Back in late September, I read an interesting article titled the DIY Delusion of Home Automation written by Ted Haeger, Vice President of Education & Support at Control4. Just looking at the title and author of this article I had a problem with it as I do not think anyone who is in an executive level position for a major custom integrator target home automation company would have an unbiased view on DIY home automation and right from the title Mr. Haeger proves me to be correct. While I do not disagree with a lot of what Mr. Haeger writes in his article, it is done in such a condescending way towards DIYers in the home automation space that his points are overshadowed by it. Take the tile, “The DIY Delusion of Home Automation” which in-itself is condescending. Why is DIY home automation a delusion? How can it be a delusion when so many people have done down this path and have automation systems that they are happy with?
In the first sentence of the article Mr. Haeger writes “When I bought my modest 2,300-square-foot suburban home, I was pretty keen on the idea that I would automate it myself. Seriously, how hard could it be? Or, so I thought.” This sentence shows just how detached the author is from what DIY home automation is and also highlights DIY home automatons biggest issue. People get into DIY home automation thinking exactly the same thing, “how hard could it be” and when people get into this what that attitude they will surely fail because as I have written in the past they will not put the level of thought and planning that is needed into proper automation. When a home automation system, either DIY or professionally installed is not properly planned out there is no way it can succeed. But what I really want to do here is take a look at some of the problems that Mr. Haeger mentions in his article and see what we DIYers who actually put effort into our systems think.
The first issue that is brought up Mr. Haeger calls “The inscrutable interface.” Right off the bat I know where the writer is going with this and it is something I agree with but let us take a look at how he defines “The inscrutable interface.” Mr. Haeger defines “the inscrutable interface” as “that the only person who understands how to use it is the person who implemented it.” and also says that it is “One of the most recognizable aspects of a DIY smart home.” I get it every service has its own app and without proper planning and having a vision for your smart home and where it will go you are never going to have a cohesive system. Having used Control4 for myself for many years I can say Control4 has the same pitfall, every system has this pitfall. Once you make something smart and try and change human nature and the way people want to instinctively control something you have failed. Every system out there, be it professionally installed or DIY will fail as soon as your significant other try’s to use it and can’t figure it out. What is not mentioned however is that this is also an aspect where DIY can excel, again with some thought and planning you can find the correct devices and can find ways to make them work together no matter how many services you have to go through to do it. Right now I have thirteen “home control” apps on my phone, I use none of them regularly because my system is designed in a way and I have the flexibility to implement many different products that I give a level of control to anyone in my house, whether it be using one of the many wall-mounted touchscreen displays that can control every aspect of the house or a simple light switch, there are choices in every aspect of my home control system and this level of choice is only available with the DIY route. Again though I do understand what the writer is trying to say here and he is right when people half-ass their home automation implementation. The difference really is though if you have a custom integrator half-ass or not properly plan out your specific implementation you will either have no idea of how much better things could be and go on your merry way or you will have countless return visits from that integrator to fix there own shortcomings and their misinterpretation of your vision.
In Mr. Haegers next point, “The Dis-Integrated Home” he tries to make the point that there are so many different home control apps and you may have one to control your lights, one to control your thermostat and another to control your door locks. Again I absolutely agree with this point there is no consistency and no standardization and there needs to be. To me, someone who has these things set up and uses different apps to control them has not installed a home automation system but yet a home control system. Being able to control something from an app does not make it smart or does not make it “automated” it only makes it connected. Automation, on the other hand, comes in when you start using data to control things for you. That data can come from sensors, the weather or user habits and then learn to control aspects of the home based off of that data. Control4 has a strong advantage in this aspect but again lacks the interoperability with devices and ecosystems that the DIY route has. More-so for me “The Dis-Integrated Home” comes from when people do not finish what they start or do not truly know what they want. People may be perfectly happy with being able to control there lights or whatever from there phone but that should not be lumped in with home automation.
The next point “The Tyranny of Expediency” is another point that I do not disagree with. What Mr. Haegers is saying is that things come up and projects take a back seat to life sometimes, whether money or any other life event distracts you from any goal you will always have a hard time getting back on track. Unfortunately, Mr. Haegers focuses mostly on the money here and implies that people go the DIY route to be cheap so I will stick with the financial aspect. What Mr. Haegers neglects to point out, however, is the sheer cost of a Control4 system with professional installation and ongoing service. As a sub-point to “The Tyranny of Expediency,” Mr. Haegers points the deficiency finger at wireless communications protocols but again neglects to point out the Control4 uses wireless technology itself, they support Zigbee! That being said I am not sure I can put any value in that aspect of the writers point but I will agree that things will always come up that will sidetrack us, its human nature but from the DIY space you can work through this if you have a goal in mind and a plan for getting there. You can also change devices if you need to cut some costs and have the flexibility as most of the DIY ecosystems support such a wide range of products from manufacturers big and small.
The last point brought up by Mr. Haegers is “Failure of Imagination” and I just flat out disagree with this. I would even go as far as saying many Control4 customers who have integrates install systems suffer from this more than the DIYers. In the DIY space, you have to use your imagination and have to have a big picture in mind and is able to evolve as life changes and systems need to change. You lose this imagination with a system like Control4, yes it may be supplemented by a good integrator who can insert there own imagination but ultimately that is not the end users and may not be what the end user wants because a lot of the time in just about every aspect of our lives we do not know what we want.
As I mentioned in the beginning “The DIY Delusion of Home Automation” by Ted Haegers points out a lot of issues that face home automation as a whole and not just the DIY space. To many of his points think I have been able to counter which why DIY would have an advantage over a closed ecosystem where you are dependent on an integrator to make even the simplest changes. Home automation, whether DIY or don for you is a skill set and something that requires research. You can learn a lot online and you can learn even more from experience, through trial and error. Yes, this trial and error and experience may cost you time and money but it is worth it because, in the end, you will have a system that works exactly how you want it using the devices that you want. With DIY you do not have to make any sacrifices and you are not locked into anything. So if you are interested in home automation (if you are reading this you are interested enough) take a chance and try something, if that does not work try something else even if that is a custom professionally installed system, just make sure you research what you are doing before you do it and make sure you have a vision that is flexible for what you want.
I am passionate about the IoT and connected devices. Using connectivity to automate our lives will empower civilization to achieve greatness.