Complete Home Automation Systems Guide – Top Smart Home Reviews

Home Automation Systems
Home Automation Systems

It is not surprising at all that home automation systems have a taken center-stage in the push for better use of technology. It is, after-all, the expected trajectory for the internet of things.

Think about it: with more than half the world now connected to the internet and glued to their smartphones, it is very clear that we are dependent on technology to make our day to day lives easier.

We use the internet to search for everything from where to eat to where to live, things to buy, where to hang out and even how to raise a family. A good percentage of the world's workforce ply their trade online now.

We use the internet and a flurry of Apps to order for our taxis (Uber) instead of hailing one down by the side of the road; we use an App to find a place to stay when we travel (Airbnb), and we even do most of our shopping online. It is evident that we like our lives automated and that we are gearing towards a fully automated world. Why wouldn't home automation systems be part of this world?

A clear indication that home automation is the next big thing is the kind of big brand names that are joining the game. From Apple to Google, GE and even Microsoft.

These companies are busy coming up with new, more innovative smart home kits, gadgets, and sensors that can do pretty much everything from open and close your blinds to control your lighting as well as your heating systems. Today, you can automate:

  • Your garden
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    Your lighting system at home
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    Your HVAC
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    Your lawn mower
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    Your window treatments
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    Your doors and doorbells
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    Most of your home appliances
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    Your entertainment system

Even your car is well on its way to being automated (and we are talking self-driving autonomous vehicles here). The best part is that with the best systems in the market, you can even give voice commands to get things up and running around the house. Yes. Sounds like something straight out of a James Bond film or a Star Trek movie but it's true. Our homes are getting smarter!

It is predicted that this market will be worth billions of dollars in the next few years. That can only mean one thing: more and more companies will join the fray.

Typically, that bodes well for you, the consumer because you will have a wider variety of options from which to choose and the pricing will get competitive soon enough.

It does, however, also mean that you will be bombarded with so much information and so many choices that finding and choosing the right kind of home automation may present a problem.

Because more functions around the home become increasingly in the near future, it is wise to get started on the basics now.

What we have done here is come up with a comprehensive rundown of home automation systems that you can have installed. This list shows you what is available in the market today and gives you a good idea of what else is to come. Armed with this knowledge, you can make better choices as to which kinds of home automation systems might interest or benefit you the most. Read on to get the full picture.

What Is a Home Automation System?

In its essence, a home automation system seeks to make the operation of several home appliances more convenient and in the process, help you to save energy, time and money.

This typically involves the automatic control of electrical devices in the home either via your Wi-Fi connection, through a mechanical set-up or remotely through a platform or an App. The best systems and the most integrated homes have a centralized command hub through which you can send instructions to:

  • The lighting system in your home.
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    The air conditioning and heating system.
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    Your audio and video systems.
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    The entire security system in the home.
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    Select kitchen appliances such as your coffee maker and fridge.

The list goes on to include most other pieces of equipment that you can use in the home. To be honest, we are not yet at the peak of home automation systems. If anything, we are just at the beginning of it all and are yet to see the best that is to come. As such, not every appliance and system around the home can be automated.

The fundamentals of a properly automated home include the use of a computer, smartphone or tablet that has been loaded with the right kind of software to help manage the various devices and systems that have been automated. Many of these systems are either connected wirelessly via your home internet connection or hardwired into the house's home wiring system so that they can be controlled locally by a series of switches or buttons.

How Does Home Automation Work?

While the science of it all might be too technical to fully explain here (mostly because most of the companies dealing in home automation systems have patented designs), the basics of it are quite simple.

