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What is Home Automation and How Do I Get Started?

Imagine returning home after a long winter commute and you’re immediately enveloped in a warm…

Imagine returning home after a long winter commute and you’re immediately enveloped in a warm and cozy living room. As it approaches bedtime, the thermostat gradually cools your bedroom and the lights dim to a relaxing reading level. Sounds dreamlike, doesn’t it? Advances in home automation make these comforts and conveniences a reality for both homeowners and apartment dwellers. How do you get started in building a smart apartment system that will attract and retain residents, while improving your overall bottom line? Let’s dig into what home automation is.

What is a smart home? 

A “smart home” refers to a house or apartment powered by the Internet of Things (IoT), a technology that digitizes traditionally analog devices. Appliances and utilities that commonly require a manual task on your part—like flipping a switch or pushing a button—become part of the automated digital realm, effectively creating a “remote control” for everything in the residence. 

Residents love to customize their units with unique color palettes and bespoke furniture. Automation unlocks access to a brand new level of apartment personalization. Lights, locks, thermostats, speakers, and other gadgets link together, putting the tenant on the conductor’s podium of an orchestra of smart devices. They can program their home to warm to a comfortable 78 degrees by the time they arrive home from work, or create more elaborate morning routines that illuminate bedroom lights and cue the theme from Rocky. In short, smart home technology can turn a home into a haven.

Smart home technology has tremendous benefits not only for tenants but also for property owners:

  • Reduced operating costs: Gain control of skyrocketing shared space and vacant apartment utility bills. Property owners can set lighting and thermostat schedules for gyms and lounges, while also ensuring you’re not wasting money warming empty units. Advanced sensors can also alert managers to water or chemical leaks before they snowball into a dangerous, costly incident. 
  • Host lease-closing, self-guided tours: Home automation improves self-guided tour experiences by transforming a cold, dark space into a show-stopping experience. Expecting a prospective tenant? With the push of a button, you can remotely raise the lights to a welcoming hue, set a comfortable temperature, and turn on the right music to set a homey mood. 
  • Attract a new generation of renters: While a smart home is an obvious lure for tech-savvy tenants, eco-conscious renters like Generation Z love the chance to go green. Smart thermostats not only save money on utility bills, but make strides towards saving the planet—a meaningful impact younger generations are willing to pay more for. 
  • Increased building value: Luxury conveniences like automation technology increase property value for an eventual resale. 
  • Improved turnover rates: The effects of home automation are so swoon-worthy, that owners of smart buildings experience a 59% average increase in renewal rates as opposed to those that reject high-tech integrations. 

Home automation technology is more than a parlor trick. It has the potential to enhance the experience for your current residents, boost long-term loyalty, and improve your bottom line over the long run.

Get started with the basics

There’s plenty of beginner-friendly devices to kick start your smart home journey:

  • Locks: Why rely on the humble mechanical key? Smart locks join the digital revolution by allowing you to open and close doors with apps, smartwatches, and mobile devices. Peace of mind for all residents.
  • Thermostats: Heating and cooling schedules ensure the unit is at the right temperature at the right time, and saves money by turning off during vacant hours. This helps improve energy efficiency.
  • Lights: Nobody enjoys arriving home to a dark space. Residents can automatically illuminate smart lights by unlocking the front door, or even schedule them to illuminate moments before they arrive home for the day.
  • Plugs: Smart plugs can fire up holiday lights once the sun goes down or start brewing a warm cup of coffee so your morning buzz is ready right when you enter the kitchen. 

Traditional switches offer two options: on or off. Leveling up to smart technology opens up new doors of power-packed features to build your ultimate high-tech haven. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to crafting your ultimate smart apartment experience. 

Things to keep in mind when choosing devices for your building’s smart home experience

While the options can feel overwhelming at first glance, the considerations boil down to just a few key decisions: hubs, protocol connection, access options and service provider. 

What is a smart home hub? 

