DIY Home Automation: Understanding Components and Protocols

diy home automation

DIY Home Automation

If you’ve decided that you’re going to start your own DIY home automation project then you’ll benefit from learning about the different components that make up a workable and functional system. It doesn’t have to be difficult and if you enjoy working towards something that makes your life easier and more convenient then a lot of satisfaction can be gained by doing it yourself.

In this article we look at the main components of a home automation system you’ll need to understand to set you off on the right track.

In as much as the components you get to build your smart home will depend primarily on the features you want, there are five categories into which they will fall:

1) Primary controller: Basically, home automation systems are electronic control systems which allow you to automatically control the electronic appliances in your house. This controller serves as the “brain” of your system. Not only does it store the scenes and routines you have programmed, but it also sends out commands to the various electronic appliances present in your home.

2) Secondary controllers: Not only does home automation revolve around setting computer programs to control your home, but it also revolves around having additional options which allow you to control things yourself. This is why secondary controllers are needed. For instance, you can use a remote controlled handset to control curtains, blinds or even the lights. You can also use phone apps or single switches to give different commands.

3) Sensors: To be able to automatically switch off the lights, close the curtains or heat the garage, you will need sensors. This could be things such as presence detectors, alarm systems, temperature and light sensors amongst many other sensors.

4) Actuators: These are those mechanical devices which perform actions when they receive a command. This will include things such as wireless lock mechanisms, light dimmers, wireless valves for switching radiators off and on, etc.

5) Appliances and electronics: This will include your electronic devices and appliances such as your home cinema, TV, multi-room audio, etc.


diy home automation


DIY-Friendly Home Automation Brands and Protocols

For communication to occur between your devices, they will need to speak one language. The simplest way to ensure that this occurs is by buying all the devices from the same manufacturer or brand. Some of the DIY-friendly brands such as LightwaveRF can allow you to have plenty of features. The only problem with this is that you are tied to one manufacturer and therefore may not be able to get the most cost-effective solution.

To increase the number of options at your disposal, you need to understand the mechanisms of protocols. Simply put, a protocol is just a standardized format of configuring electronics to enable them to communicate with each other such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. This means that if you have two products which have the capacity to have similar protocols, you can get them to work together despite being from different manufacturers.

Protocols like the X10 which use the wiring in your home for communication and Z-Wave, UPB and Insteon which is a wireless protocol happen to be some of the DIY-friendly choices you can opt to use in your home automation project.

  • UPB: This protocol, which stands for Universal Powerline Bus, is designed as a communication protocol for powerline-only which uses a high voltage and gives out a stronger signal than X10. The only problem is that it is costly to install.
  • Insteon: This protocol bridges the gap between wireless and powerline-based protocols as it uses both. If your house is filled with X10 things, this is a good choice as it blends with them.
  • Z-Wave: This one operates on the 908.42MHz frequency band with compatibility of over 1000 devices by utilizing a mesh-network which means it passes communication to other protocols until they receive them. Since it also relies on low power, it is ideal if you are using battery power.

If you electronics are your passion, then you can opt to create your own controller using a microcontroller or computer and open source software. Whether you opt to use Arduino or Raspberry PI to achieve this, there are very many options at your disposal. If you do gown down this route then check out this open source software from openHAB.

This is probably a step too far for many but nevertheless it is an option. You can still achieve a good DIY solution without going to these lengths. If you do decide to create your own controller there are many factors which will lead you to decide which protocol to use. The main criteria to factor in include:

  • Compatibility with open source software which has community support in some of the most popular home automation software projects.
  • Quality of hardware i.e. the feel and look of the wall switches when you use them.
  • Reliability.


diy home automation


Can You Do it Yourself?

So can you really create a home automation system by yourself? It really depends on your comfort level and whether you have sufficient understanding of the components and protocols discussed here . Whether or not you possess a certain skill set and want to give it a shot, there are some qualities which you will need in order to properly automate your home.

1) Product knowledge: Do you know the various types of systems which are on the market and what their benefits or problems are? If you are planning on automating other things other than lighting, curtains or feel uncomfortable in choosing the products, you might need the assistance of a home automation professional.

2) Electrical skills: Changing of electrical systems is almost always one of the things you will have to do during home automation. For instance, you might need to replace your lighting in order for it to be compatible with the dimmers that you want. If you do not have this skill, you may need to contact an electrical contractor who is familiar with this to ensure everything is done correctly.

3) Wiring: Do you have any cable-pulling skills? What about wiring? Are you ready to knock holes into your wall and feed in the required cables throughout your house? A quick way to determine this is by answering a simple question, “Is the black wire the ground or power wire? The correct answer is that it is both. It could be the ground in D/C and the live wire in A/C.

4) Outside world connection: Are your computer skills good? Since your home automation will include creating an interface with your satellite radio, the internet, cable TV and many other sources, you are better off hiring a professional if you do not have the requisite skills.

5) Audio: This happens to be one of the hardest skills to master unless you are an enthusiastic audiophile. You will need to ask yourself how many speakers are needed, the type of amplifier and how many zones, all of which are better left to the experts if you can’t figure them out.

If you’re just dipping your toes into the water with DIY home automation you might be better to start with something such as the Honeywell Wireless Lynx Touch L7000. Not only is it fast and has a great range, but it’s also compatible with many devices. Whatever route you go down, the benefits you can realize from this technology will make it worth your while. Just like the pre-internet days, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.




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