Creating a smart home can massively simplify day to day tasks. With the proper selection of products, you can automate all sorts of things, from lights and energy, to shopping and even home security. Where do you start when thinking about making your home smarter by connecting devices? There’s no reason to feel daunted.
In this guide, we’re going to run through choosing the right smart devices, such as a smart alarm system, to lay the foundations of your brand new smart home.
What is a smart home?
A smart home, put simply, is a house that contains many ‘smart’ devices being controlled digitally. They communicate with each other, as well as a centralised smart hub or app.
These devices automate tasks that you’d normally need to do yourself, and they also provide remote access, whether that’s from the sofa, or from afar while at work or on holiday.
There are 1000s of smart enabled devices for literally every room in the house, such as heating thermostats, home security, lighting, TVs, even fridges. The good news is that you don’t need to go all-in straight away. You could dabble with a couple of simple items first.
What smart home devices can you get?
While the word ‘smart’ often gets put in front of anything that connects to the internet, the primary smart devices fall into the following categories:
Smart home hubs and displays
This is the piece that ties your entire smart home together. They communicate with all your smart home gadgets and help them all work together, usually with one central app.
While a standalone hub isn’t necessarily required, especially for homes with only a handful of devices, they are beneficial for making your devices all work together.
Smart home hubs often support multiple smart home devices that aren’t all using the same protocols or underlying technology. This means you could have a security system using Z-Wave® technology, a doorbell on Wi-Fi and lights using Bluetooth, for instance.
Smart speakers often act as the controllers for a smart home. It’s not necessary to have a smart home hub in every room, your speakers allow you to communicate directly with your hub from whichever room you’re in. Not only can you get them to play your favourite band on Spotify, but you can also use voice commands to turn on lights or activate other systems. The leading front runners in smart speaker technology are the Amazon Echo and Google Home series. Try a small and simple smart speaker to get you started. It’s easy to add on others as you go, and you can decide later if you’d prefer to add more sophisticated functionality.
Smart lights come in all shapes and sizes, from simple, smart bulbs to full smart lighting strips. You can usually control one individual light or group them together, then play around with the tone, brightness, colour and timing. A smart bulb can be voice-activated or come on when they’re triggered by something else in your system, like an alarm going off.
Smart plugs & power
Adding a smart plug into your arsenal can revolutionise how you use your tech at home. A smart power bar turns on individual sockets on timers or activates at certain times. The great thing is, they don’t need smart devices to work too; you can use them for everyday items like kettles or displays.
Syncing them up with a whole smart home, though, lets you activate and deactivate devices across the house from one place or using a voice assistant. They make your entire home much more flexible.
TVs have been getting smarter for years, often subtly. First, it was the ability to connect a USB, and then it was accessing voice commands through a console. Now access to a wide variety of entertainment apps is the norm, and being able to control multiple devices through your TV or remote is the direction of travel.
Smart home security
Security has been upgraded substantially with the introduction of smart security systems. Now, rather than an old traditional wired alarm system, you can get your hands on a completely wireless alarm system that integrates with your smart home devices. This means you don’t necessarily need a noisy siren, if you prefer other smart devices can activate.
Imagine your speakers kicking in with a dog barking or your ceiling lights flashing red above a burglar’s head. There are all sorts of different things you can do. Plus, these smartphone-controlled alarm systems allow you to check alerts on the go or arm your system while you’re out, all from an app.
These let you control your house thermostat more intuitively than before. Now you’ll be able to turn on your heating or air conditioning based on several different factors or control it yourself when you’re out and about. Perhaps you want your home to be nice and toasty for when you get home; now, you’ll be able to turn your heating on before you leave the office.
You can also hook up sensors around your home, so your heating comes on automatically more accurately than before via your smart thermostat.
One of the early pieces of smart home technology was the smart doorbell. Generally, you’ll be able to see who’s at the door through a camera and either talk to them on your hub or through your smartphone.
Smart door locks
There’s a whole host of new smart locks on the market now. Some allow you to lock and unlock your door using your phone, while others let you give temporary access to a neighbour. There’s a whole lot you can do with smart locks to improve your security.
Others smart devices
This just scratches the surface. There are smart devices for almost every aspect of your home life, like smart fridges or smart sprinklers. You can even get smart blinds or vacuums. The devices we’ve listed above are an excellent place to start, though.
Are all smart home devices compatible?
It’s worth noting that not all smart home devices are compatible with each other. While there are several different smart home ecosystems, the four most common are:
- Google Assistant and Google Home
- Alexa from Amazon
- Apple HomeKit
- SmartThings from Samsung
While many smart home device manufacturers opt to make devices for one of these ecosystems, many will still play well with multiple ecosystems. It’s always worth checking whether the product you are buying works with your chosen system.
