Smart Home Ideas for Hobbyists

Smart Home on a Budget

There are multitudes of options to build functional smart home systems, without breaking the bank. The catch is, you need to do the work (or at least part of it). Here we gathered a bunch of starting ideas which we either tried or saw them in operation. This is not a detailed how-to guide though. Our aim is to point you to the right direction and let you do the research. If you find any of the ideas interesting or you have a new one, and you need assistance to go forward, please contact us, and we will do our best to help you out.

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The Basics - How it all works

While there are many different ways to build smart home systems, there are a few common elements which can be found in most if not all of them.

  • Controller
  • Inputs, sensors
  • A Medium
  • Decision Making logic (AI)
  • User Interface
  • A development tool

Let's look at each a little more detailed

  • Controller
  • Smart Home Systems need at least one device, physical or virtual, where decisions can be made. This could be a dedicated processor built for this specific purpose or a smart AI persona in the Cloud, or anything in between.

  • Inputs, sensors
  • There can be no sensible decision making without relevant information. A temperature probe is needed for example to check the room temperature. Data from these inputs is sent to the controller for processing. Once the input is evaluated, a response will be generated. if the room temperature is below the set point the controller will turn on the heating.

  • A medium
  • To transfer information, from the sensors to the controller and from the controller to the devices we intend to control, we need a link. The simplest link or medium is a piece of wire. It conducts electricity, therefore it is perfect to transimit signals. It does not take part in the actual measurement (hopefully) but it is needed to convey that information. Wireless signals are also used.

  • A Decision making logic (AI)
  • Once information is gathered from the inputs there has to be a mechanism, software or hardware, which evaluates that incoming data. Controllers have a programmable memory, where this logic can be placed.

  • User Interface
  • Smart home systems can use many different devices to display information and to get input from the users. Touch sensitive displays and push button keypads are the most commonly used items. Smartphones, tablets and computers are also very popluar.(Check out our User Interfaces page for more on this)

  • The Development Tool
  • To put it all together, we need a tool that can understand our instructions and translate it to a form, that the controller can understand. It is usually a set of software applications, made for a specific hardware. The typical task is to create a set of logical decision options Like: If the room is warm enough, turn off the heater. If the room cools down too much, turn the heater back on.

The most important item is however, missing from the list above. And that is YOU. The person who can make it all happen, even if one or more or all of the items are unavailable. You can't be replaced. (AI will try, but that is still made by a human)

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First Steps - Planning

Before hitting the market to shop for controllers or displays, it is a good idea to do some planning. Assessing what you already have and what you are intending to control is an excellent starting point. Another important step is to decide, how much you are willing to learn, and how much time you have for it. There is nothing worse than a half way done smart home system or rather a stupid home system at that point. Once the commitment is made and you are ready to dive in, you can do one more thing, and it is also completely free. Look at samples, codes, drawings, photos, done by others, to see if this is something you can venture into. And if at this point you decide not to start, you are still ok to do that. You spent no money, and you got richer with some learning experience. And of course you can always contact us, to do the work for you. Following, we provide a few tips of how to assess the current state of your home amenities for automation.

  • Lighting
  • A word of caution before we begin. If you are not experienced or licenced to work with high voltage, do not intend to do it on your own. Please hire an electrician to assist you.

  • Whole House Audio Video
  • Playing music or videos from a central or a local source, in one or many or all areas of the house, using the control devices of the smart home system. You can start watching your favourite sports game in the living room, and then move down to the home theatre to see the action on the big screen.

  • Incoming call notifications
  • If the home phone rings, the smart home system can lower the audio volume in the house. It can also display an alert on TVs or control screens with the caller's number and name. The smart home sytem should have a place where the owner can set up which speakers and displays should be enabled or disabled to be part of the alerts.

  • Emergency alerts
  • The Smart home can display alerts or play a warning message if there is an imminent danger in the house. If the washing machine is leaking water, the smart home can sense it and alert the owner.

  • Home Theatre
  • There is nothing like it! The largest screen, the most sophisticated sound system in the house. And it is all connected to everyting. Playing an immersive game and watching the kids playing in the backyard in the corner of the screen, is a given feature. Doing conference calls from the home theatre is also a well used feature.

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We live in a well connected World. Our smrt home could be a great place to take advantage of that. Streaming our music or video, to any speaker or televison set in the house, is only the beginning. Here are the multi-media features we would like you to consider

  • Streaming Audio Video
  • Playing music or videos from a smart phone or tablet,to any display or speaker in the house.

  • Universal Device Access
  • Smart phones, tablets, computers, gaming devices, any major brand, should be able to connect to your smart home media system for playback or music library access.

  • Universal access via Control Screens
  • You should be able to use any of the Smart Home Control Stations to operate(especially mute) and monitor any (and all) audio video devices for convenience and parental supervison.

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The home alarm system can be used for much more than catching a burglary attempt. Your alarm system is always on, even if the house is not armed. The sensors built into the doors, windows and many other places, continuously report their status. A well designed smart home, can utilize those signals. The following feature list is what we believe would be a good start to utilize the alarm system in a smart home

  • Direct Link between the Alarm System and the Smart Home Control Center
  • To exchange information, the smart home system has to have access to the alarm system.This is a safe and proven practice.

  • Return path from the smart home system for triggerning special alarms
  • If you pay for alarm monitoring, you can make that subscription even more valuable. If the smart home system captures a possible hazard or a suspicious activity, a return path can be used to send an alarm signal to the monitoring center, even if the failed device is not directy connected to the alarm system.

  • Virtual Keypads on Smart Home Control Screens
  • A typical smart home system includes one or more touch screen control terminals located in the main areas of the house. Using them as an alarm virtual keypads, allows you to arm and disarm the alrm system, without going to an actual alarm keypad. You can reduce the number of physical alarm keypads (We usually keep only one. If the smart home is unable to connect to the alarm system you still have a backup)

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