Choosing a home automation system

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Main home automation dashboard
Home automation dashboard on an Amazon Fire tablet

In a roundabout way, choosing a home automation system is one of the most frequently asked questions I see. This post is not going to make suggestions or go into any detail about the different solutions. This post is just to make you think about some common questions.

Mostly the question asked is asking for a recommendation for a product in isolation and is, therefore, answered in isolation. It’s asked through a lens that only shows us a moment in time.

Question: What’s the best Alexa compatible light bulb?

Then solutions come in thick and fast about specific brands of WiFi light bulbs that are Alexa compatible without exploring the actual problem. Moreover, they don’t look forward in time.

I’ve already documented my journey and shown how easy it is to paint yourself into an expensive and/or time-consuming corner only to have to throw it all away and start again.

Start with the end in mind and answer these questions for yourself:

  1. How technical do you want to get vs getting something off the shelf?
    (Even if you know nothing, you will learn fast and there is lots of information available through things like Facebook groups and forums. Don’t be to afraid of the unknown)
  2. How much time do you have to tinker with things that don’t quite work?
    (Few things will just work and never go wrong. There will invariably be glitches that you’ll have to diagnose)
  3. What sort of budget do you have to get started?
    (Think in terms of about £50 to £200 to get started before you even get your first lightbulb. And then £5 to £10 upwards for every device and sensor)
  4. How big is this likely to grow in terms of the number of devices you’re going to end up wanting to control? Think heat, light, other mains devices, sensors.
    (Go back and read “Where it all starts” if you think you’ll be happy with one or two lights)
  5. What do you want to be able to “sense”? Motion? Power? Light levels? Presence? Temperature?
    (Go back and read “When is smart smart” if your aim is to be able to shout at Alexa for the rest of your life!)
  6. What’s the structure/infrastructure of your house like already? Do you have neutral wires at your light switches? How big is your house? What’s the WiFi signal like?
  7. Who else is going to have to use this?
    (The rest of your household will need to learn new habits. Think about a fallback position for guests)
  8. How do you want to control your devices? Wall switches? An app? Tablets around the house with a dashboard? Voice?

Number 4 is the hardest as it really relies on you being able to see into the future. The others are fairly obvious and you’ll probably have a good idea with a little bit of thought.

As I said at the beginning. This post is to make you think. How you choose is as important as what you choose. I’m really into Home Assistant. So when anyone asks says something like “I’m completely new to home automation and want to get started with a couple of lights and a motion sensor” then my answer is often “Have a look at Home Assistant”.

The next few posts will focus on some of the theoretical options for your platform.