Automations are a hot conversation within the vacation rental industry, but how do you actually implement them? Automations can be applied upon many layers of a short-term rental business: from booking, to communications, to smart device operations.

Let’s specifically focus on smart device automations within short term rental units. Even when brands claim their product or service automates, you might find yourself juggling five different devices, five different hubs, and five different apps. If growing your portfolio of smart homes and devices, this disparate technology mess will continue to pile up. Scaling businesses need smart home devices to co-exist and work as a team.

That's where Z-Wave comes in. Z-Wave is a wireless, remote, and secure way to enable disparate devices to come together and work as a whole smart unit. With devices running across one singular network, monitoring and maintaining property elements such as climate, electricity, and security becomes much more seamless.

So how does it actually work?

Z-Wave is a wireless radio frequency protocol that connects and communicates to different smart home devices so they can operate on one cohesive network. In simpler terms, it’s like a shared language that devices of various origins can speak.

One of the biggest benefits of Z-Wave is interoperability. Interoperability refers to the basic ability of computerized systems and technology to communicate with each other, regardless of the product manufacturer. With Z-Wave as your smart home’s preferred language, you can mix and match an ecosystem of products that are uniquely tailored to your preferences. The network protocol currently connects with 2000+ certified devices from 700+ manufacturers, allowing smart homeowners to create a diversified network of products.

Z-Wave is mainly used in individual smart homes and small commercial facilities such as hotels and cruise ships. Z-Wave can speak to a network of up to 232 devices, which is plenty for property owners or managers looking to build out a smart rental.

How are these conversations happening?

Z-Wave is based on what's called a mesh network topology. What does that mean? Let’s break it down piece by piece.

First off, a topology is a virtual layout of interconnected devices on a computer network. There are multiple different ways a topology can be laid out. The shape of the topology determines how network data gets distributed and delivered between nodes (for our example, nodes are smart home devices).

One of the most common topology structures is a star topology. This is how devices connect to a traditional Wi-Fi network. In a star topology, each device in the web must communicate directly with the central connection point or hub. With a mesh network topology, you have an interlaced structure where devices can connect to and communicate through each other. A signal must still originate from a central hub device, but you aren’t solely relying on it for network communications. The hub merely serves as the brain of your smart home, allowing the Z-wave language to be spoken between your devices. Like a router sends out the Wi-Fi signal throughout your home, the hub will send out the messages to devices that need to perform accordingly. Each device added becomes a signal repeater, pushing the central signal throughout the network. The more devices you add, the stronger your network becomes.

Since nodes connect via point-to-point or peer-to-peer connections, messages can hop through other devices to get to the final destination. With no reliance on one central point, a malfunctioning node won't break the whole topology or disrupt data transmission, as the network can reroute through working nodes.

Understanding the Layers of Z-Wave

There are three layers to Z-Wave: radio, network, and application. These layers work together to create a robust, integrated system that lets devices interact together to optimize the whole home.

Layer 1: Radio

The radio (or RF) layer controls how the Z-Wave network talks to physical devices via frequency waves. Z-Wave operates on a frequency of 908.4 MHz.

Layer 2: Network

The network layer controls how data is exchanged between nodes. There are sublayers within the network layer that work to support clean and successful data exchanges between nodes.

  • Media Access Layer (MAC): This is how the basic wireless network operates.
  • Transport Layer: This ensures error-free networking, messaging, and communications between nodes.
  • Routing Layer: This maximizes messaging range and ensures delivery to final device destination. It also is what allows the mesh layer of nodes to link and form an integrated, connected web in case a message needs to “hop”.

Layer 3: Application

The application layer of Z-Wave detects which applications are responsible for controlling messages when you want to perform an action like dimming lights, changing the thermostat temperature, or managing lock access.

What exists besides Z-Wave?

Z-Wave isn’t the only options for smart home automation—it just happens to be one of the most respected and established. Other device network options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee.

Why do most smart home owners prefer to run on Z-Wave? Compared to other device network options, Z-Wave offers low energy drain and faster time-to-market system integration.When running on a Z-Wave network, your smart home devices don't have to fight against other things vying for internet usage. Z-wave also runs on a different frequency than Wi-Fi, eliminating interference issues. Unlike a Wi-Fi network, Z-Wave uses low energy technology that can last on batteries for years before needing to be replaced.

Bluetooth has long been another option for integrated communications with smart home devices. Bluetooth only really runs short range, and it struggles with scale and interference. Neither Wi-Fi nor Bluetooth give you the ability to control all devices from one app like Z-Wave does.

Is it safe and reliable?

Z-Wave networks are thorough when it comes to ensuring proper communications. When sending out messages to devices, the wireless frequency transmitter will wait for an Acknowledge (ACK) message from the receiver. It will try multiple times until it received this confirmation message. If it doesn’t, it will report the communication error to the user.

Z-Wave networks have a unique ID that gets assigned to network devices to ensure your neighbor can’t control your devices from their connections. To further protect the wireless network from vulnerabilities, Z-Wave uses a layer of AES 128 encryption technology—an encryption that’s also used by banks and government agencies. The Z-Wave Alliance also set standards that products must meet in order to become Z-Wave certified.

Why Does It Work Well in Short-Term Rentals?

If you are thinking of building out a smart home network in your rental, Z-Wave has a pretty low initial investment. Because of the mesh network topology, Z-Wave can start as a small network and extend as you need it to. Setting up the network is possible with minimal infrastructure. There is no need for hard wiring thanks to reliable wireless networks. As you first implement Z-Wave certified devices in your home, you can experiment with what you want to integrate into your network. Once in your home, certified devices will automatically begin talking to each other.

One of the most exciting aspects of this technology is that Z-Wave is highly accessible to IoT developers, leaving room for open innovation in the smart home ecosystem. There will always be new trends and technologies to explore with this language being built into a plethora of industry hardware and software solutions.