Are you drawn to the idea of the ‘smart home’? Are you attracted by all of the endless possibilities that technology can offer in a home environment, but haven’t got a clue what to buy or where to start? Maybe you don’t buy into the idea that smart technology could utterly revolutionise your domestic life, but are none the less curious about it? Well, hopefully the following tips and information might just prove to be the catalyst that sets you on the journey.
First of all, we really should start this article with a definition of exactly what we mean by a ‘smart home’ In essence, a smart home is a home with a number of devices or appliances which are connected to the internet that you either control using your smartphone or whose functions you can automate. There are no hard or fast rules about what devices or appliances homes must have to qualify as smart: what you need and choose depends upon your individual circumstances and requirements. There are hundreds of smart appliances on the market to choose from, and that figure grows exponentially. All you need to work out is which device/ devices will work best for you and make your home life easier.
Many people are wary of technology, particularly new technology that they believe is, as yet, untested. However, most people will already have a smart device in their homes, even though they may not realise this. If you’ve got LED lightbulbs that you can turn on or dim using your smartphone, or a home webcam that monitors your windows, doors and baby’s nursery, then you already live in a house that’s smart.
So if you want to dip your toe in the smart home waters, where should you start? Well, that all depends on what you want the technology to do for you and your home lifestyle. Given the number of products available, the choices available to you might seem overwhelming. All we would say is don’t panic. There are many different ways to make your home smarter – some simple: some more involved – but the good news is however you start on the journey, it’s good to know that whatever you choose to do doesn’t have to cost a lot. For the small matter of a few pounds you can test the waters with a smart plug, and set the plug to turn on lights automatically when it gets dark outside. Once you get to know how the technology works you can expand the system and develop ever-more complex setups. You can link multiple devices together and set them up in such a manner that the act of activating one device will cause all of the other smart devices to turn on or off.
What smart components make up a smart home?
Smart lights are, by definition, smart. They turn on automatically when darkness falls and switch off when it gets light. You may wonder what the point of this is, as you can do that yourself easily with very little effort, and without the additional expense. The point is, smart lights have a number of other advantages. Apart from the convenience of turning on automatically, the use of smart lights can also help to lower your power consumption, and therefore reduce your energy bills. All smart lights are LEDs, which consume far less electricity than incandescent and even fluorescent bulbs. Smart lights can also be controlled through your smartphone, allowing you to set schedules for when the lights turn on and off.
Why would you pay for a smart speaker when you can already control your smart devices via a smartphone? The answer is convenience. Instead of controlling your smart devices via your smartphone, a smart speaker lets you control your devices using your voice. All you have to do is voice your command, and your gadgets will then start to do your bidding. So, is that all? Are there any other advantages to having a smart speaker? Well, they can also play your music, bring you the latest news and weather reports, read you recipes and even order a takeaway for you.
Smart plugs/ switches are the easiest and cheapest way to make any appliance in your home “smart.” If you connect a lamp to a smart plug, then plug it into your electricity supply, you’ll be able to control the lamp through your smartphone. Using the app, you can also set schedules for the plugs to turn on and off and link them to other smart home devices.
A security camera will enable you to keep an eye on your property, and monitor who’s coming and going, via your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Using this device, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your home even when you’re out or away on holiday. You can see what the kids are doing whilst you’re working and see what sort of mischief the cats and dogs are getting up to. Better-quality security cameras will also have night vision and can be linked with other smart home devices, so you could if you chose set the camera to start recording when you leave home and stop when you return.
Most standalone security cameras connect to your home’s Wi-Fi so you can see what’s going on from your phone or tablet, and most have built-in sensors that detect motion and sound and will send push and email notifications when those sensors are triggered. You can usually tweak the camera’s motion sensitivity to prevent false alarms caused by pet activity or passing cars if the camera is near a window, and you can create a schedule that turns the sensors on and off during certain hours of the day.
Some of the more expensive cameras are also equipped with humidity and temperature sensors and will interact with other connected home devices such as thermostats and smart lighting systems. If you want to save some money, look for a camera with an SD card slot that allows you to record video only when motion or sound is detected, but remember to save your recordings regularly so you don’t unwittingly overwrite them. The alternative, of course, is to purchase a security camera which offers a cloud storage plan.
A smart lock is typically used as a part of a robust smart home security system, however, even if your home does not have full-blown smart technology, it’s still possible to use one. If you’re using a home automation hub to control things like lighting and thermostats, you can easily add a Z-Wave or ZigBee smart lock to the system. Alternately, if you don’t have a home automation hub, look for a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth lock that comes with its own mobile app. Smart locks use standard pre-drilled holes and are fairly easy to install. Some models use your existing keyed cylinder and deadbolt hardware and attach to the inside of your door, while others will require you remove your existing interior and exterior escutcheons and replace the deadbolt and strike hardware.
