The smart home seems to be the way of the future. You can get a smart device to control just about anything in your home now. There are ways to control your lights, adjust the temperature in your home, view and talk to people at your front door, remotely monitor your security system, and much more. It’s not really any single device that makes your home smart, but the way all these devices can be controlled or work together in your home. Prices have come down a lot on this technology, so it is easy to jump in and get your smart home started. The problem is not knowing where to begin. I’m just starting my smart home now, so I’ll like to give you some tips on what I have experienced trying to get a smart home up and running.

Where do you want to start? There is so much you can do to make your home smart, but you need some foundation to build this on. As you are looking at smart devices, you will find that they can communicate together and also be controlled by other devices or systems. Many will have similar icons as shown in the image below. Some smart devices can be controlled by more or less, so you want to make sure that all the devices you get will be supported by the same platform… like Apple HomeKit or Amazon Alexa.

Works WithSo, with that in mind, the first thing you should do is decide what platform you want to use. I’m an Apple fan, so you would think that I would have just picked Apple HomeKit, but it’s really not that easy. “Hey Siri, turn on the living room lights”, oh wait, I left my phone in the bedroom. Do I want to really control devices mainly with my phone? No, I need a more convenient way to control these smart devices. That is where Google Home, Amazon Echo, and someday Apple’s HomePod come in to play.

I’ve got three Amazon Echo’s in my house. One in my bedroom, one in my living room, and the last in my game room. Having the three spaced out throughout my house allows the Echo to hear my voice from anywhere. Now when I’m sitting on the couch watching a movie, I can say “Alexa, dim living room lights to 30%” and the Echo does just that. Everyone has a smartphone, so that could be your secondary platform. When I look at smart devices, I want them to work with the Amazon Echo and Apple HomeKit. If my family is in bed, I don’t want Alexa to wake anyone up with her voice responses, so I can use my iPhone to turn off or dim the lights through an app. I can even check if the lights are on while I’m at work. This makes up the backbone, that I use, to build my smart home system.

How far do you want to go with your smart home? That all depends on how much you want to spend. Controlling lights or devices, that plug into your electrical outlets, are a good start. They are the cheapest smart devices to add to your new smart home. From there, you can look at smart thermostats, video doorbells, smart door locks, smart security systems, and even things like smart window blinds and smart robotic vacuums. Just do a search on the Internet for smart home devices and you will be amazed at what is available. I started with the smart lights after getting my first Amazon Echo.

Before I get into what I’m using to control my lights, Let me add here that all these smart devices need some kind of wireless connection in your home. Some use your existing WiFi, while others may come with their own wireless hub that connects to your network. So, I’m on the side of not having a lot of devices connected to my WiFi network. Save your WiFi for the single or few devices that you want to control like the Thermostat, Security System, or Video Doorbell.

I did a lot of research when looking for something to control the lights in my home. I also looked at what lights I would actually want to control in my home. There are so many options for controlling your lights. You can get smart plugs that go into your existing outlets and allow you to turn on and off anything that you plug into them… think Christmas tree lights. There are also bulbs with the wireless technology built-in, which allows them to be turned on or off and dimmed. You just replace your existing bulbs with them and you are ready to go. Lastly, you can actually replace your light switches with smart switches which can control the existing lights in your home. Just remember if you are using LED bulbs and want to be able to dim your existing lights, make sure the bulbs are dimmable… not all LED bulbs are. If you have ceiling fans with lights, you can get the smart switches that control the fans too.

I have many lamps around my house that are not controlled by any light switches. I figured these would be the easiest for me to start with for my smart lighting needs. I went with the Philips Hue hub and bulbs. The hub itself just plugs into a free Ethernet port on my wireless router. It has its own wireless network and I can connect any of the Philips Hue bulbs, smart switches, motion sensors, or light strips to it. Now I have five of the white bulbs that I can dim and two color bulbs that can be set for any range of colors. Why color? Well, with a Hue TV app on my phone, I can have the camera monitor what movie I’m watching on TV and change the lights to match the main colors on the screen. It’s also good for mood lighting, creating the colors of the sunset or a candle flicker, and even setting the colors to change with the music you are playing.

Philips Hue

I’m currently looking at something to better secure my home. I have a basic ADT security package with break sensors on all my doors and windows. I could update to a more premium package that I can connect to my smart home… or I can look at other options that I can buy on my own. There are smart locks that you can put on your doors, smart doorbells that allow you to see and talk to those on your doorstep, and smart video cameras that you can mount on your house to record what is going on in your yard, driveway, or street. I would rather not give more money to ADT and be stuck in their Eco-system, so I’m looking into purchasing my own smart devices.

There are many choices out there for securing and monitoring your home. The video doorbells like Ring, August, and SkyBell do much more than just make your bell ring when someone presses the button. With the video cameras and motion sensors built into them, you can get alerts when there is motion detected and watch the actual video feed from your phone while you are away or in your home. Cloud storage allows this video to be saved and watched at a later time. You also have the ability to have a conversation with the person at or around your door. Connecting this doorbell to your smart home allows you to turn on lights when motion is detected. But why just stop with the smart doorbell?

