Home Automation for dumb appliances

Home Automation uses a range of protocols and standards allowing you to connect and control everything from Wi-Fi enabled bulbs and plugs, RF door sensors, IR devices such TVs and vacuum cleaners all the way through to true smart appliances such as coffee machines and refrigerators.

Automating your existing appliances

While you can go away and replace all of your appliances with new Wi-Fi enabled ones this is likely to be very expensive, prove challenging to interconnect and automate not to mention a potential security concern. Instead you might want to look around your house and decide what you already have that you can automate. Oil heaters, fans, kettles, coffee machines and TVs are all fairly trivial to automate with a smart plug or an IR transmitter. Likewise while you can buy into a Zigbee or Z-Wave set up and spend anywhere from £10-£50 on window and door sensors you can achieve much the same functionality with an RF hub and a pack of £10 sensors.

Automate your Kettle and coffee machine

While there are Smart Kettles on the market, some with sophisticated sensors to monitor fill level or initiate cleaning cycles a dumb kettle can be turned into a smart one with nothing more than a smart plug. If you have a power monitoring plug it can even turn itself off once the kettle stops drawing power. The only downside is having to depress the switch once you refill it.

Automate your heaters, radiators and fans

While you absolutely can and should look into a smart thermostat if you own your own home for the majority of renters that's simply not a sensible option, happily with a combination of smart plugs and smart [radiator thermostats](https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=as_li_qf_sp_sr_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=smarthome077-21&keywords=smart%20Radiator Thermostat&index=aps&camp=1634&creative=6738&linkCode=xm2&linkId=d6194ddfb655ee6b6d4ffbc1b6d8e04c "radiator thermostats") even renters can have complete control over the temerature in their room or house.

Automate your TV

While the ability to turn your TV on using a smart plug is probably not much of an upgrade you can pick up a fairly cheap IR transmitter turning an old highend dumb TV into a semi-smart device. By teaching the IR controller to emulate your TV remote you can have the same if not more control over your TV than offered by the best smart devices. Obviously there are pro's and con's to this approach; it's much cheaper to buy a great dumb TV than to buy a great smart one, and you don't run the risk of your TV getting hacked, on the otherhand your TV isn't actually smart so it can't send feedback to your smart home. It doesn't know that you've pressed the mute key or that you've left your TV turned on for 6 hours. The same approach can be used for other remote control devices around your home.

Automate your doorbell

Unless you allready have an external security camera you can't recreate the video capture functionality of a Ring Video Doorbell without a soldering iron and an absurd amount of technical know how, still even your dumb doorbell can become a little smarter for less than £20 quid. If you have a wireless rather than a wired doorbell it communicates with the bell or buzzer using RF (Radio frequency). By getting yourself an cheap Sonoff or Broadlink RF Bridge you can record the ringing of your doorbell and use this to trigger automations. This could be to pause your TV, or turn off your music alerting you that the doorbell has just been rung or sending a message to your mobile phone.

Things to consider when automating your home

When you're automating your home there are some considerations other than price to take into account before you buy any smart devices; security, privacy, interconnectivity and utility. Simply put does it make sense for your device to be connected to the internet, is it safe to make that information available outwith your home and will the devices work together.

Consider the privacy concerns

Your smart speakers are constantly listening to you. Given that the same is true of your smartphone this might not seem like much of an issue but imagine for a momemnt that the device was hacked. Every device you connect to your network from your personal laptop, smart phone, plug socket and TV has the potential to be compromised. This is why so many IT professionals use Webcam covers. For simple devices such as smart plugs or bulbs the privacy concerns are relatively negligible, for a Wi-Fi enabled security syste or TV with a camera this issue is larger. Even with the biggest names in security and the best DD-WRT router the chances of your home being hacked are never going to be zero, so when buying a device imagine for a moment that it could be hacked and ask yourself if this device would see, or know things you'd rather kept private.

Consider the security aspects

If you're going to put these devices on your home network you could potentially be opening yourself up to a host of security concerns. We've covered Wi-Fi Security and ways to stay safe in more depth elsewhere but put simply every unique device you add to your network represents a possible point of failure. Each device that shares data outwith your network could be compromised either at the server level, where it's sending its data to, or at the network level, allowing it greater access to other devices on your network. Before you buy any product ask yourself three questions;
Does this device communicate outwith my own internal network and if so where does that data go?
Is there a brand or business supporting this device that has a vested interest in keeping myself and my data safe?
*Will this device continue to get security updates years from now?

Ultimately you can't pay for security but buying a device from a known brand might make more sense than trying to save a few pounds. If a new hack or exploit vulnerability comes up in the next few years Philips risk their brand by not fixing it, the generic Wi-Fi plug you bought on Amazon or Ebay might not be getting those fixes. When you're talking about smart appliances the security updates that the device recieves are far more important than the warranty.

Consider the eco system

Beyond mere security concerns the eco system that you buy into will be with you for a while, may limit your choices down the line and might not survive. If you've bought Wi-Fi plugs and the manufacturer goes under they may well stop working entirely, and as Sonos clients discovered recently to their dismay even big brands don't guarantee support forever. The internet of things we have today is likely not the one we have tomorrow and security risks aside this has implications for what you buy today.

Interconnectivity and Longevity

The accessability offered by your devices today are governed by a number of issues;
the liklihood of the supplier surviving
the liklihood of the supplier being bought outwith
*the liklihood of the protocol standard surviving

Phrased another way, Google acquired Nest back in 2014 and at the time kept it as a seperate entity, now it's being rolled into Google's own eco system which may well have implications for its integration with third party solutions. Google themselves have changed and closed down parts of their API, Apple have never been known for playing nicely with third party devices or even cables and Amazon have a vested interest in pushing their own services at the expense of competitors. There are no serious open source contenders for the smart speaker or virtual assistant set up, but at least when it comes to smart plugs, door sensors and lightbulbs there is Zigbee. Z-Wave is promising to opensource and as developments go this is promising.

If a platform or protocol is opensourced it has a number of huge advantages over any other, security, interconnectivity and longevity. Security in that it's code can be examined, and any vulnerabilities found easily and patched. Interconnectivity in that it will allow any other device, hub or appliance using the same protocol to connect to it, and longevity in that it can be supported by other proviers if the manufacturer is bought out or fails commercially.