As home automation continues to get increasingly popular, you may be wondering if it’s finally time to get on board. To achieve this transformation of your home into a smart home, you could certainly do it yourself, or avail the services of a professional end-to-end service provider. There are obvious merits to both approaches, to be explored in the rest of this post.
There’s also the question of what exactly does _home automation_ mean to a customer. It’s thrown around pretty loosely, kind of like _the cloud_ was thrown around in the late 2000s.
Home automation to one customer could simply be the ability to control their lighting through an app. To another - more informed customer - it could be setting up intricate rules and automations that combines lighting, heating, security, comfort.
Depending on your intent, you’ll want to make an informed decision between a DIY approach vs a professionally installed approach. Here’s a simple guide for anyone looking to automate their homes, to help you decide what is the right fit for you.
What are DIY Solutions
It’s fun and exciting to buy, mix and match devices as per your requirement. There has never been a more wider selection of smart home devices to tinker around with and integrate to your home on your own. DIY solutions are almost always start with an end-device such as an RGBW Bulb from Philips or WiFi-based plugs to be able to control/schedule your appliances that are connected to a socket. These devices are usually controlled with an app provided by the manufacturer of the device, or optionally through an Amazon Alexa device or even a Google Home. But they come with certain obvious limitations.
Before you begin going down this route, ask yourself. Are you technically capable of managing the electrical wiring and the networking, or are you just planning on figuring it out?
- Cheap : The main advantage of DIY solutions is that it’s cheap and affordable. Over the years, there have been reductions in costs, thus lowering the barrier to entry.
- You only pay for what you need : You just want to schedule that one appliance or a couple of lights to turn off every night or turn on along with your morning alarm? Just buy the plugs and bulbs to match your requirement - nothing more, nothing less. This allows your cost to be completely under control and keeps your setup modular.
- Quick: Installation usually takes anywhere between 10 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on whether there is any additional wiring or networking to be done. A professional installation can take an entire day or maybe even two depending on the complexity of the networking and wiring.
- Can be extremely powerful if you know what you're doing : Enthusiasts who like to tinker around with DIY devices or build their own devices can write scripts to talk to and manage an army of IoT devices to do highly customised things. One can basically do whatever they want provided they know what they're doing, and know how to read technical documentation of other open platforms. Powerful automations with local or cloud self-hosted systems and servers can be fun to setup for enthusiasts.
- You have to actually do it yourself : What the device promises is almost always true and it’s exactly what you expect! But you actually have to set it up yourself, and properly, to fully take advantage of your brand new smart device.
- Getting everyone used to it : More often than not, in case of devices such as smart bulbs, you’d replace your existing ‘dumb’ bulb with a smart bulb. You have the complete convenience of operating it through your phone or through a smart assistant. But getting everyone to do this, instead of manually turning off the switch, is a challenge. And when they do manually turn it off, you can’t control the device through your app/voice anymore until the switch is physically turned on. Manufacturers have found ways around this but that involves a compatible smart switch to replace your existing switch. Things get complicated real fast and you’ll have to order more compatible devices.
- Multiple apps : An app to setup / manage the bulb, another one for your smart plug, and yet another one for those thermostats. It quickly becomes a mess hopping from one app to another to do things. Of course, the basic elementary functionalities of all these devices can be accessed through the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant app, provided it is compatible, but there’s always a tradeoff like the colours you can pick on your bulb, or the other useful features the manufacturer has provided. At this point, it’s no longer fun and the learning curve for the people who aren’t as enthusiastic as you will be a lot higher and they’d just rather not have a smart home at that point.
- Non-guaranteed support : When the device is cheap, expecting first-class priority support for it is unrealistic. More often that not, you’ll have to check the device’s FAQs or forums to seek help from other users. A lot of the time, the support may even be non-existent as these devices are frequently a white-label Chinese product i.e., a Chinese manufacturer that provides their product to a company with the company’s logo.
- No advanced capabilities : On their own, these smart devices have a limited set of functions that they can perform. To truly take advantage of them, they almost always need a hub to orchestrate multiple devices and their actions. These advanced actions include lights flashing in your garage when someone rings the doorbell, adjust the lighting in the room based on the natural light available and tying that with your smart shades, and many such interesting implementations. DIY hubs are available in the market, but selecting compatible devices (and the right protocol like Zigbee, WiFi, considering the ranges, etc) can get confusing real quick. Having said that, only someone such as an enthusiast can build extremely powerful automations using open APIs and commands and custom scripts - not for your average consumer.
- Non guaranteed privacy : When devices are cheap, you’re usually providing the manufacturer or company with valuable personal data. This data can be used to assess your habits, your routines, and can be used to understand a lot about individuals’ behaviour at home. This data can be sold to third-parties. More information regarding how cheap products cost users their privacy can be found in this article
- Questionable durability and aesthetics : When DIY home automation devices are priced the way they are, a key tradeoff is the durability and longevity of the device. To cut costs, the material used usually won’t survive the test of time. The aesthetics of such devices are usually not customisable as they are mass produced. The aesthetics of these devices are also dependent on how well you install them and where you place certain devices, or your beautiful space can quickly become a mess of wires and devices!
