Home Automation vs. Home Monitoring

August 04, 2015

Home Automation vs. Home Monitoring

Home ownership is tough enough without hazardous mishaps like water leaks, accidental fires and home intrusion. You want to secure your home from those hazards in the best way possible so you can focus on everything else in your busy life. But what’s the best way possible?

Technology advances have taken home security beyond the old clunky systems to modern home automation and home monitoring systems that connect your home to your mobile device, keeping you up-to-date and in control of your home at all times — no matter where you are.

You know you want a modern, wireless home security system, but you don’t know if you should go with home automation or home monitoring.

We’re here to help.

Read on to discover which system best fits your needs — home automation or home monitoring.

What Is Home Automation?

Home automation systems allow users to control some home functions, such as temperature and lighting, remotely via mobile device.

Let’s say you have a habit of leaving the heat or AC on when you’re at work. With a product like Nest thermostat, your temperature will automatically be adjusted based on if you’re home or not. No need to adjust settings or programed schedules.

To set up home automation, you purchase smart products such as the August Door Lock and thermostats, or you purchase modules to turn your existing appliances into smart objects, that communicate with a smartphone app, mostly through your WiFi Internet connection.

What Is Home Monitoring?

Until recently, home monitoring systems consisted of only a camera connected to a smartphone app. Now, home monitoring systems like Notion allow users to monitor some home functions remotely via mobile device.

Sensors placed throughout the home can alert the homeowner to changes in temperature, lighting, door movement, sound and more through a mobile-device app over your home WiFi connection.

Is Home Automation or Home Monitoring Right For Me?

There are some technical and personal aspects that can help you decide between home automation and home monitoring. So how do you determine which home security system is best for you?

Here, we discuss five of them.

1. Technical Compatibility

Let’s start off with something that can easily determine your best option — if only one of them is technically your only option. Some home automation products and systems might not be compatible with your home. For example, if your thermostat contains high-voltage wires then Nest’s thermostat won’t work in your home.

Home monitoring systems should work in any home with a WiFi connection because they operate independent of your appliances, whereas home automation systems rely on connecting with your appliances to control them. Sometimes, you don’t even have the option to modify or replace appliances even if you wanted to, which brings us to the next factor.

2. You Rent

When you rent a home or apartment, you’re limited in what you’re allowed to do with the place.

If you don’t control the temperature in your apartment, but you’d like to know if it drastically changes while you’re away, or if you aren’t allowed to replace the smoke alarm, then home monitoring is the way to go.

You probably don’t want to attempt home automation if you don’t own your home, as home automation involves replacing or modifying appliances. Not only can replacing or modifying appliances get you in trouble with the landlord, there’s also the issue of moving.

When you move out of your rented home or apartment, you’ll want to take your new or modified appliances with you, which might make for an angry landlord and will definitely complicate your home security when you have to reconfigure in your new home.

Does reconfiguring, or hell, even configuring in the first place, sound like a drag? You’ll want to check out our next home security system determining factor.

3. Your Personality

What level of involvement do you want to have with your home while you’re away? Do you just want to know what’s going on or do you want to control what goes on?

Home automation involves purchasing new products or kits like littleBits Smart Home Kit and configuring them, but once you’ve set them up, you can control them remotely. For example, when your Nest smoke alarm sounds, you’re alerted via the smartphone app, then you can remotely turn the alarm off.

Heck, that’s not only handy for while you’re away from home; you can turn off your smoke alarm from your phone when you burn the popcorn. Why wouldn’t you want that kind of convenience? Well, if you’re not a gadget person or you like to keep things simple. You might want to go the home automation route if you really get into gadgets and know exactly what you want to automate in your home.

Let’s compare it to driving. The home automation person is like the standard transmission driver, who likes to control as much as possible about the driving experience and the car. The home monitoring person is like the automatic transmission driver, who wants a more relaxing driving experience and just wants an alert when something’s wrong.

Do you enjoy fixing things and learning how they work? You’d probably prefer a home automation system.

Do you hate fixing things and just want to know when something’s broken so you can let the professionals fix it? You’re probably a home monitoring person.

If you’re new to The Internet of Things, you’re probably thinking: Wait, doesn’t automation mean you have to do less because things are done for you … automatically?

Weeellll, yes and no. Home automation is a process. A process that will eventually have your home running automatically like the well-oiled machine that you’re envisioning — but it takes time and money to get there.

4. Cost

One of the benefits of both home automation and home monitoring is to save you money in the long run by reducing energy consumption, reducing the risk of home fire or water damage, etc., but the initial purchasing cost of the system is a factor for some people.

If you’re looking for the lowest out-of-pocket expense on a wireless home security system, you’ll want to go with home monitoring.

As Notion CTO Ryan Margoles points out in his post on retrofitting versus re-outfitting your home:

Buying a new, connected smoke alarm can run $100 a pop. My relatively small condo in Denver has five smoke alarms whereas many homes have upwards of seven or eight! A connected garage door can drain over $300 from the wallet. Not to mention installation! Same goes for a smart thermostat — $250 — and it can only keep track of the temperature in one location. Connected light bulbs are costly and cumbersome to manage.

Our detailed consumer research has shown that most people want to dabble with the connected home but they aren’t ready to commit to the cost and learning curve of re-outfitting everything.

Before you go the home automation route, sit down and budget out exactly which functions you want to automate in your home, which systems are compatible with those functions, if you’ll need to pay to have it installed or if you’ll self-install, and how much everything will cost.

Which brings us to our next home automation versus home monitoring factor.

5. Time

Home automation can be fun — if you enjoy it and if you have the time to dedicate to it.

As mentioned above, if you’re going the home automation route, take the time to plan as much of your home automation as possible ahead of time.

The biggest time-suck will be if you purchase a bunch of home automation products or a kit and start configuring them before realizing they’re not compatible with your home, with each other, etc.

This PCMag article warns:

Before you buy a bunch of home automation products, you should understand the technologies involved in setting up and using them. There are many different types of communication protocols that products use to talk to each other and their controllers. Some are wired, some are wireless, and some are a combination. Try to stick with one protocol when buying products; you’ll be better off.

Planning ahead isn’t the only time spent on home automation. Once you’ve planned and purchased, there’s setup and installation. As mentioned above, if gadgets are your hobby, you’ll love home automation.

But, at least for now, home automations isn’t the quick and easy home security option that home monitoring is.

Secure Your Home Your Way

Now that you know the difference between home automation and home monitoring, and which one best suits your needs, lifestyle and personality, you can choose the right system for your home.

For you home automation enthusiasts, check out this Lifehacker post to see a selection of systems from the simplest to DIY hacker platforms like Raspberry Pi.

Interested in home monitoring? As mentioned in the beginning, in the recent past, most home monitoring systems were simply video cameras connected to a smartphone app, like HomeMonitor. Even Amazon’s remote home monitoring systems page turns up only video cameras.

Those are great for seeing what’s going on, but there are new advances in home monitoring that offer more information and peace of mind.

Notion offers simple, affordable wireless sensors that detect when doors or windows open, when the temperature changes, when water leaks, when the smoke alarm sounds and more. Finally, you can stop worrying about your home security and focus on the rest of your life.

For some home monitoring options, check out our how it works page.