Putting The “Why” Into DIY Home Automation

What Is Professional Home Automation?
This simple question generates and lot of different and unexpected answers.

When I ask many people what they think distinguishes a Pro from a consumer DIY project, I get may different answers but the only thing everyone agrees on is the cost.

Almost universally, the first reaction to the word “professional” is to think that something is grossly overpriced.

Buying a fancy digital camera?  If it is called a “Pro Edition” you’re going to pay a lot more.

Hiring someone to do simple home repairs?  A handyman is very affordable, a “Pro” is going to charge a lot more.

Marketing and advertising firms know how to push our buttons.  As soon as they put the word “Pro” onto a product, they know it will appeal to the ego and they can charge more – even if the product is no different than the regular version.

As home DIY’ers, we enjoy the tinkering & adjusting and surprising the rest of the household with the amazing (from our point of view) things we can accomplish.

The same level of “almost works” and forever needing tweaks is unforgivable for a professionally installed system.

Much of the real work in professional integration is in the planning and design – avoid the latest fad of almost working product for proven, tried and true products that will continue to work for many years to come.

Don’t Fall Into the ‘Old School’ Trap
It’s easy to fall into the same trap when looking at smart home systems and installers.

Many of the actual pro systems are very costly, require custom installation and setup, & withhold most of the documentation and instructions from the customer so even if you want to try to do it yourself, you can’t.

Believe it or not, it is still common for “old school” custom integrators to withhold the necessary login passwords and software serial numbers from their consumer customers for that $50,000 system they just purchased.

They believe customers are stupid and cannot be trusted to make even simple changes.

It’s the wrong answer to complicated and confusing technology that is well past it’s prime.  (The right answer is to use modern systems that are easier to install and simple to operate.)

The Dirty Little Secret Of Modern Professional Integration
The industry doesn’t want you to know, but the truth is a lot of those traditional, expensive systems are not very good.

They don’t really work that well, they are not expandable, and they look cheesy  (ugly sheet metal boxes or 1970’s styling on plastic parts that haven’t changed in years.)

The one thing they have going for them is that all the problems are well known and the dealer/installer has painfully learned exactly how to install them to avoid the limitations and keep them running smoothly.

In the last few years, as the large consumer computer companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon have entered the smart home market, the quality of the products has greatly improved while prices have nosedived.

Consumer Product Quality Exceeds The Professional Gear
Two simple reasons:

*First*, these companies have more than just hardware skills. They have a huge staff of software engineers to painstakingly obsess over ever minor detail of how the software looks and works.

Traditional industrial brands are primarily hardware companies.  They reluctantly throw together the software needed to use their products, but they really just want to sell their gadgets like widgets off a production line.

Software is the necessary evil they must supply to keep selling their hardware devices.

*Second*, the manufacturing volumes of the consumer companies are huge compared to the traditional companies.

Google sells millions of Nestcams while traditional security camera companies are only selling thousands, or hundreds of thousands of their own.

Traditional companies do not have the volume to invest millions in tooling – custom plastics, buttons, knobs, and style/design experts because they don’t sell large enough quantities to amortize all those up-front costs.

Disclaimer: It’s Not Black and White
I do need to say these are generalizations and there are still exceptions or product areas where professional equipment makes a huge difference.

High end audio (amplifiers, digital signal processors, ATMOS receivers, etc.); High end video displays (large flat screens TVs, projection TV systems that can rival commercial movie theaters); are a few examples of truly professional gear with no consumer equivalent.

There is still a wide range of network gear. There are eal differences between consumer-grade Wi-Fi/mesh systems and higher-end Wi-Fi, network switches, and router equipment, but most of the additional features are not needed in residential, single-home installations.

My Definition of Pro Smart Home Systems
I view the difference between DIY and Pro systems in a different way.  I don’t divide up the products and services based on technology, functionality, complexity, pricing, or ability to configure it yourself.

I don’t believe there should be two types of equipment and software – “starter” stuff for consumers, and full-blown “professional” gear that only the dealer/integrator can touch.

The differences that matter, at least to me as a smart home systems integrator, is the ability to deliver a system to my clients that works today, will work tomorrow, and has an extremely high probability of working in the long-term future.

I’m not talking about formats or technical evolution – we will always have newer storage methods, better compression, and higher power computers tempting us to upgrade faster than our wallets or budgets will allow.

A professional integrator can draw on their experience and expertise to look at the overall system and design a solution that meets what the consumer wants today and may not even realize they might need in the future.

The ideal solution will probably include a mix of consumer-grade and professional gear.

Some installations may be entirely mass market products, but installed and configured to work holistically as an integrated solution.

Other installations will require a careful mix of equipment and software to achieve the desired result.

The “Do It For Me” Modern Systems Integrator
At DoItForMe.solutions, I analyze and recommend the right solution based on the needs and goals of my client.  I use a mix of consumer and professional gear – whatever will get the job done with the right features and price.

I charge for my time and expertise, not the equipment (in most cases).  My business income is not based on maximizing the mark-up on professional gear that isn’t needed.

I don’t recommend unknown brands of audio gear because the distributor offers nice kick-backs and commissions to push them out the door faster.

When as consumers we buy the latest gadget or experiment with various hubs and software systems, we have only ourselves to blame if the system requires constant attention.  Heck, to be honest, for many of us, the fun is in the doing not the results.

It’s different with a professional system.  When you hire a pro you are paying for and expecting pro results.

My humble advice – seek out the modern professional integrator that takes a holistic approach and works with you to design and configure the best solution at the best price – not the highest profit for themselves.


Automation technologist and problem solver

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