Home automation systems must talk to one another, but how they do it can vary from company to company and product to product. On the most basic level, communications are relayed via wiring or radio waves. Structured wiring is an option, as is powerline carrier (PLC) technology, which uses the home's existing electrical wiring, or radio frequency (RF) technology.
RF and PLC manufacturers and providers are forming alliances in an attempt to become the standard within the home automation industry. Their goal is to convince consumers to buy into their technology and purchase their products. Since the RF side of home automation is still fairly young, their alliances are hoping to capture the market. Homeowners looking to automate their homes should understand alliances and how they affect products and services before deciding to purchase.
How Alliances Impact Homeowners
An alliance is a group of companies that have agreed to support a particular technology or standard with their services and products. The three big alliances in the home-automation industry are ZigBee, INSTEON, and Z-Wave. Each alliance features a particular technology or chip that functions as the common denominator for the RF- or PLC-enabled products they choose to offer. Just as computer software is compatible with other software that uses the same operating system, compatible alliance products are integrated into a home-automation system and can interface with one another. Lighting controls can talk to thermostat controls from another company because they all share the same operating system and language. This makes a total home-automation system possible.
Without a link to bind products together, an automated home would be a series of appliances, each needing its own programming. Z-Wave, a technology originally developed by the chip developer Zensys, has an alliance with 160 members all using the same interface. The benefits to the consumer are obvious: greater product selection and a guaranteed interface.
But homeowners should always verify that every product offered by an alliance member is compatible with their existing system and products from other member companies. Honeywell is part of the ZigBee Alliance, for example, but not all Honeywell products are compatible with those of the other alliance members. Compatibility is usually designated by an alliance logo on the product package or in the literature.
Do Your Homework
Z-Wave, INSTEON, and ZigBee all offer member companies three different levels of participation or investment in the alliance. Each level carries different costs and benefits.
A company can join and become an alliance member without offering any products that use the alliance technology. Homeowners should check to see how many compatible products are available within an alliance before opting for their technology over another.
Make a Smart Automation Investment
Home automation starter kits that can be added onto later can cost under $100. Many RF-enabled devices. like light switches, dimmers, and HVAC controls, can be easily installed and included in a home's expanding automated network. Just remember that an alliance purchase means non-participating companies and products cannot be added later-alliance products only speak to fellow alliance products. Starting small is great, but homeowners must be prepared for limited expansion opportunities depending on the alliance they select.
RF-enabled devices with low price points and easy installation make for attractive home-automation solutions. Nonetheless, a homeowner would be wise to thoroughly research the options, to know just how many products and systems from an alliance can be included in the home's automated network, and to find out what other homeowners are saying about the products.