Smart home technology is upon us. Here’s how to change your life with smart home tech (for the better!).
Smart home technology is advancing. When the tech first hit the market, it seemed like a gimmick. The “clapper” has been around for years. Is it really an upgrade to go from controlling lights by clapping to using a smart phone?
Sure, you can still use smart home tech to turn on/off your lights (which is especially helpful if you use Google Home or Amazon Alexa), but there are so many other cool products that have come out.
When I first made the jump to smart home technology, I didn’t know where to start. It can be super confusing, and not all devices are compatible with one another. So, I am putting this guide together to teach you how to turn your home into a smart home without breaking the bank.
Step One: Choose a “Hub.”
Smart home devices need a hub to communicate with. These are the devices that handle your commands and tell the devices throughout your home what to do. Smart tech hubs used to be incredibly complicated. Not anymore.
The easiest (but also most limited) route is to use a Google Home or Amazon Alexa device. The Alexa was the most purchased item on Amazon last Christmas. Amazon won’t say how many of the voice-activated devices they have in homes, but the estimate is in the millions.
Newer generation models of Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices will now give you the ability to control a lot of different types of smart home devices in your home. So if you have a newer model of one of these devices, you’re all set to at least start out turning your house into a smart home. Just know that the list products that are Amazon- and Google-compatible is a lot shorter.
But if you don’t have one of these, or want a hub to give you more functionality, the go-to smarthub is the Samsung SmartThings Smart Home Hub.
These devices retail for $89.99, which might seem expensive. But given everything this device does, it’s more than worth it.
Smart devices operate using different protocols. Two of the most popular automation protocols are ZigBee and Z-Wave. Think of these as languages. Smart home devices are designed to work in a specific protocol language, and hubs are designed to translate that language. If a device and a hub aren’t compatible, you’re going nowhere. This is why the list of Amazon- and Google-compatible smart devices is smaller.
The Samsung SmartThings hub is compatible with any device using the ZigBee, Z-Wave, or IP protocols. These are three of the most popular. The result is that pretty much all of the most popular smart home devices are compatible. Samsung lists 169 different products as being compatible, but more and more devices are being released every day. Since this is the most user-friendly hub on the market, this guide is going to recommend SmartThings compatible devices.
Step Two: Choose how you want to control your home.
We all remember the clapper (which surprisingly is still on the market). As fun as it is to Clap On and Clap Off, sometimes it is better to control devices without starting a round of applause.
You need to decide how you want to control your smart home devices. If your answer is with a cell phone, then you’re in luck. The SmartThings hub has a dedicate app, and most of the larger devices also have smart phone compatibility as well.
But if you want to expand your ability to manipulate your home’s devices, definitely use an Amazon Alexa or Google Home. You don’t need to use them as the hub, but their voice control features will let you direct your hub to turn devices on and off at will.
Step Three: Make your lights smarter.
Gaining the ability to turn your lights on and off like a wizard is definitely a must.
Many people choose to use the Philips Hue smart bulbs. These are great light bulbs, but they do require a proprietary hub as a relay. Don’t worry, you can still use them with Alexa/Google Home/SmartThings, but you’ll need to get the small relay hub that Philips sells.
This starter kit — four white bulbs plus the hub — includes everything you need to get your smart light bulbs up and running.
If you want to start getting really crazy, you can add in a Philips Hue White & Color ambience bulb.
This will give you the ability to change the color of a room’s lights on demand. These are pretty pricey — costing around $46 each — but they are the top of the line.
If you want to get smart bulbs without breaking the budget, then the best option is to purchase Sengled Element Classic bulbs.
A single Sengled LED smart bulb will set you back $9.99, which isn’t nearly as expensive as some of the dumb bulbs you’d find at your home improvement store. They are also available in packs of four and packs of eight, with slight bulk savings. These bulbs are the best cheap smart bulbs on the market, and the best part is they are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and the Samsung SmartThings Hub without the need for a relay hub (like Philips).