A typical DIY system would look like - a few smart bulbs, a few smart plugs, a smart door lock, cameras and maybe even a thermostat. All of this controlled and orchestrated by a smart assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, but provided everything is compatible with either of them or you’d be shuffling between the manufacturer’s apps. Just make sure the devices that you are purchasing are compatible with the assistant of your choice. Smart bulbs from Philips Hue don’t need any introduction - quick and easy to install and sets the mood in your space in no time with wonderful colours and tuneable whites. Smart plugs from TP-Link can be handy when you want to quickly be able to wirelessly control any appliance that requires to be plugged into a wall socket.
Professionally Installed Home Automation
A professionally installed system allows you to experience the best of home automation, tailored to your imagination - and certainly even expand it. You can just ring up a professional installer or manufacturer such as Toyama Controls & Systems or Control4 and you’ll have a professional come over to do everything for you. The possibilities are endless and the entire system is guaranteed by the installer. If there’s anything that you wish to add or service or clarify, there’s a single point of contact for all your queries instead of browsing through forums and YouTube comments to expand or service your DIY setup. The drawback? It’s not exactly cheap. But the underlying reason and advantages are obvious.
- Everything is done for you, professionally : A professionally installed home automation system involves a professional coming over to your house, to understand and assess the exact requirement you have. They will try to understand what you have in mind, and maybe even improve on your suggestions and make your idea come to life. Just sit back and relax.
- Guaranteed support : There’s a single point of contact - either the company itself or the partner company that set everything up. There’s no need to hunt down comments on e-commerce sites, different forums or videos.
- A single app to control everything : Everything installed by the professionals is almost always done through and controlled with a single app. That means, you don’t have to go from this app to control the thermostats to that app to control the lighting and then another app to set the mood with scenes. All this happens in a single app. The other advantage is more compatibility between the different devices and services since they’re all managed on a single interface. This allows for some very interesting and creative automations and routines to make your day-to- day life easier.
- Customisability : A manufacturer that does everything in-house such as Toyama Controls has the flexibility to customise the products based on customer requirement. Customisations such as the colour of the glass panels, the text and icons on them allow personalisation and fit into the home to not look out of place, and yet stand out.
- Expandable ecosystem : Despite doing everything from a single app, with a lot of professionally installed systems, you will have the option to add compatible devices from other manufacturers, as in the case of Toyama. Zigbee is a home automation standard protocol and devices that are Zigbee certified are compatible with Toyama’s ecosystem and controllable through the Toyama app or automations. There are other protocols such as Z-Wave, Thread, Bluetooth Low Energy, and WiFi which allow manufactures to provide compatibility with other manufacturers’ devices.
- Support & updates : You can be rest-assured that professional solution providers will guarantee updates to enhance the longevity of your investment. Almost all solution providers push out software updates, but a good solution provider / manufacturer also includes over-the-air firmware updates to fix bugs on the end devices, and even add new features and support. At Toyama, we take updates very seriously from stability, feature and security standpoints.
- Time : Setting up a home automation system on your own is quick, but professional solutions can take days from coming over and surveying your home, to placing the order, receiving the material and finally even the setup. Depending on the complexity of the setup process, the features requested by the end-users and the size of the space being automated, setting up the system can take an entire day or even more.
- Price : Certainly not in the ball-park of DIY Home Automation prices, professionally solutions are expensive because they’re essentially tailor-made for the house it’s being installed in. The costing is owed to surveying, planning, installation, the high quality materials used in the products, the complete support that’s a call or email away and the privacy and security offered. None of the aforementioned points are applicable to DIY solutions and that’s why DIY is so cheap and professional solutions are so expensive. Having said that, at Toyama we want our home automation to be available to everyone. We have solutions suited for a single room all the way to palaces - we have something for everyone.
- Toyama Controls & Systems - We provide professionally installed home automation solutions. Lighting, curtain controls, temperature controls, scheduling, RGBW lighting, compatibility with other Zigbee devices such as locks, sensors, etc. And truly automate your home by setting rules such like ‘if the temperature drops below 20 degrees, turn off the fan and close the curtains’.
We manufacture all our devices, build our systems, write our apps and software completely in-house. This enables us to have complete control over the whole experience, and allows for customisations to suit the aesthetic of your house.
- Control4 - If your home calls for complete integration with a home theatre or if media control is high on your priority list, Control4 is a great option to consider as they provide compatibility with over 13,000 devices. Toyama’s devices are fully compatible with Control4 devices so you get the best of both worlds if you’re looking to go all out. Multi-room audio, complete security involving smart door locks, security cameras, settings he mood with RGBW lighting, complete home theatre control, AI assisted automation, lighting controls, scenario controls, and so much more.
There is no right or wrong option here - it just depends on who you are as a person, what home automation means to you, and how you expect it to add value to your lifestyle. Do you want to set it up once and forget about it? Do you like to tinker around with your system and have it do new things? Do you wish to change things up every now and then? Do you want to maintain/troubleshoot and setup your devices on your own? These are questions you have to ask yourself.
Here at Toyama, we strive to make our products competitively priced without compromising on quality and end-user experience. Our offering, although falling completely under a professionally installed solution, has a lot of the advantages of a DIY solution. You can customise your requirement and only pay for what you need, and the initial installation can be done with any electrician and only networking done through a Toyama- Certified Professional, thus reducing the time of setup to about 15 minutes per room.
We provide home automation in Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi, tier-2 and tier-3 cities. We also have home automation partners in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and more. If this is something you’re on the lookout for but have no idea which category to decide, reach out to us and we’ll help you decide and make your home smart and make the smartness last.