Make Your Home a Smart Home: The Beginner’s Guide


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Have you ever walked into a hardware store like Home Depot or an electronics store like Best Buy and noticed how many smart home devices exist?

Trust me: you’ll be blown away.

Making your home into a smart home can sound like a cool HGTV-esque project that you can easily knock out in one weekend, but it’s actually quite challenging to start. So what is the best way to make your home into a smart home?

First, you should consider any smart voice assistants or devices you currently have in your home and determine if they are compatible with smart home devices you are going to buy. Then, note your daily needs by room to see how you can make each part of the home smart with appliances and devices.

When you are first getting started you should feel no pressure at all to buy all of the smart home recommendations listed below all at once.

Instead, use this simple beginner’s guide as an inspiration and a starting point to make your home a smart home, and to piece together these devices thoughtfully so that they suit your needs best.

Start Here: Consider Smart Voice Assistants You Already Have

Before you open your wallet and shell out large amounts of money to make your home smart, you want to take inventory of how many voice assistants you have in the house and which kind they are from.

The two most popular smart voice assistants you will find in many homes are Google (also known as Google Home) and Amazon’s Alexa.

Apple’s Siri smart assistant can also handle smart home device commands verbally and through its “Home” app, but is less popular, and as a result, more of a challenge to find smart home devices that are compatible with this brand.

If you do not have any voice assistants in your house yet, be sure to pick one or the other and stay consistent with the brand so that smart home devices will communicate together.

Check for Smart Home Compatibility

Another preventative measure that you want to research ahead of time is to look for smart home devices that are compatible with the voice assistant that you chose.

When reading down this list of room and smart home device recommendations, make a quick list of whether or not the ones you want to start with are compatible with the same smart home hub.

I highly recommend making this “Google Home vs. Amazon Alexa (or vs. Siri)” compatibility list with all of the smart home devices that you could potentially buy in the future.

This will help prevent you from buying some smart devices now, and then having difficulty finding potential gadgets that work with the same voice assistant.

For instance, newer vehicles built under brands like Ford are coming pre-built with Amazon’s Alexa so that you can operate your smart home devices and appliances from the comfort of your car.

You also don’t want to realize that you have made far too much investment to go back and start with a different voice assistant as the smart home hub.

The good news is that there are a lot of devices on the market now that are compatible with both Google and Alexa, so finding a smart home gadget that only works with the other assistant should soon become a problem of the past.

The key takeaway from this section: Stay as consistent as you possibly can with your voice assistant choice and you will have far less headaches down the line.

Ideas to Make your Home a Smart Home

Now that you have hopefully decided on a voice assistant that you want to stick with as your smart home hub, follow along the recommendations below and note which areas you want to tackle with smart home devices first.

Garage

Have you ever been late for work or your children’s after school activities and wondered if you left the garage door open or not?

Believe it or not, there are garage door openers that work with your wifi to monitor whether the door is open or closed.

When you log in to the app to view your garage door, you can also check what time the opener has been activated last.

And you can get a notification or an alert to your smartphone as soon as the garage door opens again.

Sorry part animals, no sneaking out of the garage with this smart device.

Installation is pretty straightforward. Once the garage door opener has been installed, you can connect the opener (usually through an included hub) to your wifi router and it should immediately start monitoring the door in real-time.

If you already have a garage door that’s non-smart, you can attach a smart garage door opener, like this Nexx unit I highly recommend on Amazon (aff. link), and turn it into a smart garage. It works with both Alexa and Google Assistant right out the box and can be operated with your voice commands.

Lights

Ever thought having a “clap-on clap-off” light was cool? Well wait until you hear about these smart light bulbs.

You can now create the desired mood of your room with light bulbs that turn on, dim, and change color, all with the sound of your voice.

This Phillips Hue Smart Bulb Starter Kit (Amazon aff. link) is not the cheapest model on the market, but is by far the most popular, compatible and customizable smart light kit available.

This user-friendly bundle works alongside all three smart assistants including Apple’s Siri and the lights feature a nearly endless possibility of hues that you can control by sliding your finger around a color palette from your smartphone.

You can even use your voice to tell the lights what kind of lighting will best suit your needs in the moment, like if you are gaming, studying, reading, or watching a movie.

Installation is also easy. Just screw the light bulbs in to your desired housings, connect the included bridge into your wifi router, and pair the bulbs with the free smartphone app and bam, you now have a smart lighting system in your home.

If you like the idea of a smart home light but don’t need multiple lights, you can get this single smart bulb by Kasa from Amazon. What’s great about this nifty bulb is that there is no hub that’s needed to pair it to Alexa or Google Assistant so all you have to do is screw the light into the housing and connect it to your home’s wifi.

Thermostat

These are one of the most popular and first smart home devices to ever enter the market.

Swapping your old thermostat out for a smart unit allows you to adjust the temperature via smartphone app, voice assistant, or verbally in your car.

Instead of trying to set a bunch of different time schedules to turn the heat up or down, or the air conditioning to be on or off in order to save energy, you can just say when you want to turn the heat or air down while your leaving the house.

Then on the way back you can tell the thermostat to to turn the heat or air back on, all at a moments notice.

You can also monitor what the current temperature of your home is while you are away and adjust it to save energy that’s not needed.

The ecobee 4 smart thermostat is the most inclusive model on the market, with a built in speaker that lets you walk up (or shout from the couch) and adjust the temperature with the power of your voice.