Instead of needing a separate app or discrete dongle to control each device, a smart home hub is a smart home’s mission control, bringing together every smart device within a unit. Essentially, a hub plays as the old school “universal remote” of your new-age devices, bringing together various devices under one umbrella. From a hub, residents can control all lights, switches, fans, and more within a single interface. It also serves as a portal to the outside world, allowing remote control of a smart home base from anywhere in the world. Ask yourself these questions when researching hub options: 

  • Brand compatibility: Some vendors create a family of supported brands, similar to an airline alliance. Double-check that your hub of choice is compatible with the devices you’re most interested in. 
  • Protocol support: Many hubs support all four of the popular protocols listed below, but others operate off a more narrow list.
  • Talk to me: The ability to turn down the lights for a favorite flick without leaving the couch is an appealing feature for many. With the rise of voice assistants, many residents want the ability to control their intelligent ecosystem through conversation. 
  • Sensor interaction: Some apps and voice assistants mimic the behavior of a hub, but limit your options for adding other types of sensors. Hubs allow for more detailed setups that coordinate with contact sensors for windows and doors or motion sensors for shared areas.

A hub also ignites new levels of automation creativity. Residents can group devices in logical ways like “bedroom” or “living room,” or create groups based on more nuanced experiences like “morning routine,” “game day,” and “Tuesday.” Hubs open up new doors of cross-communication between devices to create an idyllic, intelligent ecosystem. 

Protocol connection: How devices link together

Although you can’t see the invisible technologies that link devices, it is one of the most important elements of your smart home package. Four popular technologies lead the way: Z-wave, Zigbee, WiFi, Bluetooth.  

  • When it comes to communication frequencies, Z-Wave is the loner of the bunch. It whispers on the wide open road of the lower end of the spectrum. Without interference from other protocols, it can link up nearly hundreds of devices over far distances between 50 and 100 feet without requiring each to establish its own WiFi connection. Because of these benefits, Z-Wave is the head honcho of smart home protocols. 
  • WiFi is a predominantly greedy frequency, gobbling up resources to power data-heavy experiences like remote learning sessions, Zoom conferences, and 4K streaming—all at once. For every additional device joining the party, speed and performance takes a hit. 
  • Bluetooth loves to interact with nearby devices, but is rendered ineffective at a distance. Just like your car might automatically detect your smartphone once you’re in the driver’s seat, Bluetooth is best for connecting devices within 30 feet. 

Each protocol has its own set of pros and cons, so select the one that works best for your signal range and number of devices you’re looking to implement. 

Consider access options

Multi-unit properties have access needs different from that of a single-family home. Residents, property owners, leasing agents, and maintenance crews often need to enter an apartment or analyze settings. With a PC or mobile-based portal, you can bestow certain privileges on distinct groups and restrict others. With the right system in place, property owners can grant entry to emergency personnel, know who is in the building during a severe incident, remotely open doors for a locked out resident, or monitor water leaks. 

Vet providers

Finding the correct service provider is just as important, if not more so, as finding the right smart devices for your community. At every stage, from system design, to installation, implementation, community rollout and beyond your smart home provider should be there providing a consultative and informative approach. Find a provider integrates their latest features and technologies with other providers in the space. This ensures viable property planning and scaling opportunities years and advance. 

Automation Ideas

Creative automations give us all a chance to live a slice of the Tony Stark lifestyle. Popularly known as scenes or routines, automations perform a scripted series of device commands. Automations can range from basic time schedules for holiday lights to an elaborate production of near cinematic proportions. Here are a few examples to spark your imagination: 

  • Wake-up call: Turn on the house lights, set ambient temperature, and kick start your day with a favorite energy-packed playlist.
  • Welcome home: Schedule the thermostat to warm or cool an apartment before arrival, illuminate entryways, and unlock the door when a paired smart watch is approaching.
  • Feel the burn: Stay-at-home mandates triggered by the coronavirus pandemic shuttered on-site gyms and local workout facilities. Curate your own home workout experience: lower temperature, fire up some feel good music, and set a lighting routine reminiscent of a preferred exercise studio.

Some home automations can integrate with advanced IFTTT (if this, then that) platforms that link functionalities within apps too. Create even more wildly imaginative routines: if my sports app knows my favorite team is playing, turn on the television, turn down the lights, and order a pizza. 


So now that we’ve answered the question, “What is home automation?” you can start to implement your own smart home. When it comes to smart homes, the sky’s the limit. Soon, air purifiers, ceiling fans, refrigerator ice machines, and even coffee makers will all join the IoT revolution. What tenants once considered a luxury is now on the fast track to becoming an expectation. Now is the time to outfit your multifamily apartment community with an outstanding smart experience that transforms a rental into a warm, welcoming home. 

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