10 Expert Tips For Building Your Automated Smart Home

Imagine walking into your house, and tapping a button on your iPad — then seeing the lights come on, your air conditioning change to a comfortable temperature, and your favourite program come onto the TV. You can turn your apartment into a high-tech penthouse and stand out from the crowd, or build a smart home on your very own piece of Australian soil.

Smart home images via Shutterstock

We talked to Ben Green, one of the brains behind Push Controls by Schneider Electric, to get a broad idea of what you should do if you're planning to turn your house into a smart home — whether you're building a new dwelling from scratch, or giving your existing living space a makeover.

If you're new to the idea of a smart home, here's the basics. Push Controls is a smart home automation system, installed into your home by an expert integrator, that gives you the ability to control just about anything — from your lighting, home heating, ventilation and air conditioning, entertainment like TVs, Foxtel and networked home audio, and complete security system — from an iPad, iPhone or Android device. Your tablet becomes a one-stop shop for switching on and off just about anything electronic around your house, and it's really cool to see in action.

1. Plan Ahead, Work Out What You Need

This is the most important thing to do when you're building a home automation system for your house or apartment. Do you want just lighting and air conditioning to be controlled from your tablet or smartphone, do you want to integrate a security system, or do you want to go the whole hog and include your home theatre or living room TV setup?

When you talk to the installer, going in with a plan of what devices you have, or that you want, means you're both on the same page when it comes to mapping out a diagram of your future smart home and discussing the potential costs.

2. A Good Wi-Fi Router Is The Heart Of A Smart Home

Buying a good Wi-Fi router will solve just about any of the problems that might crop up with a wireless, iPad- or tablet-controlled smart home system.

If you have a solid, high-quality Wi-Fi signal across your property, your various smart home devices will be able to communicate with each other without any chance of drop-out or packet loss, and that means tapping to turn on a light or swiping to change its brightness works every time and happens instantly.

3. If You're Building From Scratch, Do That Little Bit Extra

For a new home build, speccing it out with fittings and fixtures that will stand the test of time just makes sense, and it helps any home automation installer immeasurably.

As a good starting point, even if you have a good Wi-Fi router giving you an adequately strong signal across your entire property, consider optioning Ethernet networking cable installation to at least one data point in every room of your house — even closets! — to allow for a versatile smart home installation now and into the future.

4. In An Apartment, Work Around Your Strata Rules

If you're in a pre-existing dwelling, especially when it's an apartment which is controlled partially by the rules of strata or body corporate, you're more restricted than if you owned the four walls and ceiling around you on your own.

Check your strata rules to see how they might affect your smart home's installation and integration, work around any restrictions that might be in place, and make sure you submit any applications where necessary — you don't want to annoy your neighbours.

5. Choose The Right Appliances, But Don't Go Nuts

There are some brands and some smart home devices that are better than others, As a general rule, when you're installing a home automation system, it's the smart home controller that does all the work, so your in-home products like lighting or air conditioning don't necessarily have to be 'smart' themselves.

For one example, it's often easier to use good ol' fashioned 'dumb' lighting and have it controlled completely via home automation.

6. Keeping Within One Or Two Brands Can Be Good

You don't necessarily have to keep all your entertainment devices within the same brand — it's not necessary to have a Samsung TV and a Samsung Blu-ray player, for example — although it might be worth it for the aesthetic advantage and for those devices talking to each other through their proprietary networking standards.

If you're taking the opportunity to install networked audio speakers like LG's Music Flow, you'll obviously have to buy all the devices within that family.

7. Talk To An Expert

When it comes to technology, we all like to think of ourselves as pretty clued-up, but when it comes to the complex world of home automation, it can be best to leave the heavy lifting to people that have done it many times before.

Especially if you're going all-out with a new build and integrating serious smart home technology like lighting, irrigation, pool pumps or a solar energy system, you'll need to get professional advice and guidance at least for one or two of the steps in the entire process.

8. Leave Wiring Jobs To The Professionals

Of course, if you're thinking of doing any work that involves touching 240-volt electricity wiring or your in-home phone line, that must be left up to an expert.

In Australia, installation and testing of mains-connected electrical devices must be completed by a licenced electrician, and fines apply if you're caught — not to mention the danger of possibly coming in contact with live electricity and electrocuting yourself. It's not worth it — talk to an expert.

9. Keep In Touch With Your Installer

If you're a tech-head, or if you have the disposable income to be upgrading TVs and home entertainment equipment regularly, you need to consider how those changes will affect your home automation system.

