Home security systems, and the companies that provide them, have evolved greatly since the first patent came out over 150 years ago. As with most things, the evolution of the system was rather slow.
That is until the IoT (Internet of Things) went mainstream and the home security industry was rejuvenated with a product line that meshed with their current offerings. The home automation security system was the birth child of the union and the industry has exploded as a result.
This coupling of home security and automation is now referred to as a “smart home” and many companies rebranded their names to include this term in some way. This article will touch on both but will ultimately dive into the home automation half of the business specifically. It is designed to provide information and serve as a guide for you to learn what is involved and how it works.
While the ecosystem is large and there are many options, I will focus on the primary devices and benefits offered individually, and as a network. We will cover the following four topics:
1) Managing your home’s energy usage
2) Reassuring yourself the doors are locked and the garage is closed
3) Creating a system to automate your home
4) Controlling the system with user actions
Energy Management Systems
There are three facets to this section we will get into. While they primarily deal with energy management, they also pertain to convenience and security as well. I will dive more in-depth on automating these processes in the sections below.
1) Programmable Thermostats. There are tons of options on the market when it comes to programmable thermostats and I will get into some of these manufacturers in later posts. This article will cover the basics of how they work and how they will benefit you and your home.
Just as the name implies, these thermostats are designed to be “programmed”. This simply means that you can create a schedule, or schedules if the thermostat allows more than one, that will regulate the temperature inside your home.
For example, let’s say that you have a consistent work schedule. You leave your home for work at 7:30 A.M. and get back home at 5:30 P.M. on a daily basis. Depending on the time of year, there is no need to leave your heat or a/c on all day heating or cooling an empty house. This type of thermostat fixes that by regulating the temperature of your home while away.
To continue with this example let’s say that it is summer so outside temperatures are naturally warmer. Let’s also assume you are predominantly a “set it and forget it” type, meaning you leave your thermostat at a set temperature the majority of the time. In this scenario, we will say you leave it at 72 degrees.
Normally when you leave, the a/c will be continuously working throughout the day as the outside temperature warms up your house. Your a/c is constantly attempting to regulate your home’s temperature to that 72-degree mark.
By creating a schedule for when your home sits empty you can allow the inside of your home to rise to 82 degrees without triggering the a/c to kick on. Your a/c will be working less to regulate the temperature of your home resulting in less energy expenditure and cost savings.
To finish the schedule, your thermostat will adjust itself back to your preferred 72-degree zone. It does this prior to your arrival, so that by 5:30 P.M. your home will be comfortable when you walk in the door.
Obviously, these are hypothetical numbers, however, I would like to point out when creating schedules it is best to keep your “away from home” temperature within 10 degrees or so from your “at home” temperature. It is easier on your HVAC system to consistently regulate your home a few degrees than it is to be turned on and off forcing it into “overdrive” to heat or cool your home several 10s of degrees.
To adapt your thermostat for winter time, reverse the scenario, allowing your temperature to drop rather than rise. In addition, here are a few more quick notes:
- Some programmable thermostats allow multiple schedules such as for work, morning, nighttime/sleeping, etc.
- They can be set to any schedule such as daily, every other day, weekends, or any other schedule you would like.
- When combined with home security systems they can provide additional cost savings. Many will tie in with the control panel and recognize when doors or windows are left open prompting the thermostat to go into energy savings mode.
2) Smart Lights. Smart lights work similarly to regular light bulbs. They screw into your existing light sockets and turn and off by the same switches that control your lights now. However, they go above and beyond from this point forward.
In addition to flipping switches to control the lighting in your home, these smart bulbs can be controlled and fine-tuned in various ways:
- Schedules can be set up, the same way the programmable thermostats work, to create on and off times for the lights in your home. They can be set on a schedule in tandem, or individually.
- The brightness, or dimness, of each light can be controlled without the need for installing dimming switches.
- Depending on the light bulb, some can even offer color changing effects.
- The control panel, if designed to work with automation, and the app provided by the company of your choice will allow you to control each light from either a central or remote location.
- Last but not least, smart assistant speakers can control each light.
These lights offer you energy, security, and a convenient alternative over traditional bulbs. Like most people, you’ve probably found yourself in a position of wondering if you remembered to turn off your lights.
When away, or home and just prefer not to have to walk from room to room, you can easily check directly from the app and turn them off as needed.
If you are away and would like to give the perception that somebody is home to deter potential burglars, you can turn any light of your choice on from the app or by creating a schedule to do so for you. This avoids unnecessary energy waste during the day and offers increased security at night.
