What is Home Automation?

Once you have Smart Home devices, you’re able to interact with them in new ways, like with your Voice Assistant or with your smartphone. That’s nice in itself, but wouldn’t it be nicer if those same devices did what you wanted without having to tell them yourself? Sort of like what the Jetsons had with their family robot, Betty. That concept would actually make your house smarter, and is where Home Automation comes in. But unlike Betty, you’ll need to do a bit more for it to work. Let’s dive in.

Home Automation is the act of setting up your Smart Home devices to take Actions without you telling them to do so. For example, you can set up your Smart Lights to turn on at specific times of the day and your Smart Door Lock to lock itself when you leave the house.

Home App New Automation Screen
Home App New Automation Screen

What are the Benefits of Home Automation?

There are tons of benefits. Here are the most tangible:

Lower electricity bills
Automatically turn off smart devices when they’re not needed

Better home lighting
Automatically change your Smart Lights to give different lighting, depending on the time of day

Increased home security
Automatically set up Smart Locks and Smart Windows to lock and unlock throughout the day

Cleaner home
Automatically clean your home with scheduling for Robotic Vacuums

Better home awareness
Automatically set up notifications when things happen at home, like when everyone leaves the house

There are many more benefits, depending on what you’d like to automate in your home. But to me, all the benefits really just boil down to one thing: Peace of Mind. By removing little things that take up space in your mind every day, like making sure you turn off the lights or lock your door, you free up space for more important things in your life. 

How to Think about Home Automation

When starting out, there’s one core concept that will speed things along for you.

If This, Then That.

At the end of the day, you want your smart device to take an Action when a Condition happens. For instance, wouldn’t it be nice to have your Smart Light turn on when it’s 5pm? Turns out, most automations follow this pattern, which breaks down like this:

If it’s 5pm
Then turn on my Smart Light

From here, let’s generalize the idea a bit more.

If <condition>
Then <action>

This pattern is the main concept of Home Automation. Going forward, let’s call patterns like this ones “Rules”. Home Automation is built up of many Rules, and each Rule is a blueprint that tells your Home Automation System what to do and when to do it.

What is a Home Automation System?

Now that we know what a Home Automation Rule is, we now need an application that understands a Rule and does what it says. This is what a Home Automation System does. Systems understand Rules and perform them for you.

For the example above, where the light turns on at 5pm, we need a System that understands Rules with the Condition of time and the Action of turning on the Smart Light.

Challenges 

There are some challenges when starting out. By avoiding these common pitfalls below, you’ll have an awesome System built up much faster. 

Setting up new Rules can be tedious and time consuming

All Home Automation Systems I’ve seen today require some time to understand what a Rule looks like and how to set one up. The number of Conditions and Actions available to you also depend on the System you’re using. For instance, some Systems are very simple, but they’re also limited in what they can do.

Overall, make sure the system you’re using has the right Conditions and Actions you want.

Rules can overlap and conflict

Once you get started, it’s pretty easy to create Rules that interact with the same Smart Home device in multiple ways or even the same way. If you’re not careful, you’ll create a bunch of Rules that won’t work well together, leaving you scratching your head at why your Smart Lights are turning orange at 2 in the morning. If you find that your Hue lights are indeed turning on by themselves, this Rule conflict is probably why.

Finding conflicts in your Home Automation Rules is tricky. That’s why it’s best to avoid overlapping from the get go.

Systems can be brittle

One of the more frustrating parts of Home Automation is when the Rules don’t work consistently. Sometimes Rules just fail without any rhyme or reason. Because of this, you should start out slow with adding new Rules. That way you check the stability of how your System deals with the Rule you just created before adding more.

Terminology is confusing

Many companies have their own small Home Automation System that you use right in their app. But these apps have different terminology for what the company considers a Home Automation Rule. You’ll see names like Routines, Scenes, and Schedules. All of which are different ways to define a Rule, and often lead to unnecessary confusion during setup.

For example, Hue uses the word Routines.

Hue Routines for Home Automation
Hue Routines Screen

And LIFX uses the word Schedule.

LIFX Schedules for Home Automation
LIFX Schedules Screen

Personally, I stay away from Systems that are built for a specific Smart Device brand, like with the above Hue and LIFX examples. Instead, I like to keep all my Rules in one System so it’s easier to find and change things quickly. This is especially useful for when I forget about some Home Automation Rule I created, as I know just where I can find it.

What System to Start with?

Depending on the Voice Assistant you’re using, I suggest the below Home Automation Systems. Above all, when looking to start out with Systems, keep these key considerations in mind:

  1. Does the System need a hub on your network?
  2. Is the System compatible with your smart devices?
  3. Does the System have the Actions and Conditions you want?

Honestly though, most of the selection boils down to which Voice Assistant you’re using, as not all Home Automation Systems and Voice Assistants work together. I selected a few I think you should start with below. They’re proven in the industry, and will get your feet wet. But if they’re not comprehensive enough for you, it’s easy to swap them out later on to something else.

With Alexa and Google Assistant

You might have heard of the site ifttt.com. IFTTT is an example of a Home Automation System. IFTTT really stands for “If This, Than That”.

The IFTTT System integrates well with Alexa and Google Assistant. Many Smart Home companies also integrate their own systems into IFTTT. This gives you many Conditions and Actions to choose from.

One of the cool things IFTTT does is give you a list of Rules that others set up for you. ifttt.com makes it really easy to set up these rules.

Here’s some pre-made Home Automation Rules for Hue that work with Google Assistant. 

With Siri

Apple has a System built into the Home App on your iOS device. It has many of the basic Conditions and Actions you can get started with.

Home App Example Automation
Home App Automation Example

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