Smart Home – An Introduction For Beginners
Are you thinking about turning your regular home into a smart home? There’s plenty of ideas around the internet but it could be tough if you’re a beginner to smart home technology.
Today I want to talk about making your home more comfortable and efficient. You have probably heard about smart home devices at some point, such as power efficient light bulbs or smart speakers like Google home for example.
There are a ton of benefits of having smart devices in your home. Some might think it’s just for lazy people, but there’s a ton of products that can affect your everyday life, making it easier and more efficient. Nearly all your everyday tasks can be enhanced with smart home devices.
As this industry is growing, there is also an increase in products to choose from. This makes it tough if you’re a beginner.
Be ready for a long post, but I hope it gives you some insight if you’re interested in making your house smarter. I will be talking about different areas of your home, what options there are as well as my own insight.
These are 5 areas in your home, that you can control with smart home devices.
Smart Speakers For Beginners
What is a smart speaker?
There are a few out there and although you may not own one, you have probably heard about them or seen them. Smart speakers, or virtual assistants, are generally defined as speakers that can respond to voice-control.
To be honest, a speaker that can do anything else than just play music is smart. But in terms of popular terms, this is the general definition of a smart speaker.
Another definition that goes hand in hand with smart speakers is artificial intelligence. Which simply means, the theory of computer systems performing tasks that humans usually would do. You could also go as simple as calling it a voice assistant or chatbot.
When we look back in the history of devices that can respond to speech, IBM began with this as far back as in the 1960s. Since we still had a long way to go with technology in general, the public use of this technology didn’t achieve popularity until the later 2000s.
The first service of this kind to be widely available to the public was Siri by Apple which released in the fall of 2011 within the new iOS 5 system. Siri actually started as a standalone app in 2010 which was later removed and then added officially into the OS.
Since then, there has been a massive spike in growth in this market. Plenty of brands are now offering smart speakers, such as Amazon, Sonos, JBL and Google for some examples.
What can you do with a smart speaker?
If you haven’t tried out a smart speaker, you might think, what is the purpose of talking to a machine?
Well, there are a wide variety of services you can use through these smart speakers. To give you an idea, it can be as simple as asking what the weather is going to be like, when the next train is leaving, or to play a song from your library.
Pretty cool right? Yes but that’s far from it. Depending on what smart speaker you have, the number of tools you can use is endless as you can connect these devices with other smart devices in your home.
As for other examples, by connecting it with your other smart home devices, you can ask to turn up the heat, turn off the lights, lock the door. You can even ask for a joke if you’re in a bad mood!
There is obviously a whole lot of technology behind the scenes. To explain simply, the speaker will basically react to your voice and do it’s best to find the information that you are looking for. This is done by using automated search engines like Google for example when asking general questions.
Most of the speakers are activated by calling their name. For example, you say “Alexa”, which activates the recognition of your voice. From there you can ask for whatever request you might have. It might sound like having an electronic butler and yes, it kinda is.
Do smart speakers have good sound?
With the earlier releases of smart speakers, the actual intelligence and usability of the smart services was definitely the focus. The sound would be okay but nothing like the normal speakers in terms of quality. This has however changed as the market is growing and new improvements have been made, as well as new releases.
What’s great about the newer smart speakers is that they aren’t bound to themselves.
If compatible, you can use the smart speaker’s technology alongside your major sound system, just adding artificial intelligence to your current system.
What is the best smart speaker for you?
Deciding on the best smart speaker can be tough. The market is growing but is still mostly limited to the major brands when it comes to the real stuff.
I would personally recommend the Sonos One if you’re looking for the best sound and compatibility balance. This is a great choice if you’re someone who wants to be able to control more than one room with your smart speaker.
The Sonos One is a clean looking smart speaker, offering both great sound and compatibility with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
Apart from a revolutionary sound quality for being a smart speaker, this speaker also has a feature, among others, that allows you to use it with Siri, allowing it to pair with your Apple Homepod. This sheds some new light on compatibility and makes it a unique and useful for the smart home nerd. What puts this speaker on top of the list is also Sonos multi-room smarts, allowing you to have different channels of sound for different rooms.