When it comes to home hubs and smart speakers, you’re better off choosing the ecosystem that sits most comfortably with the other technology you have around your home. For example, if you’re an Android user, or you use Google Docs, or the Google One drive for photo back-up etc you may want the Google Home app, but if Amazon is part of your daily life, then Alexa could be your first choice. What’s tricky is that for most of us, our lives have become a digital mesh of many different systems, and that is absolutely normal, in which case it might just come down to personal preference for the look and feel of the speakers, or the functionality the hubs or speakers offer.
The benefits of smart home technology can only be realised if devices are capable of talking to each other, which is why the leading providers of home hubs, assistants and speakers easily integrate with 1000s of smart devices. This leaves you free to select the brands you love for playing music, lighting up your garden or securing your home.
What you’ll need to get started
So, now you know what’s available, how do you actually get started with a smart home? The basics for laying your foundations are pretty simple. To create a smart home system, you need:
A Wi-Fi connection
Yup! Even if your devices run with Z-Wave or Zigbee, you’ll need a Wi-Fi connection or at least an internet connection to get going. This will allow your devices to communicate with each other and you, and you’ll need to tap into it whenever you set up a new device.
A power supply
Without power, your devices won’t be so smart. As with any electronic device, you’ll need a way to power it. Many smart home devices need to be plugged directly into your mains, but some will be battery powered. Regardless, they’ll still need power.
A central hub or smartphone app
You need something to control it all and tie everything together. Smart displays, hubs or apps will help. If you don’t want to invest in a hub straight away, you’ll likely either use an app that’s bespoke for your first products, like the Boundary app, for instance or one that works with each of your devices.
This could mean installing the Google Home app or the Amazon Alexa app. If you’re only starting with one device, you may only need the app that the product recommends, but once you start increasing the size of your smart home, you’ll need something that ties it all together.
The smart home products we’d recommend starting with
The key with a smart home is to start small. If you’re going to try and build a smart home, we’d recommend starting with the following:
- Smart display
- Smart speakers
- Smart light bulbs
- A smart home security system – OK, we may be biased…
How to connect it all together
Once you’ve got everything plugged in, you’ll need to set it up. The bad news is that there’s no catch-all ‘how to’ guide for this:
Every ecosystem and smart home device has its own method for getting set up and added to your smart home.
While that may be the case, using a smart hub or app can help you bring it all together and control it. While the Samsung SmartThings hub isn’t the most intuitive, it’s a great hub, and you should be able to connect to and control most smart products. Similarly, an Amazon Echo or Google Home voice assistant lets you manage all sorts of devices without the need for a screen. These are two of the best on the market,
Simple tips for starting your smart home
Before you get going, here are a few simple tips to make it easier:
- Start small and simple – you don’t need everything all at once
- Check the compatibility of your products before you purchase
- Decide what it is you want to achieve before you start. This is particularly important when you want to grow your smart home. If you’ve already got smart lights, for instance, investing in a smart security system which works with IFTTT would be a smart thing to do, as they can work together.
- Check reviews for the devices you’re considering buying
- Check how the devices need installing. Do you need a professional, or can you do it yourself?
- Shop around, many smart devices are costly, but you’ll often find deals on things like the Amazon Echo speaker or smart light bulbs.
- Learn how to protect your smart home from hackers
Upgrade to smart home security with Boundary
Smart home security systems are perhaps one of the most exciting developments in the field of smart technology. Suddenly, you can protect your home whilst retaining complete control over your system (and siren) from afar via your smartphone. For many people who may have been reluctant to go for an expensive and frankly not very user-friendly home security system, it’s suddenly a good option. Not only that, the simple action of arming and disarming your alarm is a good trigger for smart routines with other devices, as they are sure signs you are leaving home i.e need to turn lights off, or lower heating, or returning home, which again is a good signal to other devices of automation that might be useful i.e lights going on in the hall.
If protecting your home with robust and reliable home security is at the top of your to-do list, it’s worth checking to see what other devices your system is compatible with.
Boundary offers smart home integration with 1000s of smart devices, including using apps such as IFTTT to activate Philips smart light bulbs or Sonos speakers.
Boundary uses Z-Wave technology to communicate with the devices in your security system and your other smart home devices. What’s more, you can set up your Boundary alarm yourself with DIY alarm installation. Or, if you want to opt for a police response alarm, you can get professional alarm installation too.