A home automation system generally works via the following components:

  • Sensors: The entire system is implemented by a series of sensors that are linked to controlling devices as well as actuators. These sensors detect light, temperature, motion and a wide array of sensing elements depending on the type of system in questions. For example, a smart doorbell that sends you an alert when someone rings your doorbell has sensors that are programmed to detect the motion. These smart doorbells can be programmed to live streamline a video once someone steps into the set parameters such as your porch or even your front yard. Generally speaking, the sensors involved in home automation can be thermistors, thermocouples, level sensors, photo detectors, IR sensors, current transformers and so on. These sensors typically need signal conditioning equipment that helps them to communicate with the main controller.
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    Controllers: The controllers involved can either be a smartphone, a personal computer, a tablet or a touchpad and so on. These controllers are often attached to the controlling devices via a wireless internet connection, and they are loaded with operating software that allows them to receive and send information from the sensors which in turn control the actuators. The program loaded into the controller can be modified according to the kind of load operations required. For example, you can load different 'Scenes' for your smart lighting control to allow you to either dim the lights, make them turn on and off at certain times or set the ambiance of a room as needed. These programmable controllers allow you to connect several sensors as well as actuators through a number of output and input modules that can either be digital or analog.
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    Actuators: These are the controlling mechanisms involved in the set-up of a smart home. They include things such as motors, relays, limit switches and such.

Now, since most home automation systems require a controller of some kind, we are sure you are wondering if you will need to have a touchpad or a remote controller for everything that is automated in your smart home.

Fundamentally speaking, this would be true since every system has its own set of rules and ways through which it can be controlled. But walking around with a hundred remotes or downloading a thousand Apps on your phone so that you can control your smart home would be impractical. In fact, it would negate that whole 'smart' point. That is why the bright minds behind most home automation systems came up with a solution for that; it's called a smart home automation hub.

What Is a Smart Home Automation Hub?

Home Automation Systems

A smart home automation hub is like a brain. It is the control center that receives and send out all the signals to any and all systems that are connected to it. For example, if you have a smart lighting system, audio, and video system as well as an HVAC system connected to your smart home service, you can link them all through the smart hub. This means that you can control all these systems through that one portal thus allowing you to get rid of all those other remote controllers that you would have to carry walk around with had you chosen to control every one of these systems independently.

Simply put, a smart home automation hub allows you to have a seamless integration of all your smart home devices so they can work cohesively thus giving you a pleasant experience.

These hubs can typically work with ZiBee, Z-Wave, IFTTT protocols, Bluetooth and a plethora of other frequencies that allow you to set the desired sequence of events. For example, nowadays you can easily program your heating system to turn itself off once you leave the house and turn itself back on in the evening when you get back home. You can actually remotely turn it on as well as the lights so that when you get home, you walk into a well-lit and well-heated environment.

That is just a small example of what home automation systems can do. There is definitely a lot more in store for the future as the technology in this field progresses.

Different Types of Home Automation Systems?

There are three main types of home automation systems. The implementation of the system you choose fully depends on what type it is (wired or wireless). These three types include:

  • Powerline based home automation systems: This is an inexpensive type of home automation that does not require additional wires or cables in order to transfer information or data. These types of systems use the existing power lines to make these transfers. While they may be inexpensive to set up, they tend to get complicated really quickly and will need additional circuits, devices, and converters.
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    BUS Cable or Wired home automation systems: With these types of systems, the entire array of gadgets and devices are connected to a central controller, mostly a programmable logic controller which is hooked to a communication cable. Your equipment are attached to actuators which help them communicate with the central controller. The entire system here goes through a computer that is constantly communicating with the central controller.
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    Wireless home automation systems: As the name suggests, this is the expansion of wired automation via wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee, IR, Bluetooth, GSM and so on. These connections help the automation systems to achieve remote operation capabilities, so you can control them with the use of App on your smartphone from wherever you are as long as there is a connection.

The type of system you choose to go with really depends on which mode of operation with which you are comfortable.

What Kinds of Things Can Be Automated in the Home?

The simple answer to this question is 'almost everything.' From your wall clocks to your entertainment system, even your cooking utensils, and windows. If it is something you use on an almost daily basis, there is a good chance that you can automate it. Granted, many home automation systems are still in the works and do not perform quite as well as you would expect them to, but for the most part, the systems that are already dominating the market work pretty well.

If you think of the term 'smart home' you will probably immediately conjure up images of a home that is able to communicate with and ushers you in with a welcome message all the while addressing you by name. You know, kind of like what Iron Man has in those films. The truth is, the smart home concept really isn't that far from that fictional enactment.

