With all the advancements in consumer electronic tech over the past five years, one of the most prolific is the smart home. Chances are, you already have one, if not several smart devices in your home already.
But what makes a smart home smart? Does everything have to be connected? At its core, “smart home” can mean any device or appliance connected to the internet that you can control using a smartphone or whose function you can automate.
It can be confusing to try and make sense of where to start and what to do with smart devices, so we’ve broken the most popular smart home devices by category to try and explain what they are and what they can do – all to help you get started on your smart home journey.
Smart Home Systems – Voice Assistants
Every smart home journey starts with choosing a voice assistant system. These are systems such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Homekit (Siri). Your phone will most likely already have one installed, or can be installed. Overall, each voice assistant can control each of the devices listed below this – but always check to make sure a device is compatible with a system before you purchase.
Choosing the best smart home system can be difficult if you don’t have a preference, or a bunch of system compatible devices already, but fortunately, we’ve created a guide that can help narrow things down for you.
Click here to read How to Choose a Smart Home System
Smart speakers are a great place to start your smart home, and in the case of Amazon – quite affordable. Amazon frequently puts their smart speakers, the Dot and the Echo, on sale. Google’s Nest Mini is comparable to the Dot, and you can find it on sale throughout the year or bundled with software services for cheap. The Apple Homekit is a bit more, so we recommend starting with Alexa or Google if you are on a budget.
Once you have your smart home voice assistant chosen and you have a compatible input device, like an Amazon Echo, it’s time to expand your smart home! Smart Lights are one of the easiest and most convenient smart home upgrades you can choose. Philips Hue bulbs are a great starting point, allowing you to control brightness, turn individual bulbs off or on and, if you spring for the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance starter kit, you can change and assign over 16 million Colors and shades of White to your bulbs. The only minus to these excellent smart light bulbs is you have to use a proprietary hub – which is included in the starter kit, or that can be purchased separately. Some smart home owners like to use Wi-Fi enabled light bulbs. These bulbs can be controlled through your home’s Wi-Fi network, eliminating the need for a specialized hub and app.
Smart plugs allow you to control power from an outlet to an electrical device. Smart plugs are great to use with lamps, televisions and other electronics that you would normally turn off and on with a switch. You can find smart plugs ranging from affordable prices with fewer features to pricey multi-featured plugs that can be scheduled to turn off and on automatically at certain times.
Smart locks are a step up in difficulty for set up, but they are a great beginning smart home device. Not only do they secure your door, the best smart locks have Bluetooth compatibility, allowing you to open your door lock without having to dig in your pocket for your keys – a godsend for people with arms full of groceries or other things. Additionally, smart locks give you the convenience of locking/unlocking your door from anywhere in the home where your voice assistant can hear you. Some smart locks also have home security compatibility, becoming part of your home security monitoring system.
Home Security Cameras
Speaking of home security, another great smart home security device are home security cameras. These devices range in quality and price, and our smart home experts give their recommendations here. Security cameras help protect your property by recording and allowing you to see who or what was in the vicinity of your home – all from your mobile device. Some home security cameras integrate into a wider home security system, giving you more peace of mind as they monitor your home. Pricing can be quite expensive for home security cameras, especially if you add in a monitoring service.
Smart Home Hubs
Smart home hubs are more than a beefy smart speaker, they provide a uniform platform that allows you to control multiple smart home devices that might not communicate with each other without one. Smart home hubs also let you automate a lot of processes, like creating an action that locks your front door, turns off the living room lights while turning on the bedroom lights and closing the blinds when you’re ready for bed. As smart devices continue to improve, smart speakers like the Amazon Echo are becoming more like hubs, making it more affordable with their capabilities.
Who touched the thermostat? Not a problem when you can control and monitor your home’s temperature from your mobile device. The best smart thermostats work with your HVAC system seamlessly while providing you more control over your home’s internal comfort level. When integrated with other smart home devices, such as smart plugs, motion sensors and lighting, smart thermostats can help your HVAC system run smoother and more efficiently, saving you money.
Smart Light Switches
Forgot to turn off the light downstairs? If you have a smart switch installed, you should be able to control it from anywhere in your home, and depending on your system, anywhere you have internet access. Smart light switches are another smart home device that is a step up on the installation difficulty scale, but once you install them, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. Control of lights in your home, not just bulbs, can help save energy and make it more convenient as you integrate them with voice controls or actions. If you have an older home, be sure to consult with an electrician to make sure your home can handle the newer devices, as they most often have to be hardwired. If you don’t want to mess with installation, you can still control your lighting with smart bulbs.
Along with smart locks, video doorbells are a great home security upgrade for smart homes. Video doorbells alert you and allow you to see who is at the door on your smartphone, even when you’re not at home. This is helpful, even when you are home, as you can see your kids coming in through the door, or when FedEx, UPS or the postal service drops off packages. Some video doorbells can function as security cameras, although they are most likely not to be as good as a dedicated home security camera. Video doorbells range in installation difficulty, but most don’t require any hardwiring, opting instead for mounting systems that can be quickly installed on your door frame.
Smart Smoke Detectors
Not just a fancy screaming siren, a connected smoke detector can alert your smartphone, wherever you are. Additionally, the best smart smoke detectors automatically turn on smart lights, making it easier to exit more safely.
Evolving beyond the simple robot vacuums of the early 2000s, more and more robot vacuums are utilizing smart home controls to give you more control over the cleaning schedules and zones than before. These little bots are great at helping maintain the cleanliness of your floors and are great for keeping pet hair on the floor under control too.
Garage Door Openers
How can a garage door be smart? It turns out if you have the right model and corresponding app, even your garage door can gain some intelligence. Being alerted or able to control your garage door from remote locations, or from home can come in handy more than you think, especially if someone manages to open your door while you aren’t home. Additionally, some models can also connect with your lights and smart cameras, allowing you to set them to activate when the door opens – a great way to not have to fumble in the dark for a light switch.
Smart homes aren’t just the future, they are the present. With hundreds of new devices releasing each year and thousands of devices already on the market, starting your smart home journey is easier than ever. Be sure to check out our guides and articles about smart home devices and systems here to learn more.