A Smart lock can be opened and closed using a mobile app and will send a notification when someone locks or unlocks a door, and most allow you to create permanent and temporary access schedules for family members and friends based on specific hours of the day and days of the week. Features to look for include geofencing, which uses your phone’s location services to lock and unlock the door, voice activation using Siri (HomeKit), Google Home, or Amazon Alexa voice commands, support for IFTTT, and integration with other smart home devices such as video doorbells, outdoor cameras, thermostats, smoke alarms, and connected lighting. There are plenty of smart lock models to choose from, including keyless no-touch locks, touch-screen locks, and combination keyed and touchpad locks.
Smart home hubs
A smart home hub provides a uniform platform through which you can control a number of smart home devices that wouldn’t normally be able to communicate with each other. A smart hub also lets you automate a lot of processes. Using a smart hub, you can get your lights to turn on, change the temperature on the room thermostat, lower the window blinds when it gets dark, start playing music and unlock your front door on your return from work. But what about simply using your smartphone or smart speaker to do this? Wouldn’t that be just as effective, and cheaper? Well, yes, you can and it is. Smartphones can do many of the things dedicated hubs can do, and the new generation of smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo can also carry out these tasks. It’s all a matter of preference: the choice is down to you.
What they will do for you: One of the principal benefits of having a connected smart thermostat is that it will let you remotely set the temperature in your house using your smartphone. However, it also has other linked benefits too. When a smart thermostat is linked to other smart home devices, like motion sensors and lights, it can also save you money in the longer term by reducing your heating and cooling costs, as you won’t be using unnecessary energy when you’re not in the property.
Smart light switches
If you have a lot of lights in your home, the cost of replacing all of these with smart bulbs can be prohibitive. If you want to reduce the costs, it is probably more effective to install a smart light switch. A smart light switch works in exactly the same way as a regular light switch: the principal difference is that it can be controlled by your smartphone and also connected to other smart home devices. The major disadvantage is that, unlike the other smart devices in this article, a smart light switch will need to installed by someone with a basic knowledge of electrics. So, if you are not competent, you may have to pay for the services of an electrician.
Video doorbells let you see who is at your door without having to open it or even get close to the door. Video doorbells connect to your Wi-Fi network and will send an alert and live feed to your smart phone when someone approaches your doorway. They’ll record video when the doorbell is pressed or when motion is detected, and usually offer two-way audio communication that will allow you to speak with the visitor from anywhere via your phone.
Most video doorbells use your existing doorbell wiring (two low-voltage wires) and are fairly easy to install, but there are battery-powered models available that can be self-installed in a matter of minutes. Some video doorbells work with other smart devices such as door locks and sirens and support IFTTT and Alexa voice commands. If you’re interested in buying one, then look for a model that offers a high resolution (1080p), a wide angle lens (140 to 180 degrees), a night vision range up to 25 feet, and affordable cloud storage for recorded video.
If there’s smoke, or fire, in your house, a connected smoke detector can alert your smartphone, wherever you are. The added benefit of an integrated smart smoke detector is that they can automatically turn on smart lights, making it easier for you, or whoever’s in your house, to get out safely in the event of a fire. Monitored home alarm systems will not only warn the occupants of the property of the presence of smoke in the home, but they will also warn of about the sources of heat as well. Fire prevention is critical in all homes. That’s why it’s worth investing in heat detectors, and incorporating them into home security system.
Nobody likes vacuuming. It’s a chore we all do reluctantly even though we know it still needs to be done. Make vacuuming less of a chore. What will an automated vacuum do? A robot vacuum will help cut down on the daily accumulation of dust and pet hair. The other advantage is that because of its low profile, a robot vacuum can get to places you can’t, like under your bed or dresser. Will it clean like a regular hoover? Well, yes it will, but you may still have to use the main vacuum from time to time.
Universal remotes controls
A universal remote control will allow you to control all of your entertainment devices — TV, stereo, cable box and more — with just the one single device. Some universal remotes will also let you control smart home devices, like lights and thermostats too. Many of these universal remote controls can be linked to Alexa, so that you can change channels using your voice.
Garage door openers
By adding smart technology to your garage door, you can control it directly from your smartphone. The principal advantage for home owners, however, isn’t necessarily simply the ability to open and close the door automatically: if the door is opened when you’re not at home, the door will send a message to your smartphone. The smart door opener can also be connected with smart lights and smart cameras, which will both activate if the door opens.