Up until recently, having a Smart Home required a custom system from a company such as Control4, Crestron or KNX and usually entailed a whole host of building work such as ripping up flooring, chasing walls, rewiring and then making good and decorating afterwards. These types of system use proprietary Smart Home devices, locking you into one particular technology and also come at a significant cost as you are paying for everything that has gone into making that system - hardware R&D, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, sales, software development, installation, support, etc, etc!
Nowadays, with the advent of wireless communication technologies such as Z-Wave, Zigbee and Wi-Fi, Smart Home devices are more of a commodity item and are being aimed at the self-install market. They can be installed with relative ease and simplicity and things like wireless sensors and plugin sockets are easy to get up and running quickly.
However, things can get more complicated when it comes to Smart Home Lighting, Smart Home Security or Direct Appliance Control, i.e. things that actually require physically installing and connecting to your home electrical wiring system. Moving on from the "hardware" side, commissioning and configuring your Smart Home devices and setting up logic, scenes and schedules within your Smart Home Controller can also prove challenging.
Fortunately, you can also get the best of both worlds if needed - a professional installation using Z-Wave, Zigbee & Wi-Fi devices, and this guide aims to discuss what a do-it-yourself ("DIY") installation will entail and what a professional installation can offer as an alternative.
In the first instance, whether the DIY route will be suitable for you will largely depend on the type of Smart Home devices you are intending to install. If your Smart Home will consist of a few Smart LED Bulbs, a handful of Smart plug-in sockets and a Voice Assistant to control them then most people will be able to handle this themselves. So in this case there's no real need to call in the professionals as long as you're quite practically inclined and have a reasonable knowledge of the technologies involved.
For things like Smart Home Lighting or Direct Appliance Control though, where a Z-Wave, Zigbee or Wi-Fi module will need to be connected directly to your home's electricial wiring system, you'll need to consider whether you have the necessary skillset to complete this type of work safely and competently. You'll need some proficiency with electrical wiring, building and decorating as a minimum.
You'll need be able to specifically identify your existing wiring, which may require physically testing with a multimeter to see which wires are Permanent Live, Switched Live and optionally Neutral. If these terms don't mean much to you then you really need to be honest with yourself as to whether you think you'll be able to carry out the work!
If you're the sort of person that is comfortable with changing out a light switch or wall socket, or perhaps adding an additional wall socket to an existing electrical circuit, and isn't phased by needing to replace a pattress (back-box) by chiselling out the wall and making good afterwards, then the DIY approach might suit you.
Similarly, when it comes to something like Multi-Zoned Smart Home Heating, you'll need to have some understanding of how your heating system works in terms of the type of heating system it is (electric, water based, UFH, forced air, etc) and how the heating system was designed with regards to existing control systems, piping, valves, pumps, etc. Plumbing skills may also be required, for example in order to change standard radiator valves to those that are thermostatically controlled (TRVs).
Setting aside the physical installation of Smart Home devices, some consideration should also be given to the eventual commmissioning and configuration of the system. Here, you'll need to have a good understanding of the technologies involved such as Z-Wave, Zigbee & Wi-Fi in order to construct a resilient and reliable network that allows your Smart Home devies to perform well.
When it comes to the long term aims for your Smart Home with respect to the actual "automation" side of things, most Smart Home Controllers offer graphical / wizard based editors for constructing Scenes, Logic and Schedules, but you'll still need to have a certain level of skill to be able to think logically on how best to automate your home. Programming experience isn't essential, but is certainly helpful in being able to understand the "IF THIS, THEN THAT, ELSE THIS" nature of most Smart Home Controllers.
If you're heading down the DIY route then the following are some common areas to consider before starting.
You'll need some level of proficiency with electrical wiring
Z-Wave and Zigbee modules need directly connecting to your home's electrical wiring system following all applicable regulations and safety standards. You need to be confident in your capabilities in this area, otherwise you can cause damage to the module, your wiring or yourself!
