Is home automation worth the hype?

Master Electricians Australia

By Malcolm Richards
Tuesday, 11 April, 2017

Is home automation worth the hype?

Voice activation for taps, lights, music, (even the toilet flush!), lowering the too-high clothes rail, lighting, speakers, sprinklers and movie theatre; facial recognition; switch lights in the bathroom glass panels — The Block 2016 shone a spotlight on a few lust-haves in the home automation market.

But is it really worth all the hype?

It’s certainly a juggernaut that’s bringing incredible opportunity to the electrical industry, and with so many elements working together, the need for a licensed electrician or smart home automation specialist is paramount, but consumers’ ideas about what’s useful, and constitutes value for their investment, can be vastly different from what we see on television shows.

Everyone can dip their toe in with a little smart (ish) technology, and the advertising industry has swung into overdrive, promising all manner of seemingly wondrous items to improve consumers’ everyday lives.

From the ‘smart’ Breville toaster retailing in the US for hundreds of dollars with LED progress lights to stop you burning your bread, to those robotic vacuum cleaners everyone films their cat riding around the house on, to the Belkin WeMo Switch — a small, Wi-Fi-enabled plug that fits between a power point and the plug of an electrical device that allows the user to switch on or off using a smartphone app.

Items like the WeMo are certainly appealing and can offer a great return on the investment for those not quite in the same market as those buying a Block apartment.

The Amazon Echo is also proving popular for its functionality. It’s a two-way audio device with mid-range to highish-quality speakers and with in-built microphone and voice recognition software so users can ask it to turn on the lights in the kitchen as they head in for a midnight glass of water, put on their favourite playlist or even call them an Uber.

Consumers in the high-end market are certainly tending towards integrated wiring for things like lighting and audiovisual — where everything talks to each other, to enable an entire, integrated and seamless system of operations.

Push controls — certainly not new — are also still leading the pack in terms of usability and desirability, and it’s functionality is only improving, with seamless integration with automated lighting control systems, wireless speaker systems, CCTV, security systems etc.

In order to really work out what’s worth the hype, a great deal of time will be spent on planning.

Creating an automated home that is highly functional, finds solutions for their needs and is a system they’ll consider to be a highly valuable investment into the future involves understanding their unique needs.

How do they live, what do they do each day, how do they move within their space, how much time do they spend entertaining friends, watching television, using their sound system, and most of all — what’s important to them in their everyday lives?

At the end of the day though, home automation is expensive to set up properly, can be dangerous if not done by a licensed electrician and can end up costing consumers an absolute mozza when it’s not designed properly from the outset.

The expense is also spurring a worrying amount of DIY in this field as people try to get in on the action without breaking the bank.

There are enormous hazards in this field for customers who believe even part of these types of projects can fall into the DIY category, or for those who attempt DIY work later down the track.

Home automation systems can require the installation of low-voltage electrical components that need to be incorporated into the existing or new electrical installation, or have components installed in close proximity to existing electrical equipment.

So in essence, it all works together, which means there’s a high potential for electricity to flow through the wires in a house. This creates hidden dangers for home owners, particularly when trying to access a roof space of wall cavity. And we need to make sure they are fully aware of the dangers (and, of course, that they all have safety switches installed!).

There are still also a great deal of associated products in this field made overseas by companies that are not working towards Australian compliance; the vast majority are simply unsuitable for use in Aussie homes. So what they want, and often believe they can have, may not be an option.

For this reason, our clients are still relying heavily on us to take their overall plan and turn that into reality. What do they want, but what do they need as well, how will we deliver it? And what inclusions will be value for money and remain functional for years to come, rather than being a quick gimmick they can impress the neighbours with?

It’s up to us to stay up to date with the latest advancements, and to use that knowledge to guide our clients towards the simplest, safest, most cost-effective and, of course, the most functional options for their homes.

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