The definition of home automation

The Definition of Home Automation

Home automation and smart home are two different things, although they are often used interchangeably.

Home automation does what it says: home automation enables to configure and automate how various devices inside and outside/nearby the home work together in an automated way in the context of a connected home. You can compare it with building automation in larger, often commercial, buildings. And, in a sense, a smart home automation system can be compared with an IoT-enabled building management system (BMS) for smaller buildings, although in most homes you won’t find those high-end BMS systems but more limited home automation systems whereby the functions and look and feel are different, depending on what functions are needed.

Yet, in the world of building and home automation, which really brings together several specializations, not all is black or white – it rarely is in general. So, you might certainly encounter mini-systems for home automation that are pretty sophisticated and look more like an integrated small building management system.

Thanks to home automation you can monitor and control the components in and nearby your home with the infrastructural foundations for a truly smart or connected home where smart electrical, mechanical and other operation technologies (OT) meet IT in IoT.

Defining smart homes: the difference with smart buildings

What is the definition of a smart home, of which home automation is part, then? Is a smart home a smart building? Although everyone knows that a home is a building, a smart home is not a smart building.

By way of an example that these two terms are distinguished from each other: in our overview of the main IoT investments per use case according to June 2017 data from IDC you’ll notice that a de facto distinction is made between smart buildings as a cross-industry IoT use case which is poised for fast growth ($40 billion in 2017 and, along with connected vehicles predicted to rank among the top segments until 2021) on one hand and the also fast growing investments ($63 billion by 2020) by consumers in smart home solutions on the other, with spending on smart home technologies forecasted to grow with a 19.8% CAGR until 2021.

So, is that the difference between a smart home and smart building? Residential (private, home) versus non-residential? Unfortunately not always and it depends on whom you ask, it can get complicated indeed.

Some will classify a large or even smaller residential multi-family building such as a big flat building or a smaller apartment building with the necessary connectivity, capabilities, intelligence and automation as a smart building. That is because such buildings have shared assets and facilities. Unless you’re really rich or disabled you probably don’t have a lift in your smart home, for instance. And if you do, it’s not shared, it’s yours. Some have found the answer by speaking about smart apartments in such a context of large residential buildings as it separates the ‘private living space’ which a home tends to be from the shared building space.

Let’s make it even a bit more complex before making it easier and tangible again.

Imagine airconditioning (AC). If you have it, it might be across your entire home or in one or more rooms. If you have it in your apartment, same scenario. If you live in a block of apartments one or more shared areas could also have it.

However, it’s not hard to imagine that an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation And Airconditioning) solution doesn’t look the same in a room, building-wide in a luxury villa and in the possibly big entry hall – with the elevators – in a multi-family housing flat complex. Moreover, in the case of flats it uses shared resources such as the networks, electrical infrastructure and so forth, so with large residential buildings it’s a bit of a grey zone.

The definition of a smart home: when worlds convergence in the age of IoT

Last but not least it’s important to remind that, although there are smart home and home automation experts, de facto often many worlds are colliding here.

The people who know all about smart metering know electricity but that doesn’t mean they understand HVAC, which is an entirely different ball game or lighting and room control, which again is different.

In most homes you won’t find the really high-end solutions though and home automation is different from your large luxury villa in the tropics. Moreover, the IoT is playing a converging role. In smart homes. And in smart buildings.

So, can we finally define what a smart home is? Not so fast. The term smart home is used for the two earlier mentioned, equally converging, phenomena:

  • On one hand smart home is an umbrella term for the automation, digitization and interconnecting of several home automation areas, which as mentioned have existed since quite some time: lighting, room control, blind control, solar shading, audio and video control, security and entry control, the list goes on.
  • On the other hand and especially since the arrival of the Internet of Things and its many applications in the sphere of home appliances, smart meters and IoT consumer devices for the home such as smart TVs, connected entertainment systems, Internet-enabled appliances and voice-command systems, the smart home increasingly was seen as an integrated IoT-enabled living, security, comfort, entertainment and overall home concept which looks a bit different (no smart fridges in traditional home automation).

Yet, as said, this too is converging. So, what would be the definition of a smart home in this context whereby we really move beyond single and often isolated ‘smart home solutions’ (and gadgets) to a somewhat broader perspective?

A smart home is a house or other form of mainly one-family private buildings which is either home to the family, serves as vacation home or is rented to other families for living or holiday purposes, consisting of automated, digitized and connected home assets, electrical services, controls and appliances across several building and home components and functions. These run within a communications network and enable an enhanced monitoring, comfort, energy conservation, maintenance, home activities and security of its occupants whereby the residents/owners have access to the resulting services and controls via special displays and controllers, which can take many forms such as built-in wall displays, proprietary devices, remote controls, various IT devices such as a computer, tablet or smartphone and/or multiple devices at the same time.