If you watch TV commercials for Home Depot, they will tell you can do most projects in your home easily. All you need is a little advice and the right tools. Does this apply to home automation? There are several web sites out there now that want to sell you home automation kits. They will tell you it has “everything you need” to start wiring up and controlling your house. They all use words like “easy” and “simple.” Are they?
First, we should look at what we mean by home automation. Because there is no legal definition of the term, there are some companies that will sell you a kit that will allow you to dim a few lights, turn the heat down during the day and turn the lawn sprinkler on and off. In many cases, you are left with a small button or keypad to operate those functions, which isn’t a lot more convenient that the switches you have now. On the other hand, you may be buying a very complicated system that can turn into a nightmare and end up requiring professional help to bail you out. That can get expensive,
So, can you DIY a home automation system? The answer is yes and no. Maybe you have an exceptional skill set and want to give it try, but you should be aware of what you need to know. Let’s look at some of the skills you would need to automate your own home.
Product knowledge: Are you aware of the many different systems that are on the market, and what the problems and benefits are? For example, you may be offered a very inexpensive X-10 kit. You would need to know that this is not considered professional grade, does a poor job of giving you feedback on the status of devices and is no longer being developed. What about a UPB system? Do you know the electrical challenges of this option, and its relative high cost? Or Insteon? It uses the wiring in your house, but it assumes that every switchbox has a neutral ground. That usually isn’t the case in older homes. Are you qualified to figure that out? And those systems are just for simple functions. Are you up to date on the latest true high-end systems from Creston, AMX and Lutron – the companies that are on the leading edge of home automation? If you are planning on anything more than a few lights and a sprinkler, that’s the kind of equipment you’ll need, or you may be throwing money away on a low quality dead-end system.
If you feel uncomfortable with choosing the right products, you need the services of a home automation professional.
Electrical skills: Home automation almost always requires changes to electrical systems. As noted above, grounding becomes important. Lighting may have to replaced to be compatible with dimming, or dimmers may have to replaced to work with automation. In many jurisdictions, you are required to use a licensed electrical contractor to do this kind of work. Did you consider that in the do-it-yourself budget? Do you know an electrical contractor that is familiar with home automation, or will he learning about it on your time and money?
If you have any concerns about the electrical part of the job, you need the expertise of a home automation professional. They have the skill, experience and personnel to take care of this part of the job quickly and more importantly, safely.
Wiring: What do you know about wiring? How are your cable-pulling skills? Are you prepared to knock holes in your drywall and feed cables through your house? Here’s a simple way to tell if you should be handling wiring. Is the black wire the power or the ground wire? The answer is both. It could be the live wire in A/C and the ground in D/C. If you didn’t know that, you really need a home automation professional to wire your house.
Connecting to the outside world: How are your computer skills? A home automation system will probably interface with cable TV, the internet, satellite radio, your iphone and many other sources. If you aren’t tech savvy on all these devices, use a pro.
Audio: Unless you are an enthusiastic audiophile, you will find this one of the most difficult skills. How many speakers, where, how powerful an amplifier, how many zones – all questions best left to the pro’s. We do not recommend anyone trying this at home.
Service and support: Is it important to you to have a satisfaction guarantee and long term support? The on-line company that sells you a home automation kit will not support your installation. If you install it on your own, you’re also on your own when it doesn’t work. If after-installation support is important to you, you’ll only get that from a home automation professional.
In short, if you have exceptional handyman skills and are looking for a fun project, you may try automating a few lights in your house. If you are looking at a well supported future proof system that controls your home reliably and communicates seamlessly with the outside world, invest your money in a professionally designed and installed home automation solution. OneTouch Automation is ready, willing and able to help.