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Getting started

Home Automation System - how it works

Regardless of which technology you use in your Home Automation system the basic building blocks and components will be similar. Most systems will have a central controller, sensors that will tell you what is happening (motion, doors opening, temperature light etc.) and actuators that make things happen (turning on light, heating or appliances).

The purpose of this guide is to help you understand what the components do and how they work together.

What technologies are available?

The first step in getting started with Home Automation is to choose a main technology. There are broadly two categories of technology available - general purpose technologies and those from specific manufacturers or 'brands'.

General Purpose Technologies

The General Purpose technologies allow you to do many things in your smart home and can use products from many vendors who support that technology. Popular general purpose technologies include Z-Wave, LightwaveRF, INSTEON and ZigBee.

Brand Specific

The Brand Specific technologies are usually only available from one manufacturer and are focused on doing a particular task very well. These systems tend to be very easy to install and use, but the downside is that they have limited or even no ability to work with other systems. You could have several systems operating in your home to manage all the things you want. Popular brands in this category include Philips Hue, Nest, and Honeywell Evohome.

Some brand specific technologies can be used together with Z-Wave systems, helping to have the advantages of speciality all working under the 'umbrella' of a single system. More information about this is in our Interoperability Article.

For a detailed overview of each technologies pros and cons make sure to read our Home Automation Technology guides.

The main systems we offer are:

General Purpose

The main general purpose home automation systems we offer are based on Z-Wave and LightwaveRF. The actual technologies differ and each has its own merits, it's not the aim of this guide to compare the technologies, but we do have comparison guide looking at Z-Wave or LightwaveRF.


Z-Wave is the leading wireless home automation technology offering significant benefits compared to older technologies. It is a mesh network, which enables signals to be automatically repeated around the system to help prevent 'black-spots' and it has status updates so you always know the status of all devices on the system. Take a look at the full Z-Wave Range.


LightwaveRF is a lower cost home automation technology that is simple to use, affordable and offers high quality products with lots of functionality and style. Devices are quick and easy to setup and operate - most only take a few minutes to install with no need for expert guidance. Take a look at the full LightwaveRF Range.

Brand Specific

Philips Hue

The Philips Hue system has it's own controller, called the Hue Bridge. The Bridge is needed for all but the most simple Hue system, certainly when you wish to control the Hue lights from a phone/tablet or computer. The Philips Hue system can also be used with IFTTT or as part of a Z-Wave system, but still needs the Hue Bridge - Using Philips Hue with Z-Wave. Take a look at the full Philips Hue Range


The Nest products connect wirelessly to your Wi-Fi system and do not need any gateway or hub. They will work with IFTTT and as part of a Z-Wave system - Using Nest with Z-Wave. Take a look at the full Nest Range.

Honeywell Evohome

The Honeywell Evohome system has its own controller that runs the system schedules, allows access smartphone/tablet access and interfaces with IFTTT. Currently Evohome will not interface with any other systems, meaning that it is restricted to operate in a stand-alone capability. Take a look at the full Honeywell Evohome Range.

Your Home Automation System

The system will use similar components (also called devices), these enable it to perform different actions or to control your home. Each device type has a specific purpose within the system, together they give you the flexibility to control your home, and keep you informed about what's going on.

System Controller (Gateway / Hub)

The controller, sometimes called the hub or gateway, controls your home automation system. It enables you to add and configure devices and to create and run 'flows/scenes/moods' that enable the system to do things automatically, such as turn on lights based on time or motion.

The controller is connected to your router using Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, this allows you to control the system from a smartphone, tablet or computer (via the Wi-Fi router) and allows remote access even when you're away from home, via the Internet. In order to control the system from your Smartphone/tablet you install an app for that controller, this gives you control whether you're in the lounge or sitting on the beach.

The controller also needs access to the Internet for firmware updates, remote access, time checks and to back-up your system to the vendor's server.


Actuators are devices that physically make things happen by controlling lights, heating and appliances. There are various types of actuator, most are listed here:

  • Switches (Relays) - control a light or appliance by switching the power going to it (On or Off).
  • Dimmers - controls the attached light's brightness as well as turning it On or Off.
  • Wall Plugs - simply plugs into the wall socket and controls the attached appliance, switch, dimmer and power monitoring versions are available.
  • Wall Sockets - replaces an existing wall socket with a wireless controlled version (LightwaveRF only).
  • Boiler Receiver - wired into your boiler circuit, giving you wireless control of the boiler, usually used together with wireless thermostats.
  • Radiator (TRV) - control when hot water is allowed to flow into the radiator based on the TRV's setpoint temperature.
  • Roller Shutter - control motorised blinds, shutters, awnings and curtains.
  • Siren - sounds an alarm when triggered by the home automation system.
  • Door Lock - allows you to control and monitor access to your home or parts of the building.


Sensors monitor your home and report if they detect motion or door opening, or specific values of environmental conditions such as light, temperature, humidity etc. Sensors also have an important role to play in making things happen automatically - which is one of the main goals of home automation.

  • Motion - alerts the system when motion is detected using a PIR sensor.
  • Door/Window - detects when a door or window has been opened or closed.
  • Temperature - monitors temperature, this can be used by the controller to make things happen based on temperature.
  • MultiSensor - has multiple sensors in one device (motion, light, temperature, humidity...).
  • Thermostat - controls the heating based on room temperature compared to a programmed setpoint.
  • Flood - detects water and alerts the main controller.
  • Smoke - triggers an alarm when smoke or excess heat are detected.
  • Energy Monitoring - monitors the energy consumed by individual appliances or even the whole house.

Remote Controls

Remote controls give the convenience of controlling the system from a physical control unit as well as from your smartphone or tablet.

  • Handheld - just like your TV remote, controls devices, scenes and moods.
  • Wireless Wall Switch - similar to a handheld remote but wall mountable.
  • Key-Fob - carry it around with you, great for when you walk back into the house.

AV - Multimedia

This section isn't an actual part of the home automation system, in that they are not Z-Wave or LightwaveRF devices. But lots of people wish to control their multimedia equipment from the home automation and create an integrated environment where lights, blinds and multimedia can be controlled together. So we've included this to explain how they work together.

InfraRed (IR)

Most AV and TV equipment is controlled using IR (Infra-red). For these, we suggest using an iTach IR adapter or a Homey controller. The iTach adapter enables the home automation controller to send commands to the iTach via the Wi-Fi router (Ethernet or Wi-Fi), the iTach then sends IR commands to the TV, AV receiver etc. More information about iTach Adapters. The Homey controller has Infra-red included, and can therefore control IR devices directly without the need of additional adapters. Take a look at our full range of IR Controllers.

IP controlled equipment

Many modern multimedia products connect to your Ethernet or Wi-Fi network (IP network); such as Smart TVs, AV Receivers, Sonos etc. For these, the home automation controller can often control them by sending commands via your Wi-Fi (IP) router. The Z-Wave controllers have plug-ins available for many of the latest appliances which makes it very easy to integrated them into your home automation system. Some systems, like Homey, even include full playback control for Sonos and Bluetooth speakers, as well as an AUX output for regular AV systems.

Talk to us

This guide gives you the basic anatomy of a home automation system and what each component does.

But sometimes you just need to check a few facts and get advice on exactly which products will be best suited to you - that's when you need to contact Vesternet.

Copyright Vesternet 2017

Updated: 28/04/2017

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