1. Start Simple
The biggest obstacle to home automation isn't the technology or the installation, it's the overwhelming amount of information to digest when getting started. To avoid "analysis paralysis" and get a feel for how the technology works, begin with a starter kit. Contained within is everything you need to form the basis for your later goals, and will give you the experience to move forward.
2. Make a Plan
The next biggest issue that people run into is being scattered in their approach to home automation. While some people enjoy this approach of randomly adding things, for the majority of home automators a specific vision of how you want your house to feel and act can guide you as you expand the system. Tools like Microsoft Visio (Windows) or OmniGraffle (Mac) can aid in your design, or a good old fashioned pen and paper can work too. Begin by writing your goals (ie. "Temperature control from anywhere in the house" or "Flash all the lights when the doorbell rings") and then decompose the goals into lists of items needed. A list of items and categories is available halfway down the home automation review article.
If you need help with the breakdown of ideas into components, discuss your goals in the comments below and other Live Automatic readers will help out.
3. Break it Down
Once you have a plan or at least an idea of what you'd like to accomplish, start with items that seem the least intimidating. Begin by ordering a starter kit - they're available for Insteon, Z-Wave and UPB and usually save you some money over buying the parts individually. If you aren't sure which technology to choose, the home automation question & answers page may help. Once you've tackled basic control of lights and fireplaces from a remote, introduce a hardware control device like a NetLinc or an ISY-99i to expand your options. If you're looking for iPhone home automation or control from a web browser, this is what you need.
4. Grow the System
At this point, you'll be familiar (and dare I say comfortable) with your home automation, and begin to have new ideas and demand more from your system. A computer is now the next step to trigger complex events and take your integration to the next level. Introducing media control, internet data streams and potentially whole-home speech recognition are all possibilities for your system. The limits are really your imagination and budget at this point, and to a lesser extent the availability of technologies, which brings us to the last point.
5. Stay in the Loop
Home automation is a rapidly evolving field and staying on top of current trends can make all the difference when dealing with specific problems and goals. As demand increases and automation technologies become more readily available, new offerings are produced by the vendors allowing us to do things previously too conditionally dependent (ie. If these 6 things all trigger in exactly the correct order the system should work...in theory) or too cost prohibitive (I want an Insteon-controlled shower, but I'm not willing to pay the $3,000 to Kohler for the electronic controls and then fiddle with the EZIO and computer to make it work). The point is, staying aware of what is out there and coming out can help you accomplish home automation goals and give new ideas for integration points.
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