Smart homes are all the rage at design expos and in tech blogs, but can ‘normal’ people – those who don’t queue up for the latest piece of tech – build and enjoy a smart home?
Yes! These home designs aren’t just for network geeks or wealthy people. They’re comprised of user-friendly devices dedicating to making your home easier to operate – not harder.
Whether you’re a technophobe or only mildly tech-averse, there’s a plan to help you avail of smart devices that make your home more efficient.
We’ve put together the complete guide – including a strategy – to set up your own smart home, even if you can’t get your printer to work.
What’s a Smart Home?
A smart home is an interconnected home that allows you to control major and even minor operations through the touch of a button on your phone or computer.
The design is based on two premises: automation and efficiency. Many apps and tech are concerned with setting up schedules. For example, you can set up a heating and cooling schedule for your home on your smart thermostat so that your home heats up just before you get home from work. Because it’s on a schedule, you don’t need to leave the heat on all day saving both energy and money.
Imagine being able to schedule, automate, and optimize everything. Even the little things that aren’t currently connected.
Your thermostat, security system, home audio system, lighting, and even your lawnmower can all be networked to help your home run more smoothly.
The idea of automation doesn’t appeal to everyone, but there are more benefits to these devices and networks than many realize from the start. Some of the benefits of smart home technology include:
- The ability to manage your home from one place (i.e., your phone or tablet)
- Maximizing your home’s security
- Energy efficiency and savings
- Improved functionality of existing devices like smart TVs
- Insight into your daily life
What do these benefits mean? Here’s a real life scenario:
You’ve just left for the airport, and you’re pretty certain that you left the iron plugged in and you forgot to turn the air conditioning off.
Without a network, you’d need to turn around and run home to double check. Maybe you’ll find that you left the a/c AND the iron on. Good thing you checked. But it’s also possible you didn’t, and your nerves took over. Either way, you’re running late for your flight, and you better hope there’s no unexpected traffic.
It sounds like a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be your reality.
With the right devices, you can tune into your house and see whether that’s the case. If it’s your mind playing tricks, you can continue on your merry way to the airport without enough time to grab a coffee in the terminal. Either way, you’ll be able to see if you need to go home simply by checking in on your phone.
Smart Home Technologies: What’s Involved
The word smart home sounds ‘techy,’ and it’s difficult to imagine what’s involved until you dive in too deep.
We think it’s important to show you what kinds of things we mean when we talk about smart devices so that you can see how much of it is already in your home.
Smart home technologies include hardware like:
You probably already have them in your home. If you have a thermostat, you have sensors and monitors. If you have a motion-detector for your garage light, then you have a sensor.
The difference between what’s currently in your home and what you need for a smart home is fundamentally simple: connectivity.
With smart home technologies, these everyday items are able to connect wirelessly to the internet. They also connect to each other by communicating.
Just like your current systems, some of the devices are available at your local box retailer or online, but others do require professional installation.
Getting Started With a Strategy
One of the most common mistakes consumers make in building a smart home is diving in without a strategy.
The result is a series of mismatched devices that drag down your wifi speeds and result in even more work than your current collection of unconnected devices.
To avoid this, you need to get smart before you install intelligent home devices.
Getting started is easy. All you need to do is ask yourself some questions:
- How smart do you want your home to be? Are you all-in or testing the waters?
- Are you loyal to a platform? (Amazon, Google, Samsung, etc.)
- Is your home’s wifi connection reliable?
- What devices do you “need”?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll be better able to pick and choose manufacturers and devices. More importantly, those devices are more likely to work for you.
A Few Tips for Strategy
There are a few hacks that make settling into a smart home easier. We’ve learned the hard way, but you don’t have to. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:
Set Up Charging Stations
If you intend to control your home via your home or tablet, it’s important to have several options for charging it throughout the house. Controlling your TV with your phone is no good when your phone is dead, and you can only charge it in the kitchen.
Set up a few dedicated spots to charge up (and put chargers there), and you’re more likely to find your new home less frustrating.
Prep Your Wi-Fi
If you can’t load Netflix without some buffering, don’t expect your Wi-Fi to perform much better when you install smart devices.
Struggle with slow internet? Do some investigating to see whether it’s your connection or your router. Moving your router into a centralized area free from obstruction could help. Be sure to keep it out of the kitchen because the radio waves from your appliances will block your Wi-Fi signal.
If you struggle to get a good signal in some parts of your house, consider adding a Wi-Fi extender.
If you’ve decided you’re going to transform your whole house into a smart home eventually, consider adding built-in wi-fi. The Internet of Things Institute considers it to be the best foundation for a smart home, and many new homes now feature this service. Lennar adds a Wi-Fi Certified Home Design to its new homes that come with many smart features built in.
Add Power Options
Some smart devices are battery powered, but others require access to a plug. If your smart home upgrade is part of a remodel, consider adding a few more outlets (including USB port-equipped outlets) to key areas of your home to help power your new devices.
Your First Smart Home Devices
Are you ready to take the plunge?
You might have been until you looked up smart home devices. The number of smart home devices has exploded, and it’s important to be able to cut through the noise to find those key devices that make the biggest difference to you.
Here are a few things to look out for:
Home Security Systems
Home security systems are one of the oldest smart home devices, and they’re incredibly simple to use, which makes them a great first start.
There are several products out there on the market, but it’s important to choose one that you find user-friendly. Don’t forget to ask your home insurance company: some may offer discounts on the system or insurance if you install one. That will help narrow down your choices significantly.
Smart thermostats are another popular choice because they aren’t just a new piece of tech but a way to save significant amounts of money off your energy bill.
Heating and cooling costs eat up to 60% of your monthly energy, so setting being able to optimize your HVAC system is important.
Smart thermostats range in price and functionality. We recommend choosing one that’s most compatible with your current HVAC system. You can check compatibility on most manufacturers’ websites.
Want to save even more money on energy bills? Install smart sockets.
Smart electrical plugs are controlled by an app that tracks their usage and allows you turn them on and off. They offer great insight into what kind of energy you’re already using and help you lower your energy bills even more.
The personal assistant is likely to become the center of any smart home shortly, so it’s a good idea to get used to one now to optimize it later.
If you haven’t seen the advertisements, personal assistants are voice computing devices that listen to your commands perform them. You can use them with many of the latest smart home devices, including thermostats and alarm systems, as well as other practical ways like playing music.
Where Will You Start Your Upgrade?
Smart homes are for tech nerds who need the latest gadgets. They’re increasingly becoming a normal part of a modern home. More importantly, they have a use besides being cool: they create a smart home that is more efficient overall.
Are you considering a few smart upgrades but are still on the fence? Share your thoughts in the comments below.