Ever since cell phone companies added the internet and other technology to cell phones, there’s been a push to make everything “smart.” Bluetooth devices allow you to make hands-free calls or listen to wireless speakers that you can easily move to different spaces. Cars are manufactured with voice activation so you can ask it for directions and Wi-Fi capabilities that let you pick up internet radio stations while you’re driving.

And let’s not forget Siri, Alexa, and Google – they allow us to order pizzas, tell us how many tablespoons are in a measuring cup, and record a to-do list using just our vocal commands.

Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and it seems as if each new invention is designed to make our hectic lives just a little bit easier. Home automation is no different – turning our homes into smart homes promise to save us time, money, and energy. But what, exactly, do you need to do to take your home from the past into the future?

Home Automation

While the concept has been around for a while, home automation has really been gaining traction since 2012. Automating your home basically boils down to controlling all electrical devices through your smartphone, tablet, or computer. In 2014, Amazon introduced Echo, a wireless speaker that could be voice-controlled to play music, stream podcasts, or set alarms.

It can also act as a “hub” for several automated home features. Echo is by far not the first hub, but it brought the idea if the smart home to beyond the realms of the tech world and into the hands of regular Joes.

Initially, automating the home was limited to those who had deep pockets. It could cost up to $100,000 to wire a home where areas like the lights, thermostat, garage door, and sound system could be controlled by the click of a button or even just a sensor.

Now, this technology is easy to replicate, and for a fraction of the cost. Homeowners can purchase automation devices that simply plug into the regular outlets, transforming their home into a smart home.

Z Wave

was created by the Danish company Zensys in the early 2000s. Z Wave uses low-power radio waves to automate homes; the waves can travel easily through its “mesh network”, which ensures the reliability of its products. All of your electronics can be unified to operate on one network: Z Wave products communicate with each other, and those that aren’t Z-Wave can be easily converted by plugging them into an accessory unit. Z Wave made the home automation concept accessible to people who didn’t have loads of money or computer programming experience.

Several other companies realized the brilliance of Z Wave products and recognized a need to integrate smart home products and give consumers the ability to purchase products that would cooperate with each other. In 2005, the Z Wave Alliance was formed, bringing together companies who wished to create technology that bore the Z Wave name. These companies included:

  • Intermatic;
  • Leviton;
  • Wayne Dalton;
  • Danfoss; and
  • Universal Electronics.

Since its inception, the Z Wave Alliance has expanded to include over 450 companies. Now everyday brands like Panasonic, Black and Decker, and GE offer products compatible with Z Wave’s home automation technology.

Z Wave’s devices can be controlled through manual commands or via automatic set-ups. You can program the garage door every night at ten o’clock, or you can manually lower your thermostat from your office. They can also communicate with each other: for example, you can program the lights in your house to come on whenever you use the smart lock on your front door. With their plethora of budget-friendly devices and reliable reputation, Z Wave can give you the power to control almost any electrical device in your home whether you’re there or not.

Smart Home Light Switches

If the idea of automating your whole home isn’t appealing, you may want to consider upgrading just your lights. For many people, manually controlling the lighting in their homes is a frustrating task. If you plan to go out of town, you have to leave several bulbs burning all day and night, which eats up electricity.

Also, anyone with kids knows they tend to struggle with the concept of turning off the lights when they leave a room. Automated lighting options, like smart bulbs and switches, allow you to turn lights on and off through your phone, PC, or tablet, which can save you money on your electricity (not to mention relieve much irritation).

Smart bulbs are simple because they just need to be screwed into lamps and fixtures and they work right away. While they are an inexpensive option, they’re not always the best one because they tend to just be the one standard size: bulb A with base E. If your fixture needs special light bulbs, you may not be able to find adaptable smart ones. In that case, you’re left switching out the light fixture entirely, which can get complicated and costlier than you expected.

Smart home light switches are a more permanent feature. They are wired into the walls, so they require you to break out a few tools. They are also more expensive, but not by much: light bulbs range from $15 to a few hundred, and many smart switches hover around $50. An advantage of using the smart switch is that you can use any type of bulb you’d like.

This also means you can use any fixture you’d like, an appealing option for those who are finicky about their lighting quality or particularly attached to their dining room chandelier. You can also buy smart switches with dimmer options for when you want a moodier backdrop. While they cost more and installation is more involved, smart switches can give you a lot of options for your automated lighting desires.

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