Imagine that it is the dead of winter and you are on vacation somewhere warm and sunny. You have turned down your home thermostat to save energy. You check the weather reports to discover that the temperature is going to drop below freezing. So you whip out your smart phone, launch an app and turn up the heat in your house from the tropical comfort of your hotel.
Or, imagine that you left your house early in the day and are returning home after dark. You realize that your house will be completely dark but, with your smart phone, you can turn them on and have a brightly-lit house waiting for you when you get home. This is the Jetson’s-like world of home automation.
This technology is designed to make your home more comfortable and safe, and to coordinate with your smartphone, but how does it work?
In a nutshell, your home automation system connects to a remote server. Then you access the remote server, via the web browser or an app on your phone, to monitor or make changes to your home. There are several different types of technology that allow you to do this:
X10 and Universal Powerline Bus (UPB)
These technologies use your homes electrical wiring as a transmitter. X10 is older technology and is not really in use because it can be erratic and hard to configure. UPB is a sort of upgrade to X10 and is more stable. Although UPB is an improvement on X10 technology, it is not compatible with X10 devices.
Insteon uses both your homes electrical system and a wireless network to transmit signals. It is compatible with X10 technology and is relatively easy to configure.
Z-Wave technology is completely wireless. It is not compatible with Insteon or X10 technology, but it is very easy to configure.
Like Z-wave, ZigBee is completely wireless and is not compatible with Insteon or X10. ZigBee is also a relatively new technology and is not without its quirks – the biggest of which is that it’s very hard to configure the system to talk to multiple devices by different manufacturers.
So, when you get one of these systems, a technician will install the control panel in your home. If you are also getting a security system, he will install those components as well.
Depending on the technology, the control panel with either be hardwired to your house electrical system, wireless, or a combination of both. All of the devices that you want to control are connected to a patch panel that then sends and receives signals via the control panel.
For remote access, and to connect to the security company, the technician will also connect the system to your home phone line, or to your wireless network, to allow it to communicate with the security company’s remote server. If you are not using a security company, you can configure it to connect to your home network and access the internet, so that you can control it remotely with your phone.
Once the control panel is connected to the internet, and the company's remote server, you would load an app, provided by the manufacturer, onto your phone to control your system. If you do not have an app, you can use your phone to log in at the company’s website to send a remote signal to the control panel over the internet.