A home automation controller (and/or software, and/or interface) is essential for remote access and control of your home automation devices (or peripherals) from a computer, smartphone or tablet. This remote access isn't limited to control from inside your home, it usually allows you access to devices from anywhere in the world so long as you have access to the Internet. That means you can control almost anything remotely - turn lights or appliances on and off, open door locks, shut the garage, monitor energy use, check temperature and humidity sensors or even have motion detectors notify you instantly if movement is detected on your property.
Selecting the right home automation controller can be a slightly daunting task, as there are several controllers to choose from - each of which has several features to consider, Technology, Devices and Function. After reviewing the information in the tabs on these features below, you can then select the Controllers tab to choose the right controller for your application in a connected home automation environment.
When choosing a controller, an important consideration is the technology that is available and what you feel best suits your needs. Generally speaking, when we speak of technology, we are referring to the type of communication and/or protocol that is being used to allow different devices to "talk" to each other. Some controllers use hardwired communication over your home power lines such as X10 and UPB; some use Radio Frequency (RF) or Wi-Fi to wirelessly communicate such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, WeMo, SkylinkHome and LevNet RF; while Insteon uses both power line and radio frequency to ensure greater reliability. Some controllers are specific to a certain type of technology while other controllers support various technologies, so take a look at a combination of the technology you like and devices you will be using to find the controller.
- LevNet RF
Insteon is the best-selling, most-reliable home control and automation technology. Using dual-band technology, both the existing wires (power line) and radio-frequency (RF) communication, Insteon home automation devices add remote control and automation to lighting, appliance and home control applications of all types. From lighting control to integrated security systems, the gold-standard in home automation allows you to manage your home the way you want. Easy to install and setup, Insteon offers the flexibility and dependability to make your life more convenient, safe and fun.
Insteon is the only dual-band home networking technology. With every Insteon-enabled device being a repeater, messages are repeated (if and as required) simultaneously by every node in the network, so the signal gets stronger with every added device. Insteon is the least complex of the network infrastructures, ideal for DIY. Insteon products are fully backward, and forward compatible. Insteon messages get through in less than 0.05 seconds - faster than the human eye can detect, so there are no visible delays. A complete Insteon-enabled system costs a fraction of its competitors.
A detailed technical comparison of Insteon and other top technologies is also available.
Z-Wave is a wireless technology that makes regular household products, like lights, door locks and thermostats "smart". Z-Wave home automation devices "talk" to each other wirelessly via RF communication and securely and can be accessed and controlled on your phone, tablet or pc. By using a Z-Wave gateway you can connect to the things inside your house whether you're at home or while you're away. Currently there are nearly 1000 different Z-Wave products that all work together so you can choose the products that are right for your home.
From lighting, climate, irrigation and shading controls to intelligent outlets and power strips, there are hundreds of simple, interoperable Z-Wave products that let you monitor, control and manage your home energy usage. You can build and expand a Z-Wave compatible home security system as you choose and when you choose to do so. With Z-Wave powering your security system you can link different products together and set up customizable actions.
Zigbee home automation devices offer a global standard for wireless interoperable products enabling smart homes to can control appliances, lighting, environment, energy management, and security as well as expand to connect with other ZigBee networks. Zigbee devices communicate via a wireless RF signal built into strong, low power, wireless RF modules - making them a low cost, low data rate architecture that delivers long battery life capability, robust security, high data reliability, and product interoperability.
All ZigBee Home Automation products are ZigBee Certified to perform regardless of manufacturer, allowing anyone to purchase with confidence. These products are ideal for new construction, do-it-yourself and retrofit markets and are easy to use, maintain and install.
From their super popular X10 Mini controller to their entire line of X10 Pro modules, X10 home automation devices are designed to remotely control lights and devices throughout your home. The X10 technology has also been adopted by several other Brands, including Insteon, which is the latest and greatest in DIY home automation - with many of its products being backward compatible with X10 devices. X10 devices sends signals over the existing power lines in your home tyo communicate, so you can trigger modules that are attached to your lamps and appliances - turning them off, and on or dimming light bulbs to a level you choose.
