Nowadays, it’s not really a given that our lives are private, as social media has given us the platform on which to open our lives to the public. The Internet of Things (IoT) has expanded on that potential for online living, really delving into the nitty gritty of how our daily lives work. But with the increasing incidences of hacking attacks and the stealing of personal information reported worldwide, how far can we really go with a secure online life?

What is a smart home?

At its most basic level, a smart home is a house or living space that has been designed and built in a way that smart appliances within the house communicate. This can be with each other and/or the home owner(s) through wires or wireless communication.

A smart home includes the home owner’s ability to control internal systems such as lighting, ventilation, air condition (HVAC) features, TVs, fridges, even the thermostat. It provides us with the means to control and keep track of what’s going on in our home, or what should be going on according to a predefined timetable.

All the incoming data from these appliances can simply be viewed via a web-based app installed on a smartphone or other device. It works along the lines of the IoT, in that your “world” is interconnected, albeit at a smaller level.

How is it set up?

There are currently 4 types of protocols available on the market, with products developed to fit into either one of them:

  • X10
  • Z-Wave
  • UPB
  • EnOcean

Once the system has been set up using one of the above protocols, further products (of the same protocol) can be added in the future. This occurs according to the space capacities and budget of the homeowner, and can grow and be added to in the future according to their needs.

Devices under the same protocol can be bought from various manufacturers. With this in mind, there is no risk to the homeowner of expensive equipment becoming obsolete due to a basic low-level change elsewhere in the system. At the same time, product and system prices remain competitive enough to have made the systems now more affordable.

How it works

Any device in your home can be connected up to the system to communicate with each other and with you. Of course, this does mean that having a smart home demands that you be at least a little comfortable with technology.

So long as the device uses electricity, it can be connected up to your home network and be set up to respond to your command. No matter how the command is given, whether it’s by voice, remote control or by smartphone, your devices will react once the command is received.

Smart home networks can be created either through installing wires, or through a wireless, or WiFi, system. The transmitters, or devices sending out the commands, such as remote controls or keypads, are the means to control the system. All appliances and devices act as receivers, in that they receive the commands sent out by the transmitters.

Take the example of a switching on a device, such as a coffee maker or a lamp, using a smart home system. If you’re sitting in a different room to the device and want to switch it on, you can simply use your transmitter device to issue a numerical code message, which includes the following information:

  • An alert that is sent to the system issuing a command;
  • The relevant information that identifies the device that will receive the command;
  • The command itself, in the form of a code.

The downside to using wires as part of the smart home system is, as they are also powering other devices, they can get “noisy”. This is where radio wave transmitting devices, such as Bluetooth or WiFi, come in.

Wireless networks, on the other hand, provide more flexibility for users. Some protocols, such as Z-Wave, use a Source Routing Algorithm (, which chooses the fastest route to deliver messages. Devices, such as those using Z-Wave protocols, are embedded with a code that is recognized by the network controller once they are plugged into the system.

This determines the device’s location and adds it to the IoT network. Once the command comes through, the controller uses the algorithm to determine how the message should be sent.

What you need

Although protocols deal with the communications part, electronics manufacturers produce the end-user devices, such as:

  • Cameras – Where home security networks have been set up;
  • Motion sensors – As part of a burglar alarm system;
  • Thermostat controls – To control heating from wherever you are via smartphone;
  • LED lighting – Which can be controlled for color and brightness;
  • Door locks – That can be automatically opened or locked;
  • Auto-alerts – Which are created using data from the security system.

Homeowners can start off with a starter kit, with a basic array of devices and software that they can use to get started right away. With starter kits, it’s important to remember that:

  • A central device can be used to control other devices connected to it;
  • Compatibility is not an issue, as all the devices included support the same protocol;
  • Prices for starter kits normally have at least a small discount.

With this in mind, homeowners looking at this option, at least at the beginning, will find that they can get started without breaking the bank balance.

In the next post, we’ll go into more detail on the security issues facing smart homes, and just how safe our personal data is once the devices and networks have been set up.