It’s too often Plug and Pray

4Y3A6132Today’s smart brochures would have you believe that doing home automation yourself is just a matter of unpacking units and plugging them in.

Integrating lighting, audio/video, shading, security cameras or door locks looks straightforward when you read the instructions on the various individual boxes. But the challenges seem to start when you want separate systems to work harmoniously together.

Home automation means that you are working with electronics to control a variety of devices. Most people want these to work together, so that when you get ready for bed, all it takes is one button press to lock the front door, draw the blinds, set the security system and turn out the lights. But that isn’t so easy for an automation system made up of disparate parts and brands. There are so many multiple unknowns. On the stands at exhibitions like ISE, you simply see displays showing the ideal world – where everything fits together.

5 Reasons why Do it Yourself  installs often fail

For anyone who wants the benefits of home automation without the hassle, here are five reasons NOT to try and do it yourself.

1) A confusing festival of Apps. With over 2 million Apps in the Appstore and another 1.3 million on the Android platform, it is tempting to think that there must be “an app for that”. In fact there is often an app for each subsystem, but rarely have we seen apps that talk to each other, operating in one seamless interface. This is the equivalent of having five or six remote controls on the table, and playing “disk jockey” to make everything work in the right sequence. That’s why we always sit down with our clients beforehand to plan what has to work together. From that discussion we can show what works together, based on our daily experience in the field.

2) These subsystems are not simple. It used to be that most electricians could replace light switches or measure and hang security blinds. Now thermostats, controlled lighting systems, room-in-room AV/installations require a much higher level of engineering skill to choose the right combination and wire it together. Even if part of the system is “wireless”, there is always the need for a wireless switcher to physically switch devices. The challenge at the moment for everyone in the business is that different companies have different twists on standards, partly to ensure that you buy their entire system. We are continuously looking for integrated solutions, talking with suppliers, and in some cases writing our own software to tie specific systems together. In the end, all the devices have to be easy to operate, often remotely.

3) We’re in the early stages of the smart home. Although brands like NEST, and Philips HUE have been featured in lifestyle magazines and technical catalogues, but they are not always the best solution. Especially the NEST thermostat does not work with many of the older central heating systems found in Europe. Part of the challenge is the lack of standardisation. Again it helps to understand what the goal is, rather than being lured by an article in a magazine.

4) Lack of Dealer Support. Especially in this sector, the installers usually know more about the quirks of the products than the dealers. Remember distributors are paid to shift product to customers. Whereas installers, like ourselves, build systems that world. There are often cases where we see software upgrades on one device that suddenly cause problems in other electronics connected to the system. There is often a world-around, but that rarely gets back to the dealers. There are multiple systems out there — and many don’t talk to each other. So how are DIYers to know which products to buy and how do they sort through the confusion? And how do they know which security cameras to buy or if the spanking new light switch they bought will work with that really cool LED fixture or the LED strip they love in their kitchen? Expertise is required.

5) Execution Risk. Anyone of us that has done any kind of automation knows how finicky it can be sometimes, be it DIY or professional grade. When consumers try to do it themselves, this can be very frustrating. Add to that the relative youth of this category in the DIY space, with unproven companies that may go out of business or be shut down — leaving early adopters in the lurch and becoming a cash and time burden for many do-it-yourselfers.

There have really only been three big successes in the DIY space. Sonos, Nest, and Dropcam, and they are great, single-purpose products. Other than Nest, they don’t require interfacing with any subsystems or complicated wiring. And even with Nest, consumer-replaceable thermostats have been around for a very long time.

DIY products have opened up the conversations with many of our clients. Just as Sonos has done for whole home audio and Nest has done for smart thermostats, products like Hue have opened up the doors to creative lighting. More and more people are at least familiar with the concept of home automation. Just be aware that when it comes to seamlessly connecting it all together, you may need some professional help to get it right – and maintain your investment.

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Ironic that there were display problems on the KNX stand when we passed by. Their reputation is all about getting things to work together.