At some time or another, we’ve all second-guessed ourselves with questions like, “Did I turn off the stove?” or “Did I remember to turn the outside light on?” after leaving the house. Futuristic wishes of how cool it would be to have the ability to do these things remotely is now a reality as homeowners are embracing the transformation of their homes into – smart homes. Think this sounds far-fetched? Think again. According to Berg Insight, CNN reported that sales of automation systems could grow to almost $9.5 billion in 2015, and CNN reports that number could reach almost $44 billion by 2017 (source: CNN).
What is a smart home?
So, what exactly is a smart home? The term relates to a residence that has appliances (such as lighting, heating and air conditioning, TVs, computers, audio and video entertainment systems, security and camera systems), all of which have the capability of communicating with each other – and you. They can be controlled remotely, not only from any room in your home, but also from any location in the world by smartphone or internet. As it’s nearly impossible these days not to see someone on their smartphone or tablet, these super portable mini-computers give us the capability to control multiple things in the home – from one device – with the touch of a button. Since most homes were not built with these products, it’s important to do your research if you are considering a home automation system. Learn what systems and features will work best for you and your family.
Currently, there are two networking protocols or systems to power smart home automation products: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Zigbee or Z-Wave. These networks work independently, so homeowners need to choose the one that’s going to work best for their needs. Here is some additional information on each system which can help you decide which one to get.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Wi-Fi: It’s a home network that uses a high bandwidth that’s power-sensitive (which means the devices require a dedicated power source or long-lasting battery). Up until now, Wi-Fi chips have been on the expensive side, leading tech companies to turn to other wireless technologies for their products.
- Bluetooth: For smart homes, Bluetooth products require a person to be in close physical proximity to the device. It uses frequency hopping and government-grade encryption to help against interception or unscrambling your interaction with the gear. It’s a secure network that has a higher data bandwidth than Zigbee and Z-Wave (discussed below), which means the products that are enabled can do more than flip a switch to turn on a light or report movement from your security system. Bluetooth LE (low energy) is the newest version which uses a small amount of power compared to Wi-Fi. Its developers say Bluetooth LE will be able to form “mesh networks,” ultimately putting it ahead of the competition with Zigbee and Z-Wave. Mesh networking is a term used for a device that has the ability to receive and send the same signal, thus extending the range of the network. These advancements and capabilities are making Bluetooth increasingly popular in smart homes. Even smartphone accessory developers are looking into it more closely for their products.
- Zigbee and Z-Wave: These two networks run on low-powered wireless networks, which means their products can run for years on a watch battery. Their control devices are driven mostly from a range and power consumption perspective that uses a mesh network, making them a great choice for reaching far-flung sensors in the smart home. Their low bandwidth makes them great choices for simple devices such as window and door motion sensors or smart lightbulbs that only require data connections to be turned on and off. The major downside to both Zigbee and Z-Wave is that their signals are not compatible with mainstream computing devices (like a smartphone, tablet or laptop), so devices like bulbs and sensors would need to communicate with a hub that is connected to your home network (e.g., Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable plugged into an internet router). You would then be able to use the app to control the devices in your home. Zigbee and Z-Wave are networks that are independent from each other and although they are both basically similar in power and range, they are not compatible and have technical differences. Their low prices, however, make them attractive options for product manufacturers.
As the industry and technology continue to change, there is no cut-and-dry answer as to which of these four network standards is the best. Doing your own research as to which one is the best fit for your lifestyle and family is the best tactic to follow when you’re ready to join the smart house market.
Our goal at Granite Transformations is to keep up-to-date and informed on the latest home improvement innovation and technology. If you are considering a home renovation, visit us at granitetransformations.com.