What Level of Home Automation Is Right for You?

Once the domain of tech experts, home automation has gone mainstream. What are your options, and what home automation system is right for you? Here's help to find out.

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Say "home automation" and some people conjure futuristic-looking controls, invasive wiring, and big budgets. But the world of home automation has gotten easier to install and more accessible, as well as decidedly wallet-friendly. Although budget, time, and needs all come into play, in general there's something to meet every home automation aspiration. Here are types and considerations to figure out what home automation system is right for you.

Basic: One-Device Automation

Home automation means different things to different people. In general, the most basic do-it-yourself home automation options are plug-and-play: For around $100 you can get an easily installed smart switch that can do a number of things, such as turn a device like a thermostat off or on at predetermined times. That type of switch is also generally controllable either with preprogrammed settings or an app.

Middle Ground: Home Automation Kits

A step up from that are DIY home automation kits. You can either purchase a main hub -- the main control unit -- or buy a kit that includes the hub and a limited number of proprietary or third-party sensors or gadgets. Using those, you'll have control of a predetermined range of home functions such as lighting, security, and HVAC. Depending on the hub, more sensors or controls can be added as needed. These, too, can generally be controlled either in the home (through a control panel or remote control) or via an app.

If you're focused on DIY, thoroughly investigate how you can add on to a main hub or build from a single sensor. Many hubs can be used with third-party add-ons, but some cannot. If yours is not compatible, you'll have fewer choices should you expand your home automation system in the future. In addition, the best of these DIY kits allow you to seamlessly integrate the hub and sensors into one control system that "speaks" a single language.

All-Out: Professional Systems

If you want a home with maxed-out automation and integration, you might consider a professional home automation system. While these cost more, they offer added convenience and more features, such as control of irrigation systems. In general, a professional home automation company will match a system to your needs and take care of installation, too.

Control options are usually similar to DIY systems -- via in-home access or an app. Bear in mind that home security systems might come with a monthly monitoring fee.

Don't Forget the Appliances

Many of the newest appliances are controllable via an app or in home; some even have keypads that are programmed to family members' particular preferences (think an individual playlist from a music system, or an oven that turns on via your command).

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