A Practical Starter Guide to Smart Homes

What is a “Smart Home”

For the past few years, the term “Smart Home” has been making its way into our vocabulary. Everything from advanced AI voice assistants from Google, Apple, and Amazon to new gadgets and devices being sold at Home Depot are being hailed as the future of household technology. As we enter the year 2020, more and more people are becoming interested in implementing smart home elements into their own homes. Since you are reading this, it’s likely that you are too!

Before one can plan and implement a smart home system, however, one might want to know exactly what it means to have a “Smart Home”. By popular definition, a smart home is a modern home equipped with appliances, lights, or other electronic devices that are controlled remotely either by a smartphone app or some other type of device. So technically, if your home has a remote-controlled air conditioner or a ceiling lamp with a remote, you already have a smart home! 

What’s special about the latest smart home systems and devices is that you can control and coordinate a variety of devices within one centralized interface. Thanks to advances in and popularization of IoT (internet of things) technology, operating a smart home has become more and more easy and intuitive. With our guides and articles, we want to assure you that setting up and operating a smart home does not have to be a herculean endeavor. Whether you have a comprehensive professional system built into your house, or you just have one or two smart plugs connected to an Amazon Echo, having a smart home system ultimately serves your needs; it can be as simple or as complicated as you want. 

Components of a Smart Home

Smart Plugs

Arguably the most basic unit of a smart home system, smart plugs convert simple on/off electronic devices and appliances in your home into a “smart” object. By plugging in a lamp, a fan, or some other device into a smart plug, you can turn it on and off remotely using either a mobile app or a smart speaker. You can also set up a schedule to automatically turn it on and off at specific times. These are by far the most flexible modules of a smart home system.

Smart Lights

Smart lights can be turned on and off remotely via a mobile app or a smart speaker, replacing the “clap on clap off” lights that were popular decades ago. They can also be set on a schedule just like smart Plugs. Furthermore, with some smart light bulbs, you can adjust their color temperature and color to create different effects. Some even have color-changing modes, allowing the lamp that you study or work under to quickly turn into a party light when you’re in the mood for it.

Smart Speakers

“Alexa, turn on the hallway lamp.” This is probably what you think of when you hear the term “Smart Home” these days. Having a smart speaker is like having a personal assistant that controls your smart home for you without having to take out your phone or tablet. Not only do they add a voice-control feature to your smart home devices, you can also play music, set up shopping lists, and take advantage of a variety of third-party functions with one of these.

Home Security Cameras

Security cameras aren’t new. They allow you to keep an eye on your home and see what’s going on in different rooms and spaces. The difference now is that you can access them from the convenience of a phone, tablet, or any internet-connected computer. They are also much more modular and easier to set up than before.

Smart Locks

Smart locks allow you to leave the house without having to carry keys. Whether it’s with a pin code, an NFC card, or a mobile app on your phone, you can now lock and unlock your door without having to mechanically insert a key. This improves security and grants many conveniences. For example, with some smart locks, you can grant temporary access to friends or delivery personnel to unlock your door when you’re not home.

Smart Thermostats

Just like traditional thermostats, smart thermostats control the heating and cooling of your home. The difference here is that you no longer have to walk to a specific room or hallway to access it. You can comfortably set the thermostat from a mobile app or with voice control via a smart speaker. 

Smart Hubs

Smart hubs are central units to some smart home systems. They coordinate a lot of different components of your smart home and allow them to communicate with one another. These are essential components for integrated smart home systems. However, a lot of modular systems these days don’t require a smart hub to function.

Video Doorbells

Video doorbells are exactly what they sound like: a doorbell that shows you who’s at the door. Whether you’re inside your house or out and about, you can see what’s in front of your door from your smartphone app whenever someone rings the bell. If you’re not able to get to the door, it also acts as an intercom that allows you to talk to the visitor. 

How to Start Putting Together a Smart Home System

There are two general approaches for putting together smart home systems. You can either go with a comprehensively packaged system, or do it yourself with an assortment of modular components. 

Systems like Samsung SmartThings or the Ring Alarm home security system come with a base station (hub) and an assortment of modular components that it controls. The great thing about these systems is that all the components within each system are all made by the same company, and made specifically to work together. This means that as a user, you have the confidence that your devices simply work, you won’t have to worry about compatibility issues between components. On top of that, it’s a lot easier to keep the firmware and software updated since everything is in the same system. The downside to these comprehensive systems is upfront cost.

The mix-and-match approach is by comparison much less expensive to start. You can simply add a smart plug or light bulb for around $20. You can then pick and choose whatever device you want based on your current needs without having to buy a whole package up front. The downside with this approach is that you might end up with multiple mobile apps each controlling a different set of components. Not only is it a hassle to keep everything updated separately, you also have to remember which app does what. However, if you have an Amazon Echo device or a Google home, you can use it as a hub to bring all your compatible components together in a single, unified interface.

That is it for our practical starter guide to smart homes. We will keep this post updated as new technology and products are developed. We will also be adding other articles that help you set up and enjoy your own smart home. Stay tuned!

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