With the home automation systems available today, you can pretty much program everything to work in a certain way around your home. We are talking about:

  • Programming your blinds to open and close at certain times of the day even if you are not home.
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    Programming your HVAC system to heat up and cool down certain rooms at a given temperature.
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    Being able to control your lights (dim, brighten or create scenes) through voice command.
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    Being able to turn on your entertainment system through voice command.
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    Programming the porch or driveway lights to turn on as soon as it senses your vehicle in the evening.
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    Programming your motion sensors to turn on the security lights with any movement outside.
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    Programming your clock to wake you up and open the blinds at a specific time in the morning.
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    Programming your doorbell to send you live stream videos when anyone rings it.
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    Being able to remotely lock and unlock your door when you approve of the visitors standing in front of it even when you are not around.

All these systems are meant to make your life much easier and to save you money wherever they can. For example, your thermostat can be programmed to shut down when it senses that you have left a certain room or have left home for the day. The same thermostat can be programmed to turn on when you come back. Or it could even be remotely controlled and commanded to heat up the home when you leave the office so that you walk into a warm and toasty abode. These are all ways through which a smart thermostat can help you save money on your energy bills.

The possibilities here are immense. And as mentioned earlier, bigger and bigger brand names are getting into the game. As the competition stiffens, there will be more options available for the consumer to choose. Who knows, maybe someday we could be able to program our homes to automatically change wall color with the seasons?! Maybe even get the entire structure to send you periodic status alerts showing you which sections need repairs? That way you do not have to wait for the roof to start leaking to realize that it needs some patchwork.

Getting Started in Home Automation

Home Automation Systems

While the thought of having a smart home will have you conjuring up images of Tony Stark's home, the truth is that to achieve that level of automation you would have to go through your life savings and actually wait for a few more years so that technology and inventions can catch up. That doesn't mean that you cannot have the kind of smart home that will make your neighbors jealous right now. The trick is to start small, learn your preferences along the way and scale up as time goes.

The first thing you need to do is develop a clearly defined vision of what you want your home automation system to achieve:

  • Do you want your coffee maker to brew you a fresh pot every morning before you wake up?
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    How about your porch lights coming on as soon as you drive into your driveway?
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    What about a doorbell that sends you a video of whoever is on your front porch as soon as they touch the ringer?
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    Maybe you want your blinds to open and close automatically at specific times of the day even when you are not home.
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    Does your heating system switch itself off as soon as you leave the room?
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    Can you turn on your sound system with voice command?

It all depends on what you want your smart home to do. What is your vision of the perfectly automated home? Once you have that vision, you can easily start by figuring out what you need to buy first. Study all the available options in the market; narrow it down using whichever parameters apply to you the most (pricing, user experience, ease of implementation etc.) That is why you need no-nonsense smart home product reviews like the ones we provide on this platform.

We give you a clear picture of what you can expect when you have a certain system installed in your home. Our reviews show you whether or not that system is right for you and what you need to do before you have it installed. We help you cut to the chase!

If, however, you are still uncertain about this whole 'smart home' thing, then do not worry; there are home automation systems that are not expensive, are easy enough to implement and will not disrupt your regular routine until you decide to scale up.

We are talking about things like smart doorbells that allow you to view live videos of people at your door. These doorbells will greatly reduce the risk associated with opening doors for strangers and give you full control of your home security. These are the kind of things that you can experiment with as you try to figure out whether or not you want to fully automate your home.

Here are some simple tips that you can use to get started in home automation:
  • Keep it simple: You do not want to jump right into the complicated stuff like a system that can control your HVAC, turn your stereo system on and off and use voice command to control your lights. The idea of home automation is that things should be programmed to perform certain tasks at a specified time. One of the simplest things to start with is a smart switch that can control any device plugged into it. You can take a look at things like iHome Smart Plug or iDevices Switch. You could also go for smart light controls that allow you to switch your lights on and off. Once you figure out how to use these simple automation systems, you can slowly scale up as you learn more.
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    Maybe think about voice control: Ever since Siri happened, voice control has been the 'in' thing for those of us who like to think that we are futuristic. Nowadays, there are so many options that make use of voice control such as Amazon Echo, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Many of these voice control systems can be easily paired with other home automation devices which makes that whole controlling them thing so much fun. You could get your home automation 'sea legs' through the various voice control systems on the market today.
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    Try out something new every now and again: This entire home automation industry is relatively new, and as such, you have a wide array of systems to try out. The things is to ensure that whatever you buy can easily be paired with other systems. This is mostly because you will be adding on other devices as you get more familiar with smart devices. You do not want to buy into something that will be walled off and separated completely from the rest of the house.

