Smart Homes for Beginners: 5 Steps to Get Started

Welcome to the 21st century, folks!

Beginner's Smart Home Guide

I used to watch The Jetsons as a kid. George Jetson would go to work in a flying saucer, and Rosie, the robotic maid, would take care of the Jetson's Orbit City apartment. She could do everything with a push of a button - the ultimate smart home. As a young child who didn't want to do the dishes, that was The Dream.

Imagine, a world where you don't have to clean up after yourself, do the dishes, or turn the lights off - 8-year-old me would've cried with joy.

While it's been reported that a flying car is being developed by Toyota and I'm sure that somewhere, a technology company is trying to develop their own version of Rosie, a lot of what was offered in The Jetsons as the future is still pretty far away. But that said, a lot of things aren't. Smart home systems and gadgets has come a very long way.

From your smartphone, you can control the lights, locks, televisions, and pretty much everything else in your home. For not a lot of money, either, and here's how to start.

Step 1: Hire an Assistant.

To fully reap the benefits of a smart home, you'll need a smart assistant.

An "assistant" or a smart speaker is really just a more convenient way to control your smart home. You can talk to it, it can talk back to you, and you don't have to open your phone to do any of the hard work.

So what's on the market? The Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod are the three dominant smart speakers available in the market today.

The Beginner's Guide to Making Your Home Smarter

While Apple's Siri might've been the first assistant, way back when, it's competitors have come a lot farther than the HomePod. Amazon's Alexa and Google's Google Assistant are both available on your smartphone, and both have their own pros and cons.

Alexa can perform more functions or "skills", connecting with more apps and devices at the moment. Google is improving on this regularly, however. Google can also answer most, if not all your random questions, because it's got the entire Google search engine behind it. Google Assistant is also in-tuned with Android devices, but if you're with Apple, the HomePod might provide for a more seamless transition.

So which one is the best? My vote goes to the Google Home for being easy to navigate and having the most upside. Amazon's Alexa is a very close second though, but I wouldn't recommend the HomePod (yet).

Let's talk prices.

If you're still unsure, check out this Forbes Finds article for an in-depth comparison between the three smart speakers.

Step 2: Brighten Up Your Life.

Now that you've presumably hired an assistant, the next and easiest step in smartening up your home are smart lights. These work through a hub, connected to your home's internet or Wi-Fi, and hooked up to your smart speaker. With smart lights, you can change colour, dim the lights for some mood lighting, or have them be triggered by motion sensors.

The only downside, in my opinion, to smart lighting is the cost. The initial hub will most likely cost you, and each bulb after that will range from $9 to $29.

The Beginner's Guide to Making Your Home Smarter

The Ambient has a great overview of all the smart lighting available, but I'll focus on these three (with a few extra at the bottom for your benefit).

The Philips Hue is the forerunner in this field. It's a trusted brand, and their smart lighting technology has been around long enough for most kinks and errors to be ironed out by now. With either the Hue app or your smart speakers (it works with Google Home, Alexa, and the HomePod), you can control your lighting's dimmer features, schedule, and so much more. If you have Hue bulbs across your home, you can assign rooms and have it appear as though you're home when you aren't, simply from your phone.

The Lifx bulbs have one thing going for them that the Hue doesn't - they don't need a hub. Each bulb as built-in Wi-Fi so all you really need to do is screw it in. They offer a range of over 16 million colours and connect to the Google Home and Amazon Alexa (the HomePod is a bit trickier).

Sengled bulbs are comparatively the lowest priced of these three, and if you are already smart-home capable, then you don't necessarily need to buy Sengled's hub. But in most cases, you'll want to and it'll be cheaper than competitors. The downside to Sengled is that the bulbs are more like standard bulbs than smart bulbs, and it's compatibility with HomePod is nil, in that it doesn't work with HomePod at all.

Let's talk prices.

  • The Philips Hue White A19 Starter Kit sells for $89, and includes two bulbs as well as the hub. Additional bulbs range anywhere from $19.95 each to $59.50.
  • The LIFX Mini A19 Wi-Fi Bulb sells for $54.30 - steep considering it's one bulb, and the prices for other kinds only go up from here.
  • The Sengled Element Starter Kit sells for $49.99, and includes two bulbs as well as the hub. Additional bulbs range between $12.99 and $36.88.

If you're still unsure, there's a another option you could check out for smart lighting. IKEA has invested in smart lighting in an affordable way, and you won't need a hub for most options. On the flip side, it won't be compatible with the Google Home or Alexa.

