With so many options available, choosing a place to start building your home automation system can seem overwhelming. Most people find themselves confronted with seemingly endless questions and few answers. Having a little information and following a few simple rules will make the experience easier and less intimidating.

Don’t Stress Too Much About the Future

Question: Is it necessary to plan out the whole house before making your first purchase or can you modify and change your mind as your system grows?

Answer: Just get started, your design will evolve over time. The industry is constantly changing and as it does, your home automation system will grow and change with it.

An older couple using a computer.

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Buy Only What You Can Use

Question: Do you buy one product initially or do you need several products to make it all work?

Answer: You can do either depending on your budget. Most people start with lighting products because they are easy to install and relatively inexpensive.

Start Simple

Question: What should you buy first?

Answer: Most people start out with lighting products (dimmers, switches, etc.). Once you become comfortable with the technology you will probably ask yourself the question, “What else can I do with home automation?”

Ensure Compatibility Among The Products You Buy

Home automation is a constantly evolving field. New products become available all the time and replace older outdated products. Don’t be discouraged. Knowing a few simple basics about the types of devices you buy will allow you to plan for their eventual obsolescence. The secret is backward compatibility. When purchasing new home automation products, check for backward compatibility with the products you already have. When you choose products that are backward compatible, you expand your system rather than replace it.

Recognize the Basic Home Automation Technologies

Powerline vs. RF

​Powerline is a term that is tossed around a lot in the home automation industry. It means the device communicates with other home automation products through your home electrical wiring. RF stands for radio frequency and requires no wiring to work. Most systems are either Powerline or RF or a hybrid of both. Hybrid devices are sometimes referred to as dual mesh devices because they work in both environments.

X10 Compatibility

Backwards compatibility most often refers to new devices working with older X10 systems. X10 is one of the oldest and most popular home automation protocols (not to be confused with a company by the same name). Many older or legacy products use this protocol.


Wireless, or RF devices, are relatively new in home automation. Three of the leading home automation wireless technologies are Insteon, Z-Wave, and ZigBee. Each of these wireless technologies has its advantages and its own loyal following. Wireless products can be made to work with Powerline systems through the use of bridge devices. Many people enjoy the ease of installation and the higher reliability provided by wireless technologies.

Seriously Consider Starter Kits

Most people start their home automation setup with lighting products such as switches and dimmers. Although you can buy individual products and assemble your own system, it is easier and more affordable to buy a starter kit. Lighting starter kits are available in a number of configurations from several different manufacturers.

Starter kits typically include several light switches or plug-in modules and a remote control or interface panel. Some of the technologies that starter kits can be purchased for are Insteon, X-10, and Z-Wave. Starter kits can range in price from $50 to $350 depending on the technology and the number of components.

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