Smart home solutions often promise a quick and easy transformation of your home. And, in most cases, it does not require more than a little affinity for technology in order to add some “smart” to your home.
But do these gadgets, which promise foolproof installations, really create a smart home, or are they just toys? What can a professional system integrator add in order to transform four walls with a ceiling into something intelligent?
What to expect from DIY smart home solutions
The installation of DIY gadgets is mostly very easy and the programming via smartphones or tablets takes, thanks to intuitive apps, a matter of minutes. Within 10 minutes, you can have your light up and running with your phone, a smart thermostat automatically creates a cosy atmosphere and intelligent power sockets only provide electricity to those devices which are currently used. As it is state of the art, all solutions can be controlled from the owner’s mobile.
This all sounds great, but unfortunately there are some downsides to DIY and ironically, the first downside of all is controlling the smart gadgets from a mobile device.
DIY: One app per solution…each!
Aside from the fact that some apps are only available for Google’s Android and others only for Apple’s iOS, each solution requires a separate app, leaving the homeowner with a number of apps, for which manuals have to be studied, online accounts created and familiarisation required for knowing what you actually have installed.
Considering that most people do not know all the functionality of their smartphones, not knowing all functionality of your smart home gadget might not only result in a waste of money for solutions you do not use, but also possible inconvenience, which is the opposite of what a smart home is supposed to be.
A solution to this problem would be to buy devices from only one manufacturer, but this would result in a reduction in flexibility, as you would be bound to this manufacturer (who could also stop support for their smart homes products at any time). This problem brings us to the next downside of DIY systems: Compatibility
DIY: Compatibility problems
When it comes to smart home devices, there are many competing technologies, all using different ways of communicating. From the hardware side, the devices might communicate via Wi-Fi, others via cable. And from the software side, some devices might use cloud-based solutions but most established systems require a strong software compatibility.
Imagining there were only two methods of communication (Wi-Fi or cable) and only three established systems with their own software solutions (Apple, Amazon or Google), the chance that you have compatible devices is one in six. Now, in the real world, we know there are more ways of communication and many more manufacturers with solutions on the market so the logical conclusion is that compatibility is almost not-existent.
DIY: What about security and privacy?
The good news is that all gadgets usually include an encryption mechanism, which prevents unauthorised access to the device’s settings. And should you have forgotten to close a door through which a hacker might slip, the hacker would only have access to one gadget and not to all those involved in making your home smart.
However, many devices used in a smart home, such as smart TVs and voice activated hubs, are collecting information in order to identify the owner’s patterns and automate processes (for example, a light goes on according to previous behaviours). The result is that all those companies are collecting data about you, which they might then use for further marketing or further customer service purposes. But if you are not comfortable with companies collecting data about your smart home, then this type of home automation is not for you.
What to expect from professional smart home solutions?
DIY solutions do contribute to the “smart” of a smart home, but at the same time, they have the reputation to be a hobby for tech-fans or a toy, some more expensive, some less.
A professionally installed system, on the other hand, is not an impulse investment in various devices. It requires an initial planning process at which all needs of the home owner are identified, further usage forecasted (for example, when the children grow up and move out) and in some cases require physical work on the home, such as when new cables have to be pulled.
Not only is a professional installation fully customised to the homeowner’s needs, it also offers a high level of flexibility, as a professionally installed system also comes with a whole infrastructure for the home, which can be extended and modified with new devices at any time. Needless to say, a professional installation also adds greater value to your home as it has transformed the physical building to provide for a smart home infrastructure.
However, a professionally installed system will naturally involve a higher initial financial investment as the cost covers not just a few devices, but by a whole system wired through the whole house.
DIY vs Professional: What’s next?
DIY and professional systems have one thing in common: Both have many technologies and systems, and new ones are released every day. So after you have decided whether to use a DIY or professional system, the next question remains the same: Which technology is the right one?
The answer is simple: Whereas DIY solutions are mostly chosen depending on personal preference (be it design, function or just the colour), professional solutions should be open to many manufacturers in order to provide maximum compatibility and flexibility.
Professional installation: Getting rid of children's diseases
Once an open protocol technology is chosen, the issue of compatibility no longer exists. In the case of KNX for example, all compatible devices are certified and guarantee flawless compatibility, meaning that, for example, one interface can control the entire installation.
As for security, the configuration of devices is mostly done via professional tools, which require proper training in order to use them. For the homeowner, there is still the possibility to make minor changes, which have been agreed on with the professional integrator (although an installation by a professional installer is best not to be touched by newbies).
So what is the right choice for me?
The answer to this question is not at all surprising: It all depends on you! If you only need to have one or two lamps controlled with your phone, DIY might be the better choice. However, if you want to jump on the smart home train and invest in sustainable solutions, the professional installation might be more interesting for you.
These scenarios might help you decide. DIY solutions would be more favourable for smaller apartments, which have been rented. These solutions can easily be taken to the next place, adding some intelligence to the place you live now as well as future homes. Also, when you just want to add a little bit of convenience to your daily life without having the need to go all-in, the respective DIY solution is the right choice.
The recommendation for professional installations goes to home owners, who would like to add value to their real estate and are able to invest a little extra in their house. Basic installations pricewise can start at under a thousand dollars and can range to significantly higher. However, with a basic installation, you can enjoy all advantages of a smart home, totally custom made for you.
*Ian Richardson, Chairman at KNX National Group Australia