When we talk of home automation, or basically smart home technology, we are referring to devices that allow homeowners to control almost all aspects of their homes using the Internet of Things. These devices range from security cameras to lights, televisions, and a range of other appliances, all of which serve to simplify one’s daily life, and in turn save on time, and sometimes, costs. In addition to these, some of the smart devices seek to make your home a safer place to be, especially after having a long and tiring day in your daily activities.
Now, smart home technology started with the invention of a thermostat, which is, of course, a couple of decades ago. But since then, it has developed to become one of the fastest-growing technology markets in the world right now, and it’s simply for the reasons we mentioned earlier and many more that we will see in this article. In our comprehensive guide, we will tell you everything that you need to know about smart home technology. We will take a look at how it works, how to set it up, its benefits and limitations, and we will also give you a range of smart home devices, just in case you come across them somewhere.
What is home automation and how does the smart home technology work?
With regards to how the technology really works, it’s hard to explain as there is no single universally accepted protocol since most of these technologies vary from country to company, and also the type of automation. To try and integrate most of these technologies, X10 was developed to connect the technologies together primarily through power line wiring, wireless-based protocols, and radio frequency. The new industry standards heavily rely on modern wireless technology, such as mesh networking. Now, to put it simply, smart home technology uses wireless technology, radio waves, and also electricity to send signals between each other.
Central control – this is one of the home systems that control all the devices in your home. With this system, you will be able to control things like your lights, sprinklers, thermostat, washer, dryer, and several other appliances from a single source. This is the kind of technology the majority of the businesses and private residences will always go for. You run these control systems through a wall-mounted terminal, much like how it’s done for home-security systems.
App-based smart home technology – this technology relies on the home network to send signals to the cloud and back. So, cloud technology is quite crucial, and a vital part of the Internet of Things. Now, the majority of the app-based smart devices work simply by connecting them to a home network via Wi-Fi. The devices connect to a cloud server somewhere, which you can then access through your smartphone. All you need to do is to create a personalised account with the apps so that you will be able to control your smart devices. And as long as your smart devices at home are connected, you will be able to control them from your phone, from anywhere. There are those devices that you will be able to connect through Bluetooth, which you still can operate the same way as the cloud-based apps, only that you will need to be in the vicinity of the home for them to work.
Some of the smart home technology
We have to admit that technology is advancing at an incredible speed, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, some of the things we have today, we only saw in science fiction movies, and we actually never thought that we will able to see them in real life. Calling people through your watch like James Bond, or having a smart home that’s well advanced and integrated like Iron Man – things we could only dream about, as we always thought that these were things that were meant for rich people. But today, you don’t have to be a millionaire to live in a smart home. You can just start small, with very simple smart home options, and then keep improving and soon enough, you will find yourself living in a perfect and well-integrated smart home. So, here are some of the most basic and affordable options:
Smart speakers – you can start your home automation journey with something that’s as simple and basic as smart speakers. Other than playing music amazingly, these speakers can also search the internet, give you news briefings, weather forecast updates, can be your personal assistant, and more importantly, it can serve as your central control for your smart home system. Yes, if you get the right speakers, you will be able to control almost all aspects of your home using your voice. But you have to ensure that all the smart devices you buy are compatible with the smart speakers for a smooth experience.
Smart TVs – with a smart TV, you literary can watch just about anything you want, whenever you want. And it actually doesn’t matter whether or not you have cable. Now, normally, a smart TV would mean just the TV itself, but in this case, we are referring to all the Internet of Things video streaming devices. Now you can choose to get a smart device that’s able to stream all your favourite platforms, and you also get smart systems that you can connect to your TV, speakers, or your central control hub, thereby making your home smarter.
Light automation – when it comes to smart lights, there are two options from which you can choose: first, there are smart bulbs, which are more of an enhancement of your regular bulbs, and then there are smart switches. The smart bulbs offer more lighting options, such as soft light as well as dimming, and since they come with a translator hub that allows them to work efficiently, they are a bit expensive to buy. As for the smart switches, they also give you a few extra options, which also include dimming. Now, you need to decide which one you want. But we recommend going with both.
Smart thermostat – these thermostats allow you to monitor your HVAC or heating and cooling systems efficiently and from wherever you are. You simply don’t need to be at home! Also, they allow you to schedule their usage so that you don’t waste energy, especially when no one is at home. In fact, some of the high-end thermostats come with a sensor that senses when someone is at home and changes the temperature whenever it is needed.