Don't worry too much, though — as long as you stay within the same brand of product, nine times out of 10 you won't have to do anything and your in-home system will remain working perfectly.

10. Updates Can Be Done Remotely Or In Person

If you change from a Samsung TV to a Sony though, for example, chances are you'll have to re-program your smart home system to accommodate the different infrared or IP control codes. This isn't a difficult job, though, purely because it'll be handled by the installer you used to integrate your home automation system in the first place.

Get in touch with your installer, and there's a very good chance that he or she will be able to update your smart home controller remotely (for systems that support that feature). If not, a quick home visit will get everything sorted.


Comments

    Number 3 is the most important. Future proof the hell out of a smart home.

    The amount of times someone adamantly refused an extra power point, network point or cabling only to ring up 3 months later and have to pay 3x more for it is absurd. It costs so little put in extra points.... just do it.

    Maybe one day you'll want rear speakers, maybe one day you'll want a TV on that wall or move your existing one somewhere else.

    In fact this is true for building a non smart house too.... but still.... FFS you're paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for something you might live in for 30+ years.... Just pay a few bucks extra and do it right.

      So true. Especially with data as well. Mate did his house with data points in every room. Stuck a 24 port hub in the linen cupboard. Where all the points came out.

      Antenna, twin GPO and Ethernet in every corner of every room is a start!
      Spent two days putting a cable in to a media room for a mate, 3 @&/$ studs in the way.
      If building today I will look for the fiber optic std for wall plug and put them in as well.

    Just before Christmas I received a Ninja Sphere, a Kickstarter-funded home automation hub that works primarily via a phone app, but can be monitored and controlled from almost anything (including the 2 minute PHP app I wrote that lets me see if my rice cooker is done).

    It's still beta-ish (with updates coming in the next few weeks apparently) but has ZigBee, BLE, WiFi and support for things like Z-Wave via third party USB dongles, plus a nifty LED display on the top and air gestures for turning stuff on and off.

    Right now I can switch my WeMo sockets on and off, change the volume on my Chromecast, check how much power is being used by my appliance(s) and turn my Hue lights on and off.

    A bit pricey at $329 USD, but should support a bunch of devices, including Fitbits (so you can turn lights on and off automatically when you walk into rooms) and Sonos, with possible Bluetooth audio / spotify support coming.

    Worth a look if you want something that could possibly integrate with stuff already in your house.

      I got the Smart Things hub, but haven't installed it yet. Only $100, but may support less methods than yours. I primarily got it to control a Yale pin pad door lock. So I can assign different pin numbers to different people for set periods of time...no keys, ever - really looking forward to it!

        I thought that smarthome stuff was only out in the US? How did you get a model that's compatible power-wise?

          From their twitter feed: "the transformer that we ship with the hub is auto-sensing between 100-240v AC", so should be OK. Not sure if smarthome and smartthings is the same?

            Ohhh yep. I was thinking smartthings.

              So was I ... you may have been thinking of smarthome. Anyway, to be clear. SmartThings is fine with 220v.

        How much / where did you get your / what sort of radio (e.g. ZigBee, Bluetooth, Z-Wave) is in your Yale lock? I want to "smart-up" my door but can't seem to find much outside of things like the August smart lock that won't ship to Australia because they don't think I'm smart enough to install a door lock myself.

          Z-Wave. This one: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/131372613912?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1497.l2649
          I like this particular model because it has 'hard' buttons (the soft versions take a little while to become active) and there is no key, which is apparently the most vulnerable part of a lock. If it runs out of batteries you can use a 9v battery on some terminals on the bottom to re-activate.

          I'm not an expert on the automated home tech, so I honestly just went with the buzz and steered towards Z-Wave and SmartThings.

    Don't use Push controls!
    The device is secured by your installer, you don't even get access to the device.
    This means any changes (like an ip address) incur a call-out fee of $195

    Hi guys, thanks for providing such useful info. I am building my house this year and i want to make sure it is as smart as can be. Is there an Australia forum i can join for advise and guidance? I want to know what main controllers you have all used and which one is offering more bang for the buck. I am very techie and can do a lot myself so im all excited to learn more about this stuff :)

    Many people these days are switching towards smart home system just because of money- saving benefits. There is very less you need to worry about these systems. We have recently added some best smart home systems among which ventis is HVAC system is best.

    Limited to iDevices.. Well Schneider Electric can iFuckoff.

    I would never be able to pull out enough bandwidth from storage to have my whole house automated unless I overhaul my entire system! But wow, this is the dream isn't it!

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