Smart Home Electrical Projects: DIY or Professional?

by Haden KirkpatrickJune 16, 2016

The DIY movement continues to permeate industry after industry–whether it’s cultivating an urban vegetable garden or converting the basement into a recording studio. And with the emergence of DIY-focused smart home products, the prospect of bringing one’s home into the 21st century has never been more alluring to homeowners.

Today’s home automation systems are typically easy to install and use, and are no longer reserved only for the wealthy. By opting to DIY, not only are there potential savings, but there’s also a discernible feeling of triumph when a self-sufficient homeowner has orchestrated a self-sufficient home.

While there are some big advantages that come with DIY projects, some smart home setups still need a professional touch. For instance, setting up a smart thermostat is one thing, but installing a smart HVAC system that can measure room occupancy and self-diagnose is quite another. It all comes down to the size and scale of your project—not to mention the potential hazards involved. By going over the following considerations, you can better determine whether your project is DIY-worthy or warrants professional help.
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The Size of Your Project

The size of your project essentially boils down to whether you need to integrate a whole smart home system or if you just need individual devices that can be operated with their respective apps.

So ask yourself: how big is your home? What are the goals of your smart home electrical project? Do you intend to update the lighting in the living room? Or do you want a bevy of electronic devices throughout the home to communicate with each other and you? Can your devices be plugged in, or is hardwiring necessary?

Yes, these are quite a few questions to tackle, and if you’re not exactly sure what your end goals are, then start out small. If, say, a smart home lighting system is your main focus, try adding a few wirelessly controlled wall switches (preferably plugins) and create scenes to control the lights. Doing it yourself, in this case, could be a good way to get your feet wet and gauge how you want to expand and develop your project—whether it’s done by you or a pro.
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Device Compatibility

Smart home technology is all about synergy—devices working together to make things happen. You’re likely going to find a lot of overlap among different home automation features, which means you may run into compatibility issues and, very quickly, have a more ambitious project than you initially anticipated.

For example, if a home security system is your top priority, you may have to find other smart home features that are compatible with the necessary security components, such as door and window sensors, motion and noise sensors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and, of course, smart home security cameras. Then, of course, there’s the task of integrating all your connected gadgets to a single source.

Professional installation, in many cases, can save you time and aggravation, and it can mean a much higher likelihood of success. So if a certain product you want from one manufacturer isn’t communicating with another device from a different manufacturer, a professional technician is probably better prepared to do some tinkering and troubleshooting to ensure compatibility.
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Electrical Wiring

Some devices, like motion detectors, wireless security cameras, and smart bulbs and outlet adapters, can simply be plugged in. But there are many gadgets that require at least some wiring expertise. Ultimately, proper wiring is vital to the success of a home automation system, as it helps ensure all of your appliances effectively communicate with each other.

Even though these smart appliances are generally wireless, items like dimmers, light switches, and thermostats still need to be hardwired into your home—and it goes without saying that wiring anything presents its share of complications and risks, like electrocution or causing a house fire.

Most homeowners aren’t qualified or equipped to take on electrical wiring. Not only is wiring dangerous, it may also be illegal, depending on your area and the type of wiring you intend to do.

Another alternative to DIY wiring is using devices that don’t need wires, such as certain door and window sensors as well as light switches that can attach via magnets.

The Value of Your Time

Here’s the most important question. Do you want to do it yourself? If you have time on your hands, enjoy the creative challenge and have a proclivity for electronics, then doing it yourself may be the way to go. But consider how long the home automation installation may take from beginning to end, and possible mishaps that can occur along the way, including devices breaking and debugging mistakes.

Creating a smart home can be a complex task that only the most committed hobbyist should undertake. What’s more, technology evolves at a fast pace—a product might be all the rage today, and rendered obsolete by a new, innovative product tomorrow. Professional technicians can keep up with the trends and help create an infrastructure in your home that can accommodate your future smart technology needs. Your project could lay the framework for more new innovations to come, especially as home construction continues to prioritize smart technology.


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About The Author
Haden Kirkpatrick
Haden Kirkpatrick is the Director of Marketing Strategy and Innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all things related to product and service innovation. He has spent the majority of his career leading product and marketing strategy at numerous mobile technology companies. Haden is an early adopter of all things smart and brings this expertise to his writing. Find him on Twitter @HadenKirk.

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