Common Mistakes in Smart Home Setups

There are common mistakes that can be made when setting up a smart home. Even though there are some D.I.Y. smart devices that claim they are easy to install, you could potentially disrupt your home automation system if you don’t know what you’re doing. But don’t be discouraged, adding smart devices to your home can vastly improve your lifestyle and make things a whole lot easier for you and your family. So in order to minimize issues and future headaches from occurring, we put together a list of common mistakes made by homeowners during smart home setups and ways to prevent them.

Z-Wave Hourglass Effect
The Z-Wave hourglass effect occurs when there are too many devices trying to receive data from the Z-Wave hub through one or two repeating devices. So let’s say you have the Z-Wave hub on the far left side of the house, a repeater in the middle, and ten Z-Wave devices on the far right side of the house. If you have an “All Off” scene that sends shut off commands to all ten items, the repeater acts like a bottleneck (hourglass effect), which could cause performance issues. In this example you might see your ten devices slowly turn off, or worst case, have your Z-Wave network fail completely.

Prevention: A way to prevent the hourglass effect is to place your Z-Wave hub in a central location of your house and add more repeaters. Typically, you would want a hard-wired Ethernet connection, but if that’s not available or too much work you could put your hub in WiFi bridge mode if it has that functionality. Putting your hub in a central location and adding more repeaters can drastically improve the health of your Z-Wave network because it will allow your devices to communicate better with each other without having the data overload the network.

Z-Wave Range Issues
The range between two Z-Wave devices is about 328 feet – that’s of course if there aren’t any walls or furniture in the way. Many homeowners don’t pay attention to this important fact, so they’ll often get disappointed when they place their newly bought Z-Wave device 100 feet away from their Z-Wave hub in the second garage on the far side of the house. Or they place a Z-Wave device on the second level of their house within range, but with several walls and large furniture pieces in between. This happens a lot with new Z-Wave customers. They read the box that says “Wireless” and think that the device will work anywhere it’s placed.

Prevention: Make sure the distance from the Z-Wave hub to where you want to place the device is within 50-75 feet and take notice of the obstacles that are in between the two. If a wall is in the way and is disrupting the signal, you could have the Z-Wave signal hop through another Z-Wave device or a Z-Wave repeater that’s placed in a location that’s not obstructed by the wall to allow the signal to continue to its final destination.

Compatible Smart Devices
There are many smart devices available, but that doesn’t’ mean they can all communicate with one another. In order for smart devices to communicate, they need to speak the same language. In this case we’re talking about wireless network protocols: Z-Wave, Zigbee, WiFi, Bluetooth, and others. A common mistake homeowners make is purchasing devices that are not compatible, such as trying to add a Zigbee switch to a Z-Wave network at home. This could be a costly mistake if a homeowner purchases twenty Zigbee lighting switches and installs all of them only to find out that they can’t communicate with the home’s Z-Wave hub.

Prevention: The best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure you read the label of the product to see if it’s compatible with your home automation network. If you’re shopping online, make sure to fully read the description on the product page. Most online retailers, like Home Controls, put the wireless network protocol on the actual product title and have some of the best product descriptions written online just so that there isn’t any confusion. Another thing you can do is to use a home controller that is compatible with many wireless network protocols. Vera and Zipato are brands that offer home controllers that support Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and WiFi devices. This way you can purchase a wide range of smart devices without worrying if they’re going to be able to communicate with your home controller.

Installation Instructions
There are many homeowners who consider themselves tech-savvy and believe that they can easily convert their homes into smart homes without doing proper research or reading installation instructions. Even though this may be true in some cases, there are many that find themselves in over their heads with trying to properly wire or configure smart devices. This could be disastrous if the homeowner is stubborn and forges ahead thinking that the project could easily be fixed after the install is complete with a little bit of tinkering. Unfortunately, fixing bad installations could cost more at the end since it’s usually more than tinkering that needs to be done. If you consider the homeowner’s personal time that was used for the installation plus the cost of a professional installer to fix the issues, and the possibility of needing to add more smart devices to the network in order to make it work, you can see how it can all add up.

Prevention: Having a smart home is an investment so you should really consider having a professional do the installation. There are a lot things that could go wrong during an install if you don’t know what you’re doing, such as compatibility issues, incorrect wiring, and setting up a home network that allows all of your home automation systems to work together, which could include lighting, thermostat, irrigation, home security, and more. Once you have a professional do the initial install, adding smart devices to your home network could be a little easier for you just as long as you fully read the instructions and do the proper research ahead of time. You can find a lot of reviews and tech-friendly articles about products on the Internet. Many reviews are written by both homeowners and professionals, so you should get a pretty good understanding on the pros and cons that come with installing a certain smart device.

If you would like to prevent common mistakes in smart home setups, Home Controls can help. Just call our toll free number at 858-693-8887 (7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Pacific, Monday – Friday) for free support and product advice.

1 Comment on Common Mistakes in Smart Home Setups

  1. It’s too bad John Almodovar did not join the Z-Wave Alliance before writing this article – the Z-Wave training available to all members could have avoided some technical inaccuracies.

    The nominal range of a Z-Wave device is 100 m as in Meters, which is 328 feet. AFTER going through typical building materials (wood, drywall, etc.) the amount of range typically left over is still 40-60 feet, and that is the entire width of a typical home in the U.S. In other words, most Z-Wave devices communicate directly and do not use the mesh network.

    A well written gateway that is commanding several devices to all turn off at the same time will use a Z-Wave “multicast” signal, and then follow that up with individual signals to the lights. Multicast signals are used with the true Z-Wave Scene Command Class so that the devices that are part of a scene all go to their programmed scene level all at once. The multicast command does not route through the mesh, so this is why it is followed up by individual commands to each device. However, as mentioned in the above paragraph, most devices in a home can be reached directly, so they would all receive the multicast signal and operate all at the same time.

    The comment about locating your gateway (hub) centrally is absolutely correct though – the best location is as central to the home as possible. Some gateways such as HomeSeer support remote Z-Wave interfaces, so the main system can be in the basement but the Z-Wave interface can be centrally located, or even have multiple Z-Wave interfaces so that there is little or no routing through devices taking place.

    Compatible Smart Devices is also accurate but does not tell the entire story – in Z-Wave, the built-in interoperability guarantees that every Z-Wave device can communicate with every other Z-Wave device regardless of who manufactured it, but some gateway manufacturers choose to limit their support or compatibility to certain brands or devices. This means that matching Z-Wave to Z-Wave won’t always work if you have a gateway made by one of these manufacturers. So even if the technology matches, check the website for your gateway manufacturer to guarantee they support the device before purchasing it.


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