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Home Automation System Overview - How it Works

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. For both Z-Wave and LightwaveRF systems, you 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 main 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 a wireless home automation technology supported by many vendors (50+ on Vesternet) and hundreds of products. 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 mainly aimed at lighting and power control, but have recently introduced a range of heating products. Take a look at the full LightwaveRF 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 '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 Wi-Fi router using 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 backup 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. This 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

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.

This guide gives you the basic anatomy of a home automation system and what each component does. If you have any questions or need some help, just contact us at

Copyright Vesternet 2015

Updated: 20/01/2015

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