Smart Light Systems For Beginners
What are smart light systems?
If you are new to creating your smart home, replacing some of your old light bulbs could be a way to get started. Smart lights are generally LED bulbs that you can connect to your Wi-Fi. Some require hubs but not all. These bulbs can do a lot more than the common light bulb as they give you more options rather than just on and off.
There are many smart light bulbs and systems on the market and they serve some different purposes. The most common type is the one you can control, either with your virtual assistant or smartphone. Some also go in the direction of having sensors connected to the lights, making sure they turn off when no one is present in the room according to your settings.
You can also often change warmth, color, and brightness.
These bulbs and systems are generally more expensive than your regular bulbs. However, since you can lower the electricity bill using sensors if you often forget to turn the lights off, this could definitely result in saving money in the long run.
Do smart lights systems really make a difference?
Is it worth it? It depends on who you are as a person. I would say it’s a great way to get started with your smart home.
You may not have thought about it before, but the light that surrounds you in your home actually has a big effect on your mood.
There are different lights for different situations. Maybe you want a dimmed lightning when you’re sitting down for dinner, a comfortable brightness for your eyes when reading, a cozy red dimmer when having a date over. Smart lights can be used to an advantage for these different situations, and by being able to control it with your voice or smartphone, it’s easy and efficient to monitor.
Having a hard time getting up in the morning with the same usual alarm clock? Try setting an alarm for your lights to keep you from snoozing too long.
How do I get started with smart lights?
Like I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of options in terms of smart bulbs and light systems. The prices vary and although it may seem expensive, I recommend going for a kit as it’s usually cheaper buying a few bulbs at a time.
I would definitely recommend the Philips Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit. It’s a great starter kit that comes with four A19 smart bulbs as well as a hub that makes it compatible with both Alexa, Apple Homekit and Google Assistant.
It allows you to enhance the lights in your house, set timers and control your lights remotely. This kit allows you to control up to 50 lights in your home which makes it great if you want to expand later on.
Smart Kitchen Devices For Beginners
Smart devices in the kitchen, useful or unnecessary?
This might be going a bit too far for the average person but there are plenty of smart home devices that can be useful in the kitchen. Being efficient is not the same as being lazy!
Everything from coffee makers, crock-pots, calorie-counters, smoke alarms, and thermometers among many other devices. These devices can, of course, be used to simply do the task, but many have now been reinvented with more features and more efficient ways to control your kitchen.
I could dive into each and every category but I think I will save that for smaller sub-articles as this article is mainly an introduction to smart home technology and what areas of your home you can control.
Let’s talk about something that people, all over the world, have in their kitchen.
You guessed it, a coffee brewer of some sort.
With coffee being the most popular beverage in the world, with over 400 billion cups consumed each year, it comes to no surprise that there’s a big market for personal coffee brewers.
There are a ton of different coffee brewers out there. They come in different sizes, prices, and, varieties of features. This has also made it possible for smart home features to be introduced into this simple beverage.
So what is special about smart coffee brewers?
Coffee brewers are becoming more advanced. You can, for example, monitor the temperature and set different modes for the different type of beverages.
Some smart coffee brewers can actually brew a cup of coffee using your phone.
Let’s say you’re waking up tired on a Monday morning, picking up your phone and with one simple click, you can go to the kitchen and have a hot cup of coffee there waiting for you. It almost sounds too good to be true. Some may say this is for lazy people, but for us smart home nerds, adding that little touch of efficiency to our daily life makes a difference.
What smart coffee brewer should I get?
The prices are very different for different brewers. It might seem daunting to invest in a more expensive brewer, but if you’re comparing the price to how many cups of coffee you drink every year, it could actually be a reasonable investment.