TV

Here we start getting a little more brand specific, whereas the categories above have smart devices that are compatible with most smart assistants.

Brand new Smart TVs have technology built in that connects with your smart home, allowing you to turn on, open streaming applications, or change channels with your voice.

Smart TVs that are a couple years old have smart hubs that allow applications and streaming services to be installed on to it, but they do not have voice assistant capability, and therefore, have to be controlled through a remote or a smartphone app.

If you want to make a TV part of your smart home but is more than a couple years old, you can connect a compatible dongle with the assistant of your choice into the back of your system.

The two most popular and affordable smart TV dongles are the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Google Chromecast. You can grab them for under $35 and they work seamlessly with your brand-compatible smart speaker so that you can operate your TV totally hands-free with your voice.

For such a small unit it’s amazing how capable a smart TV becomes once you plug one of these in.

I’ve found that saying something like “Play the tv show Ballers on HBO GO” has been an absolute time saver versus fumbling through menus with the remote.

You’ll also enjoy the added benefit of controlling the rest of your smart home devices all from the visuals of your TV, like viewing a home security camera.

Music

Also one of the first smart home devices to hit the market, speakers with smart assistants are still one of the hottest selling items from Google, Amazon, and Apple.

As stand-alone units, smart speakers are powerful because they can store information, answer questions, and provide reminders.

But pairing up two or more speakers can open up a whole new world, especially when it comes to music.

If you currently own the smallest version of a smart speaker, like an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, you can probably tell that the sound doesn’t have a whole lot of depth.

However, instead of burying them in a closet and buying their larger siblings, you can pair them up so that you can not only broadcast messages throughout the house, but also create a multi-speaker setup throughout.

That means if you have music playing on one speaker, you can voice command all of your other smart speakers to share that same music in real-time so that they create a surround sound chain.

A quick final note about music: If you currently use Amazon, Apple Music, or Google as a music provider, then you need to get a smart speaker of the same brand in order to play from that provider. If you listen through Spotify, only Google and Amazon speakers support the platform and not Apple’s.

Home Security

Cameras, alarms, motion detectors, door locks you name it. If it’s in the realm of home security they most likely have a smart version of it.

There are even companies that will come out to your home and install entire home systems so that they are consistent and run on the same central hub. A huge convenience indeed.

However, be careful when going with a whole smart home security company because their security devices may not be compatible with your other smart assistant.

So if Google Assistant or Alexa compatibility is a deal breaker to you then it is worth doing the research in advance.

The most popular and easiest starting point of home security are cameras. Amazon and Google both have compatible home security cameras that are built for different areas of the home, both inside and out, and can work with the sound of your voice and through the visuals of your smartphone of smart connected TV.

A good place to start your smart home security portfolio is to buy a video door bell, like this Ring Doorbell 2.

Although it only works with Alexa, it allows two-way communication, motion alerts on your smartphone, and live viewing feed from anywhere on the go so you can check your front door anytime.

Smart Vacuum

Robotic vacuums are a hit. They are small, smart, and cool because they clean around you and empty themselves when they are done.

For those that despise continual vacuum routines or are known for missing spots around the house, the robot vacuum is a great friend.

Did you know that new robotic vacuums can also connect to your smart home too?

Now with just a simple command, you can activate your vacuum to sweep through your home without ever leaving your couch… or while you’re on the go of course.

This vacuum by iRobot pretty much does it all. Under $300, it charges itself, works by voice with Alexa, and cleans on carpets and hardwood floors without any manual adjustment.

It is also slim enough to clean under tight spots like chairs, couches, and beds, which are hard-to-see areas that collect dust the quickest.

Kitchen Appliances

A more expensive group of investments and one that is developing rapidly as you read this is smart home connected kitchen appliances.

Smaller gadgets like scales and thermometers can wirelessly transmit data to an app so you can record and monitor weights and temperatures.

The biggest wave in smart kitchen development is between ovens, refrigerators, and dishwashers.

With hands-free voice, you can activate a microwave, Like this AmazonBasics one for under $60, to cook popcorn or ramen for you.

You can also notify your smart oven that you want to preheat it to 360 degrees in preparation for baking that fish. No dial turns needed.

If you are bored scrolling through social media from your smartphone, you can utilize the massive vertical screen on your fridge to scroll along your feed, or tweet from it like this teen did when he had all of his electronics taken away.

I admit the last example was a bit far-fetched, but it shows where the possibility of smart kitchen appliances are headed, and is an area to watch for as you add to your smart home portfolio of gadgets.

Wall Plug

By far one of the easiest ways to turn your home into a smart home is to buy a smart wall plug and use it over any of your existing outlets.

Once plugged in, you can find any device has a cord to plug into the front of the smart plug and voila, you have have now made that into a voice-powered device.

Tell Alexa to turn on the antique living room lamp… check.

Ask Google to crank the subwoofer to your surround sound system… of course.

Never worry about finding a switch that is buried in a device or on the cord behind the couch because all you have to do is connect it to a smart plug.

This Wemo Mini Smart Plug is extremely affordable, works with Apple, Amazon, and Google Assistants and allows voice assistance to practically anything that plugs into a standard outlet.

You can even get creative and plug it into, say, ceiling fan, so that you don’t have to find the remote every time you want to turn it on or off.

Certain wall plugs like this one also let you set a timer or a daily schedule for whatever is plugged in to turn on or off so that you can have peace of mind when you leave the house or if you are in another room.

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