If you have any interest in home automation, you've probably wondered about the DIY (do-it-yourself) products sold at your local home improvement store.
These include thermostats, video cameras, light switches, door locks, security sensors and other devices that can be controlled and monitored via a smartphone or PC/tablet. All cool stuff, and installing home automation do-dads sounds like a great, money-saving idea - but is it really the best path to take?
It all depends what you're looking to do. If being able to monitor and control temperature and maybe a few lights from your smartphone is all you want to do, then some of the DIY solutions available at Home Depot or Lowe's might make sense.
But if you're looking for home automation that is more comprehensive, not to mention secure, consider meeting with a home technology professional to learn about a range of options that go far beyond what's available in stores or on Amazon.
"There are a lot of single-room, single-application devices such as light controls that will work fine," observes Dave Pedigo, CEDIA's senior director of learning and emerging technologies. But he is quick to point out that these solutions tend to be limited in scope.
"It's exponentially more difficult to bring home automation to an entire home" - which is what most of us envision when we think about home automation - "than to install a single DIY object," he says.
Even DIY automation requires some tech know-how. The first thing Pedigo tells friends who are contemplating home automation - DIY or otherwise - is usually the last thing on their minds: "I always start by telling them they need to have a robust network" - one with a router and switches designed, installed, and set up to deliver a reliable experience.
Reliability Is Key
"Sure, a lot of DIY products work," Pedigo says. "The question is do they work every time - and that's where the difficulty lies."
A home automation system that's properly designed and installed by a competent professional will be significantly more reliable than a DIY-installed product.
"A company with years of experience understands how things work," Pedigo explains. "If a DIYer puts in a wireless light switch, what happens if the wireless network goes down or doesn't work? An experienced installer knows that you need a redundant back-up so lights can be controlled without the wireless switch."
Is Your Network Secure?
Professional installation also goes a long way toward minimizing security risks, which is especially important in the case of IP cameras that are sold just about everywhere and designed for remote monitoring on a smartphone.
Pedigo's advice? "Stay away from DIY cameras, only because they have to be properly secured on the network so they can't be hacked into and monitored by someone else." Unless you really know what you're doing, it's all too easy to create a video feed of your home that's available for others to see, unwittingly converting your security camera into a spy camera…that can be used to spy on you-know-who. Not exactly the kind of "home security" feature you want.
Entertainment and Energy Management
Home entertainment is another area where professional installation pays dividends, according to Pedigo.
"Controlling all of your media and everything in your entertainment space is still relatively difficult - there's not an app for that," he says. "Everybody has different combinations of products, and there are all sorts of nuances that come into play when controlling AV gear." In other words: Without the help of a professional, it can be hard to make your equipment easy to operate.
The same can be said of energy management and the potential savings it can bring. Says Pedigo, "If you have a large home with multizone air handlers, then you probably want to consult a professional who will help you reduce your expenses and overall environmental impact."
Customization is the other area where professional installation trumps DIY every time. The possibilities are endless, and they include things like an automated system that responds to a fire by creating a lighted exit pathway and turning off heating/cooling fans to prevent the spread of smoke throughout the house. The list goes on…
To learn more about how technology professionals approach home automation, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.