Suppose you have a room where it wouldn’t be feasible to change over the bulbs. Say you have a ceiling fan 10 feet up in the air you don’t want to touch or a bathroom vanity that has eight unique-sized bulbs. Don’t worry, there’s a solution for you. You can also install a smart light switch. Since now we’re entering the realm of electrical work, it’s important to go with a reliable brand. GE makes a great line of Z-Wave smart switches (shown below) that are compatible with the SmartThings hub.
Obviously, you should rely on a skilled electrician if you need one, though it isn’t all that hard to learn how to safely re-wire a light switch.
The GE simple smart toggle switch costs around $35. Their paddle switch costs $38. While these are more expensive than normal light switches, they can let you bring smart technology to lights that would take too much time or cost too much to switch out the bulbs.
Step Four: Control your outlets.
Once you have the lights under your control, you can move to controlling devices that are plugged into outlets.
Outlet timers have been on the market for years, allowing people to schedule when to have their home’s lights turn one while they’re away on vacation. Well, this is the same principle, only without the dial timer.
If you want to make a more permanent addition, you can wire one of these GE smart outlets into your wall for around $40.
One of the GE outlet’s plug spots is on constantly, and the other can be controlled remotely.
We have a decent coffee maker in our kitchen that has a broken timer. Everything else works, except for the timer. Instead of buying a new coffee maker, we plugged it into one of these smart outlets and set up a timer remotely. We can either set it up to brew coffee at the same time every morning, or I can turn it on remotely as I’m getting into the shower so I have a fresh cup of coffee waiting for me when I get downstairs.
Step Five: Control your thermostat.
Smart thermostats are one of the best devices to add to your home because they will actually give you the most cost-savings. And if you have only one thermostat downstairs, it will let you change the temperature in your home without leaving the comfort of your bed.
There are pretty much three smart thermostat makers right now that are worth paying attention to: Ecobee, Honeywell, and Nest.
The Ecobee3 lite is great because it has really good accessories available to it. You can install aftermarket sensors ($30 each) in different rooms that will feed the temperature back to the thermostat and adjust the temperature accordingly. Say that you have a room that you absolutely need to keep cool during the summer time, like a baby’s nursery. If you put a sensor in that room, the Ecobee3 lite will continue to run the air conditioning until that room hits the desired temperature. Other thermostats can do this as well, but it takes a little more work to get these sensors up and running.
The Honeywell Total Connect line of thermostats is great for people who want to get a lot of information from their thermostat. It is super easy to manage the user interface and isn’t too much of a change from standard thermostats. You can pick the Honeywell thermostat up for around $160.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is definitely the most expensive of the bunch, but it has a lot of great features that make it the top smart thermostat on the market right now. It is definitely the sleekest design as well, though the compact design does make entering information at the thermostat (like a WiFi password) a little tedious. You end up needing to type it in like an old rotary telephone …
Being a learning thermostat, the Nest will actually program itself to save you money and turn on and off when you leave the house. The other thermostats have this functionality as well, however, they aren’t nearly as user-friendly to set it up. The Nest is the one thermostat that’s really designed around cutting your energy bills.
One caveat is that it is not compatible with the SmartThings hub. However, if you are using an Amazon Alexa or Google Home for your smart home setup, you will be able to control the thermostat with your voice.
Other great SmartHome devices:
It’s only $10 more expensive than their non-smart version, which is a small price to pay for the ability to instantly be notified if a smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarm goes off.
Got an unreliable water heater or sump pump and prefer to learn your basement is flooding before it’s too late to fix it? This $35 SmartThings sensor will send you an alert if it gets wet, which can literally save you thousands of dollars.
At just $19.99, this is an economical way to add door sensors to your smart home network.
You can use these door sensors for home security, notifying you when someone opens or closes a door. You can also tie these sensors in with lights to have your SmartThings hub turn on your bedroom lights whenever you walk into the room. They’re also small enough to use on windows.
It’s only logical that smart technology would move to door locks as well. This Schlage design is great because it allows you to unlock a door using your phone, a key code, or with a physical key. This is especially great for rental properties that give out codes to renters.
What do you think? Are you ready for the smart home revolution? Let us know in the comment section below!