Building a Smart Home

Last updated 26th August 2020

In this guide, we’ll examine exactly what a smart home is, what it takes to build one, and the numerous benefits.

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What is a Smart Home?

A smart home is a building that is equipped with several devices that automate activities. For example, you could install smart lights which come on the moment you walk into a room and then turn themselves off when you leave.

Smart home devices made their debut in 1975 when a Scottish company birthed the X10. This software was ground-breaking, as it made it possible for compatible products to communicate effectively. This was possible because since all appliances are receivers, transmitting devices such as remote controls could be used to issue simple commands. X10 was by no means perfect, and today, we have far niftier technology with which to command receivers.

Smart homes have grown in popularity in recent years. A lot of these are built from scratch with the necessary devices embedded into the fabric of the building. However, you can add smart devices to any home by yourself – and it’s easier than ever before.

Doing it yourself also means that you can choose what specific technology you want to employ. For instance, installing an Amazon Alexa device could restrict how much control the device has over the house.

Understandably, the thought of so many devices might sound expensive. However, there are many options out there - including smart devices, assistants, appliances – which are affordable. While a top-end smart home security might be out of your price range, there are lots of alternatives which could help you reduce the cost of making your home smarter.

Benefits of a Smart Home

While there are some downsides of building a smart home (including expenses and privacy issues), the benefits of building a smart home far outweigh any potential issues.

Save Money on Bills

Smart homes are great money-savers. They limit the amount of energy consumed which means you’ll won’t have to spend as much on energy bills. For instance, if you walk out of a room and forget to turn out the lights, or you leave the thermostat running when you go to work, the smart device can turn them off. That’s great for the environment, but also for your pocket.

Most home automation systems also provide valuable data on how much energy is consumed, which means you can easily track usage and make more informed decisions. This helps you be even more energy efficient and further reduces how much you’re paying for energy.

More Secure

There is arguably no perfect security system. However, a smart home hub could provide as close to one as possible. With things like automatic door locks, security alarm systems, and smart lighting, you can turn your home into an impregnable fortress.

You can even make use of a smart home app to carry out these security measures. These systems provides the option of remotely controlling home appliances and doors from the comfort of your mobile phone or PC. Therefore, even when you’re not home, there are options with which the house can be kept safe from potential intruders.

Easy Life

Convenience is the word most commonly associated with the concept of smart homes since everything is done for you. Your heating, lighting, security, and even the music that’s playing around your home can automated by this technology.

Put another way, a smart home deals with all the stuff you don’t want to, or forget, to do. This not only does make life easier, but also actively ensures your comfort and happiness. Life is stressful enough without having to add other chores to the equation. Smart appliances are also very exact in operation. This means that if you need the thermostat at exactly 21 degrees Celsius every day, they can be programmed as such without any variation.

It Saves Time

Imagine being in a home office while working on an important project that requires quite a bit of concentration. Having to get up to answer the door isn’t just a nuisance, but it also interrupts your flow. Home automation systems can handle answering the door for you, which saves you precious time that could be used doing something else (and helps you get better work done).

It Does a Convincing Job as a Babysitter

If you are a busy parent with kids, spending time with them could be a problem in some situations. Hiring a babysitter isn’t as easy as it used to be either.

However, with the help of a smart home system, you can keep an eye on the kids even when you’re not home. Moreover, with the help of cameras, you can check in on the kids to see what they are up to throughout the day. Even if you get a babysitter, smart cameras give a convenient window into what your kids and nanny are up to.

It Relaxes Your Mind

Don’t you feel a lot better if you never have to worry about forgetting to turn something off? With a smart home setup, you are in total control from wherever you are, and you can rest easy knowing that everything is in order.

Smart Home Assistant

A smart home assistant is a device that reacts to voice commands and carries out the instructions of the issuer. The most common home assistants can also link up with other devices in the house. This means that you can tell your home assistant to turn on the lights or play some music, and it’ll do so by communicating your orders to the corresponding appliance in your home.

