Identifying Your Home Automation Goals

By Dwight Spivey

It’s good to have goals in life, for sure, and a big part of preparation is defining those goals. What are your home automation goals? Only you can answer that question, but here are a few things to think about to help you narrow them down.

A little at a time or all in

Are you planning to do everything at once or a bit at a time? You may want to begin thinking about it now.

Multiple manufacturers

Do you mind buying multiple products from multiple manufacturers? Some folks like to stay with the same brand (such as buying your computer, smartphone, and tablet from the same company), while others don’t mind mixing it up a bit. The best approach when it comes to home automation is to only buy products from one manufacturer. It may not be possible to do so, based on what you want to automate in your home, but if it is possible, you’ll do well to heed that advice.

Definitely stick with one manufacturer when it comes to devices running the ZigBee protocol. ZigBee is a bit loose when it comes to making manufacturers stick to their standards, so there is a possibility of incompatibility if purchasing from different makers.

Committed versus tinkering

Are you automating for novelty or functionality? Be honest with yourself: Do you really want to automate your home and simplify your life, or are you more into tinkering with the latest and greatest technology? This is important for you to determine because it will affect how you search for devices.

If you want to make your life better through home automation, then your search will certainly encompass the more practical devices, such as lighting controls, security devices, thermostats, and the like. An example of a practical device for someone who is serious about saving money and controlling her home’s temperature, but she doesn’t have central heat and air, is the Quirky Aros smart window air-conditioner.

[Credit: Image courtesy of Quirky Incorporated.]

Credit: Image courtesy of Quirky Incorporated.

The Aros can be controlled remotely via your smartphone or tablet using the Wink app, which you can download from the iOS or Android App Store.

If you’re a tinkerer, then you can afford to be more adventurous in your quest for home automation quirkiness. For example, how about a self-cleaning kitty litter box, like the Classic Self-Cleaning Litter Box from LitterMaid?

[Credit: Image courtesy of Spectrum Brands, Inc.]

Credit: Image courtesy of Spectrum Brands, Inc.

Or how about the Pivot Power Genius from Quirky, which is a power strip unlike any you’ve used before: It bends at each outlet to accommodate differing plug sizes and to fit into odd spaces. Another cool feature is that you can control it, and by extension, the devices plugged into it, through the use of an app on your smartphone or tablet.

[Credit: Image courtesy of Quirky Incorporated.]

Credit: Image courtesy of Quirky Incorporated.

More than one key master

Will more than one person be controlling your devices? Most home automation devices can be controlled by more than one smartphone or tablet (or computer), but some can’t. If you plan to allow multiple people to have control over your home automation devices, be certain to verify with the manufacturers that they support this capability.

Most companies require you to create an account with them. These accounts allow you to log in to their systems and register your home automation devices with them. Once your device is registered with the account, you can then log into the account via an app on your smartphone or tablet, or from a web browser on your computer. Logging in to the account gives you control over your devices, whether you’re in the home or not.

To allow more than one user to control your home automation devices remotely, you can use the account on each of their smart devices. Of course, each account user must know the username and password of each account.

Keep in mind, too, that although you may have more than one person who can control your devices, you will most likely want someone to be the primary user. Some manufacturers do allow this kind of control; be sure to check with them if this is an important feature for you.

As you can imagine, if you have several different devices from different manufacturers you’re going to end up with a ton of usernames and passwords. Be sure to jot down information about each account so you don’t forget it, and keep that info in a safe location.

One app to rule them all, or not

How much space do you have available on your iOS or Android device? Go ahead and check.

Okay! How much do you have? Whatever the number, you should know exactly how much capacity you have. You see, once you wade into the home automation pool, you might drown in a sea of apps, and whatever storage space you may have had at the start of your home automation adventure will significantly decrease afterward.

Having made you aware of the space hit your smartphone and/or tablet will take, you should also know that there’s an alternative. First, ask yourself, “Self, do I mind multiple apps on my (insert type of smart device you have here) controlling my home automation stuff, or do I want to minimize the number of apps I’m tied to?” Only you can answer that to your satisfaction.

If you decided that having an app for each and every thing is okay, then keep on truckin’, partner. However, if you determined that having as few apps as necessary is a better idea, then you’ll be glad to know that minimizing the number of apps you have is actually easy to do. Several home automation companies develop solutions for you.

Understand, though, that most of the “one-app” solutions out there depend on another device to help keep the individual devices in line: a hub. This is not a bad thing at all. Here are a few companies that offer a one-app solution for your home automation endeavors:

More and more solutions seem to pop up every day, so keep your eyes peeled for more app-only and app/hub solutions for your home automation needs. Having one of these options beats the heck out of having to flip through your smartphone trying to find the app that controls your lights, and then flip to another app for your thermostat, then flip back to your lights to turn one on or off . . . what a hassle.