07 Dec 2020

Why Your Home Automation System Doesn’t Work

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You wouldn’t ask a plumber to design and install a spa just because he works with water and pipes. Likewise, you shouldn’t get an electrician to design and install a home automation system just because he works with electricity and cables. And yet many people do. Is it any wonder then that a system installed by unqualified people who have not provided a clear, documented delivery statement does not work how you thought it would? Alex Josling, Director of CEDIA Member of Excellence, Seven Integration, explains the importance of hiring the professionals for your home automation installation.

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Your home automation system is something you are going to interact with several times every single day you are in your home. You will want it to work and meet your performance expectations. If it doesn’t, then you chose the wrong professional.

The world of home technology moves at such a pace, how can you be sure you are getting someone who has the technical knowhow to provide a solution that is technologically relevant today and will still be relevant in five or 10 years’ time?

Home automation is supposed to be about making life simpler. It’s about taking the stress away. If your system doesn’t work, or adds to your stress levels, then the chances are it was designed, installed and programmed by someone who is not qualified to do it. So, what do you get from a professional that you probably won’t get from John-down-the-pub’s computer whiz nephew?

Training

A properly trained professional will have years in training — they will have attended countless workshops and reviewed the latest white papers. They should have attended training courses and industry-recognised qualifications. Then there is the on-the-job training and, of course, that magical resource – experience.

I would always suggest finding a CEDIA Member. CEDIA is a not-for-profit trade organisation representing the home automation industry. Their key focus is to educate its members and promote best practice. Choosing a CEDIA member means you are partnering with a company that has a demonstrated level of professionalism and competence.

Documentation

Part of a home automation system design is the documentation, and part of that documentation is a ‘functional specification’. Ask for one and keep it up-to-date and safe. This is your record of what functionality you can expect in each room, and it forms your source for recourse if you do not think you have got what you believe you have paid for.

It is essentially a room-by-room walk-through, listing everything you will be able to do in each room. What sources can you access on the TV? Will you be able to listen to tune-in radio stations in the bathroom? If you thought you would be able to access gate control from a keypad by your bed and you can’t, your functional specification document will tell you if that was part of the agreed project scope.

Performance expectations – networks and Wi-Fi

Everything in your home automation system will sit on your network. The communication is constantly flowing between devices and more often than not, to a cloud service too. So, having someone who understands how to design and install a reliable, robust network is absolutely vital. In fact, this should really have been the first thing I wrote about! If your network has not been professionally designed and installed, then I guarantee you will run into problems at some point.

A comprehension of network security, subnets, guest networks, VPNs and fixed IPs are all going to keep that communication flowing and everything working correctly. And possibly more importantly, keeping your home network secure from malicious attacks requires continuous training and monitoring of current threats. Does your M&E contractor do that?

Performance expectations – AV

Have you ever stood in a McDonald’s and listened to the music that is played through the in-ceiling speakers? As a low-volume background noise solution, you could argue that they do the job. Nobody really listens to them anyway. But if you want to be able to really enjoy the music playing, or to understand what is being said, your speakers need to reach certain performance standards.

Creating sound is all about moving air. The larger the room, the more air needs to be moved to create sound. So, thinking that a £50 pair of in-ceiling speakers are going to provide a pumping bass line at your New Year’s Eve party is probably expecting too much.

Although not strictly speaking ‘home automation’, most companies that provide home automation systems will also deal with the audiovisual solutions and will understand the physics of creating sound in a room and displaying images on a screen. It’s science, not guesswork, and there are reference levels, calculations and technical specs that will demonstrate a product’s ability to perform in your home environment.

So, granted, you may have a contractor on site who says they can do it all for you, and it may be cheaper. But what will be the real cost to you in the long-term? When your kids can’t get on the internet because the Wi-Fi isn’t good enough. When you can’t watch the match because the TV won’t switch on. When you turn the lights off at night, and for some reason, the speakers on the patio start playing Queen’s greatest hits. A good home technology professional is worth their weight in gold.

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