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Make your house a smart home – on a budget

The bath is already running, the lights dimmed to just the right level. The stove is warmed to the desired temperature for your evening meal. Your favourite music is playing softly. All this and you have only just stepped through the front door. No perfect English butler to thank for the blissful experience; it’s just your smart home welcoming you back.

Australia is starting to embrace the smart home concept. According to a recent study by emerging technology analyst firm Telsyte, the Australian smart home automation market will generate $160 million in device revenues in 2014 and is expected to grow to $917 million by 2017.

The trouble is usually such a set-up costs a fortune, so here is Techly‘s guide to getting a smarter home for less; while we can’t promise you the full blissful butler experience, you will enjoy the benefits of a smarter, more connected house.

Choose a DIY option


ConnectSense Dry Contact Sensor with 2 Dry Contact Inputs

The problem with connected home solutions is that they often require monthly subscriptions and costly initial outlay, but there are certain DIY options for a smart home.

ConnectSense, for example, offers a variety of DIY sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, water, motion, security and light in your home and send you notifications via email, text or calls. The control boxes can be purchased through ConnectSense’s Amazon store, which, although US-based, does ship to Australia. They vary in price from $US149.95 to $US179.95.

The SmartThings Know and Control kit features all of the elements for a basic security and monitoring system in one box, including a SmartThings hub, multi-purpose sensors, presence sensors, and a plug-and-control outlet. It is also available through Amazon for $US329.

You can control your lighting wirelessly using a DIY solution too. GE Z-Wave’s wireless lighting control in-wall dimmer lets you control on/off and dim functions of hard-wired incandescent lighting when paired with the Z-Wave Wireless lighting control LCD remote. The in-wall dimmer costs $US43.94 on Amazon and the remote retails for $US62.26.

There’s an app for that

Griffin Beacon for iOS

Griffin Beacon for iOS

While home automation can be quite complicated, there are some things that only require the right app to control. Television sets, DVD players, even air conditioners can be adjusted using apps. You will need a Bluetooth control box that can covert Bluetooth signals to infrared and an app to act as the actual controller; most of the apps are free, while the control boxes range in price from about $AU50 to $AU100.

The Griffin universal remote control system, for example, retails for $AU89.95 and lets you use your iPhone, iPad or iPod as a remote control for your home entertainment system.

Open source design

Designing a truly smart home that is also energy-efficient and eco-friendly is a big ask, especially on a budget. Honda and UC Davis are offering the full plans and specifications for their smart home online for free.

So while you will have to dish out on the electronics, you can save on the design element because it is already mapped out for you.

It includes information on its heating and cooling solutions, the circadian-friendly lighting that mimics the natural cycle of your body, and energy and waste management approaches.

A word of caution

Budget options can be a great solution for those wanting to venture into home automation without dipping into the savings account, but as with everything you get what you pay for, so make sure you know what you are doing if you opt for a DIY product. Be sure to investigate potential pitfalls such as interoperability between systems before you invest.

Dr Brendan Rogers, Director of Melbourne-based Clever Homes, said, “We encourage all home owners to aim for high quality solutions that deliver better value in the long run, rather than budget home automation gadgets.”

He added that if the home owner’s budget is initially limited, the best option may be to produce a well-designed plan for what they would like to eventually implement, and then work towards that end plan at a rate determined by their budget.

“Alternatively, we encourage other home owners on a more limited budget to consider installing a smaller number of home automation devices of higher quality and capability, rather than installing a larger number of lower quality, cheaper home automation gadgets,” Rogers said.

Budget options are unlikely to result in the butler-type scenario described in the opening paragraph, but they can ensure a more connected, smarter home experience that makes at least some aspects of automation more accessible to those without unlimited bank accounts.

About the author

Freelance journalist Bianca Wright has been published in magazines and online publications around the world. A self-confessed geek and lover of all things tech, she spends her spare time searching the web for new gadgets or watching reruns of Star Trek and Firefly.

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