What To Look for In the Best Home Automation Stater Kits
As I keep on telling anyone who will listen, home automation today is cheaper and easier to set up than most people realize - much cheaper and easier than it was just a few short years ago. There are now loads of great starter kits aimed at beginners which are ideal for DIY installation and do not require any particular technical or DIY skills.
In fact, the most difficult thing for most people these days is not being able to afford a home automation system, or the technical difficulty of setting it up and maintaining it, but navigating your way through what has become an incredibly crowded market to choose between an bewildering array of different products.
When choosing the best starter kit for you I would suggest that it is a good idea to begin by exploring the various different things that you can do with home automation. This is a very broad area and can cover a wide range of different features from integrated whole home entertainment systems, to security, to advanced heating and lighting controls. Obviously a relatively cheap starter kit is not going to be able to cover all of these different areas and give you a comprehensive home automation system. So my advice is look at all of the different things that are possible and choose an area which you would most likely to start with - perhaps security and access control (intercoms which call your phone, wireless electronic doorlocks etc.), perhaps lighting, perhaps energy saving, or whatever else fits your own priorities.
Another important point to consider is whether your kit works on an open protocol or not. If it uses an open protocol such as Z-Wave you will find that there are a much wider range of manufacturers making equipment that will work with your controller and your other devices, potentially making upgrading and extending your system much cheaper and easier than it would be for a system which only works with branded products from the same manufacturer.
When it comes to the kit itself, pay special attention to the 'controller'. This means both the physical box itself which is the brain of the system, and also the phone / tablet app which it will usually provide for you to use in setting up and controlling your products. This is important for two reasons - firstly because the app will be the part of the system which you will actually interact with on a regular basis so you will want something that is good quality and easy to use (and with known costs, as some systems have monthly charges which you need to make sure you are aware of), and also because it is the controller which determines the range of your system (don't just assume it can cover your whole house if you have a large property or brick/concrete internal walls) and the number of different devices which you will ultimately be able to add to it.
Alternatively: Take an even easier route and buy or rent a smart home that's already kitted out with all the latest technology!
SmartThings 'Know and Control Your Home' Kit
SmartThings is a fairly new brand of home automation equipment, but with a focus on super-simple to use all-in-one kits they are quickly becoming one of the most popular. In terms of price the kits are on the lower end of mid-range prices, but in terms of value for money they are amongst the best.
One of the great things about SmartThings is that although they provide all in one kits of branded equipment, the controller is compatible with both ZigBee and Z-Wave protocol devices as well as a good range of branded products from other manufacturers including Belkin WeMo, Philips hue, Sonos, Kwikset, Schlage, and GE. That means you will never be short of new things that you can add in to your system later.
This particular kits includes:
- 1 SmartThings Hub
- 2 SmartSense Multi-Purpose Sensors
- 2 SmartSense Presence Sensors
- 1 SmartSense Plug-and-Control Outlet
- 1 SmartSense Motion Sensor
- All necessary batteries, 1 Ethernet cable, 1 power cord, and mounting tape
As you can see, apart from the hub most of this kit is compose of sensors; the only exception to this is the plug-and-control outlet which you plug into a normal power socket to give you smart phone control to switch the electricity - and perhaps therefore the device plugged into it - on and off. Because of this the kit is good for monitoring your home - perhaps keeping an eye on the movements of children for example or as an addition to your home security, but beyond this there is not a huge amount you can do with this kit alone. Because of its extensibility, however, it is a great place to start to get familiar with the technology, and then to use as the basis for building up a larger and more comprehesive system.
Philips Hue Wireless Lighting
One of the most popular uses of home automation is the ability to control your lighting systems from your smartphone. Fortunately lighting is also the cheapest part of home automation.
Probably the best lighting solution which you can fit yourself is made by Philips Hue. It couldn't be easier to set up - just change your regular bulbs for the ones provided and then set up the controller and download the app. But yet at the same time it comes with more features than most systems, as you can not only dim all your bulbs but also control the color of the light, set up automated 'scenes' to go straight to your favorite setting for, say, watching a movie or entertaining guests.
The downside of this is that it is purely a lighting system and has limited compatibility with other devices, so this is not the ideal starting point for building a larger system. But if you just want lighting control and nothing else, Philips Hue is very hard to beat.
VeraLite Z-Wave Expandable Smart Safety Kit
VeraLite is one of the most popular controllers for Z-Wave home automation systems. There are literally thousands of different products which your VeraLite controller will be able to automatically detect and control, making it one of the best systems in terms of easy expandability.
This particular kit also gives you one of the best ranges of different functions whilst still remaining within the category of affordable starter kits which I'm focussing on for this article. You get a wireless camera for security and / or monitoring small children, a 'multi-sensor' for either security or for automatically switching devices on or off depending on whether a room is occupied, a contact sensor which you can fit to a door or window to monitor whether it is opened (again for security or automated control), a wirelessly controlled thermostat and a plug-in lighting dimmer.
If you want a 'taster' of a range of different features to see whether you like them before then expanding your system to cover more of your house, then I would personally say this is the best starter kit for you.
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FlourishAnyway from USA on September 09, 2014:
Sounds great. Thank you. Especially with elders wanting to be independent as long as they can and living not in even in the same city or on the same side of town. I've pinned this hub.
Dean Walsh (author) from Birmingham, England on September 08, 2014:
Yes certainly, people do use for home automation products for that. I'll have a go at writing a hub about it actually. I can send you a message when I'm done if you like?
FlourishAnyway from USA on September 08, 2014:
What do you think about this for an elderly person who lives alone whose relatives live outside the house and want to monitor the loved one's ingress/egress and movement throughout the house (e.g., that they haven't fallen)? Could this be for that?