Home Automation – Understanding the Options


As I detailed in my opening blog here there are plenty of different ways of getting started with home automation, and plenty of reasons why you’d want it – but each different product brings its own complexities, terminologies and prices (both initially and via subscriptions). In this blog, I intend on explaining some of the terminology and decision-making criteria that is worthwhile doing before committing to hardware, why I chose what I chose and what (if anything) I would have changed on my journey

OK, so you’ve decided that you want a smart home – either whole hog, or just a few funky lights and the odd camera. Awesome – welcome to the team!

What you’ve probably grasped if you’ve looked at a few of the ecosystems, such as Philips Hue, or Aqara or Eufy is that they all want you to buy a hub. What is this hub that you speak of, and how much does it cost? Well here in lies the problem – essentially each ecosystem wants you to buy a hub, which typically sits on your home network (either connected to your router, or a switch) to communicate with that brands devices. It may contain a hard drive for storing and processing video locally( true in the case of Eufy here) and/or it may talk outbound to a cloud service (true in the case of Phillips Hue’s bridge here) to allow you to control or view your devices when you’re at home or away.


One thing to understand with Smart Home tech is that there is unfortunately no ubiqutous standard of communication sadly. Like a lot of tech there are a handful of different protocols that the sensors, cameras, lights, etc all commuicate over


Yes, Bluetooth is used home automation products too. Its a useful standard, because its very common, and therefore makes setting up these devices very simple (via your phone, for example), its very energy efficient (especially BLE – Bluetooth Low Energy) and has a pretty high transfer rate in comparison to other standards such as Zigbee.

Where it often falls down is in range – transmission wise it can do between 2-30 meters (no interference) which, dependent on your house layout, etc could potentially be an issue.


Undoubtedly the most common standard in our home nowadays, generally has a fantastic transfer rate, which is why this is becoming pretty standard for wireless cameras (such as Ring, etc) however is one of higher protocols for energy usage (typically between 10-50mA). The one critical thing here is ensuring that you have good coverage in your house (and outside your house too) if that where some of your smart home devices are going to live. I’ve read a few horror stories of people buying some rather expensive cameras to fit in their roof soffits and then realising that those cameras are 3 floors and 4 brick walls away from their router…

Common Wifi Brands: Shelly, LIFX, Apple


Zigbee is very low energy consumption, give or take half that of wifi, and with a similar transmission range which makes it perfect for smart home / IoT devices as it lends itself well to battery-powered devices. Transfer rate is typically capped at around 1Mbps so no use for streaming video as such, but perfect for sensors, whether that be humidity, movement, water, etc.

Zigbee creates its own mesh network based on 2.4Ghz so can sometimes cause issues with older devices communicating on Wifi. However is built on the IEEE 802.15.4 protocol Because it builds its own mesh though the more devices you have, the more reliable they’ll be – but have read that there are often compatibility issues between manufacturers.

Common Zigbee Brands: Samsung, Philips Hue, IKEA, Bosch, Miele, Aqara


Much like Zigbee, Z-Wave creates a mesh network, however as a closed standard (compared to Zigbee) and also communicates over a radio-wave frequency. That closed standard though, means typically Z-Wave devices command a bit more of a premium over Zigbee.

Much like Zigbee it has a long range (330 feet or so) which means its also excellent for sensors and other IoT devices.Transfer speed is quite low, we’re talking around 100Kbps, however given devices are typically sensors, etc – this is more than adequate. Power wise, its still pretty low – absolutely suitable for battery-powered devices, but not as low as Zigbee.

Also interetingly (and I am a geek at the end of the day) even though they both mesh, Zigbee is happy for as many hops as you like to get to the target destination (often the mgmt hub), Z-Wave maxes out at 4 so bare that in mind when planning your Smart Home. Having said that using a less common protocol (908.42Mhz vs 2.4Ghz) it suffers less from interference so communication often travels better.

Common Z-Wave Brands: Lutron, Lightwave, Zooz

So now we’ve looked at the ways smart devices can communicate, the next thing is how to control they right? And yes, this means some type of hub in a lot of scenarios (but not all).

Smart Home Hubs / Assistants

What is a very common scenario is that people will look for products that work with which smart speaker brand they have at home – whether that be Amazon Echos, Apple Homepods, or Google Nest. Mainly because these speakers often act as the Smart Hub and can also double up as voice control for thing such as your lights. However, doing this can be an annoying and often costly mistake. Read on for why

Lets first look at the major brands: Apple, Google & Amazon

Apple Homekit

Apple Homekit is embedded into all iOS and macOS devices allowing you to control your devices from your notification screen, or within their native app. It allows you to do basic automations and from a security perspective has Apple Secure Video accredited devices which (with an iCloud subscription) syncs your video to the cloud securely (end-to-end encryption).

