A Home Automation Guide for the Holidays and Beyond


The prices of home automation hubs and devices continue to fall, allowing almost everyone to add HA functionality to their house, condo, or apartment. Soon you’ll be able to control your home’s lighting, thermostats, and more using software on your computer or a mobile app on your smartphone or tablet. The era of the Internet of Things has dawned, so take advantage of what’s out there to make your life a bit more efficient.

Here is a home automation guide to help you check out what devices make sense in your home for the holidays and into the New Year.

A Quick Primer on Home Automation

In short, most smaller home automation systems leverage wireless communications to allow any number of devices, like lights, shades, thermostats, security sensors, and more to communicate with a central hub that usually connects to your router. Note that the larger, more expensive systems use a combination of wired and wireless connections.

Wireless HA systems are limited by the range of their hub — usually anywhere from 50 to 100 feet. This is something you will need to pay attention to when building your own system. Still, there is no denying that building a wireless home automation system is now an easier and more inexpensive process.

When deciding on a home automation system, try to look for hubs that support open standards, as they give you the most flexibility in device choices. A closed system may tie you into only one vendor’s devices, which would cause a big problem if that company folds, leaving you with no support options.

Still, when first putting a system together, a starter kit from one vendor is a good idea, as you’ll probably save some money in your initial purchase. Future expansion, on the other hand, becomes easier with an open system.

Microsoft and Insteon Combine for Home Automation

Microsoft partnered with HA industry veteran, Insteon, earlier in 2014 with Redmond adding exclusive features to the Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 versions of Insteon’s home automation app. You can also pick up a starter kit and various devices for the system at any Microsoft Store. If you already own a Windows Phone, this may be an HA option worth exploring more closely.

Insteon home automation starter kits range from around $100 to a few hundred dollars depending on the number of devices. The bare bones version of the starter kit only includes two lighting dimmers and a hub, so you’ll need to invest some more dollars to get additional functionality. Some reviews of the kit complained about the clunkiness of the management app, so take that into consideration before making a final choice.

iSmartAlarm Makes Sense for Adding Security to Your Smart Home

If adding security is your prime reason for considering home automation, check out the offerings from iSmartAlarm. You can pick up their starter kit for around $200, which gives you all you’ll need to set up a basic security system for your small home, condo, or apartment. Their basic system includes a motion detector, two open/close sensors, a hub with a siren, and two remote key chain devices for arming and disarming the system.

A premium option for an extra $150 adds a camera, plus you can purchase additional sensors and motion detectors to expand your system in an a la carte fashion. Management apps exist for both the iOS and Android mobile platforms. If you just need home security on a budget, iSmartAlarm is one of the better choices on the market.

SmartThings Offers an Open and Flexible HA System

Recently purchased by Samsung and still operating independently, SmartThings offers the home automation shopper an open and flexible system that’s easy to expand. The openness of the system gives you many device options when you decide to grow, as you won’t be tied in a single vendor’s devices. A variety of basic starter kits are available for general home automation and/or home security; you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $500 for a SmartThings starter kit.

The SmartThings hub has a range of only 50 feet, so consider that when deciding on a home automation vendor. This setup might be best for smaller residences. For the price, it is definitely one of the best DIY home automation options current on the market.

Hopefully, this home automation guide gave you some food for thought as well as a few vendor options when you begin shopping for your own HA system. The popularity of wireless networking at the home has definitely lowered the overall cost of building your own system, while making it easy for those who like to “do it yourself.”

Photo Credit: Mark Moz