The other option is to try things out for free. There are companies that allow free demos for their devices provided you give them a thorough review from you as the end user. This option gives you an excellent opportunity to see if that particular home automation system is a good fit for your specific needs or even if you want to automate your home at all.

The Best Types of Home Automation Systems to Buy

Granted, all these smart home automation options can be very exciting. But unless you want to blow the bank account on everything that is available out there, it is best to narrow down your choices for a start. Not only is this financially prudent, but as we already mentioned, it will give you a chance to learn how home automation really works, so you have better insight when you decide to scale up. With that in mind, here are some home automation systems that you can consider buying, to begin with:

Smart Home Surveillance

Home security and surveillance are at the top of the list when homeowners think of making their houses smart. With the right kind of home surveillance system, not only can you see what's happening in your home while on the go, but you can also keep tabs on your kids when you leave them with a babysitter while on a trip. Now there are two main options that you can consider when it comes to affordable home surveillance as opposed to shelling out thousands of dollars to a home security firm.

  • Option 1: You could build a home surveillance system yourself using old smartphones that you do not use anymore. You would need to download a mobile webcam App such as 'IP Webcam.' Once they are set up, you will have to install 'Webcam Watcher' on your laptop to act as the central monitoring station. Once all that is done, you need to place those smartphones in strategic locations in the house so that almost, if not every, corner is covered by a smartphone camera. This is a rudimentary way of building your own smart home surveillance system, but it works rather well.
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    Option 2: If you are thinking maybe 'Option 1' is too rudimentary for you, then maybe you should consider investing in a smart home security device such as the 'D-Link Wireless Surveillance Camera.' It goes for under $100 and allows you to keep tabs on your home while on the road.

These two options will give you a chance to see how convenient a surveillance system can be when installed in your home. If you want to go a step further, you can have a smart doorbell installed. These have cameras, stream live videos and send you alerts on your phone when someone is at your door.

Smart Home Lighting Options

Yet another option that many first-time smart homeowners go for when investing in home automation systems. Smart lighting options have come a long way from simple light switches that can control your lamps to an entire command center with 'Scenes' that can be pre-programmed for each and every room.

If you are thinking of going the smart lighting way, you might want to start with the 'Philips Hue Lightbulb.' This is an affordable LED bulb that promises to use up to 80% less energy around your home. The smart thing about these bulbs is that you can control them using a smartphone App. This App allows you to set a timer remotely so that the lights come on and off at a specified time whether you are in or not.

Automated home lighting systems can be programmed to do a lot of things including:

  • Turning on and off at specified times.
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    Your porch lights can be programmed using motion sensors to turn on when someone walks onto the porch.
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    Your security lights can turn on when you drive into your driveway.
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    The lights can 'learn' to sense when there is no one in any given room and go off automatically or come on when someone walks into the room.

While there are smart lighting systems that are rather expensive, the most basic and still useful enough options aren't that pricey.

Smart Sensors

This has to be one of the most exciting sections of the home automation industry. Today, we have sensors that can be used for just about everything depending on the kind of smart home hub you have installed. These sensors include:

  • Motion sensors.
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    Weight sensors.
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    Temperature sensors.
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    Humidity sensors and so on.

To get you well on your way, you can start with the 'Aeon Labs Multi-Sensor.' This is a 4-in-1 solution that gives a wide array of sensors that can detect temperature changes, motion, humidity, and lighting. Designed to use Z-Wave protocol, this sensor is very well supported in the industry and is rather affordable. If you pair this sensor with an affordable hub, you can program it to send you alerts when a certain event is triggered in your home such as movement outside your door.