Devices that pass the apple ‘accreditation’ however are limited, and also (like many Apple products) command a premium. Having said that, there are some big brands that play nicely, such as Logitech, Eufy and Aqara so if you are somebody that like a set up and forget system and you’re household are all Apple fanboys and fangirls – Apple Homekit could be perfect for you.

Amazon Alexa

Amazon Alexa is one particular ecosystem that is compatible with probably 99% of smart home devices, much like Google Home. From TVs to cameras and sensors, you won’t struggle to find devices that will play nicely with your Alexa ‘estate’ at home.

Usability on the speaker is as good as any other ones, but obviously on your smartphone isn’t quite as ‘accessible’ as you have to use their app, which I personally find pretty clunky.

There are a number of people who find issues with Amazon’s privacy, its been in the news not all that long ago and rumours are rife very recently that they plan to begin a ‘premium subscription’ to utilise some of their newer features.

Google Home

Much like Alexa, Google Home compatibility isn’t an issue with almost all devices happily working with it. Much like Apple, its well baked into the android operating system so usability is there, the Nest smart speakers are pretty solid too.

The question here is whether or not you are an android household (tablets or phones) or whether you own some of the nest devices or not.

But thats not the only choice you’ve got…

There are actually some alternatives for hubs though, that will connect to all of the above protocols, and will interact with all of your smart speakers, and if (like me) you don’t want to share your data with the cloud, keeps all the data in your house with remote access should you want to do something when you’re out and about. Lets take a look at these:

Home Assistant

Home Assistant is an open source platform that believes in local control and privacy first and has been around since 2013. Development is community led and releases are monthly. From a hardware perspective there are ready made ‘hubs’ (HA Yellow & HA Green), but can also run on a Raspberry Pi, on a VM, on a container or a normal x86 server.

Out of the box, it needs some configuration, but there are almost no limits to what are possible. It communicates with all of the above protocols (with support dongles, etc) and has integrations into all of the major vendors for voice control. Its probably got the biggest community of enthusiasts on this list.

Homey Pro

Homey has been around since roughly 2016 but is privately funded, and has recently released Homey Pro, but they are both all-in-one hubs with support out of the box for all of the large vendors, such as Philips Hue, Sonos, Honeywell, IKEA, etc.

They both support Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc (Homey requires an additonal bridge) and both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa but not Homekit (only Siri shortcuts).

They have their own script, aptly named HomeyScript to make things that don’t exist out of the box, but is a pretty configurable platform. Honey works on a subscription basis (£2.99/month) whereas HomeyPro is a one-off cost of £399 but is more fully featured.


Hubitat is similar to Homey in that is backed by a company and provides support for all the major protocols such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc and does come in a little cheaper (circa £200 once import duties, etc are paid).

It comes with support for Google Home and Amazon Alexa, as well as big brands such as Sonos, Samsung, Philips Hue, Lutron, etc but has definately got a smaller supported base of products. Its got quite a strong rules engine for automations however lends itself more to the casual tinkerer unlike Home Assistant which definitely requires a bit more configuration.


Some would say this is the Rolls Royce of Smart Home systems – its been around since 2003 and is a very mature platform. Unlike the other vendors on this list, Control4 actually have their own products such as light switches, audio etc as well as supporting thousands of third party devices that use Zigbee, Z-Wave or Wifi and will also integrate with Google Home and Amazon Alexa.

Unlike the above systems that require the customer to configure though, Control4 is installed (and supported) via a network of dealers – because of this, installs often run into the ££££, dependant on what you have installed.

Many people would say that the interface for Control4 is outdated and the cost is prohibitive but if you want a full install, ongoing support with a huge breadth of products then Control4 could be perfect for you

Other notable vendors

Savant, Creston, SmartThings, HomeSeer


Hopefully you can see from the above that planning is imperative here. What smart devices do you want to use, is it just lighting, or is a full security system with cameras and sensors and how ‘ready-made’ do you want the system to be? I am firm believer of not getting locked into any kind of ecosystem, whether that be for IoT sensors, lighting, or even for my smart speaker (just cause I’m an Apple guy right now, I might not be in 3 years).

That resulted in me deciding to go down the Home Assistant route. The next blog will be all about me planning my installation (and the mistakes I made) and what devices I had already and planned to purchase.

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