Smart plugs – the smart plugs have the ability to convert any device into a smarter version of itself. All you need to do is to plug them into your regular outlets, and anything else that you plug in the smart plug will easily be turned into a smart device whenever you want.
Smart doorbells – when it comes to doorbells, the traditional ones are slowly becoming a thing of the past. These days, more people are going for video doorbells, which not only allows you to sense and alert you whenever there is someone at the front door, but it will also show you who exactly is at the door, and using intercom technology, you will actually be able to speak with the visitor. It’s pretty amazing!
Smart vacuum –then there are the robotic vacuums, which really help when it comes to cleaning. you can control the vacuum using the smart speakers, and some come with their own AI, and others can even stream videos and pictures to your smart devices.
Other smart devices include refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, laundry machines, cookers, trash cans, windows, toilets, showers, and even baby or pet monitors. All these devices are designed to make your daily life much easier and more convenient. If you were to get all the devices and have them perfectly integrated, then your home will truly become the ultimate smart home.
Helpful tips for setting up your smart home
Now that you know how smart home technology works, plus some of the basic smart home options, how can you put it all together? Truth is, it won’t be a smooth ride, considering the myriad of ecosystems and standards one has to navigate, not forgetting the wide array of smart devices you will have to deal with. But once you are done, the combination of the devices will add real convenience to your life. We will give you a step-by-step process on how you can ensure you get it right. After all, a little planning can go a long way.
Select your ecosystem – first and foremost, before you even start to shop for smart devices, you need to decide the ecosystem that works best for you. There are three main ecosystems; Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, and Google Nest. Now, if you are in a home full of Apple products – iPhones, iPads, and Macs – then the Apple Homekit would be your obvious choice. But if you are an Android person, then you should go with Google Nest. Here is a breakdown of these ecosystems so that you can understand each better;
Google Nest – under the Nest ecosystem, Google Assistant, which is their voice assistant is the main strength. The assistant does respond to your voice commands swiftly. In fact, the device is smart enough for a conversational style of speaking, and can even understand some of the toughest commands that will normally be challenging to other voice assistants. You will find the assistant already baked into your android devices.
Apple Homekit – this ecosystem is the most restrictive of the three, but to iPhone owners, it is still the best option. Apple does have super tight controls over third-party certifications, but as long the devices are supported, it does guarantee a smooth operation. Not many smart home devices are supported in this ecosystem, but it does cover the major smart home brands. The Home app is actually super easy to set up and use, and it’s in fact the most secure. If you would like to control your smart devices when you are not at home, you will need to buy a HomeKit hub device like Apple TV, HomePod Mini, or iPad.
Amazon Alexa – this ecosystem has the widest range of smart home devices that are compatible. Even though it falls short when it comes to accuracy, compared to Google Assistant, it supports quite a wide choice of skills, and its smart displays and speakers are actually some of the most affordable. If you are looking to control the Alexa from your phone, you will just have to download the Alexa app, and every time you are giving it commands, the app must be open.
You might need to get a hub – with the help of smart home hub, which is a software or hardware that connects your smart devices and controls communication between them, you will be able to control all your smart home devices through your smartphone. You can do this, either through an app or by speaking to respective voice assistants. When it comes to the voice assistants you will also need to have multiple smart speakers as well as displays so as to ensure that every time you give commands, the assistants would be able to hear you. The other thing is that you got to consider all the people living in your home, who may be unfamiliar with the smart home technology setups. For instance, with your smart lighting, you will need to leave the switches on so that you will be able to control them through the voice assistant. And you just can’t have the lights without physical switches, as that would always confuse your guests. Even with children, who may not have a phone to control the lights, and just don’t feel comfortable with the voice controls, it can be pretty challenging. This is why it would be very important to have smart switches. Alternatively, everyone in the home should create their own profile, which could enable them to be recognised by the voice assistants, to get an even more tailored experience.
Wi-Fi is a must – your home can’t become a smart home without a reliable Wi-Fi connection, since most of the devices won’t even function properly. Most of these devices do operate on 2.4GHz, which means that you will need to have 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz for faster speeds. Make sure though that the network you decide to use is secure, and if possible, uses much less power. You want a network that would support as many smart devices as possible. You also need to consider your Wi-Fi channels to ensure that there is no interference with the signals, and also your router limitation. You will need to find the perfect spot to mount the router, to maximise the network’s speed.
