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How much does home automation cost?

Last Updated Mar 3, 2016 · Written by Craig Gibson

Want to have the flexibility to control all your devices - lighting, audio, access, security, appliances - from the comfort of your couch or even remotely?

The good news is you now can without having to rob a bank, which has not been the case until fairly recently. There are options for all budgets from whole home systems to single devices. And there is no need to get too hung up and intimidated by all the technical jargon: home automation is really about convenience and using the power of technology to make life easier.

So if you are wondering what makes a home ‘smart’ this article will help you get up to speed and give you an idea of options and the costs involved.

Home automation gives you the flexibility to have complete control of the devices in your home
Home security and access are a popular system to automate, all controlled from an app on your smartphone. (iStock)

What are the benefits of home automation?

Convenience is the most obvious benefit of a smart home, giving you the ability to:

  • monitor and manage your energy usage
  • monitor your home remotely
  • control access to your home
  • listen to music throughout your home

What can you control with a home automation system?

The short answer is just about anything. Some of the most popular aspects to automate include your lighting, home entertainment and access/security system, but you can also control your energy management (heating and air conditioning), fridge, blinds, irrigation - even your solar power set up.

A wall-mounted lighting controller ©Totally Amped Electrical Services

How does home automation work?

There are two main ways to automate all the gizmos, gadgets and appliances in your home. These range from ‘whole home’ integrated programmable systems to individual devices that are connected wirelessly.

The traditional ‘wired’ approach has been to install dedicated cabling (in the wall/floor cavity) when your home is being built. This runs to any number of outlets in as many rooms as you want/can afford. The system runs via a central processor with a programmable hub or controller to manage it all. The advantage of this approach is that cabling is a reliable, fast and stable way of communication. The downside is if you want to automate an existing home, it is an expensive (and potentially messy) job to retrofit all the wiring and outlets.

The other, increasingly common, option is to utilise wireless technology, typically embedded in the device/appliance/product. This enables you to control them from your smartphone or tablet. Its as easy as installing the product and downloading the app to get up and running. Many use a simplified wireless technology such as C-Bus, X10, Z-Wave, ZigBee or Bluetooth (instead of Wi-Fi) to communicate.

Not all systems and devices are compatible, as some use a different frequency (protocol) so you need to research this before you invest in a system or new device.

The user interface design of controllers and apps have improved dramatically, and now offer an intuitive and refined user experience. (iStock)

Take the time to consider your future needs when planning your home automation system

Planning your home automation system

It makes sense to do some research and plan your home automation system. The first step is to decide what areas and devices you want connected. Mapping this out will help your installer give you an accurate cost estimate for your project. Take the time to consider your future needs and always install more outlets and cabling than you think you need.

Who can install my home automation system?

In Australia, installation, testing and repairs of your electrical system and devices must be undertaken by a licenced electrician or accredited home automation installer. This obviously applies to the installation of any home automation system that requires integration or connection with your electrical system.

In Australia, installation, testing and repairs of your electrical system and devices must be undertaken by a licenced electrician
Not all electricians do home automation as it is a niche specialised service. Installers will generally have undergone specific training and accreditation to be registered as communication and electrical cablers. They are licensed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) who accredit technicians under the Australian Cabler Registration Service (ACRS).

A licensed electrician or registered cabler needs to install your ‘wired’ home automation system. ©Hissey Electrical Contractors

The ACMA states: “All cabling work, including telephone, data, fire and security alarm systems cabling, that connects with the telecommunications network must be performed by a registered cabler or under the direct supervision of a registered cabler.”

How much does home automation cost?

So how much is it going to cost you?

The good news is that you don’t have to remortgage your home to be able to afford a smart home.

Basic home automation

Basic home automation can allow you to control a single device/appliance via something like the Wi-Fi enabled Belkin WeMo Switch ($69.00 - $75.00). Simply plug it into any power outlet and plug the device you want to control into it. You now have control (via your home Wi-Fi network) of whatever device you plugged in. An app lets you control it (turn it on or off) via your smartphone or tablet. You can also add more than one switch to your home, and control more devices/appliances.

A Belkin WeMo switch and app © Belkin (source: Facebook)

There are similar ‘smart’ lighting systems that incorporate Wi-Fi that enable you to remotely control (again via an app) one or more light bulbs. The Philips Hue system is perhaps the best known, which is essentially a Wi-Fi capable LED bulb. Their starter kit (Wi-Fi bridge and 3 Hue light bulbs) is priced in the region of $288.00, with additional bulbs currently $77.00. The system gives you the ability to connect up to 50 bulbs, including downlights.

A Philips Hue starter kit with bulbs, wireless bridge and controller. © Phillips.

Wireless multiroom audio is another (relatively) affordable way of adding some smarts to your home. Sonos is the current market leader, with a single PLAY:1  speaker ($299) the entry level unit. This works over your existing wireless setup and has an app for controlling it. There are other players in this space, include LG and Samsung.

Wireless speakers can be placed anywhere in the home, and controlled remotely. © Sonos

Besides the relative affordability of these options, the major attraction is that you can also install them yourself.

The good news is that you don’t have to remortgage your home to be able to afford a smart home

Whole home automation

If you are looking at a fully-fledged home automation system, a number of factors will affect the cost. This includes:

  • the number of rooms you want connected
  • the size of your home
  • what elements you want automated (home entertainment, access/security, lighting etc)
  • how sophisticated the system is
An example of some quoted prices include:

  • $3,000 for installing the cabling/wiring in a small home
  • $3,000 for an integrated, modular and expandable security system
  • $15,000 for a C-Bus system for a small home
Electrician Noel Sepulveda from Sep Electrical (Wollongong) says home automation is popular with homeowners as it gives them the flexibility to have complete control of their home, from lighting through to security.

“It's a great option for security as you can automate your home when you're not there. You can turn lights and other appliances on and off while you're away but make it appear as if you are home. You can even 'auto' your home for holiday mode; the home would then operate as if you're there. If you forget to turn your alarm on, no worries, just turn it on via your mobile. You can even automate your home to flush your toilets while no one is there!”

Smart cooktop - coming to a kitchen near you © Hettich Australia

“For a small 3 bedroom home, you're looking at about 20k, while a larger home with full control could range anywhere from 50k to 100k. Retrofitting is feasible, but not too common. If you really wanted to, you could do it, and the price would be about the same - between the 20k -100k mark depending on the size of your home and depending what you're after.”

A good way of getting a sense of the cost of installing home automation system is to get quotes from qualified home automation electricians. This will enable you to get a sense of what market rates currently are.

* All the costs and prices quoted were sourced at the time this article was written. They are indicative, may vary locally, are subject to market forces and should only be used as a guide.
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