The Right Tools for Home Automation

By Dwight Spivey

You may need some actual tools when getting your home automation equipment up and running. Some items, such as webcams and light bulbs, don’t need tools at all. Webcams simply sit somewhere and light bulbs just screw into your light sockets. Other devices, like thermostats and locks, require tools — tools that most folks have in their toolbox.

Here’s a basic list of tools you need for some jobs related to installing your home automation system:

  • A screwdriver set that includes several sizes of both flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers

  • Pliers, including those of the needle-nose variety

  • Wire cutters

  • A voltmeter for measuring voltages in wires

  • A sledgehammer for taking out your frustrations on a tree stump outside if everything doesn’t go as planned (better to pound a tree stump than toss a $300 home automation device off the balcony)

Computers and smartphones and tablets, oh my!

Yes, computers, smartphones, and tablets are indeed tools. Many use them every day for anything from getting their jobs done to talking with Mom 1,000 miles away to playing games. They are tools, and as such, are up next in the discussion of home automation tools.

The majority of home automation devices connect with one or all of the aforementioned tools, and even more, they are controlled by them to varying degrees:

  • Most home automation devices supply their own apps for smartphones and tablets.

  • Others work with third-party apps and controllers, like the Wink hub and app shown, to ensure success on such devices.

    [Credit: Images courtesy of Wink, Inc.]

    Credit: Images courtesy of Wink, Inc.
  • Some manufacturers, though very few, provide computer operating system-specific applications to control their devices.

  • Still others incorporate web pages that users can connect to and control devices via the Internet from any device (computer, smartphone, or tablet) that is connected to the web.

    [Credit: Image courtesy of Netatmo.]

    Credit: Image courtesy of Netatmo.

Home automation companies support these operating systems:

  • iOS: The operating system that controls Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices

  • Android: Controls a large segment of non-Apple smartphones and tablets

  • OS X: Operating system that runs Apple’s line of personal computers

  • Windows: Microsoft’s operating system that runs a majority of non-Apple personal computers

  • Linux: The most popular free operating system that comes in many different forms

Power to get the job done

Home automation devices require power from some source, whether it be

  • Directly wired (like a thermostat)

  • Plugged into an outlet (like WeMo’s Smart Switch, shown)

  • From batteries (water detection sensors, for instance)

    [Credit: Image courtesy of Belkin.]

    Credit: Image courtesy of Belkin.

Today’s home automation devices are designed to jump right into your home as it is, with little to no wiring of any kind needed. However, that doesn’t mean that you might not need electrical work of some type performed in ­certain cases. Here are some examples:

  • You need more outlets to take full advantage of new home automation devices.

  • Your present wiring is faulty or dangerous. If you have frequent electrical issues, make sure that your home’s electrical system can handle the extra load.

  • You live in an older home that retains most of its original wiring. Upgrading wiring might be necessary if you want to install some devices, like the INSTEON thermostat shown, which requires low-voltage wiring and won’t work with older high-voltage wiring.

    [Credit: Image courtesy of INSTEON.]

    Credit: Image courtesy of INSTEON.

Should you find that you need wiring, seek the help of a licensed electrician. While you may not relish the expense involved in obtaining the services of an electrician, it sure beats paying a doctor to correct your body’s electrical system (assuming you don’t fry it, that is). Many areas require certified electricians to do any electrical work needed, so be sure to check with local authorities before you do anything yourself.

This will not come as an epiphany to those of you who know what you’re doing when it comes to electrical work, but will be a good reminder for those who don’t do this sort of thing regularly: Be absolutely certain to cut the power at the main electrical panel in your home! If you aren’t sure what or where that is, do not attempt any electrical work on your own.