Home Automation - Smart Home
What is Building or Home Automation or "Smart-Home"?
Building or Home automation is a concept where various functions in a building, such as heating/cooling, ventilation, lighting, shutters, blinds, awnings, window and door controls, security systems, household appliances and sound systems, may be automated. This automation can be achieved through the use of a combination of specialist devices and a control program or programs.
Building or home automation can assist in increasing the energy efficiency of a building, both commercial and domestic. Automation of building systems in the commercial sector has already been occurring for decades. In the domestic sector, home automation has been gaining popularity over the past number of years. The most common term for building or home automation in the domestic sector is the expression "smart-home".
Common Uses for Building/Home Automation or "Smart-Home" Systems
The most common form use of building/home automation and/or "Smart Home" is in the areas of building climate control and lighting. Automation in these areas allows savings to be made with regard to energy usage. This not only helps to reduce costs but also helps in improving or minimizing the environmental impact.
Automation of the climate control systems can be as simple as having an external weather station (sensors) and internal room controllers all linked to the heating/cooling system. A program is utilised to analyse the data it receives from the various sensors and then communicates with the heating system where the program algorithms then determine the most efficient use of the system. To make such a system even more efficient the system can be tied into the controllers for the ventilation, shutter, blinds and/or awning systems. By adding additional external sensors for use by the controllers of these building devices, the automation program can use the data and automatically control their position in order for the building climate to be optimally maintained. These systems would work together with the heating and/or cooling systems to determine the optimal settings and operation for the climate control equipment.
Lighting systems within and outside a home can also be managed by the system by use of programs and sensors. The advantages here would be that lighting may only be automatically activated when there is someone present within the room and automatically turn of at a predetermined time when the room is vacated. Additional criteria, such as time of day or light levels may also be included in the control logic.
Controls for lighting can also be set to instill a particular mood for a given situation. An example may be a theatre mode, where lighting can be dimmed to your preset preference when watching television or projections on a screen. The possibilities are almost endless.
The controller can also be used to control the lighting for security purposes.
Benefits of Building/Home Automation or "Smart-Home" Systems
The overall benefits of building/home automation systems is that they allow the efficient and automated use of various systems within or around the building environment. The user can make contact with the system and read a variety of status reports over the various system. The user may also be able to make adjustments to suit any variations in their personal preferences. This communication with the automation system can be made directly via a console on site or it may also be communicated with remotely via Wi-Fi, internet or the cloud, through an App.
Building or household security systems can also be tied into a building/home automation system and may additionally be able to control such items as lock/unlock mechanisms on doors and windows.
Security of Automation Systems
Attention needs to be made to the security of a building/home automation or "Smart-Home" system.
There are many systems on the market with weak or no security features at all. These systems are prone to attacks from "hackers" or others who have a malicious or criminal intent. Generally, the cheaper the cost of a system, the more lacking in robust security features it is.
Also there is the issue that some systems do not receive, or have made available, software updates that may overcome newly discovered security issues. This has especially been the case for products at the low price-point end of the market.
It is very important to check that the supplier or manufacturer will support the system into the future with updates to the software. This is especially important where the updates relate to the repair of security leaks or weaknesses in an older version. Unfortunately there are many systems on the market where there is no upgrade or maintenance path available.
Compatible and/or Inter-operable
When selecting a suitable system or combination of systems, one needs to ensure that the various components are compatible with both the protocol used by the operating system and are able to inter-operate with components from different hardware manufacturers.
Being compatible and inter-operable with different manufacturers modules are never a feature of proprietary systems. However, there are many systems that utilise a common protocol and may therefore be compatible for use in the system. This can enhance the functionality and efficiency of your overall automation system. That is, you may be able to select the most suitable components for your automation needs from different manufacturers and be able to integrate them into the one control system.
Additionally, some systems with differing protocols can communicate with each other with the aid of a bridging device or third party software that is able to communicate with various different protocols.
The bridging device is a hardware based solution that allows messages from one protocol to be passed on to another protocol and thereby still enabling usage of the devices. However, not all device features are necessarily implemented or available via a bridge.
Third party software is becoming more prevalent, especially on the "Smart Home" scene. The software can identify and speak with protocols from a variety of manufacturers and allow the user to have a common software control point for devices from different manufacturers. The software handles the interactions between the different controllers and actors.
One needs to carefully check to ensure that the third party software of choice officially supports the devices you intend to use.
Building/Home automation or Smart-home systems, when combined together with the building heating and cooling systems can provide a more finite control of the output of these devices on a room-by-room and "as needed" basis.
This alone can make these systems more efficient as a result of more precise measurements being able to be made and this information being passed on to the heating or cooling system so that it can make more accurate adjustments to the heating or cooling curves that are applied. The end result is usually a saving in energy costs as the heating or cooling system is not operating more than it needs to.
The efficiency of such a system can be further enhanced by including control of building features such as shutters, blinds and awnings. These devices can be activated based on predetermined criteria and set to specific positions that will further enhance the climate control of rooms within a building. They can provide additional shading on hot days thereby reducing the demand on the cooling system.
The devices can also be set in such a way that during cold periods they maximise the amount of the suns radiant energy entering the building. This can help to reduce heating effort and costs.
Alternatively the same devices can also be used to provide an extra barrier helping to insulate the window surfaces against cold thereby again causing a reduction in the heating effort required with the resulting savings in energy consumption and costs.
There is also the comfort factor that can be brought about by building/home automation systems.
Items in the home or building such as entertainment systems and various household appliances can be controlled via a building automation system that also allows communication through a control panel, a network connected device, through a "cloud-connection" or via a Wi-Fi connected device. Various objects in the system can be programmed to interact with each other. The user can, again, also communicate and control the devices remotely, such as via an internet connection.
As has been mentioned before, many of the automation system controllers can now be communicated with via devices such as smart-phone or personal computers (notepads or desktops). This allows a user to have connection to the system in order to identify the status of the system but also the user may activate, de-activate the system or some of its features.
The user may also be able to alter some of the settings remotely. A simple example of this would be to have the climate control system bring the building or individual rooms to a certain selected temperature and/or switch on lights in certain locations, so that all is ready just in time for when the user arrives.