On its own, a home automation system has the dexterity to juggle a variety of different tasks. Meticulously engineered and designed by the manufacturer and installed by a home systems integrator, it’s able to dim and brighten light fixtures, adjust the settings of thermostats, provide status reports of household electricity usage, and choreograph the operation of complex home entertainment systems. These, and a wide assortment of other tasks completed by controllable devices, are what the home automation industry refers to as “subsystems.” Without subsystems, a home automation processor’s many talents can go sorely underutilized.
To realize the full benefit of living in an automated home, it’s essential that at least a few subsystems be integrated with a home automation system. Integration usually involves the addition of special hardware and professionally programmed software. But don’t worry. These extra pieces of technology won’t clash with your home’s design or complicate your lifestyle. Their system smarts, which may take the form of a black box or panel that mounts to the wall, or reside alongside the automation processor in a utility room or closet, are able to maintain a low profile. After receiving a signal from a handheld remote, touchpanel, smartphone, tablet, motion sensor, or some other trigger device, an automation system communicates its instructions, like “turn foyer and kitchen lights on at 6 p.m.” to the processor of the subsystem, which in turn carries out the command. In other cases, a light switch, thermostat, and other individual devices may contain the smarts to be controlled directly from the automation system without any help from a subsystem processor. The communication between an automation system and subsystems can happen over cabling or wirelessly via standards like Z-Wave, ZigBee, or Wi-Fi.
Regardless of the signal path or communications protocol, subsystems are an essential component of an automation system. Take the time to consider what types of products and devices you’d like to be able to actively monitor, control, and automate. Maybe you’re interested in automating only the motorized window shades and lights; perhaps you’d like to weave in the control of the swimming pool system and electronic door locks. This will help determine the type of automation system you should use, as they vary in their level of integration capabilities. You’ll want to know which subsystems an automation system has been designed and engineered to handle out of the box, and what upgrade options are available.
It’s also important to understand that, just because an automation system has been crafted to work with heating and cooling systems, for example, it may not be able to control all makes and models of heating and cooling systems. Most home automation systems are very brand-specific when it comes to the types of subsystems they can control.
The following list explains the different types of subsystems commonly integrated with automation systems. If you have any questions or concerns about a system’s integration capabilities, manufacturers are happy to share this information with you and your home systems integrator.
Architectural Lighting Control System
Probably the most popular and practical of all automation subsystems, an architectural lighting control system enables all types of light sources, including incandescent, compact fluorescent, halogen, and LED to be dimmed and brightened to prescribed levels to achieve greater energy savings, provide visual interest, enhance security, and set the mood for certain occasions. When managed by a home automation system, the operation of a home’s lights can be synchronized with other subsystems. This provides even greater benefits; for instance, the lights can turn on and off according to the settings of a security system or the position of motorized draperies.
Protecting your home and family is well handled by a residential security system, and many can now also control lights and thermostats. Still, there are good reasons to integrate security with a home automation system, convenience being one major benefit. From the same device you use to control various other electronic subsystems in your house, you’ll be able to view the status of the security system, arm and disarm sensors, and even view real-time images captured by surveillance cameras. Moreover, the same security sensors that monitor your house can be also used to enact certain automation routines. For example, sensors that are intended to trigger an alarm when they detect motion can also trigger a pathway of lights to turn on.
Heating and Cooling System
Manufacturers of thermostats have improved the usability of their products over the years, making them vastly easier to program. As a result, your house temperature can adjust automatically and in sync with your daily routine. It’s even easier to schedule thermostat adjustments, though, by integrating your heating and cooling system with an automation system. This is particularly true for homes that have multiple thermostats. Rather than program each thermostat individually, a home automation system lets you set up them all from the screen of a tablet, touchpanel, or some other user interface. Once they’re programmed, you can monitor the temperature of each heating and cooling zone and adjust as necessary from this single control device. Another perk: The temperature can adjust automatically based on certain conditions like when the garage door opens, the home theater system activates, or the motorized window shades close.
Audio and Video System
Imagine having your favorite song greet you as you enter the house after work or waking up to see the morning news displayed on your bathroom TV. It’s possible when a home’s audio and video components are managed and controlled by an automation system. On cue from an automation system, music can travel from equipment in a media room to speakers throughout the house. Ditto for video to TVs. And your home’s lights can adjust in concert with the music if they’re programmed via the automation system.
One touch of a button can create the perfect ambiance for a dinner party, a romantic evening at home, or a festive gathering of friends on the back patio. And you’ll have no trouble finding the music or video you want to enjoy when your A/V equipment is managed by a home automation system. You’ll be able to peruse your entire library of media conveniently from the screen of the same tablet, phone, or touchpanel that is used to operate the other electronic subsystems in your house. A few taps of a finger activates the audio or video and instructs it where to play. If there’s a particular room where you often watch movies, an automation system can set up the equipment and the room environment in one fell swoop. On command, the room lights dim, the shades close, and the appropriate equipment revs up. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy.
Other Subsystems Worth Automating
The aforementioned subsystems are the most popular to place under the aegis of an automation system, but just about any product or system that derives electrical or battery power can be integrated. When working with a home systems professional to design and install an automation system, also consider these integration-worthy components: swimming pool and spa system, motorized gates, electronic door locks, garage doors, motorized equipment (for drapes, TVs, home theater screens, and video projectors), irrigation system, and decorative fountains. —L.M.