As a kid, I always dreamt of growing up and having a house like the Jetsons, with moving stairs and appliances and furniture that worked with just a push of a button. And of course, I’d have a Rosie of my own too. Fast-forward 20 years and that dream is a reality; Alexa is my Rosie, and my house practically runs itself thanks to all the advances in smart home automation.
But living this dream, as great as it is, didn’t come easy. It took some time, a lot of money and a ton of patience to learn and master all this automation and now I’m going to share all that knowledge with you. If you dream of a smart home but don’t know where or how to start, my Guide of the Top Smart Home Devices: How To Make Your Home Smarter Than You will help. I’ll give you a rundown of what you need and give you setup suggestions so that you can make your dreams a reality too!
Smart Home 101
- 1 Smart Home 101
- 2 The Best Smart Home / Home Automation Devices
Before you can decide how to automate your home, you need to understand how it works. Simply put, automation is using a button or voice command to control objects around your home. From turning off the lights while you’re at work to advanced surveillance systems, homes are becoming smarter and smarter thanks to the Internet of Things (IOT).
I know, it sounds a bit scary and intimidating, but it’s not as complicated or “Big Brother” as you think. IOT allows products to interconnect and be easily identified through digital networks, making your life easier and safer.
Sure, it’s fun and convenient to have blinds that auto-adjust on command, but it’s the practicality that comes from automation, like being alerted when there is a water leak in your basement, that really makes it worth your while. And you can decide just how “smart” you want your house to be. Add a few products or deck it out from top to bottom, the possibilities are endless.
Smart Home Setup: What do You Need?
All these gadgets sound great, and they are, but you don’t necessarily need them all. And if they don’t fit your lifestyle and you’re not going to use them, then why buy them?
Where do you live?
Do you live in an apartment or house? The size of your home will determine whether or not some of these devices are a good buy. For instance, a small apartment is perfect for the smart mop, but it’s not as useful in homes with large kitchens and bathrooms.
How large is your family?
Some appliances, like the smart fridge, are better suited to larger families. Yes, anyone can use it, but odds are it won’t be fully utilized if you live alone.
What is your lifestyle?
If you’re rarely home colored lights are pointless, while a smart alarm makes sense. Figure out if you need it before you waste money. For example, if you rarely cook, buying a smart pot isn’t going to turn you into a chef.
Buy things to improve what you already do. Otherwise, it’s not a “smart” buy.
Smart Home Buying Tips
Once you figure out what you need, you need to buy “smart.” Here are some guidelines to ensure you get the most for your money:
- Research: read up on the device you want and have a good understanding of what it does. This way, you’ll know if a salesman is leading you on or a website description is on point. Knowledge is the key to getting what you pay for.
- Comparison Shop: once you figure out what you want, shop around to get the best deal. Different places often have different pricing on the same item, so do your homework
- Buy in-store if you are unfamiliar with a product: If you don’t know which alarm system is best or what fridge best suits your needs shop in a reputable, established store to get expert help. Trained employees can show you how the product works and give you a better understanding of whether or not it’s a good fit.
- Use an expert: if you don’t know the right way to setup or install a gadget, use an expert. It may cost you a little extra, but it will be worth it in the long run. You could ruin the device if you set it up incorrectly, costing you even more money.
- Test it Out: if you can, buy a device with a return policy, in case it doesn’t work as well as expected or the way you thought it would.
The Best Smart Home / Home Automation Devices
Okay, so you’re ready to smarten up your home, now what? Deciding on what brands and products can be daunting. And while you don’t have Rosie, yet, to help you, you have the next best thing: me. I’m going to go through the different smart home devices and explain what they do and how they can help you to make choosing easier. Then we’ll talk setup and buying tips.
Hubs & Controllers
If there’s only one smart gadget you invest in a hub or controller, like the Amazon Echo featuring Alexa, is the way to go. Designed like a Bluetooth speaker, this hub can control things around your home, place orders for you, give you the news, play music and more- all through voice command.
Easy to use, you can check the weather or have her walk you through a recipe while you cook. This device is ingenious, and with a little tinkering on your part, it will even anticipate your needs, suggesting products to order or alerting you when there’s a sale.
Oh, and if you get an Echo, contrary to what you heard, you don’t need an Amazon account or subscription service, as it can play music and more from Pandora and other providers.
For those who would rather use a remote than their voice, the Logitech Harmony Elite is a good alternative. Think of it as a universal remote for your house, working with Bluetooth, infrared, Z-wave and other devices.