Verify smart home support – when buying a smart home device, you must ensure that it will work well with the selected ecosystem. So, check whether it works with one of the following: Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. This ensures a basic level of support, and it means that you can easily connect it to the ecosystem, voice assistant, and control system. One thing you should keep in mind though is that support for your ecosystem could be different with each device. For instance, you might find one robot vacuum only has a start and stop voice command support, while another can be commanded to clean a specific space in a specific amount of time. So, it is very important for you to check all the commands each device can receive so that you are able to make a much more informed decision.
Understand the smart home standards – If there is something that has hindered home automation for years is a lack of common standards. We can however confirm that things are changing, even though it is still confusing. In any smart home, there are usually different standards that connect all your smart devices behind the scenes. One of the newest standards is Thread, which creates a mesh network without a smart hub. This standard is commonly used by Apple, Google and Nanoleaf. The other common standard is Bluetooth and Bluetooth LE (low energy). There are several other standards, but these are the most common ones. The thing is, the behind-the-scenes technologies don’t really matter, since one can choose to mix them up, just as long as the devices are supported by any of the three major ecosystems.
Now, within the industry, there has been an effort to ensure that all the smart home devices work perfectly together, seamlessly, and reliably, across all the standards and ecosystems. This is where Matter, which is a new wireless interoperability standard, comes in. This is something all the major smart home technology companies agree and collaborate upon. Since all the new devices will probably support this standard, all the existing ones will have to be updated.
Setting up smart home devices – one thing about smart home devices is that most of the larger brands do offer easier compatibility with the three ecosystems. For instance, you will find brands such as Philips Hue bulbs are well integrated with both Google and Apple and can be added directly from Google Home and Apple Home apps. The only problem is that not all devices are this well integrated with both Google and Apple, and you will need a third-party app to set up, which could also include configuration and control. Luckily, when it comes to setting up smart home devices, each device always comes with a guide directing you on what to do to be able to set it up. If you need to download a setting app that allows you to control it, you should see that as part of the setup guide. There are others you will need to scan a serial number or QR code to be able to integrate into the whole system. So, it is important to ensure that you do everything that’s needed before you mount it, or start misplacing the guides since that’s where you will find the codes. With some of the devices, linking it to the ecosystem may just be part of the process, as you may have to go to your Apple or Google Home settings to create an account manually, and if you are working with Alexa, you might need to have an extra skill. What’s more, you might require a third party to complete the setup for some of the smart devices.
Select the perfect spots and be cautious when selecting the names – when it comes to any smart home device, finding the perfect spot to mount is of utmost importance. Now, there are a few things that you will need to consider, including; power output, strong Wi-Fi signal, accessibility, especially if the device is one that will require regular adjusting and periodic charging. You need to keep one thing in mind though, for any security device such as CCTV cameras, you should never install them in a location before testing the device in that particular spot first.
With regards to the naming of the smart devices, a lot of people tend to give them names just for the sake of it, and most of these names end up being not good. Our recommendation is simple: you need to stick to a consistent naming convention, otherwise, your voice commands might not work properly. Maybe think of naming them according to the specific room the device is in, and if you have multiple devices in a single room, think of naming them by number. This is to ensure that the smart assistants do get the specific device you are referring to when giving it commands.
Groupings, routines, and automation – the grouping of devices is crucial as it makes voice commands efficient and smooth. Imagine after naming your living room lighting, you start saying to your voice assistant ‘turn on living room light 1’ then ‘turn on living room light 2” and so on. Don’t you think that will be a bit too much? How about you organise all the lights in the living room into a group so that you can simply say ‘turn on living room lights?’ Our recommendation would be to group by rooms or create a subset of devices in the rooms, or better yet group all the devices across several rooms, which you do by establishing custom rooms, groups, or zones. This may take a while to do, but it is completely worth it, as it will give you greater control of your smart devices as well as flexibility for voice commands.
Automation is one of the best aspects of a smart home. Did you know that it is possible for your smart home system to detect when you leave your house and then turn everything off, and when you come back home, it reacts – could be by turning the light back on or switching on the heater. You can also schedule a number of actions with a smart home system, particularly robotic vacuums, which you can set to keep your home maintained. All you need is to customize it with some unique words, such that when you say them, the devices know exactly what to do.
What to do if you need to move your smart home
After all the work of setting up your smart home, the thought of moving out of that property can be terrifying and heart-breaking. You just can’t imagine that you will have to uninstall everything, and then go set everything in a new house! It sure is a lot, but we have a few tips on how you can make the process easier. Here are our top tips:
You should keep the router and network name – even though you might be dreading the thought of boxing up all your smart devices, including smart plugs, smart speakers, cameras, or even smart light bulbs, you should really consider maintaining your network name, as that will make the process much easier. The main reason for this is that when setting up the devices in your new home, you will find that the devices will recognize the network, and that means they will start to connect themselves automatically. So, if you stick with the same router, the network name and password should remain the same, but make sure that all the devices are still secure.