X10 offered the original home automation devices in the late 1970's for the average DIY consumer. Though a number of higher bandwidth alternatives exist, X10 devices have stayed popular throughout the years in the home environment with millions of units in use worldwide, as a fairly reliable, inexpensive alternative to to more contemporary home automation devices.
UPB is often referred to as X10 on steroids because it usually a similar communication style of using existing power lines of a home, it features an improved transmission rate and higher reliability. UPB home automation devices can be affected by other devices that are plugged in throughout a home, however the latest generation of UPB devices have addressed most of these issues and there are only a limited number of items that can affect the UPB Signal. Because of its low cost and high reliability characteristics, the UPB communication method is ideally suited for command and control applications in most home environments.
Universal Powerline Bus technology uses your existing power wires, so no rewiring is necessary. UPB benefits include its higher reliability, since its signal strength is stronger than X10, with increased electrical noise resistance. Plus, you'll experience no interference from adjacent homes.
WeMo is a family of simple, ingenious products that allow you to control home electronics from anywhere. Turn them on or off, trigger them with motion, and even put them on a schedule. WeMo home automation devices live on your smartphone and uses your home Wi-Fi and mobile internet communicate. WeMo supports all the latest Wi-Fi security modes including WEP, WPA and WPA2. Therefore WeMo is as secure as you make your home Wi-Fi network.
You can add as many WeMo devices as you like. Because each WeMo uses such little bandwidth on your network, you shouldn't notice any side effects. When you setup a WeMo, give it a name, add a picture or create rules - all the information is stored on the WeMo itself. This means that you don't need a hub or a dedicated controller in your home in order for WeMo to work.
Control your entire Home with the push of a button using SkylinkHome home automation devices, even from your Smartphone or tablet with the Skylink HomeControl App. Control lights, garage doors, swing doors, small electronics/appliances, and electric or gas fireplaces in your home or business with simple Remote Controls. The system is designed for DIY customers. You can start with one room and keep adding as many receivers and transmitters as you would like.
LevNet RF home automation devices offer simple lighting control and configuration for occupancy sensing, ON/OFF switching, 3-way switching, bi-level switching, HVAC control, and much more for design flexibility. No wires, no batteries, and no limits for a flexible and cost-effective energy savings solution in any application - this makes LevNet RF the preferred solution for retrofit and new construction applications. Using wireless and energy harvesting technologies developed and licensed from EnOcean means no new wiring, external power, or batteries are required. Ideal applications include energy-wise lighting and HVAC control, hospitality energy management, classroom automation, building remodeling, retrofit projects and more.
The devices (also known as peripherals or modules) you plan to use will also have an impact on the type of home automation controller you will want to purchase. Devices are the things that are triggered to perform an action by a controller, send feedback or data to a controller, or sometimes do both. Common devices include light switches and plug in modules, through a controller you can remotely turn these on and off. Other simple devices include sensors which could provide you feedback and send you an alert if motion is detected or a door is opened. You can even combine some of these devices to create scenes, for example if motion is sensed, trigger a light switch and a plug in lamp to turn on. Advanced devices like thermostats allow you the remotely turn your HVAC on, or you can even schedule your sprinkler system with relay modules.
- Dimmers, Switches, Outlets, Sensors & Timers
- Lighting & Appliance Remote Controls
- Additional Home Control
- Smart Plumbing & Irrigation
- Light Bulbs, Outdoor Lighting, Utility Lights & More
- Trim Plates & Accessories
Dimmers, Switches, Outlets, Sensors & Timers
You will find all of the most common home automation devices in the Dimmers, Switches, Outlets, Sensors & Timers category. Within the category are 4 main device types: in-wall devices, plug-in devices, screw-in devices and wire-in devices.
In-wall devices primarily include hardwired traditional and decorator-style switches most commonly used for switching lights and appliances on and off. These include dimmer switches, on/off switches, sensor switches, timers switches, combination switches, and keypads.
Plug-in devices are exactly the what the name implies - modules that you plug into an outlet that allow you to switch lights and appliances on and off. These include dimmer modules , on/off modules, sensor modules, timers modules, and keypad modules.
Screw-in devices are mostly modules that screw into a existing lamp light bulb socket and provide added control over that socket, from simple dimming to control from a wireless switch, motion sensor, or from a home automation controller.