Choosing the right home assistant is very important as it controls large swathes of your life. This means it has to be a device that is efficient and the right fit for your home. Many people also fuss over where to place the home assistant. While there is no universal standard as to where to have the machine, it is generally best to have it at the centre of the home. It could also be a great idea to put it in a location where it can pick up commands easily - like the living room or kitchen.

With all of the above points, it is clear just how useful home assistants are. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing one, especially if you have kids.

  • Ensure kids recognise that they have to ask before making purchases with the device.
  • There might be a hidden charge or two, so be wary of them.
  • A smart assistant should never be seen as a substitute for regular social interaction.

Privacy Issues

Privacy has become such a serious topic with the advent of the internet, especially as some of the biggest tech giants can listen in on our day to day conversations. With a home assistant, these are valid fears and should be carefully considered before purchasing one. Also, there are a few privacy options you could select, including muting the mic if you don’t want it to pick up what is being said.

If you are still willing to go ahead with getting a smart home assistant after all the consideration, then you can put some thought into the best smart home devices or assistants. In this section, we’ll examine the features of three of the biggest ones and what they offer.

Google Home

The Google Smart Home speaker is designed to help with many things around the house. It works in tandem with the Google Assistant to carry out voice commands issued by the user. To do so, the device listens to the environment – but the manufacturers claim that it won’t record anything said until the predetermined words used to wake the device up are used.

The device comes in various sizes and can work well with other smart speakers. Apart from the voice commands, the Google Home Speaker also possesses a few physical controls, including a volume button, mute button and a small play centre from where you could play music. Besides music, the Google Home Speaker also works with a variety of devices and can carry out several functions, including a customised morning schedule.

Amazon Alexa

Similar to the Google Smart Home Speaker, Amazon Alexa carries out a series of functions. Google Home was designed to compete with Alexa, and therefore, the two devices share a lot of similarities. Alexa can set up a schedule, work with compatible devices, provide useful information and so on. With so many features, you could easily turn your home into an Alexa smart home and enjoy the ease with which many tasks can be carried out.

Apple Homepod

Just like the other speakers, the Apple Homepod is a smart device that carries out instructions with the help of the world-famous Siri. On top of that, it has some pretty amazing ears and comes with 6 microphones all around - which it uses to pick up sounds from all over the house. It’s also really easy to set up, and grants access to several services (including Apple Music). The AI is quite interactive and intuitive meaning you could easily issue a command for relaxing music, and it will not disappoint.

Smart Home Devices

Smart home devices can be used for various functions in the house. They can be controlled remotely with the help of a smart app or utilise voice commands like the Google and Alexa speakers. These devices are quite popular as they provide a lot of ease and comfort - and many are quite inexpensive.

Choosing the right smart device depends on your lifestyle and what you believe you’ll need automating in your home. For instance, a smart security system and lights might be a huge deal for you if you value security and want to save on energy bills. In the following sections, we’ll consider some of the best smart home devices you can find on the market.

Smart Lighting

Smart lighting utilises technology to remotely control lighting. This is usually done with a mobile phone or tab. They are incredibly efficient and offer a range of benefits - from energy saving to on-demand colour variety. Lighting can be customised to turn a certain colour to encourage better sleep at night and also operate at a lower brightness level at certain times of the day to reduce energy costs.

Like most other smart devices, smart bulbs act as receivers which take in orders from your mobile phone (which acts as a transmitter). There are three major types of smart bulb: standard bulbs, candle bulbs and spotlights. You can easily purchase any of these from any online store. It is best to check the compatibility of the smart lights with your home assistant as this gives you the option of controlling it with the AI.

Smart Thermometer

Smart thermometers are devices that regulate the interior temperature in a home. Smart thermostats typically consist of three parts that work together. The first connects directly to your HVAC system and the second, the thermostat control, communicates with the first component.