Ring Doorbell

You can also get house mounted cameras that connect into your smart home. Again you can get alerts on your phone when motion is detected in your yard or set off the alarm if you see something suspicious going on. I’ve had people run over my sprinkler heads while they are up. Having a camera that records video when motion is detected would have helped me identify what the car looked like. Maybe you want a smart lock to put on your front door. Now when you get an alert from a camera or your doorbell and you know who the person is, you can remotely unlock the door from your phone. You could even have your Amazon Echo lock or unlock the door for you from the comfort of your couch. Now you will never leave home again, worried that you left the doors unlocked… just pull out your phone, press a button, and bingo, the doors are locked.

The last thing I’ve been looking at adding to my smart home is a thermostat to control my air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. Nest and EcoBee are two big contenders in the smart thermostat market. Nest has the ability to learn your temperature control habits and eventually make these changes for you automatically. EcoBee allows you to set a schedule, but also has optional remote temperature sensors, so it can keep your home comfortable based on the rooms you are in the most. My thermostat is in the hallway, so the main living area may be warm and the bedrooms may be cold. EcoBee may be my choice with a few remote sensors placed around the house. There are other brands too, but these two seem to be the most popular. Other features include motion sensors to allow the smart thermostats set the temperature to something more Eco friendly when you are not home. They can also recognize the blu-tooth signal on your phones to know when you are home or gone. Alexa, on your Amazon Echo, can even be summoned to raise or lower the temperature when you are cozy in bed.

EcoBee and Sensor

I’m nearing the end of my article and wanted to mention one of the platforms listed in the graphic at the beginning. You may have noticed IFTTT. This stands for IF This Then That. It is basically a way to make little recipes for devices that don’t work directly together. CNET lists some great examples here, like the ability to turn up the heat on your thermostat if the outside temperature starts to drop or have your Nest thermostat notify you if it detects motion while you are gone. IFTTT is free to use and supported by almost all smart devices. It’s sort of an extra bonus for your smart home. You may find recipes to things you never thought of putting together. I like the one where your porch lights turn on when the pizza delivery is on his way to your home. It’s just something to have fun with and get creative.

There is just so much you can do with your smart home. If you have the money and want to go all out with it, you can get smart refrigerators, smart garage door openers, and even smart toilets. Yes, I said smart toilets. Just about anything in your home can be smart. Smart doesn’t mean you have to actually control everything. It can be a smart water heater or smart toilet that sends you alerts when a leak is detected. The smart part is the connection the devices have to you, to each other, and as well as the connection you have back to the devices.

If you are like me and just starting out, do some research on the Internet and start with one piece at a time. It’s fun discovering all that can be done with these smart devices. I have a smart scale being delivered to my home now. Maybe when I get too heavy, I’ll have my house lights flash red! Ha haa! You know the saying “Keeping up with the Joneses”, well I’d like to change that to “Keeping up with the Jetsons”. Enjoy your new Smart Home!

Update: I forgot to mention this but keep an eye out on sales. If you are not in a hurry to build a smart home, wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday type sales. The color Philips Hue bulbs are normally $49 each, but on Cyber Monday, I was able to get them for $29 each. Also, if you don’t need the latest generation of a smart device, check out the previous years model. If you are looking at the Nest Thermostat, Home Depot has the newest 3rd generation for $249, but also has the 2nd generation Nest for $179. It’s a great way to save some money if you are on a budget.

My Purchases Update 3/11/2019: I wanted to update you on the purchases I made for my Smart Home.

I ended up getting the Nest Thermostat and it has the ability to monitor different temperature sensors that you can place in different rooms. I actually one this in a drawing, so I’m very happy. I’m also happy to tell you that I’ve been saving about $40 a month on my electric bill! I know, it’s crazy, but it actually works. When we are not at home, it turns up the temperature and then goes back to normal when we return. It knows who is here because I have all our phones registered with the Nest. It senses them on the network.

The other purchase was a SkyBell video doorbell. It work great and doesn’t cost me anything monthly to store videos in the cloud. It only stores 14 days of videos, but you can download any video you want to your phone or computer. I also like it because it has an LED light on it and uses color video for night time captures. The ring used an infra-red camera and the video looks more black-and-white. I get great video during the day and at night. Since my doorbell faced across the door, I also got an angled base that directs it out about 15 degrees. With the 180 degree camera, I get just about anything now. I also get a phone and Apple Watch notification every time someone comes to the door.

Lastly, I picked up a couple of Wyze Cams for my house. They are color 1080p indoor cameras that only cost about $20. They also come with 14 days of video uploads and work with an application on your phone. I ended up putting one in the front window and the other in the back. They mainly monitor my yard and main entrances. They record when motion is sensed and work really well for such a cheap price. If you are wanting to play around with wifi connected cameras, you can’t go wrong with these. They actually have a version that you can control with your phone and are working on an outdoor version.