Wire-in devices are less common hardwired products and include a variety of modules such as outlets, in-line dimmers, in-line on/off switches, in-line timers, and heavy-duty timers.
Lighting & Appliance Remote Controls
A basic and reliable way to control your home automation system is with a lighting and appliance remote control. Communicating to your automated modules. Lighting & Appliance Remote Controls can be wireless or plug-in and provide a simple interface for controlling your home automation devices. Assign specific modules or scenes to be triggered by the push of a button.
Additional Home Control
Go beyond lighting with additional home control. Upgrade your HVAC system with controlled thermostats and adapter modules. Add sensors to trigger and detect the environment in your home automation system. Control fans, fireplaces, window coverings, and display screens. Grow your smart home with repeaters, phase couplers, and range extenders for maximum coverage and reliability.
Smart Plumbing & Irrigation
Save water and automate your garden with smart plumbing and irrigation. Smart plumbing can be both innovative and money saving with water flow control and flood prevention products. Showerheads, toilet systems, water conditioning and purification are all ways to customize your plumbing and water systems.
Light Bulbs, Outdoor Lighting, Utility Lights & More
We have include light bulbs in this category as controlling lights is a primary function of any great home automation system. We offer Light bulbs, tube lights, and ribbon lights in a large array, from LEDs to bulbs that integrate into your home automation system. Lamps, task lights, and night lights for around the home, and floodlights, spotlights, and path lights for outdoors. Use sensors to activate your lighting or keep a flashlight, lantern, or utility light handy.
Trim Plates & Accessories
Complete your smart home automation system with a finished look by unifying your trim plates. Upgrade to matching colored faceplates and trim plates in every room. Decorator, toggle, and receptacle covers are available in standard and screw less styles.
The next series of factors to consider when choosing a home automation controller is the functionality of the product. Depending on your application you may not need a controller with high end functionality such as voice control capability or access to a remote security monitoring service. Your needs might be as simple as a system with remote access and wireless devices for easier installations. Others might require the reliability of a wired system along with programmable actions and schedules to create an energy efficient environment. Functionality also includes the compatibility with things like your router or smart devices.
- Ease of Use
- Wireless/Wired System
- Remote Access
- Monitoring Service
- Help & Support
Ease of Use
Many higher end systems like Crestron, Lutron RadioRA and Control4 practically require a degree in programming or a technician/representative to update or make changes to your system, both costing time and money. While some prefer this hands off approach, it is not very user-friendly. The ability to add devices, link devices, program devices, and the interface you use to perform these tasks is what will determine the level of ease with which a home automation system operates. Insteon Hub and Revolv are great examples of controllers with a very user-friendly interface and setup approach, while ISY994i controllers offer a less intuitive interface but a more comprehensive approach to programming. If you like the convenience of control from a smartphone or tablet that is also important as some interfaces only operate via computer.
If you are installing your own home automation system, consider whether or not you want a wireless or wired system...or both, this will help determine the type of controller you will need. Wireless systems usually install much more quickly but often have some limitations including communication distance and how susceptible they are to interference when communicating. Wired systems take longer to install, are generally more reliable than wireless systems, but may also be susceptible to interference from other devices over powerline. For the ultimate in reliablity, systems like Insteon use a combination of wireless and wired devices.
The idea of versatility really piggybacks off of whether or not you want to use wireless or wired devices, or a combination of the two. If you want to use a combination of the two, and maybe devices from different manufacturers using different protocols, you will need a controller that supports that. If you want to use a combination of Insteon and Z-wave products as an example, you will want to make sure you choose a controller such as the VERA3 controller which will support both, allowing you to link and program these devices together from a single interface.
Does your system require a professional to install and support it? or can't it be done by a DIY'r. Depending on your electrical experience Smarthome recommends that you consult a professional for the installation of any system that requires a hardwired installation. That being said, some controllers do the work for you when identifying devices on your network, so you can easily add and remove devices as you go. Identify how each system you are considering will be installed and what type of maintenance, if any, is required.
Even if you are starting small, try to think long term as to whether or not you plan on having a just a few devices, or a couple hundred devices. Each controller you look at will have a specific amount of devices and/or programs that it will support. The number of devices combined with the number or programs or events you have configured can add up quick, and the last thing you will want is system that is maxed out with no room to grow.
