All The Basics and Gadgets For Making Your Home Smarter

So, you want to be able to control all aspects of your home from every room with just a voice command or touch of your smartphone? While it might be too soon to ask the house to walk the dog on a little treadmill, Jetsons-style, there are many ways you can turn yours into a smarter home. So we made this guide about all the basic steps and smart home devices of 2019 that will help you do that, even if it’s only a bit.

This basic how-to guide will tell you the bare necessities of turning your house into a smart house, how to set up different functions (such as controlling the lights, alarms, locks, water temperature, and much more) so that you won’t have to do it over and over again. There’s still no way to set up an automated deep clean, however, but you don’t have to worry about that as long as there are professionals around. Let’s make your house smart!

Smart hub vs. smart spending

Perhaps the most obvious method for building a smart home is to buy every component under the sun and connect them to a hub so you can control everything with your smartphone. And yes, it can work, but that means you’re going to spend way too much money and time setting up something that probably goes over your needs; truth to be told, it’s just overkill. There are plenty of inexpensive gadgets that will cover all your necessities on a much smaller budget.

But what is a smart hub? In short, a smart hub is a device that acts as an intermediary and translator between all your other smart devices; if you want to synchronize the functionality of your locks and lights, for example, you can do so through it. This allows for the many functions people now associate to the concept of “smart home,” such as when a person is arriving home, and the garage door opens automatically, the hall lights turn on by themselves, and their sound system starts playing their favorite music without other input.

A smart hub does have many advantages, such as giving you a single interface from which to control everything and to program certain protocols for your whole house, but they’re not essential and not every smart product depends on it. Let’s say that you want to install smart lighting in your house; you’ll find plenty of options that can be controlled using a smart switch through your Wi-Fi connection, such as Levitron, TP-Link, Lutron, Ecobee, and more, and that let you control the bulbs from either your phone or the switch itself.

Voice-Activated Assistants

Although not precisely dedicated hubs, devices such as the Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, or the Google Assistant will let you control several aspects from your smart home with voice commands. The Amazon Echo Plus, for example, even has a Zigbee radio that lets it control appliances that use Zigbee, a computer language used by many smart devices. All of those, however, will not give you all the control options that a dedicated hub will.

There are several pros and cons to each, which we will list below:

Amazon’s Alexa:

Pros: The Amazon Echo products are easy to set up, cheap, and have the most third-party support out of all the assistants out there, with over 10,000 “skills” or capabilities. It also works for both Android and Apple products.

Cons: The app is reportedly clunky to set up in both Android and Apple smartphones, and the speaker in the Echo products is not of the best quality. Also, you can’t talk to Alexa through your phone— you must do so only through the Echo product itself, which limits you to wherever it is installed.

Apple’s Siri:

Pros: The data that’s transferred between accessories and your Apple device is encrypted and secure, and the deep integration the Apple HomeKit has with other Apple devices. Siri makes it much easier to work around.

Cons: As you can imagine, Siri will only work with other Apple products, which makes it take longer for other smart home accessories to be available for it.

Google’s Assistant:

Pros: Google Home, the hardware that works with Google Assistant (think of it as the counterpart to Amazon’s Echo line) is by far the cheapest out of all those listed here. The assistant itself is powered by Google’s search algorithms, which makes it generally smarter than both Siri and Alexa.

Cons: Despite being the “smarter” smart assistant, Google still struggles to understand some commands, and the audio quality is also not the best. Amazon’s Alexa still has many more compatible products on its side. Also, there’s Google’s data collection, so take that as you will.

What cool smart gadgets should you get?

Smart thermostat: Get a thermostat that detects where you are in the house so that it will operate on that basis, instead of on the thermostat’s location itself. The Ecobee4 is a good option because it’s equipped with these sensors and an integrated Amazon Echo smart speaker, although Nest Labs products are also good.

Sound systems: There are plenty of options for smart, multi-room speakers like the Sonos, Yamaha, and Denon brands, of which you can place a single speaker in different rooms of the house and control what each of them will play independently of each other. Some Sonos speakers also include Amazon’s Alexa, which you can use to control other devices.

Smart lighting: The first thing that most people get for their smart home is lighting, and that’s because there are so many options available that it’s easier to make a decision. Our recommendation is the Philips starter kit, which doesn’t need a smart hub to work and includes a ZigBee to Wi-Fi bridge. A higher-end model, the Noon Home, is a thing out of the movies but is also more expensive.

Home security cameras: The type of security camera you should buy depends entirely on what your needs are. Some indoor models are best suited to monitor young children or pets, while the outdoor variants are best suited to deter would-be trespassers or catch them in the act; the Ring, Netatmo, and Maximus brands also shine a light on your path at night if they detect you’re close by.

Smart smoke and CO detectors: Perhaps the only notable difference and the reason we include them is that these models will notify your smartphone and other contacts you choose on top of sounding a regular alarm. Pretty good for when no one’s home.