If you choose not to bring the router with you to your new house, or decide that you will go with a different internet provider, you should still keep the network name as well as the passwords. As for the smart devices that you will leave behind, like the thermostat and HVAC – as they are built into the home – you should give them a factory reset and also make sure that you cancel any previous monitoring, thereby leaving the devices ready for the next tenant who will be moving in.
Remember to add labels – one thing that actually makes the move easy is by organising yourself, especially if you want everything in your current home to be replicated in your new home. So, whether it is the home network or a smart hub, you need to list each and every device you have, which will include their locations, passwords, names, as well as whatever they may be connected to. This will give you a map of your smart home technology, which will really help when it comes to recreating the setup in the new space. Remember one thing though, when we talk of names, we don’t mean the names that are in the box, we are referring to the name you gave it when you were setting it up.
If you are considering using a brand new smart hub, home network, or a security system in the new house, then you should disconnect your smart devices from the current network. This might take time to do, but it is a very crucial step. As a matter of fact, for some smart devices, you will need to reset them to factory settings to be able to connect them successfully to a new network or hub.
Install the smart hubs first – after moving, and every smart device is ready to be reconnected, be sure to prioritise any hub-type devices first. The reasoning behind this is that by setting these devices first, then all the plugs, lights and everything you will set up after that will automatically connect to the hub or smart speakers. If you don’t do this, you will end up setting all the devices individually! It would be a lot of work.
You can then go room by room to ensure that everything has been perfectly set, using your handy-dandy map, of course. It will help you identify which item goes where and in what room.
A word on the devices’ cyber security
The other thing is that before you buy any gadget with a camera, you really need to be very careful. This may include things like robot vacuums or smart displays. Unless you really need them, just don’t buy them. As for the smart displays, which are an important part of a smart home, consider getting webcam covers that slide open only when the camera is needed.
Thirdly, you should consider gadgets that support multi-factor authentication so as to reduce, significantly, the chances of unauthorised access from unauthorised individuals. This way, to access the system, one will have to confirm the account through a text or email sent to your phone. Remember, these features are not set by default, which means you should take time to set it all up.
Troubleshooting tips in case of delays
Whether we like it or not, devices will always disappoint at some point, and smart home devices are no exception. When setting up a smart home, sometimes things can go wrong, and you might find one thing that’s not working as it should. When that happens, here are a few things that you can do to fix it:
- First, you must confirm that your phone, which is the primary way of controlling most of your smart gadgets, is connected to not only the same network, but also the same Wi-Fi band – which is 2.4 GHz. Routers do select the band automatically, but there are times your phone might fail to connect unless you move away from the router.
- There are times when the setup of a device might fail, and when it does, make sure you repeat the process again. There are devices that fail to connect with the initial setup, but when it is repeated, they connect right away. This is actually a trend that we experience almost on a daily basis with gadgets we use regularly.
- Remember the “turn off and on again” method of fixing our devices? You should know that it also works pretty well with smart home devices. So you should try it and see if it can fix your current problem.
- At times, you might reboot a smart home device but to no avail, and the problem persists. In such a case, consider rebooting even the router, as the problem could be emanating from there. It is very common actually! Also, make sure that it has the latest firmware.
- If some of these problems persist, you can go on the internet. Search the specific problem you are experiencing, and be specific about the model of the device. There are usually support forums where users shares problems they are experiencing, particularly with their gadgets. You could find the answer that you are looking for in these forums.
- If nothing you have done has worked, consider a factory reset as the final option. Each device comes with specific instructions on how to return it to factory conditions. So you will just have to follow those instructions. Also, for any company app that you may have installed, you should consider reinstalling it, so as to start the setup from scratch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is home automation safe?
One of the greatest concerns people have with smart home technology is its safety. Now, here is the thing, anything that has technology, and especially ones that can be connected to the internet can be breached. However, security has come a long way, and there is certainly something that you can do to avert the dangers or risks of security breaches and protect or network. Even though this doesn’t mean that you will be 100 percent safe, it does help reduce the chances of unauthorised breaches significantly.