Do you want to turn on your bedside lamp automatically to help wake you up in the morning? How about turn the porch light on and off automatically with the rise and fall of the sun? Maybe you want to create scene so tha tyou can have all the lights dim when you watch a movie. When it comes to home automation the possibilities are almost limitless...but you need the right controller, Usually the least expensive controller offer the fewest features, which is fine for some who simply want to have things turn on and off at certain times. But if you want to link several devices to create scenes, or program your home to react to various events, or create other advanced macros, you will want to ensure that the type of programming you want to do is available.
If you are constantly on the go, you may want a system that works in combination with your router and smartphone or tablet to control devices in your home while you're there or when you're at work and on vacation. Most of the these controllers will also work on any web-enabled computer or laptop; however the reverse is not always true, some controllers will work on a computer or laptop, but do not have app integration for a smartphone or tablet. Also, some controllers offer only limited control from the web, meaning it may offer simple control such as turning lights on or off, but will not allow advanced programming such as setting timers or creating scenes. Decide what suits your needs and look closely to make sure the controller you select supports those needs when it comes to remotely accessing your system.
Today, home automaton means more than you just controlling devices in your home, it also means having those devices communicate back to you. You may want to receive alerts from leak sensors, motion sensors, door/window sensors, smoke detectors and more. Many of these controllers now send text and email alerts to you, as well as anyone else you wish, when the status has changed; or you can remotely check the status of these sensors. These features are great for families and small businesses so you can track such things as what time people come home, who has unlocked the door, if an intruder is detected, when a window is opened, or if there is a potential hazard such as a broken pipe or a fire. If any of these are important, you will want to make sure your controller offers a messaging feature.
Some systems either offer or require a monitoring service. Often these are systems that incorporate security devices into their features, such as 2GIG. The benefit of these services is that if you aren't home, or if you are asleep, they can notify the proper authorities in the event of a break-in, or possible fire or leak. This service usually comes at a cost however, so determine up front whether or not this type of service is of value to you and choose a controller that fits your needs.
Help & Support
Home automation covers such a wide variety of options when it comes to using different protocols, devices and applications, that you will surely run into some issues along the way. That being said, when you have a problem, you'll want to know what your customer service options are. Does the manufacturer offer support channels that include live chat, telephone and email communication? How about online documentation including installation guides, user manuals, or video tutorials? Is there a forum to talk with other users? If you plan on putting together a robust system, make sure the controller you select has the support system in place to address all potential problems.
Below is comparison chart that should help you identify several of the major differences between six of our most popular controllers/software as it relates to the technology each supports, the compatible devices, and the functionality. Additionally, we, have many other options available in our Controllers, Software & Interfaces category, if you wish to do some comparisons of your own.
Smarthome Recommends - Insteon Hub
The new Insteon Hub connects you to your home from any smartphone or tablet. Control Insteon light bulbs, outlets, switches and thermostats. Receive instant email or text alerts from motion and water leak sensors while you're away. Just start with the Hub, select the Insteon devices for your home and enjoy.
|Description||Insteon Hub||ISY994i||VeraLite||Indigo 7 Pro||HCA 11 Plus|
|Technology & Device Support||All Insteon||Most Insteon & X10||Most Insteon, Z-Wave & X10||Most Insteon, Z-Wave & X10||Most Insteon, Z-Wave & UPB|
|Ease of Use||Beginner||Advanced||Advanced||Intermediate||Intermediate|
|Wireless / Wired System||Built-in Inarwon RF and Powerline||Insteon RF and Powerline via Insteon PLM||Built-in Z-Wave, Other Interfaces Sold Separately||Software Only, All Interfaces Sold Separately||Software Only, All Interfaces Sold Separately|
|Up to 256 Devices / Scenes, up to 300 Programs||Not Specified||Unlimited Devices||Not Specified|
|Remote Access||iOS App, Android App, Browser||Browser (3rd party App available at a cost)||Browser||iOS App||Browser|
|Messaging||Email, Text||Email, Text||Email, Text||Email, Text||Email, Text|