3) Outlet Modules. Outlet modules are small devices that essentially make regular wall outlets smart outlets. The device will plug into your wall outlet and allow one to multiple plug-ins.
Once installed, it can then be controlled in much the same way as your smart lights. You can set schedules for turning them on and off, control them from the panel and app, and control them from your voice assistant.
Exterior Door Control
There are two primary facets the home security industry offers in terms of controlling your exterior doors. They include:
1) Door Locks. There are several manufacturers and models when it comes to door locks. The most common in the industry will have a keypad on the outside and a key slot.
You can typically keep the same keys for your home’s current locks and reprogram it to work with the smart door lock. In addition to this method, you can program a pin to unlock your door. They can also be controlled through the same methods as the above smart products.
2) Garage Door Module. This device is attached to the motor that lifts and closes your garage door. Once installed it will turn your garage door into a smart device and allow it to be controlled in various methods.
Now that we know what is typically involved in home automation equipment, let’s dive more in-depth on how these devices can be controlled and actually automated.
Control Panels, Schedules, and Scenes
If you are looking at getting into a fully functional home automation security system then you will want to invest in a panel that can control all aspects of the system. They will have a much cleaner design and interface (much like a tablet) than a traditional alarm panel.
They will act as a hub for you to manually control every aspect of your system including:
- Arm and disarm your security
- Adjust your thermostat
- Control your lights
- Turn on/off your appliances
- Lock/unlock your doors
- Open/close your garage door
- View your cameras
The monitoring company, or a third-party company that powers the app, will have an online platform that you can create schedules or scenes for automating your devices.
Once you log in there will be tabs for each that you can customize. The schedule tab will have what is essentially a calendar that you can select which days and times you’d like for your devices to do a scheduled command.
Scenes are a brilliant way of connecting your devices and controlling them as a network in one command. For example, you could create a scene called “away” that would arm your security system, lock the door locks, turn off the lights, close the garage door, and adjust your thermostat to a more energy efficient level.
You can create several of these scenes for different occasions and just select the scene that corresponds with what you would like your system to do.
Voice Assistants and Mobile Apps/Geofencing
Voice assistants have become nearly a household item these days and security companies have been quick to implement them into their offerings.
You can connect them to your network and then name each automation device. From there your voice assistant will have access to each component and have the ability to deliver a specified command. For example, if you just getting home from work you can tell your assistant to close the garage door, lock the front door, arm your system, and turn on the kitchen lights.
The mobile app will have all the same controls as the alarm panel in terms of using your system and selecting which scene you would like to perform. In addition to this, you may have access to something called geofencing or geo-services.
This is a rather new technology that makes a big difference, especially for those that don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up schedules and scenes.
This feature will use your cell phones location as an indicator of which actions to perform. It will work based on the last connected phone to leave the home.
If you leave your home and have nothing set up and didn’t manually tell your system to do anything this will semi-automate everything for you. For example, let’s say you drive a mile away from your home and you have every aspect to a smart home system. You will then receive notifications asking you if you’d like to:
- Arm your system
- Lock your doors
- Adjust your thermostat
- Turn off your lights
- Close your garage door
Depending on the radius you select for each component, when you are on your way home your thermostat will automatically revert to your comfort level. When you get closer your garage door will open, your door will unlock, your lights will turn on, and once within range of the panel your security will disarm itself.
A Complete Smart Home
To get the full benefit from your home automation alarm system you will want at least the basic security sensors and the most important automation devices to suit your needs.
Begin with your end result in mind and start with a control panel that will fully implement a full suite of automation equipment. You can always add to your system later.
Afterward, think of your and your families daily routine and set schedules based around your routines that will make your system run itself. Thermostats, lights, and outlet modules fit this role perfectly. You can set a morning schedule to have the thermostat warm your home to your comfort level, turn your bedroom light on, and turn the electric blanket off.
Then you can create a scene that you enable from your panel or your app for when you and your family leave the home. Your scene will arm your security system, set your thermostat to a pre-programmed energy savings mode, turn the lights and appliances off, lock your doors, and close the garage door.
Finally, when you drive home and enter the geofence your system will behave the way you commanded it to based off of your proximity to home. Your thermostat will begin warming/cooling your home to your comfort level, your garage door will open, your lights will turn on, your doors will unlock, and your security will disarm.
This is an example of how an automated home would look when fully set up. You can customize this in any way that benefits you and your household the most.