In my Ebook Integrating the Smart Home and its Owner (“ISHO” for short) I make mention of the fact that Home Automation is something of a black art. Not in any moral sense, of course, but it is so very undefined that it can mean almost anything. I think that’s unfortunate. We shouldn’t have to be so nebulous when we’re talking about making a home behave intelligently.

Let me share with you exactly what I mean by “home automation,” and then give you my thoughts on how to approach your automation project with clear thinking.

First of all, I hate the term.

It doesn’t mean anything substantial. Heck, your furnace comes on automatically, doesn’t it? And can’t you control the light bulb on the other side of the room by flicking a switch? I can hear it now: “Gee,” the neighbors say, “you must have an automated home!” Hardly.

Just because some things happen “automatically” doesn’t necessarily imply “home automation.” (Ow – the phrase is painful). I much prefer the term “system integration.”

“System Integration” speaks to the need for intelligent cooperation between the electronic systems in your home. It could be a matter as small as controlling different lighting zones by time or circumstance, or it may go so far as interfacing audio/video, security, lighting, heating & a/c, sprinkler systems, & oh-gosh-so-many -other-things. Remember the key idea: Integration of systems.

Did you ever have a great idea that really excited you, but found you couldn’t put it into words? Turned out that you really didn’t have such a good idea of what your great idea was, didn’t it? Once you have a grip on exactly what it is that you’re talking about when you say you want to “automate” (ow) your home, it becomes easier to conceptualize what you’ll be doing. It becomes something you can actually discuss in concrete terms or, shall we say, “put on paper.”

The other concept that will make it easier for you to visualize the how-to’s of … um… system integration – is to think of it in modular terms. You don’t need to worry about seeing the whole until you understand the parts. Put the right pieces into place for your security system. Put the right pieces into place for your lighting. Do it for your sound system, your Theater Room, your HVAC system, your security cameras, et. al. (the extent of my Latin).

But of course you have to do it right. You want to use the right kind of hardware so that they CAN be interfaced.

In ISHO I make a big deal of using an “open architecture,” meaning I strongly recommend (for the most part) staying away from proprietary systems. Using common protocols (like X10, IR, contact-closure, etc.) will always allow you to expand in the future & help ensure that you don’t run into compatibility problems.

For one thing, you’ll save a lot of money this way. For another, most of the serious “bugs” are already worked out. And lastly, you won’t find yourself in such a terrible lurch if the manufacturer of your hardware goes out of business or stops supporting its product, because replacement products should be readily available. So if you’re considering adding any kind of intelligence to your home, you should weigh the pro’s and con’s of what you want both short and long term. If you’ve got lots of cash & want one of the high-end audio/video automation, climate control, or lighting systems, etc., that’s fine. There’s some great stuff out there. If you have the cash. And if that’s all you ever want to do. But if at some point you might want to integrate it with your other home subsystems, you really should check that whatever you’re about to use is open to accepting & utilizing the common protocols.

I’m located in a suburb just north of Cincinnati, Ohio. As the former owner of Vision Automation, and subsequent CEO of BmsVision Automation, I have about 15 years of experience in residential A/V and Automation.

I’m also a Cisco CCNP and Microsoft MCSE. These certifications truthfully have little to do with home automation, but I thought you might like to know that I have a brain. Besides, ethernet/data cabling is playing a larger & larger role in automation hardware and the PC obviously plays an important role in an integrated home.

Actually, when it comes to PC networks, the knowledge I have has proven to be helpful. More and more the home computer is a useful tool in smart home technology. I intend to produce a work in that regard in the near future, & will keep my subscribers updated on progress.