- Consumer Electronics & Personal Gadgets
Learn Home Automation | Books, Courses and More on Smart Home Technology
If you just want to add a few cool features, gadgets, energy saving and security devices to your household electrics then you can actually make your own smart home using DIY home automation technology without needing any kind of specialist knowledge or skills. But if you want to take things to the next level, either as a DIYer building more of your system yourself and hacking electronics for a more customized and low cost system - or as a professional designer or installer of home automation systems, then you will need to put a bit of time and effort into learning the tricks of the trade, the features of the various systems available, and about basic electronics and home networking.
Once you have decided to take this extra step to become a home automation expert, you may well find yourself at a loss as to how you can go about doing that. This is because there are few conventional academic or trade courses for home automation. But don't worry - there are still plenty of places you can go to develop the skills and gather the information that you will need, and hopefully this page will help you to find them.
What Experience Do You Have?
Which of the following best describes you?
Useful Skills for Home Automation
To be a home automation installer you actually need to develop a very broad range of skills, although you shouldn't need to be an expert in any one of them. To put it another way, you will need to be a little bit of a 'jack of all trades, master of none' when it comes to household electrics and electronics.
To give you a rough idea of what is inolved, here is a list of some of the key skills you will need:
- Electrical Installation: Before you even get to the advanced electronics stuff, you will need to have a basic grounding of electrical systems within the home. This means knowing your way around a consumer unit / distribution board (the place where you will find all the circuit breakers for your house) and understanding how electrical circuits are wired within your home. Many home automation installers actually start out as qualified electricians, and although this level of expertise is not required, it certainly helps.
- Electrical Safety: This is very important. Understanding how a basic electrical circuit works and how to wire it up is actually not very hard, but doing it safely requires much more knowledge. If you plan on making structural changes such as adding new wiring or new sockets or switches (rather than just adding control systems to your existing infrastructure) then you should put some time into learning the relevant safety regulations. Also you should have some understanding of the basic science so you know how much load you can put on cables and so on. In most countries you can take an electrical regulations course in a few weeks, and you do not need any other electrical qualification to do so, meaning that it is well worth looking into regs courses in your area.
- Home Networking: A smart home is basically just a network of devices which are able to communicate with each other. Understanding how networking technology works is therefore very important. For most people home networking only goes as far as connecting all their devices to the internet and perhaps hooking up a printer to the computer, and more advanced networking is usually associated with commercial IT. But the basic principles are very similar when it comes to home automation. Taking some time to learn about things like routers and networking protocols such as IP / TCP will be well worth your time.
- Consumer Electronics: You may well have learnt a lot about the products and gadgets you like to use over the years, but if you want to be a professional installer then you will need a very broad range of knowledge about different products. You will need to know about all of the main games consoles, different types of televisions, a wide range of different audio systems, all of the many different types of security systems on the market, and so on. You will need to know all of the different cables and connections (and ideally how to 'terminate' various cables in case you need to change the length of one), and about how you can use each type of product and which ones can work together. This is not difficult, but it can take a very long time to build up this breadth of knowledge.
- Basic Electronic Engineering: Although there are few home automation projects which require an advanced understanding of electronics, it will really help you if you know something about the different components of electronic systems and some of the vocabulary and basic principles of constructing an electronic control system.
DIY Home Automation Courses over the Internet
There are not a huge number of general home automation courses aimed at beginners, but that doesn't mean there aren't any at all. There are several online courses available which will give you a solid general introduction. They won't teach you everything you need to know by a long shot, but they are an excellent place to start.
- Udemy Course - How to Build a Smart Home System: This is a low cost course which you can try out for 30 days without paying anything. It is very good at explaining the different types of system and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each one. It also goes into more depth on Z-Wave systems, which are very good for DIY installers, so if you are just planning on learning enough to set up your own system this is a great course to take.
- Cleveland Institute of Electronics - Introduction to Home Automation Installation: This is a more academic course which provides an excellent understanding of the basic principles and systems involved in home automation projects.
- Open Home Automation - Home Automation Basics: This course offers an excellent introduction to components and to building a smart home system from the ground up. If you want to be an electronics hacker, building your own control systems and components rather than just installing them, you will find this course useful.
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System Specific Installer Courses
Many branded home automation systems will run their own courses for installers and designers. This is particularly true for the more advanced systems. Often you can even find a basic introductory course being offered for free, either as an online course or as a one day seminar. You will probably have to pay for the full courses, which often lead to 'approved installer' status, but if you are looking to do this as a profession you may find this to be a good investment as many manufacturer will get a lot of enquiries from the public, and will respond by providing contact details for an approved installer in the customer's area.
These courses are not difficult to find - you should be able to find them from the manufacturers website. But you will find gaining and maintaining approved installer status for multiple brands quite difficult - so take your time and make sure you are choosing a brand that you will be happy to work with over the long term.
Courses from Trade Organisations
Although trade bodies are still struggling to gain the same kind of recognition amongst both business and the public that they have for more established trades, they do still exist and do offer courses and qualifications.
Obviously you will have to find the appropriate trade body for your own country, but to give you an idea - CEDIA operates in several European countries including the United Kingdom, and offers both basic introductory courses as well as course paths for both designers and installers.
Home Automation Books
Books are still a great way to learn! There are loads of good books out there, and the best thing is that this variety means that you can use them to gain an in-depth understanding about a specific technology, system or application. I've included Amazon links for some of my favorite home automation books below.
Home Automation Application Guide
Before you learn how to do something you need to know what is possible in the first place. This is a great book for introducing you to the many and varied applications of smart home technology, and is not only good for beginners but also as a source of inspiration for more experienced installers. There is very little practical information, but plenty of fascinating ideas.
Smart Homes for Dummies
The 'for Dummies' series is always good for providing a clear and easy to read introduction to any subject, and this is no exception.
Z-Wave is one of the most popular systems for DIY, and in my opinion this is the best book for starting to learn about it.
Home Automation Made Easy
A good introduction to all of the most popular DIY home automation protocols / systems.
Smart Home Hacks
If you are looking for specific projects for your home, with easy to follow step by step instructions, this is for you. You won't get the broad overview for building a large, complete, integrated system for your whole house, but there are loads of very cool little projects you will have lots of fun building.