Smart Gardener

If you are gardening enthusiast, you will be pleased to know that there are smart gardening devices available on the market today. Many of these devices are designed to help you get the most out of your plants. They do so by providing you with a vast resource center that will show you what kind of changes you need to make to your soil pH or your humidity levels so as to get the most of specific plant species associated with your garden.

While many other options enable you to automate your plants watering cycle so you do not lose your plant when you forget or when you are away on a long trip, there are others that are bit more sophisticated. The 'Parrot Flower Power' for example is an excellent smart plant sensor that accurately tracks the health of your plants and sends you alerts in real time. It is cheap, it comes with a well-developed App, and it is a great way to get into smart gardening.

Smart Outlets

These have to be the most basic smart home components you can buy today. The smart plug or smart outlet is an extension that plugs into your regular wall outlets and gives you better control over your appliances that are plugged into that extension.

You can try your hand out on the 'Belkin WeMo Switch' which is by far one of the most popular components in this category. Mostly because it is very cheap and it is quite easy to use.

These are just a few of the most basic home automation systems that you can consider buying for a start. From here on it gets a little complicated with huge systems that have comprehensively designed command centers. From your home entertainment systems to security and even heating, it is easy to start small and then scale up as the need arises.

Why You Should Consider Buying Home Automation

Home Automation Systems

So, after all that has been said here, why should you consider buying any kind of home automation system? Is it just another set of gadgets for you to show off and make your neighbors green with envy? While that might be true for the most part, many other wonderful advantages come with investing in home automation systems that go beyond simple vanity. Advantages that are actually beneficial to your well-being and that add to your general home security. These include:

  • Maximization of home security: This is probably one of the leading reasons why people invest in home automation systems. When you pair security and surveillance features with your smart home accessories, you add a tangible layer of defense to your general home security. The best part is that there are so many options that go into this section. A good example would be connecting your home automation system to motion sensors, surveillance cameras, smart doorbell and automatic door locks. Once these devices are connected to the main smart hub in your home, you can easily control them remotely using an App on your phone. The best part is that they can be programmed to send you alerts when anything is triggered which gives you excellent leeway to trigger the right kind of response protocols such as locking of doors, sounding of alarms and turning on of security lights. You can also monitor what goes on in your home in real time which is quite convenient for those who have small children being cared for by nannies or those who have home renovations being done while they are at work or away.
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    It increases your home's energy efficiency: Yet another wonderful reason why you should strongly consider automating your home, particularly with smart lighting. The best kinds of systems offer you precise control over most home appliances that traditionally waste energy. A good example would be when you automate your A/C and heating. Traditionally, you would have your heating system running throughout the winter so that you do not walk into a cold house when you come back home. But with smart home automation, you can actually have you HVAC connected to the smart home hub so that you can control it remotely. This allows you to turn it off when you leave as well as on when you know you are about to head home. Some of these systems can be programmed to learn how you like your home heated or cooled so that they trigger that action in the individual rooms that you are in at that particular time. So instead of heating the entire house, you will be heating just the part that you need. It is easy to see how this can save you a great deal of money on energy. You can also program your shades or blinds to switch to daytime or evening mode thus ensuring that you do not lose any heat during the day and that you have complete privacy as well.
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    The convenience of remote control functionality: Imagine not having to walk to the thermostat whenever you need to turn the heat up or down? Imagine not having to walk over to every window in the house when you need the shades drawn? Or not having to walk over to every light switch when you need the lights on and off. These are the kind of conveniences that comes with having a home automated system that can do all this for you. How about ordering your home to cool down on a hot summer day just before you arrive? What about remotely unlocking your door when you have welcome visitors while you are still out stuck in traffic? You simply cannot put a price on the kind of experience that the right home automation system will bring into your life.
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    Centralizing all of your home devices: We have a ton of gadgets nowadays. From your large flat screen TV to your surround sound system and your vacuum cleaners or lawnmowers. Keeping track of all these devices can be challenging especially if you want to control them from your smartphone. But with the right smart home hub, you can centralize the command of all these devices onto one controller such as your phone or your laptop. This gives you access to every inch of your home that is automated. It basically brings you a remote controller to right where you are seated. A remote controller for your entire house!
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    Improved functionality from your appliances: The whole idea behind buying home appliances is so that they can make your life more convenient and easy. Home automation can help make that convenience even more pronounced by allowing you to get the most out of your appliances' functionality. For example: if you have a smart TV, it can actually learn your pattern and program taste so that it automatically suggests other programs that match that taste just like YouTube has that 'suggested videos' column based on what you like to watch. This is a wonderful way to discover new and entertaining TV series. Another excellent example is how smart ovens can help you cook to perfection thus eliminating that risk that comes with undercooking or overcooking your Thanksgiving turkey. Also, an automated entertainment system can help you manage programs and entertain guests more effortlessly.
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    You get valuable home life management insights: Think about it this way: if you have a system that collects all the necessary data such as what you have in your fridge, what kind of shows you like to watch on TV and your overall energy consumption habits, wouldn't you use that information to make better choices? Most people would and do! With the kind of insights you get from home automation systems, you can learn how to save energy, eat better and even manage your time more wisely. The best part is that many of these systems learn these patterns too and tend to automate most of your action so that you do not need to draw the blinds every evening; your smart blinds can do that for you flawlessly.
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    Easy integration of new appliances and devices: As technology progresses that entertainment system that is state-of-the-art now will soon become yesterday's hit. New and more advanced gadgets are being designed and produced every day. Being able to integrate these devices into your home seamlessly through the smart home hub you have will allow you to keep with the times. Plus, you won't have to re-learn all that programming since your home automation system can help you easily configure your new devices through the platform or App that you need.
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    Customization of your own home: If there is one thing that every homeowner wants is for their home to be unique. You do not want to have the same house as the Jonas’s down the road. You want to have something special; something that all your neighbors can marvel at and envy. With smart home automation systems, you have the opportunity to customize almost every automated function in your home. From the kind of smart blinds you get to the smart doorbell and even the smart lighting scenes you can set, with the right system, your home will be the only one in the area that can do what it does. Talk about bragging rights.