Smart thermometers are one of the most common smart home gadgets – as they yield noticeable benefits including saving energy and money. They also help keep the house at an even temperature with little fuss. The Echobee and Nest are two of the most popular brands on the market.

Smart Appliances

There are smart versions of almost every appliance possible, and apart from being very easy to control, they also have other benefits.

One such benefit is their ability to sense an electrical surge. If they detect this, they’ll temporarily shut themselves down so that they the device isn’t damaged. Some of the more common smart appliances include smart fridges and microwaves. In the case of the latter, some of them can set their own timers, scan barcodes on food items, and even add items to your shopping list to reorder when you run out!

Smart TV and Speaker Voice Control

Voice control is a system that utilises human speech to remotely control machines and devices. This is made possible by an interface which recognises some human commands and can carry them out. Voice control is used all the time with smart speakers and increasingly with Smart TVs.

Setting up your TV and speakers to function with voice commands is pretty useful as it increases the convenience of using these devices. Therefore, you can command your TV to play, record, or search for the content you’d like to consume.

Apart from that, smart speakers can also be integrated with other household appliances which vastly increases the number of functions it can carry out.

Smart Curtains and Blinds

Smart curtains and blinds come designed with motors that offer the ability to control how and when the blinds or curtains come into effect. It is possible to turn a regular curtain into a smart one with the addition of a motor that responds to commands from an app.

Smart blinds have a couple of benefits and can be triggered by external lighting. So, the curtains can come up when the sun rises and go down when it sets. In addition, they can be integrated with home assistants like Google Home and Alexa.

Smart Alarm Clock

A smart alarm clock offers smart features that help improve your wake-up routine. There are various types, all of which have different benefits, including those that improve sleep cycles. That said, it might initially be difficult to see the need for a smart alarm clock since most phones come with an alarm function. Great brands like the Travelway LED and the Amazon Echo show 5 are quite popular and effective.

Smart Sleep Trackers

Sleep trackers monitor your sleep patterns and summarise vital information to improve the quality of your sleep. Depending on the sleep tracker purchased, these devices can measure anything from sleep times, to sleep phases. In the case of the latter, the tracker can time your alarm to wake you up when you’re easier to rouse.

While there are still improvements to be made to sleep trackers, they have a lot of benefits. One of the most popular brands out there is the Fitbit Versa. This is compatible with Alexa, meaning you can issue voice commands amongst other things.

Smart Home Security

Smart home security covers a wide range of appliances and devices that protect your home from potential intruders using remote or voice settings. While a full security setup might be beyond your budget, various options are more affordable and do a decent job.

Like smart homes in general, home security can also be installed using DIY techniques (although there are benefits to having a professionally installed smart home security system). Below, we’ll examine some of the more common smart security devices available and why you might need them in your home.

Smart Smoke Alarms

A smoke detector is a standard security feature present in most homes. However, smart smoke alarms are becoming more and more popular. Like many other smart devices, a smart smoke alarm works in sync with your mobile phone to notify you when there is smoke. These tend to operate over Wi-Fi, but others are Bluetooth enabled.

A smart smoke alarm is beneficial as it alerts you to problems at home, even when you’re not in. It’s also easy to control, meaning that it can be easily turned off if there’s a false alarm. On top of this, you can sync your smart lights to go on when the alarm goes off, which draws more attention and can prevent a potential disaster.

The Nest Protect and First Alert are two of the most popular brands, and there are numerous others with various advantages which will be beneficial to you.

Smart Garage Door

A smart garage door can be controlled remotely and uses Wi-Fi to alert you on its status (i.e. whether it is open or closed). This could help in case of a home invasion, as some smart garage doors can start recording when they are opened at an odd time of the day. They can also notify the authorities in case of any strange activity.

Most smart garage doors can be controlled using an app, while others can be integrated with home assistants like Google Home or Alexa. If you are after a reliable garage opener, the Chamberlain MyQ is one of the best products out there but you also try out the NEXX Garage door.

