you install, the better. It is important to remember that metal, natural stone, and concrete (specially reinforced concrete) will significantly attenuate the signal. Therefore, the more repeaters there are, the more likely it is that the controller will easily build an alternative route for the radio signal. We repeat: repeaters usually require a constant power supply.

Examples of questions to be answered before starting specific automation projects

Below are some examples of questions you should ask yourself before starting your lighting automation and blind control projects:

Lighting automation

Why do you require an automated lighting system, what is its purpose, and how will you use the automatic system? What rooms? Whether you wish to use wired or wireless automation technology? Which automation protocol do you find more suitable for yourself? What is the condition of the home electrical wiring? Do you want to use smart bulbs (they are more expensive than regular bulbs) or dimmers/relays for regular bulbs? Do you want the lamps to always turn on when someone enters the room, or turn on by motion only in the evening/night? If you want to use colored LED strips, is it possible to supply power to them? Which smart lamp brand do you prefer? Does this brand have smart lamps that support your chosen automation protocol?

Roller shutter control

For what purpose do you want to automate motorized roller shutters? What rooms? Do you want the roller shutters to open/close automatically or only at your command from your smartphone? Do you want your roller shutters to close automatically when it rains? Is it necessary to automatically close window transoms simultaneously with the roller shutters? Is it possible to supply power to the roller shutters and motorized window systems?

If you cannot answer these or any other questions, then it is better to turn to a professional installer of “smart home” systems. In addition, always contact the professionals if your project requires the installation of recessed relays for sockets, dimmers, power supply to electric drives, etc., and you do not have the skills to work with electrical wiring. It is also better to order the installation of critical systems from professional installers (prevention of leaks, smoke and gas detectors, etc.).

Conclusion

Smart home design is a guarantee that the finished system will meet your needs, and that you will be able to expand the smart home in the future, within budget. If you’re new to the world of home automation, start small projects. Moreover, modern wireless technologies allow you to build up the capabilities of a smart home without having to carry out expensive and dusty cabling work.