Fail to plan, plan to fail…
This is particularly true when it comes to building out a smart home.
Sure, you could wing it and start buying devices piecemeal without any forethought whatsoever. That might even work out OK for you.
Much more likely, though, you’ll run into problems with conflicting communication protocols, incompatible devices and, more importantly, a smart home completely unsuited to your needs.
Now, if you’re already well underway building out a connected home, you’re better off clicking away right now. The purpose of today’s study is to give absolute beginners an introduction to the many approaches available for building out a smart home. With that said, what exactly is a smart home?
What Is a Smart Home?
A smart home has a communication network connecting different devices and appliances. You’ll be able to control and monitor these devices remotely using your smartphone.
You can automate many processes in a smart home so your life is easier when you’re at home. You can access smart devices in-app on your phone allowing you much more convenience and security when you’re away from home.
The degree of complexity depends entirely on you so don’t feel you need a home packed with interoperable devices to qualify as a smart home owner. Indeed, much of our guide today will encourage you to keep things as simple as you like and to seek a personalized solution rather than feeling like you need to build up a home to a pre-conceived benchmark.
So, with that basic definition in place, it’s time to get started but don’t rush in headlong…
Plan of Attack and Budget
The first thing to do is consider what areas in your home you’d like streamlined and automated.
Ask yourself some simple questions to begin the brainstorming process…
- Are you more concerned with security or convenience? Do you want to focus on both?
- Is it just the inside of your home you want smartened up or do your ambitions extend outside into the yard, too?
- Do you own a reasonably current smartphone?
- Do you already have WiFi in the house?
- Are you confident using unfamiliar technology?
- Do you want a few devices – for example, a smart thermostat and a smart lock only – or do you want to build out a fully connected home?
- What importance do you attach to automation?
We’ll move on to address more specific issues but this is a solid foundation for you to work from.
Also, thinking about these factors, particularly whether or not you want to build yourself a completely connected home, will help enormously with costing.
You should firm up in advance how much you have allotted to spend on the tech you’ll need to get going. We’ve deliberately mentioned budgeting after doing that initial planning…
If you only want a few standalone devices, you should be able to make that work perfectly even if you have a more limited budget. You can find smart devices at very competitive prices in this crowded market where the sheer breadth of choice benefits you, the consumer.
If, on the other hand, you are operating with limited funds but want a fully connected home…
Well, you can make that happen if you plan properly. The key to successful execution on a budget is to take things slowly and realize that you’ll need to steadily buy devices over time, investing more when you can afford it. With proper planning, you can sidestep compatibility flashpoints – more on that later – and also future-proof your home.
There’s one more area you should take into account before you start thinking about the nuts and bolts of your home. This ties in neatly to budget…
Do You Need Professional Installation?
Depending on what type of smart home plans you have in place, you might need to factor in the cost of professional installation.
Now, if you’re only planning to get a couple devices, you should be able to easily set them up even if you’re not too tech-savvy.
If your plans for a connected home are more robust, you need to ask yourself honestly how comfortable you are with installing devices and getting them all to work in harmony. And be honest. If you’d like the end result but you know you’ll struggle, there’s no shame whatsoever in arranging professional installation. After all, you wouldn’t try to fix your car engine if you had no mechanical knowledge. Smart home tech is the same. What might seem straightforward to some is utterly baffling for others. Depending on which camp you fall into, you can either get going with our next suggestion or think seriously about budgeting for installation.
WiFi Network and Smart Phone
If you’re starting to build an integrated smart home from scratch, you’ll need a serviceable smartphone and a home WiFi network if you want to take the route of least resistance.
In effect, your phone will act as a universal remote control so you’ll need to have one in place along with the ability to use simple apps. Since this is a beginner’s guide, we’re not going to dive into possible workarounds or exceptions.
So, assuming you already have both of these elements in place and you have a solid outline of what you want from your smart home in place, the first major decision you’ll need to take concerns the foundations on which it will be laid…
The Brain of Your Smart Home: Hub or Smart Speaker?
Firstly, if you only plan to buy one or two devices and you have no plans to get them working together, you won’t necessarily need a home hub at all. Check out or recent article on Smart Home Hubs if you want a more detailed explanation of this.
If, on the other hand, you want a series of interconnected devices, a home hub acts as a translator so these devices can work in harmony even if these gadgets use different communication protocols. A hub, then, acts as a method of controlling your devices and also serves to help you automate them.
This is where that initial plan you made comes fully to the fore. Think about all the devices you plan to buy and determine whether you’ll need a hub at all. If you only aim to buy a couple of appliances that use WiFi connectivity, you can likely sidestep investing in a hub completely. If, however, you plan to buy some Z-Wave devices or you want to arrange for your lights to come on when your smart lock opens, you’ll need to invest in a hub. We’re here today to give you the broad picture not make specific recommendations. If you need any further advice on home hubs, though, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’ll do our best to help out.
Now, an alternative to a home hub is a smart speaker like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home. You can think of these smart speakers as a basic if limited home hub. The other advantage is that they come with digital assistants, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. What does this mean?
With a digital assistant, you’ll be able to use voice commands to control your devices. You’ll also be able to create routines. Imagine barking a single command then getting out of bed to muted lighting to ease into your day, the thermostat fired up to your preferred temperature, smart blinds opening, and possibly even your coffee maker kicking into gear. Well all of this and more is possible with a smart speaker and voice commands. Beyond that, you’ll get a half-decent speaker and the ability to stream your favorite music, all at an extremely reasonable price.
