Home automation is a growing trend, particularly among middle- to upper-income homeowners.
WHAT IS HOME AUTOMATION?
A home where your lighting preferences are preset, your garage door locks itself and you can check why your alarm activated from your smartphone or tablet is now a reality and it’s called home automation: a system that allows you to intelligently control every aspect of your home. Whether it’s your lighting preferences, climate control, house alarm, audio and home entertainment system, geyser or even your pool pump … they can all be programmed via a home automation system to follow certain preset conditions at different times of the day. Everything is controlled via any one of a number of platforms: a remote control in your house; a wall-mounted touchscreen; your iPad; iPhone; Android-based tablet; smartphone or PC.
“The big idea behind home automation is to enhance and facilitate your lifestyle,” says Warren Husband of Homemation. “It can be customised entirely to suit the homeowner. An important element of a home automation system – aside from the comfort factors and nice-to-haves – is to make the home as ‘green’ as possible so that you use your energy wisely.”
Often it starts with lifestyle requirements, according to Ian le Grange of Elan Systems South Africa, which markets a home automation platform named g! But once people understand what you can achieve with home automation in terms of security and efficiency benefits, their goals shift, he says.
GOOD TO KNOW
“Do your homework and have an idea beforehand of what you’d like to achieve with home automation. You don’t necessarily need the full solution, but you should be aware of what your choices are” – Warren Husband of Homemation
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The secret to home automation is a central computerised controller that is able to ‘speak’ to the different systems in your house. Usually, the first elements to be added to a home automation system are security and lighting, followed by home theatre, music or audio streaming throughout the house. However, virtually any home function can be added – including lighting, audio, pool pumps, irrigation systems and geysers.
“There’s a lot of work being done by the various manufacturers to make their devices easy to control via apps, but still there’s a need to have one umbrella system that handles the entire home; one place you can go to see what is happening,” explains Warren.
“Home automation solutions are designed to bring all of these different devices under one umbrella, so that you can control multiple devices from a single action. For example, when you go to bed at night, you push a single ‘sleep’ button and your alarm is set appropriately. It confirms that your doors are closed; it sets your lighting to activate the ‘dimmer’ setting if it detects motion. The idea is to be an intelligent home,” he adds.
This kind of automation also makes it an energy-efficient home. “We say that if it can be controlled, we’ll find a way to do it,” notes Warren. “So anything that switches on and off; can sense if it’s open or closed, or responds to infra-red and IP commands, can form part of a home automation system.”
WHEN TO START:
“If you’re planning a new build, the time to contemplate your home automation needs is when you’re discussing plans with your architect,” counsels Homemation’s Warren. Even if you don’t plan to fully automate your home at the outset, putting the cableways in place is the smart thing to do, advises Elan Systems’ Ian. “Early planning is essential. Sit down with someone who has a track record in the industry and work out a plan for what you’d like to achieve. It’s a relatively small cost in the course of a new build, but retrofitting the cabling afterwards is messy and expensive.”
Warren agrees, commenting that people can be scared off by the initial costs involved. His recommendation is: “get the infrastructure in place, even if it’s just cableways and you’re not fitting all the cables just yet. You know that you’re going to want to do something like this eventually, so take advantage of your one opportunity to get it right.”
This is not to say that a house can’t be retrofitted, either as part of a bigger renovation or as a project on its own. “When you’re doing a retrofit, make sure that you cable for every eventuality, even if you don’t intend to use it yourself, says Ian. “It will add value to your home for resale. Even if you change your mind down the line, you’ll avoid having to chase cables into the wall at a later date.” Ian notes that you can add any hardware as long as the infrastructure is in place. Obviously, with a retrofit, there may be some limitations imposed by the existing house structure. “For example, if you can’t get a cable to a particular location then you simply can’t have a speaker there.”
HOW TO GET STARTED
Finding a reputable installer in your area is the first step in the process. Ask them about their track record and insist on references. There is no industry watchdog per se, but Ian recommends that you ask the prospective installer whether he is a member of CEDIA, the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association. Membership is voluntary, but all members sign a code of conduct and are required to attend regular certified courses in order to maintain their membership. They must also have on-site insurance. It doesn’t mean that a non-member isn’t possibly a very skilled professional, but people working in the field are encouraged to join.
Although there are a large number of options for installing home automation, most of it is modular and, once you’ve installed the central system, it’s relatively easy to add components later on. “It is a big cost initially,” says Warren, “so some people do choose to get all the cableways and infrastructure in place initially and then add components over a period of time.”
The system can be as intelligent as you’d like it to be, and Warren believes that automation comes into its own when you make your energy usage smart. For example, automated day/night light sensors so that your outside lights don’t accidentally stay on all day; a heat control that switches off air conditioning in an empty room, a geyser that runs on a schedule that maximises efficiency. “There is a significant cost attached to it initially, but if you consider the energy savings you’ll incur over the years with an automated system, the initial investment is far outweighed by the long-term energy efficiency,” notes Warren.
As with any system that involves technology, at a certain point a major hardware overhaul will be required. However, notes Warren, there is not necessarily a need for hardware upgrades unless you want new features. If your system works and you’re happy with it, then don’t upgrade unless something fails.
“You have to be realistic about the technology; at some point you’ll need to strip the system out and replace it, but the hardware can last up to 10 years. It does need maintenance and software upgrades more frequently, so we recommend that people look at a service level agreement with the installer so that they get the regular updates and servicing,” advises Ian.
He does, however, caution against homeowners adjusting the system themselves. Not only is this likely to cause problems with the functionality of the system, it may also void the warranty.
Homemation. Tel: (011) 781 8887 or www.homemation.co.za
Elan Systems South Africa. Tel: 0861 ELAN HS (0861 3526 47) or elansystems.co.za
CEDIA (the Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association) www.cedia.org