These are some of the main advantages that come with having the right kind of home automation system installed. If you buy from the right company and hire qualified installers, your home could turn out to be the most relaxed and enjoyable location to be every single day.

Disadvantages That Come with Home Automation

Of course, with every good thing, there is a flip side. Home automation is no exception to this rule. Some issues come with having your home either fully or even partially automated. These include:

  • The complexity of the technology involved: Some systems in the market are just too complex and heavily loaded with functionality to make any sense to a regular Joe. Some of the systems out there need you to be a certified software programmer to operate. This can be a bit of a hindrance to those people who would like to enjoy the kind of convenience and functionality that these specific systems bring but just can't get around how complex they are to operate.
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    The associated cost: Although we have mentioned some very affordable options here, some fully integrated automation systems could go for more than $200,000 depending on what you want them to do. This kind of high cost is a huge barrier to entry for homeowners who are keen on fully automating their homes.
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    Poor installation: The most basic of home automation systems allow for DIY installation. While the instructions manual from the manufacturers may say that they are simple enough to install, the user might not find that to be the case. Also, some systems are just too complex to install and will require a bit of redecoration or remodeling to get up and running.
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    You will need internet: As much as some home automation systems use frequencies such as GSM, the majority of them depend on your high-speed internet. If you have an unreliable connection, then you will be thoroughly inconvenienced.
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    System compatibility issues: Although having a centralized platform is important, some systems require different log-ins to control. For example, you may need to log into a certain platform to change the settings on your HVAC as well as need to log into an entirely different one to change your light settings. This kind of inconvenience can be tedious and annoying. It will also mean that you need to spend more money on a better-centralized platform as well as find smart devices that are compatible with that hub. This costs more money.

All things considered, the advantages associated with automating your home far outweigh the disadvantages that come with it. If you are keen on getting started on this futuristic path, read on to see what is on offer out there. On this platform, we have tried, tested and reviewed some of the most popular home automation systems that you can try out.

With the right guidance, the right installation and the right step-by-step integration process, you can fully automate your home as you slowly learn all these new and nifty systems on the market today. Yes, there is a slight learning curve, but with time, you can overcome that hurdle and begin to fully enjoy the convenience, security, and pleasure that can be derived from home automation.

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