Having a thermostat that not only controls the temperature but senses it and regulates it, will save you money and cold feet for years to come. Products like the Ecobee3 do just that, using wireless sensors to detect the temperature in the coldest or warmest room and adjust it accordingly, so the whole house in uniformly heated or cooled.
And of course, it can all be controlled through a smooth touchscreen or remotely from outside the house using their app. There are many different wifi thermostat brands in this category, but the Ecobee3 is my personal choice because it is user-friendly and compatible with the Echo and Apple’s HomeKit.
If there is one thing you WANT to be smart, it’s your home security system, and there is no shortage of option here. Indoor, outdoor, or combination of the 2, you can customize what is being monitored and control it from just about anywhere. Vivint and SimpliSafe are 2 viable options here, with the Vivint under $100 and the SimpliSafe a bit higher. These alarms all have monthly monitoring subscriptions, but you don’t have to use them.
Even better though is the personal monitorization, with cameras that you can access from your phone or work computer, to see what’s going on at any time. You can also get alerts on your phone in the event of an emergency. If you have small kids at home or elderly parents, this is a Godsend.
Smart Door Lock
If you’re going smart, a door lock, along with a good security system, is a must-have, giving you peace of mind when you’re home and away. The one I like best is the Schlage Connect, a deadbolt lock with ANSI Grade 1 security durability. It has over 30 pins and a built-in alarm that will alert you of any suspicious activity.
It also works with the SmartThings hub so you can connect from your smartphone or tablet. Which means you never have to worry if you locked your door or not ever again. It is a bit pricey, but worth every penny. Don’t Forget to have a Wifi Video Doorbell as your Guard too.
Need a little mood lighting? Feeling “blue”? If so, you’ll want to invest in smart bulbs like the Philips Hue, which allow you to control how bright they are and what color. These bulbs, though pricey, are a sweet indulgence, especially if you entertain a lot; You can go from soft green to bright orange, setting the moods for parties, watching movies and more. Not only that, you can control your smart switch with Amazon Echo or Google Home.
The bulbs work with Alexa, Siri and more and there is a Hue White coming out, so you can control the intensity of a white light- at a much lower cost.
Yes, even machines are getting smarter and there are quite a few innovative items that fall under this category; let’s take a look:
- Baking: If you’ve ever baked, you know how precise the process is and how easy it is to mess up. Well, not anymore with products like the Perfect Bake Pro. It makes baking easier than ever, with a scale for exact measurements and an app that take you step-by-step through the recipe.If you dream of baking your kids the perfect birthday cake or want a healthier, less expensive treat at home, this one for you.
- Barbecue: The idea of perfectly grilled ribs or chicken is easier than ever with one of the new electric grills on the market. Many, like the one from Char-Broil, have an app to let you control the temperature and will alert you when your food hits the ideal temp.Electric is more stable than gas or charcoal, and it costs the same as a traditional barbecue, making this buy a no-brainer.
- Refrigerator: This is one of my favorite smart gadgets, eliminating the age old question that plagues mom everywhere: do we need milk? With a smart fridge like the Samsung family hub, all you have to do is look- while you’re shopping in the supermarket. It has 3 cameras and will snap pictures and email them to you every time you close the door, so you know what you need and what you don’t.
There’s also a touchscreen interface that lets you track family schedules, like soccer practice or upcoming sleepovers, so you can plan and pack lunches or stock up on munchies. A welcome gift for moms everywhere.
- Vacuum/Mop: Self-propelled vacuums have gotten even better, featuring built-in navigation and slimmer bodies to get every corner. And of course, what good is cleaning without a smart mop? Yes, products like the Braava Jet will mop your floors for you. Similar to the Roomba, it sprays water for deep cleaning.
- Pots: Everyone loves a slow-roasted stew, but a lot of times we’re afraid to leave the crockpot going all day while we’re at work. Now you can have the best of both worlds thanks to brands like Belkin. They make a crockpot that you can regulate from a phone app, so you can turn it up or shut it off from anywhere you are.
- Bed: A bed that can monitor your heart rate and breathing, as well as provide feedback on how to improve your quality of sleep is alright in my book. Sleep is a precious commodity, so a smart bed is a good investment, ensuring you get the most out of it. The one from Sleep Number uses an app to suggest mattress firmness, lets you adjust each side individually, and can alert you if your breathing or heart rate is off. Brings new meaning to the term “sleep like a baby.”
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when automating your home, but hopefully, my Guide of the Top Smart Home Devices: How To Make Your Home Smarter Than You will make it easier. Smart Homes are the wave of the future, improving the quality of our day to day lives. Just use this guide and be “smart” when choosing a device and you’ll feel like your living bigger than George Jefferson, I mean, Jetson.