Getting started

Home Automation System - how it works

What is Home Automation?

The simple answer is - anything you want it to be!

Home automation is anything that enables you to use your home's lighting, heating and appliances more conveniently and efficiently. And, at the same time giving you greater levels of comfort and security.

It can be as simple as remote or automatic control of a few lights, or it can be a complete system that controls all major parts of your home. Home automation is anything that gives you automatic control of things around the home.

Getting Started

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 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.

There are a wide range of home automation technologies to choose from, this can be confusing to people new to the area. Fortunately, this is less of a minefield than it used to be as many systems now work with each other, even if the underlying technologies are different. This means that you don't need to know all the inner workings of particular products - you're more free to choose the ones that suit you best.

For more information about the systems available, take a look at our Technologies Explained Section.

Getting Started Tips

There are broadly two types of home automation systems. The main systems use 'standard' wireless technologies such as Z-Wave, ZigBee and LightwaveRF, the advantage of these is that they can use products from different vendors and often work with other systems. The other type of 'proprietary' systems use their own wireless technology (often undisclosed) - these tend to be very good at the task they are designed to do, but will not work easily with other systems.

  • Choose a product or system for now
    Few of us dive straight in and automate the whole house, and it's usually our advice not to do that. It's always better to start small. So for your first 'system' choose a product that will do what you need - it may be just controlling a few lights or simple heating control. Choose the system that best meets your needs now.
  • Check that it works with other systems
    When choosing that first product or system, double check that it can work with other products and systems. This may not be important now, but means that you can more easily expand in the future. Look for products that use 'standard' wireless technologies such as Z-Wave, ZigBee and LightwaveRF.
  • Take a look at Platforms
    Our Platforms section helps show products and systems that can work within particular 'Ecosystems'. This is useful when looking for products to work with Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit, Google Home, Nest, Philips Hue, Osram etc.
  • Don't ignore Proprietary systems
    On the face of it, 'standard' systems give you the most flexibility. However, if you only plan on automating one part of your home it may be better to use a 'proprietary' system. Also, some proprietary systems excel at the task they were designed to do - so sometimes choosing the best system for the job is the better way to go.

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.

More help and advice is in our Choosing a Home Automation Controller section.


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.
  • Modules - these are wired into the electrical circuit, they are available as switches (relays, dimmers, roller shutter etc).
  • 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.
  • Smart Bulbs and LED Strips - LED bulbs and strips that can be directly wirelessly controlled from your home automation system.


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 directly part of the home automation system, however, 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 software 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.

Find out more...

Where ever you wish to start, and whatever you wish to automate in your home, we have you covered. We have comprehensive guides that help you select the most suitable systems, and products for your needs.


Choosing the right controller and system is an important step in creating your Smart Home. This guide looks at the various systems available and provides in-depth information on particular controllers.More Information...


Adding Smart control of your lighting is probably the easiest and quickest way to automate your home. Smart lighting allows you to control lighting just how you want it. It can be controlled automatically with timers or motion sensors and helps you save energy by turning lights off when not needed. More Information...


Smart heating allows you to have separate zones or rooms running at different temperatures or times, and you can control it when you're away. You will always have a warm home, you'll never walk into a cold house when you've been away, and you only heat the rooms you need. Smart heating gives you comfort, convenience and energy savings. More Information...


Home Automation protects your home from fire, smoke and break-in - you'll always know what's happening. If anything does happen, it will alert you, it can then automatically control the other smart systems such as lights, ventilation and raise an alarm if needed. More Information...


Enabling your home automation system to monitor and control your energy will save you money and bring you convenience. As the home automation system will be controlling your heating and lighting you can see how much energy is being used, and allow the system to minimise usage automatically. More Information...


Control your blinds, ventilation and air quality with home automation. Automatically ensure that you have the most comfortable environment for you and your family. Climate control can also work with security systems to ensure the right things automatically happen in an emergency such as a fire. More Information...


Provides you with cinematic multimedia all around your home (in HD and 4K). Extending this to be controlled from your home automation system takes your home to the next level allowing your home and entertainment to work as a single system - much more convenient! More Information...


Enabling your home automation system to monitor and control your energy will save you money and bring you convenience. As the home automation system will be controlling your heating and lighting you can see how much energy is being used, and allow the system to minimise usage automatically. More Information...


There are lots of technologies to choose from, many of which now work together, our extensive guides and wealth of information will help you get through the home automation maze. Take our advice from earlier in this guide and then explore the individual technologies on offer.. More Information...


Our Glossary explains all the technologies and common terms used in home automation, it's a great place to get acquainted with everything you need to know about smart home control.More Information...

Getting Help and Advice

We can advise you on all aspects of home automation, if you have any questions or need some help, just Contact us.

Copyright Vesternet 2017

Updated: 20/12/2017