Apart from everyone's favourite Swedish flat-packed furniture shop, smart lighting technology is evolving rapidly and there's tons of competition on the market so do your research before investing!

Step 3: Turn the Heat Up (or Don't).

So you've got your assistant and your lights are being worked from your phone. What's next in turning your home into a smart home? A smart thermostat. It tunes into your house's heating and cooling system, keeping it just right (a la Goldilocks) with minimal manual programming required from you. The bonus is that in the long run, a smart thermostat should save energy and electricity costs.

The downside is if you're renting or living in temporary housing, adding a smart thermostat might be a pain that's not quite worth it. The thermostat might not be compatible with your HVAC system, and the installation process requires a bit of electrical wiring that most might not be comfortable with.

But, if you do want to invest in a smart thermostat, here's what you should look at.

The Beginner's Guide to Smart Homes in 5 Steps

The Nest Learning Thermostat will do everything you could ever want a smart thermostat to do - it'll schedule the temperature in your home and will adjust the temperature when you're not there so you aren't burning through heating or cooling costs. You can control it with your smartphone, Alexa, and Google Assistant.

If you want a little something more, try the ecobee4 Thermostat - it does everything that the Nest Learning Thermostat does, with the added option of a built in Alexa that lets it do pretty much everything that the Echo can do - answer questions, control your smart home, and play music. The ecobee4 also features room sensors to keep your preferred temperature at all times.

The Honeywell Lyric T5 Thermostat is significantly less expensive than the two above, and while it doesn't have many of the same features as those two, it does the needful - works with Alexa, Google Assistant, HomePod, and your smartphone; and includes a 7-day scheduling feature.

Let's talk prices.

  • The Nest Learning Thermostat is currently listed at $273, and includes everything you'd need for installation.
  • ecobee4 is listed at $329, and includes everything you'd need for installation.
  • You can get the Honeywell Lyric T5 Thermostat for $119, but you'll need to get an additional C-wire to install it.

If you're still unsure and want some more options, check out Tech Hive's Best Thermostat Review.

Step 4: Look Out & Lock Up.

Once the temperature has been controlled and your lights are on a schedule, the next step should be security. This is one of the easiest and most worthwhile of smart home gadgets you could add to your home, in my opinion. With just a smart lock and a wireless security camera, you've got peace of mind and perhaps a viral video in the making.

The Beginner's Guide to Smart Homes in 5 Steps

The August Smart Lock gives you keyless entry to your home through your smartphone. You can give your friends and family members keys that last for a minute, an hour, or a day and keep track of who's coming and leaving your home. The August Smart Lock attaches to your existing door so you don't have to worry about getting a new door, a new lock, or a new set of keys.

The Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell lets you talk to those ringing your doorbell through your smartphone - whether you're at home, at work, or anywhere else. It includes a night vision feature, and triggers live video through motion sensors so you know what's happening outside your door.

WyzeCam's Wireless Smart Home Camera features night vision and 2-way audio that connects directly to your smartphone. Get notified whenever there is any activity picked up by the motion sensors, and it stores up to 14 days of footage. If you want multiple cameras, use the WyzeCam app to manage and view all of the different locations.

Let's talk prices.

Though these three are great starting points for securing your home, there are a ton of different products available in the market for wireless cameras, smart locks, and video doorbells. Don't forget to do your research before investing!

Step 5: It's a Whole New World...

You've got a smart speaker, smart lights, a smart thermostat, and probably a whole slew of smart security options? So now what? Well, there's a lot of smart tech that you could delve into, so here's a few to get you started.

If This Then That works to connect all your apps together in a smarter way. Whether you're using Google Assistant with Uber, or Amazon Alexa with Spotify, or any combination of apps, IFTTT will help you make that connection smarter and better. IFTTT works by bringing services together into "Applets", which are things that two or more apps can do together that they can't do individually. Check out What is IFTTT? for some basics!

The Logitech Harmony 665 is the best budget smart remote around. You can get rid of the cluster of remotes on your coffee table and get rid of losing remotes between the couch cushions, with this one remote.

The MicroBot Push will literally press a button for you. It connects to your smartphone and lets you push a button from anywhere, turning any old device into a virtual smart product.

Tile Mate has got you covered if you're a frequent misplacer of things. Keep track of your keys, cell phone, and anything else you keep losing with this small bluetooth tracker.

If you finish these five steps, or a few out of the five anyway, then you're well on your way to smartening up your home.

Let me know in the comments below whether or not you're going in the smart home direction!

TOPICS:   Tech



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