A “smart” home lets you control things like television and music, lighting, and security from your phone, or even by voice. But should you go smart?
The Benefits of the Smart Home
Just about anyone can benefit from a smart home, from families to busy individuals, the elderly, those with mobility issues, frequent travellers, and people who simply want to enjoy the latest and greatest tech.
You can’t beat being able to turn the lights on or off from the comfort of your couch or while at the office. Imagine simply saying “Alexa, turn on morning routine” to start up your favourite music playlist, get the coffee brewing and have the news headlines dictated to you.
With smart security cameras, you can keep an eye on your property from virtually anywhere; while a smart thermostat lets you turn up the heat by a few degrees if you’re away to avoid frozen pipes after a frigid winter night. Set the porch light to turn on periodically so it looks like someone is home while you’re away on vacation, or install water leak sensors that send alerts if a leak is detected so you can take appropriate and immediate action to minimize damage.
A smart home can also simplify your days. Set the dryer to tumble the clothes for an extra 20 minutes if you’re running late, program a smart kitchen appliance to preheat or adjust the temperature while you’re on your way home from the office, or let the kids turn on their favourite cartoon while you catch some extra ZZZs on a Sunday morning.
There can be cost benefits, too. A smart thermostat can automatically and intelligently adjust the temperature when you aren’t home to save on energy and a sensor or camera can help deter theft or property damage. You may also be eligible for electricity or insurance rebates by using gadgets like smart thermostats and security systems.
How to Get a Smart Home
Get started on a smart home for just a few hundred bucks with smart lights and plugs, and using an app like Apple HomeKit on your iPhone. Then, add compatible gadgets as you see fit. Or, go all-in if you’re willing to spend a few thousand dollars to hire a company to install a full-fledged automation system, including lighting, thermostat, television, speakers, and more, all seamlessly controlled from a single mobile app or touch panel. Deciding which way to go will depend on your budget and desires.
Use a platform like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant if you want to control things mainly by voice, or a system like Apple HomeKit to control multiple gadgets from a single app. You could also get smart gadgets from brands like Belkin WeMo, including plugs, light bulbs, and other gear. If you don’t mind using multiple apps, the world is your oyster, and you can grab products from multiple brands, without worry about compatibility. But it’s easier to be consistent, and get items that can all be controlled by a single app, interface, or intelligent AI.
Once the decision is made, get the necessary main device for control: it might be an iPhone or Android smartphone or tablet you already own, an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker, or a network device.
Then, start expanding. Do you want lights, speakers, a thermostat, small appliances, all of the above? Products that work with platforms like Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, or Alexa usually feature a logo on the package, making the buying process easy. You might have to scan a code, connect the device to Wi-Fi, and/or load it onto the app to get going. It’s usually fairly simple, but devices can vary in complexity based on what they can accomplish. A smart light bulb can usually be swapped out with a standard one, but a smart thermostat might require some wire attachments.
To take the leap into a more sophisticated automation systems platform that controls a multitude of devices, including audio and video, via a single interface, look to a local provider that offers systems from companies like Control4 or, on the luxury side, Savant.
Precautions to Take With a Smart Home
Always purchase reputable products from reputable bands, and keep the software updated to protect the gear from the latest bugs or security vulnerabilities.
Most critical: set up a secure and password-protected home Wi-Fi network to minimize the possibility of cyber thieves gaining access to your home. Consider a camera, for example, that records footage to a memory card or built-in hard drive instead of the cloud.
Do your research, check the list of compatible products for the platform you want to use, and choose accordingly. Many of the top products, like Philips Hue smart bulbs or Nest thermostats, work on multiple platforms, which gives you plenty of options.
Start small, work your way up, and you’ll have a smart home in no time, and for a budget that works for you.
Interested in turning your home into a smart home? Learn about the totally life-changing gadgets available now and later this year.