There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the gateway you choose for your smart home. Whether you opt for a smart home hub, a smart speaker, or nothing at all depends almost entirely on your intended usage.
Linked to what we’ve just outlined above, there are 4 main smart ecosystems to choose from:
- Amazon Alexa
- Apple HomeKit
- Google Assistant
- Works with Nest
Again, we’re not going to double down in much detail here since today we’re just providing an overview on what you should know before building a smart home.
This is generally more of a choice between the 2 major players, namely Alexa and Google Assistant. Both of these ecosystems boast fantastic compatibility and they are also remarkably user-friendly, ideal if you’re just starting out.
For diehard Apple fans, HomeKit is the obvious choice but it’s a bit trickier to set up.
Now owned by Google, Nest now has its own ecosystem, Works with Nest.
We’ll round out this brief glimpse into ecosystems by making it quite clear that choosing to start with one by no means rules out using devices from another ecosystem. Much smart home equipment works quite happily with more than one of these ecosystems and you’ll have a lot more flexibility than when you’re forced, for example, to choose between a Mac and a PC, or an iPhone vs an Android handset. Again, proper planning before you start building out your smart home lets you avoid issues of incompatibility and helps you to make the best and most economic decision simply by taking your time and doing your due diligence.
With those fundamentals in place, you should have a sound overview of the main things you should take into account before you start building out a connected home.
We’ll round out today with a glance at 5 ways you can apply that planning and insight to get started building the smart home of your dreams.
5 Starting Points For a New Smart Home
1) Why Not Start With Smart Lighting?
While smart lighting might seem like a one-trick pony, it’s anything but. You can save money on your electricity bills, keep your home safer by making your house seem occupied when you’re away, and make your life easier since you won’t need to keep getting up and hitting a light switch or fiddling with a dimmer.
While we’re not here today to laser in on specific brands or products, it’s impossible to touch on smart lighting without mentioning Philips Hue. From simple smart bulbs to colored lighting and comprehensive starter kits, you’re spoiled for choice. LIFX bulbs and TP-Link are also well worth your further investigation depending on your exact needs.
A bonus with smart lighting is that you can often get away without needing a central hub. Smart lights also play nicely with other devices if you want a more interconnected solution.
Where bulbs are more limited, you can replace your old switches with smart switches and dimmers. Many of these simply work using your WiFi network, again allowing you to avoid using a hub unless that fits with your needs.
Smart plugs give you yet another option meaning smart lighting makes pretty much the perfect entry point.
2) Smart Locks For Convenience
A common misconception is that smart locks are all about safety. Convenience is actually their key selling point so if you’re looking for a simpler life without the horror of losing your keys. We’ll look at making your home more secure shortly.
While some smart locks will slip quite easily over the hardware in place, most require replacement deadbolts. This is not complex and if you’re not happy doing it yourself, it’s a cheap and easy job to hire out.
Although a few smart locks are keyed, the vast bulk are keyless. Some have touchscreens, others keypads. The best intelligent locks will offer smart phone access through a simple app. For reasons of security, you’ll be able to lock your door but not unlock it in-app. After all, if you lost your cellphone, your safety could be compromised if gaining entry to your house was as simple as walking up to your door with a phone.
If you’re tempted to kiss goodbye to the days of misplaced keys once and for all, check out our guide to smart door locks.
3) Automate Climate Control In Your Home
If you’re looking for a winning combination of comfort, convenience and reduced costs when your power bill arrives, all you need is a WiFi network and a smart thermostat.
You’ll put paid to constantly tweaking the temperature, you’ll ensure you home is far more energy-efficient and you can always come home to a house that’s always heated or cooled to your exact needs.
When built out with sensors in different rooms and smart speakers, you can automate climate control without spending a fortune and the best thing? Buying a smart thermostat is an investment rather than an expense since you’ll make significant savings while also doing your part for the environment.
4) Safety First: Secure Your Smart Home
Home security systems come in many guises…
Whether you want spotlight cams, a video doorbell, an alarm or a full security kit complete with professional monitoring, the world’s your oyster.
As with all aspects of building out a smart home, if you honestly analyze your needs, it’s not at all difficult to ramp up security with alerts pinged to your smartphone even when you’re on the other side of the world.
By prioritizing home security, you can also keep all those valuable smart devices you’re about to invest in safe and sound year-round.
5) Home Theater: Don’t Forget The Fun Factor
While safety and convenience are the core factors underpinning connected homes, you should never forget the ability of smart technology to inject a healthy dose of fun into the lives of you and your family.
And what better way to get things started than a home theater?
From streaming music on your smart speaker at the bottom end through to voice control of your huge TV or projector along with a soundbar if you want to get more adventurous, there’s nothing like bringing the movies home to relax after a hard week at the office. You can even use your voice assistant to call in for food delivery if you’re feeling too lazy to rustle up some popcorn, too.
When it comes to home theater systems, budget and imagination are about your only limitation.
Final Word: Privacy and Security Concerns
We very much hope you’re now in a better position to start building a smart home even if you’re an absolute beginner or operating on a restrictive budget.
One thing we’d say in closing is that if you’re in any doubts about security issues with smart devices, you’re better off not going down this route at all. The advantages will outweighed by nagging concern…
But we don’t want to finish on a negative note so all we can say is that nobody here at Smart Home has suffered a noteworthy security breach, and in our considered opinion based on years in the trenches, you can expect nothing but a shower of benefits when you start automating your home along with a dramatic upswing in home security.
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