That being said, for a regular household, simply switching on your smart light bulbs or just working your thermostat, you really don’t have anything to fear – nobody would really attack you. But to answer the question of whether home automation is safe or not, we would say that it all comes to the devices you have. There are some that are obviously more susceptible to breaches than others. Things like cameras and automated locks are prone to breaches more than light bulbs and thermostats, and so, you will need to be cautious about them. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that all your smart home technology is safe:
- Make sure that your Wi-Fi is locked – the first thing you should do to keep your smart home system safe is by securing your Wi-Fi network by using the strongest encryption possible, and ensuring that the password you are using is one that can’t easily be guessed. If you have a router that is old – over 5 years – you need to consider replacing it with a more advanced, faster, up-to-date and secure version.
- Use strong passwords for every smart device in your home – other than the Wi-Fi network, all the other devices should have strong passwords, ideally containing at least 8 characters long, and have a mix of lowercase, uppercase, numbers, and special characters. Basically, the password should be hard to guess.
- Keep everything up to date – this is very critical! Every device and network in your home should always be updated. There are new firmware as well as security improvements that get released regularly. So, you must stay alert so as to ensure that you patch any possible vulnerabilities in your system. Remember, your entire system will only be safe as your last update! So, never ignore the updates.
Is home automation really worth it?
After everything we just told you, you might be wondering, is it all worth it? And a simple answer would be, it depends! To be able to assess its worth, you need to think about how it can help you save on time and expenses. From our experience, it is completely worth it! Here are some of the reasons why:
- Save money – for starters, with a smart home system such as smart thermostats, sprinklers, and lights, you can save on a number of utility bills, which could include even water expenses. In the long term, you will find that the devices will practically pay for themselves.
- You will be able to stay comfortable – with smart home technology, you can easily transform your home into a palace of comfort – a place that you will want to be after a long and stressful day. You will be able to control your television, dim lights, answer the door, send emails, turn on heaters, and many more, with the touch of a button from your couch. Also, smart home hubs will help you with simple things like creating grocery lists, setting reminders, and so on. You will also be able to always make sure that all the appliances are all switched off without the need of double-checking them.
- Increased safety – you will also be able to monitor your home and everything going on there from anywhere on your mobile device. You will be able to get notifications whenever something happens, like if there has been a burglary, or if your expected parcel is being delivered.
How can home automation help you save energy?
Other than helping you make your home a better and safer space, home automation does help assist in making the environment safer. To be more specific, smart home technology helps you save a lot of energy by optimising your resource usage. Here are how it happens:
Climate – with a smart and intelligent thermostat, you will be able to monitor the amount of energy you use so as to make your home warm or cool and is then able to monitor this in an efficient manner.
Lighting – when it comes to saving energy, smart lights can do a pretty good job. The thing about smart lights is that they have timers, which make sure that they are all switched off at a particular time, especially when you are not in the house. There are also bulbs with motion sensors, lighting up as soon as they detect motion.
Water – with devices like the smart sprinkler, you will be able to reduce the amount of water you waste in your garden. The sprinklers turn on and off whenever you choose.
Is home automation affordable?
If you opt for just a simple setup, yes, the system will be very affordable even for people with strict budgets. However, if you opt for the complex setup, it will be a little more pricey. Basically, the amount you spend depends to a large extent on the smart devices you decide to get. What do you want for your home? Do you want a system controlled by smart devices or just the simple basics? Whatever you choose will determine the amount you pay. So, if you have a strict budget, you can just start small, and then keep adding to the existing tech.
How long does the smart home or full house automation installation take?
Again, the time it will take for everything to be installed, up and running depends on how big your premises is and how many devices you will be installing. For the basic system, it might only take just a few hours to install, but for the more complicated systems, it might take a few days. If you are just installing smart lights, it will take just a few hours. For other complex smart devices, it takes more time to install since they require extra work to ensure that they are working perfectly. Those systems that require more wiring such as the thermostats do take a lot more time to configurate. Now, whatever you are installing, you should always hire professionals to do it. This would be the best way for it to be completed properly and faster!
Does home automation increase the home value?
Of course, it does! A lot of home buyers today are always taking the smart aspect into account when they go house hunting. This means that if you are planning to sell your home and it has a smart home system already installed, make sure that you consult with your real estate agents before you put it on the market. But you can be sure that it would sell really fast. The reason for this would be that a majority of home buyers prefer buying a ready-made smart home rather than buying a home and then installing the system themselves. That being said, homes with voice control systems are the most preferred, mostly because of their hands-free capabilities, practicality, and using remote control. Essentially, it improves your way of life!