General DIY shouldn't phase you
Most Z-Wave, Zigbee & Wi-Fi modules will require a minimum pattress (back-box) depth of 47mm to ensure adequate ventilation and heat dissipation. Unless your home is a very modern building you're unlikely to find that such deep pattresses have been used by default. So be prepared to get stuck in with a hammer and chisel in order to replace the shallower pattresses!
Have an understanding of the technologies involved, such as Z-Wave, Zigbee & Wi-Fi
These wireless communication technologies have bought the Smart Home within reach of the masses, but they do use complicated to understand principles such as mesh-networking, RF interference, packet routing, etc. An understanding of these technologies is vital in being able to construct a stable and reliable Smart Home.
Be happy to research and self-help using online resources
DIY means exactly that - DO IT YOURSELF! You need to be prepared to undertake as much research as possible in order to navigate your Smart Home journey. While Smart Home Controller manufacturers and Smart Home device manufacturers offer support for hardware problems, they aren't likely to be very responsive to your "how do I achieve XYZ?" questions.
The buck stops with you
Good Compatibility and Interoperability of Smart Home devices with your Smart Home Controller is key to ensuring your Smart Home operates correctly. While Z-Wave and Zigbee devices in particular are supposed to work with Smart Home Controllers out-of-the-box, this isn't always the case. Poor product choices will come back to haunt you.
Have good troubleshooting and diagnostic skills
If you're expecting everything to work perfectly together without issue at your first attempt, then you're probably going to be disappointed! "Turning it off and on again" isn't going to cut it here, so if that's the limit of your usual technical support skills then you're not going to get very far!
Having a professional installation, but using commodity Smart Home devices based on Z-Wave, Zigbee and Wi-Fi, means that you'll get similar functionality to the high-end custom systems such as Control4, but for a much lower price. Of course, it won't be as low as if you were taking the DIY route, but it should offer a middle-ground between a DIY and a custom system.
A professional installation takes all the time, effort and guesswork out of your Smart Home, it's ideal for people that either don't have the technical capabilities to DIY or if they'd simply rather pay somebody to do it all for them.
In the first instance you'll complete an online survey that will take the place of a traditional site visit and this will gather information on your Smart Home requirements, as well as some technical information about your home's layout, construction and electrical wiring.
Our Smart Home Experts will then create a bespoke quotation for a recommended Smart Home Controller and the Smart Home devices that will be required to meet your request and this will include associated costs for installation and commissioning of the system. Once you've paid, our Smart Home Expert will visit your home to complete the work.
If you're considering a professional installation, the following will give you some idea of the benefits.
A fully functional and working Smart Home
Using their years of experience our Smart Home Experts will have matched a recommended Smart Home Controller and Smart Home devices to your specific requirements, meaning that your Smart Home system will be more than capable of achieving your goals. Once the physical installation is completed, the systen will be commissioned and configured as needed, leaving you with a fully functioning Smart Home.
Commodity Z-Wave, Zigbee & Wi-Fi devices
By using commidity Smart Home devices based on Z-Wave, Zigbee & Wi-Fi technologies, your Smart Home will come in at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent custom system, while still achieving that high-end functionality and feature set that you desire.
All electrical and other works completed to building regulations and safety standards
Since our Smart Home Experts are all registered electricians and building contractors, any work that is completed will be carried out in accordance with relevant regulations and safety standards.
No worries about Compatibility and Interoperability between Smart Home devices
Our Smart Home Experts will only use Smart Home devices that they know work well together and are Compatibile or Interoperable with the Smart Home Controller that has been recommended.
Support and ongoing help
With support and ongoing help available after your installation has been completed, our Smart Home Experts will keep your Smart Home running smoothly and reliably for years to come, all without you lifting a finger!
Once you've paid your Fixed Cost quotation then that's the price you'll pay for the agreed works, nothing more, nothing less. Of course, as work progresses you may decide that you want to expand your Smart Home to cover additional devices, lighting or security requirements, so our Smart Home Experts can be flexible in accomodating those requirements too by creating additional quotations for any extra work.