Smart CCTV

Smart CCTV are cameras that monitor activity around your home for security purposes. They are a vital part of home security and come with many handy attributes, including their ability to trigger the smart home alarm system where necessary. They can also be controlled easily from great distances.

Furthermore, Smart CCTV can alert the authorities about suspicious activity around your house and record footage which can make it easier to apprehend a criminal. Depending on the type of system you opt for, smart CCTV has a couple of benefits. Ring brand is probably the most popular in this space, but there are a couple of other products that are just as useful - including the Swann smart security camera and the Neos smartcam.

Smart Locking System

Smart locks open up your doors remotely, thereby doing away with the need for keys. They are usually controlled remotely with smartphone apps, while some have keypads that require codes. It works by utilising Wi-Fi to receive and act on a code either manually entered or sent over a mobile phone.

That said, many smart locks can be integrated with an existing lock system and even work with virtual assistants. They are quite beneficial as they allow you to keep an eye on who comes in or leaves the house. Also, it makes the use of keys redundant meaning there are no spare keys that could potentially be stolen or used by someone you’d rather not have in the house.

The Yale locking system is very popular, and it is just one in a slew of Yale smart home devices that are held in high regard.

Smart Motion Sensors

Smart motion sensors are security devices activated by movement. Depending on the brand, they can either work using infrared lasers to detect changes in ambient temperature or use microwaves to detect when an object changes position. Like with most smart security devices, they can be synced with a home assistant and customised to do various things – including video recording, setting off alarms, or even alerting the police.

A great example of a great smart motion sensor is the Samsung SmartThings Motion Sensor. However, you could also turn to the Kangaroo Home Security or GE Enbrighten Z-Wave Plus Smart Motion Sensor.

Smart Doorbell

A smart doorbell alerts the homeowner of the presence of a visitor. It works by sending a notification over Wi-Fi to the homeowner wherever they are. So, if a delivery arrives while you aren’t home, the smart doorbell can log this event and even provide a platform to directly communicate with the messenger.

It is beneficial as it ensures that you are never taken by surprise by a visitor. Also, it provides the option to communicate with visitors when you’re not home. When synced with other security devices, you could even let people in when you’re not home!

Like with most security systems, Yale and Ring are two of the most popular brands, and they offer several options which appeal to potential users.

Conclusion

With all of the above, you should now have little to no problem identifying what smart devices would prove useful in your home. More so, this information will come in handy if you are trying to decide whether to have your home fully automated or if a few devices are enough.

FAQs

Almost all devices can work with a home assistant, but it does vary. Check to see what devices are compatible with the home assistant of your choice, and you’re good to go.
Generally speaking, home assistants are secure. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t a few challenges with these pieces of technology - especially regarding privacy.
A smart home comes with a number of benefits, but it does depend on your situation. What is sure is that an automated home will help you automate your home so that it’s more efficient and environmentally friendly.
Yes. While a top-end, fully automated home installed by professionals can be expensive, there are many devices that are more affordable (which provide just as much value) and can be installed yourself.
This is unnecessary. While there are advantages to having a fully automated house, it would also be a pretty expensive. Therefore, carefully consider the areas of your home where the benefits of adding smart home automations can draw the most benefits for you.

Sources

https://home.howstuffworks.com/smart-home.htm
https://www.alarms.org/beginners-guide-to-home-automation/
https://www.aihomes.co.uk/top-ten-benefits-smart-home/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2018/12/14/what-parents-need-know-before-buying-google-home-or-amazon-echo/
https://www.apple.com/homepod/
https://www.techradar.com/news/what-is-smart-lighting-everything-you-need-to-know-for-your-connected-home
https://www.lifewire.com/what-are-smart-blinds-4685778
https://dgit.com/best-smart-alarm-clocks-51447/
https://www.lifewire.com/how-smart-smoke-detectors-work-4150171
https://www.vivint.com/resources/article/how-do-smart-locks-work
https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/what-is-a-smart-doorbell-and-which-should-you-buy/

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