woman sitting on the couch using her smart phone

The home automation market has developed rapidly in recent years, and it now provides a variety of options for turning your house or apartment into the Jetsons-age wonder long-promised by tech pundits.

Along with powerful new capabilities for controlling your devices, appliances and more, today’s home automation solutions make it easier than ever to set up a smart home, with no advanced technical knowledge required to enjoy the most streamlined offerings.

Whether you’re looking for options to optimize your existing setup or are simply exploring the possibilities of creating a truly smart home, here’s what you need to know about home automation.

To Hub or Not to Hub

The first choice for any home automation setup is deciding whether you want to use a central automation hub. While it’s perfectly possible to buy a variety of stand-alone automation devices like networked plugs and light switches, more consumers are choosing to integrate every smart device into a single home automation ecosystem with the use of a smart hub.

Most hubs include software that you can install on home computers, laptops or mobile devices to control connected appliances and smart components, while others rely mostly on voice activated technology to manage your automated devices.

Whatever you choose, make sure its networking technology is compatible with the other devices you plan to hook up to the home automation network. Wi-fi and Bluetooth are standard on many devices, but many others rely on network protocols built specifically for home automation, chiefly Z-Wave and Zigbee.

The hub market has advanced quickly, and these days the dedicated single-purpose automation hub seems to be on its last legs. Among the industry leaders in this segment is the Samsung SmartThings hub, which allows you to connect up to 200 different devices and includes a battery backup in case your home power is interrupted.

However, most home automation networks now use multi-purpose networking hubs like Amazon’s Alexa-enabled line of voice activated devices, including the various Echo options and Fire TV edition. Like the Google Home and Apple HomePod, these devices fold home automation features into the existing voice-activated features that play music, read headlines and recipes, and otherwise manage your media consumption.

Home Automation for Appliances

With the use of smart switches like the Wemo Switch Smart Plug, it’s easy to turn any appliance into a “smart” appliance – in the sense that you can turn it on and off with the touch of a button, or with a pre-scheduled routine programmed into your automation hub.

For the most advanced automated appliance features, you’ll need to buy a product designed for that purpose, like the Samsung Family Hub Smart Fridge, the LG SmartThinQ fridge, or the iRobot Roomba 890 smart vacuum. These devices let you do things like program the vacuum to run only when you’re not home, keep tabs on the contents of your fridge for a recipe or even place an order for more milk when you’re running low.

Home Automation for Doors and Security

Automated home security options range from simple smart locks that let you make sure you locked your doors by checking your smartphone, to fully integrated home security systems like the Abode Starter Kit, which includes door and window sensors to detect intrusions, a security camera, and a key fob to automatically disarm the system when you enter the home.

Such systems usually give you the option to manage and install everything yourself, or you can choose to include a subscription for a professional security monitoring service, effectively turning the system into a (significantly cheaper) professional home security system.

Standalone devices usually operate along the lines of the Nest Cam Indoor, which lets you remotely monitor a home interior, and the Kwikset Kevo line of smart locks, which replace the existing fixtures on your door. By integrating sensors like the Insteon Motion Sensor II, you can program your automation hub to adjust security concerns based on activity in the home.

Automated Home Lighting

Home lighting automation usually relies on an existing automation hub to control various smart bulbs and switches. You’ll need a smart switch like the Belkin Wemo Light Switch, paired with automation-capable bulbs like the Cree LED Connected.

Depending on the functionality of your hub or other controlling devices, you can do things like adjust the lighting levels or color with your smartphone, or even set up complicated lighting schedules that integrate with home security sensors to detect when you’ve left the house for the day.

Home Automation for Heating and Cooling

Smart thermostats like the Nest Thermostat were among the earliest automation devices on the market, so it’s no surprise that a wide variety of choices exist to integrate into your smart home setup.

Devices like the Nest can integrate with motion trackers and other sensors to learn your family’s habits and adjust the climate control schedule accordingly. Any smart thermostat should include remote on-and-off capabilities and other standard automation features.

Automated Home Entertainment

Smart home entertainment options mostly focus on features like letting you remotely control which speakers music is playing from, or pre-schedule entertainment configurations for specific times of day.

Automated entertainment hubs like the Logitech Harmony Hub can even integrate with your primary automation hub to do things like adjust lighting based on the audio characteristics of the song that’s playing, or detect when you’ve woken up and start playing soft classical music throughout the home.

Whether you’re searching for an all-in-one integrated smart home system, or choose to mix and match individual components controlled by a central hub, the possibilities for home automation are nearly endless.

What home automation features do you like best? Share in the comments!

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