Smart homes are on the up and up. For a while, people thought of the idea as nothing more than a gimmick – some people still think that way – but recent product releases have shown that smart home automation is starting to live up to its promises.
And as it turns out, smart home automation is cheap when compared to the cost of other home renovation projects. While there are several easy smart home ideas for newbies, one of the best ways to get started is by purchasing a smart hub.
Any discussion about smart hub eventually lands on SmartThings, so let’s cover this one right from the start. The SmartThings Hub requires an Ethernet connection to operate properly, but can connect to devices using WiFi, Z-Wave, and ZigBee.
What does it do? Basically, the SmartThings Hub is a central controller that can be configured and programmed to operate multiple devices. How does it control these devices? Through an Android or iOS app that you need to install on your smartphone. No web interface is available right now.
SmartThings offers a variety of products that seamlessly integrate with the hub: Moisture Sensor (alerts when moisture is detected), Motion Sensor (alerts when motion is sensed), Open/Closed Sensor (alerts when windows or doors or drawers are opened or closed), among others.
But the best thing about SmartThings is that they are constantly expanding support for non-SmartThings products. For example, the hub can control Belkin WeMo switches. If you want an all-in-one hub, SmartThings is probably your best bet.
The Insteon Hub is a great starter product for newbies who are interested in basic home automation without going to the extreme. The hub connects to all kinds of Insteon products, which can be controlled through your smartphone or your computer.
Devices can be scheduled to turn on or off according to time of day. Email and push notifications are available for event triggers, such as when a device needs repairs. For deeper functionality, the Insteon Hub can be hacked (but we don’t recommend it unless you know what you’re doing).
The Insteon Hub has actually been around for a while. It started off on rocky ground so it has a reputation for being crappy, but their products have made big improvements over the past few years. Are they the best? Maybe, maybe not. Are they bad? Not at all.
Insteon products include thermostats, wall outlets and switches, door locks, energy monitors, motion sensors, leak sensors, wireless cameras, and more. Worth checking out if you want a simple hub with a wide network of available products.
The VeraLite is an affordable home automation system that won’t confuse you with complexity. It’s built using Z-Wave compatibility and can interface with hundreds of products even if they aren’t Vera branded. One hub can control up to 70 devices at a time.
Once VeraLite plugs into your home network using the accompanied cable, it will automatically configure itself. In fact, VeraLite can function as an Internet router, though this functionality will disable itself if VeraLite is plugged into a router (rather than a modem).
At that point, VeraLite will connect to the Z-Wave devices in your home and you will be able to control them through your smartphone. Like Insteon, VeraLite can be set up to send text and email notifications for certain event triggers.
The Vera Store sells Z-Wave-compatible devices ranging from thermostats to energy meters, lamp modules to dimmer switches, motion sensors to door locks.
A lot of the pushback against smart home automation involves issues of privacy, security, and the proprietary nature of home automation protocols. What if you stand against all of that? Is there an option for you? Yes, there is!
openHAB is an open source home automation system that’s both hardware-agnostic and protocol-agnostic. It can run on any device that’s capable of running a Java Virtual Machine and can interface with all kinds of home automation technologies with more support always being added.
Control over smart devices is possible through Android and iOS apps as well as a web-interface on computers. The downside – or upside, depending on how you look at it – is that openHAB is incredibly heavy on the DIY side of things.
If you like to tinker and experiment and learn through failure, you’ll love it. If you’re a big proponent of open source philosophy, this one’s for you. If you just want a plug-and-play solution without much thought, the involvement and learning curve may be too steep.
The Lutron Smart Bridge, which is part of the Caseta Wireless system, is one of the less-popular hub solutions because it’s nowhere near as mature or flexible as its competitors. Not that it’s bad, but the limited support for connected devices is a real damper when looking to buy a hub.
But depending on your circumstances, it may still be worth buying. Lutron’s forte is in the areas of lighting control, shading, and energy savings, which is why the Smart Bridge only connects to Lutron devices that control lights, shades, and temperature.
Everything is controlled through a smartphone using Lutron’s app. The Smart Bridge must be connected to a WiFi router using an Ethernet cable. Setup is incredibly straightforward.
So, really, the price tag is only justifiable if you really like Lutron’s product line. They have some pretty cool offerings though, like dimmer switches, timers, fan controls, automated shades, and several sensor types. If energy and lighting are your main concerns, Lutron may be the way to go.
Of all the hubs on this list, Staples Connect Hub is certainly the one that’ll put the smallest dent in your wallet if you don’t include openHAB. At this price level, it’s not even an investment — cheap enough that there’s almost no risk in trying it out.
If you don’t want to buy it online, you should be able to find it in your local home improvement chain, such as Home Depot or Lowe’s. Local electronics chains may carry it as well, such as Best Buy.
The Staples Connect Hub supports devices that use Z-Wave, Clear Connect, ZigBee, and WiFi protocols. This gives you great freedom in choosing smart devices that are affordable and not having to be pigeonholed into a particular brand.
All you have to do is connect the Staples Connect Hub to your WiFi router and you’ll be given a walkthrough on how to set it up.
And the Final Verdict Is…
If you want the freedom to mix-and-match different devices, go with SmartThings Hub (the most popular choice) or Staples Connect Hub (the cheapest choice). For those who support open source and don’t mind the struggles of DIY, go with openHAB. If simple and straightforward is your priority, Insteon Hub won’t let you down.
Smart homes are just getting started. People mocked smartphones when they first debuted, and now people can’t live without them. These hubs are just the beginning. Not sure which devices to start with? Try these smart home gift ideas.
Do you have a smart home hub yet? If so, how has your experience been? If not, what would tip you over the edge and convince you to get one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Image Credits: Smart Home Phone Via Shutterstock
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