The Best Home Automation system is easy to use, affordable, secure, and reliable. It will do exactly what you want it to, when you want it to. I have evaluated the three major systems currently on the market, and for my uses, Apple HomeKit is the easiest, most secure, and fun to use.
The other two systems I examined were Amazon Alexa and Google Home. While each of these ecosystems has their strengths, overall HomeKit has the most features, integration, and to me a better future than the others.
What is a Home Automation System?
Did you know there is an official term for Home Automation? It’s called Domotics. (DOMus infOrmaTICS) Information technology in the home (domus is Latin for home). Basically it is independent control of electronic systems in your home. Things like lights, cameras, locks, garage doors, and other devices. By Automating control of these items you can focus your intentions on other things and not the mundane day to day operation of “stuff”.
These devices can be connected to your phone, and ultimately the internet. Then when combined with external controls like the time of day, weather, hidden switches, and even electronic “tags” called RFID. When everything is connected using the same system, called an ecosystem, it can be easy to control via voice or phone, and do things that control the environment around you.
Home Automation Systems can be simple or become very complicated. But for me, they should always work independently and reliably, so I can focus on what I want to do, and not have to worry about what is going on around me. This allows me to be more productive, or enjoy the time with friends and family, and focus on what is important to me.
Which Controller is best for Home Automation?
Since I have tried a bunch of different systems, I believe that one stands above the others and has the best future. That is Apple HomeKit. There is a fourth option which is using other electronic devices like computers that you code and wire yourself, and while these are fun for advanced hobbyists, I don’t think this is the solution for the majority of homeowners.
When I first got into home Automation I had a handful of lightbulbs connected to my Amazon Alexa. It was fun to tell Alexa to “Turn on the Dining Room Lights”. Since I had installed Lutron Casita Switches I also had some cross compatibility with my iPhone. The lights show up on my iPhone and I could create simple Automations with them, too.
Everything was working great – I tell Alexa to do something, and she would.
But then Alexa got a little bit of an attitude. Sure, she would do what I told her, but at the end of the command, Alexa would ask “do you also want to ….” To which I would have to reply “NO” or she would continue to pester me for an answer.
It got real bad around the holidays when Alexa would announce what presents were delivered by Amazon when she had notifications, and then at one point she suggested I add paper towels to my shopping list. That was too much, and too invasive for me.
Well, it didn’t’ take to many times for this to happen before I decided to unplug Alexa Echo, and deleted the app on my phone. I purchased a new Apple HomePod mini.
When I did make the complete change, the difference was night and day. Siri was very responsive, so fast to turn on the devices as I asked, and to this day I haven’t gotten any sass or backtalk.
Types of Home Automation
There are FOUR major types of Home Automation
- In-wall devices
- plug-in devices
- screw-in devices
- wire-in devices
In-wall devices are things like switches and dimmers that turn on and off lights. You can have a regular switch, or you can have a smart in-wall switch. When you upgrade your in wall devices (by physically taking out the old switch and re-wiring a new one in), you can now have control of the circuit and add it to your home Automation network. I use Caseta Lutron switches, and you can read more about if you want.
Plug In Devices
I choose to also use plug in devices instead of converting all my outlets to in-wall devices. Plug in Devices are little boxes that go between the plug on your lamp (for instance) and the actual outlet. They traditionally use a Wi-Fi signal to connect to your Home Automation Network, and act as a simple switch. To use, you actually turn your lamp on (so it is always on), and then this little box regulates when it gets power or not.
Another type of Plug in device is where the thing just plugs in and works. This could be a Toaster, or a smart speaker, or any other type of device that just “plugs in” and privdes any kind of control in your home Automation ecosystem,
Some Plug in Devices can have timers, or dimmers, or other even light sensors to help create a little bit more automation and control.
Screw in Devices
Basically we are talking about lightbulbs here. You unscrew your old lightbulb, and screw in a new smart bulb. The new Screw-in lightbulb has some electronics in it that allow it to connect to your Home Automation network.
The last category is Wire-In devices and these are exactly what you would think. You need to take apart the device, and wire it in. I’m not a big fan of these type of home automation devices as they don’t fit the plug and play simple system that I am trying to create.
Sometimes you need an additional controller called a bridge to connect everything together for these devices. Bridges are sold separately, and I have mine connected to my Modem and Router in my electronics closet.
You may, during your research see terms like Zigbee or Bridges, or Z-wave. These are all different communication protocols or devices that allow older, not interconnected devices to talk to each other and communicate.
I find this very complicated, and that’s why I just go with products designed for HomeKit. I know that no matter what I do, if I stick to the Apple Ecosystem, everything will work seamlessly, and I will have a safe, secure, and Private network.
How do I choose a Home Automation System?
When choosing a Home Automation system, there are several factors to consider:
- Easy of Use
- Future Proof
All these different factors go into the decision making process in creating a home automation system. Most of the products and devices are cross compatible, but for the best and easiest experience it’s best to stick with one Ecosystem, and find items that are 100% compatible with that. You might not get all the features you want, or it might cost a bit more, but I can tell you that the frustration you save by having it just plug in and work is worth it.
One way to build it is to wait until things around your home need to be replaced. For instance, when a lightbulb burns out, replace it with a Smart Bulb. Or when you need a new smart speaker, pick up a HomePod mini. This can take a long time to completely change your home however, and a specific brand or style of device that is available today might not be around in the future (or it may be upgraded).
The another way is to save up, and buy everything you need at one. Of course this can be quite costly. The average American home has 41 different light switches. If you were to replace all of them at once with a Smart Switch like the Lutron Caseta at $50 each, that is approximately $2050. It adds up fast.
The way I choose to create my Home Automation system is first I picked one of the major ecosystems – Apple HomeKit in my house, and when I start to see something that could be automated I buy the related product to do that. This week, for instance I am focusing on the pantry. Sometimes people will open the door and turn on the light, look for something to eat and then walk away, with the light left on. I’m debating between putting a timer on the light, or a switch on the door. Most likely it will be a timer because sometimes the door doesn’t get closed.
The best home automation has lots of different elements, all working seamlessly to control your environment YOUR way. They are affordable, and easy to set-up and use. They just work and do what they are supposed to, in the background so you can focus on your tasks and what is important to you.