My current coffee maker has adjustable timer settings as well as auto-turning off settings for safety in case I snooze while waiting for my coffee. If that’s what you’re also looking for, the Hamilton Beach FlexBrew is the brewer for you.
A smart home coffee brewer makes your morning coffee ritual smarter, yet simpler.
Smart Home Security For Beginners
With improved technology comes improved security
As we’re improving in smart home technology, we’re also getting more advanced in our security systems.
There are many ways that you can secure your home. There are security cameras, digital locks, movement sensors, smoke alarms, water alarms, and the list goes on.
Probably one of the most common smart home security systems would be a security camera. These come in many different ways with different features as well as in different price ranges. The truth is, however, a security camera doesn’t have to be all that complicated, nor expensive.
Like I mentioned earlier in the article, this guide is mainly an introduction for smart homes for the beginner. This is the reason I go more into depth on certain items only.
What should I look for in a security camera?
It may depend on your situation. If you live in a house, you might want to consider investing in a more thorough security system. This could be since you might want to monitor your house as well as your yard and your overall surroundings.
I recommend looking into the Ring Spotlight Cam as it’s easy to install and works fine for the beginner.
This security camera is not limited for just monitoring your home but also allows you to listen and talk to the person outside your home. You can do this through your PC, Mac or your phone, being compatible with both iOS and Android. It will also, if set, alert you to your chosen device whenever someone is coming up to your home.
It is also proven to work with Alexa, adding on to your current smart home system. That’s what I like about smart home devices, the fact that you can connect them to each other and let go of having separate systems.
This camera will monitor your home in 1080HD and keep you safe while giving you a simple and comfortable way to see and talk to whoever is coming to your door.
I live in an apartment, are there better options?
There are definitely more options, both for indoor and outdoor.
If you live in an apartment, you might not need, or be allowed to have a camera outside your door. There are however reasons why you might want a camera inside your apartment. In case of a break in, or simply just to monitor your pets or children.
For these purposes, a cheaper yet perfectly fine alternative would be the Amazon Cloud Cam as it fits for any indoor use.
It’s a very simple security camera that does what it promises. It shows video in 1080HD. It also allows two-way talk which means you can interact with whoever is on the other side, this is a great way to check on your pets or children if you’re not in the room. This is easily accessible through their app.
Smart Thermostats For Beginners
The right temperature for your home
When entering any home, one of the first things you will notice is the temperature. Is it too cold, is it too hot?
The older generation of thermostats still work today, but there are many upsides when switching to a smart thermostat.
The current major brands on the market include Nest, Honeywell, and EcoBee. What all these brands have in common in their thermostats is that they are adapting to us and our daily needs. You can do many things with smart thermostats.
These smart thermostats give you control of your home, you can set timers for temperatures, monitor and control temperature when not at home. Also, probably the best thing, these thermostats can learn your daily behavior and make sure it fits the right temperature for different times of the day.
Save money with smart thermostats
Apart from being a more green solution to keeping your home cool or warm, it will also save you money. I’m from Europe and our heating systems are different here. I do however go back and forth to the United States every year and what I’ve noticed is that Americans use a crazy amount of energy on their heating and cooling.
For the average household, the heating and cooling account for almost half of your home energy costs. That is a major cost every month that can be greatly reduced over time by investing in a smart thermostat that doesn’t blast the AC at full power when nobody’s home.
Some of these smart thermostats can also alert you when an error occurs if the power is out, or a cooling device has stopped working for example.
What is the best smart thermostat?
When looking overall, the best smart thermostat, in my opinion, is the Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Gen because of a few reasons.
This smart thermostat has a great user-friendly app, allowing you to be able to control your home and it’s temperature even if you’re not at home. Maybe you’re on your way home from work and it’s freezing outside and you’re looking forward to coming home to a warm home.
You can use this smart thermostat together with your other smart home devices like Alexa to demand temperature changes trough voice control. Also, it’s possible to sync it with your smart home light systems to alert you of temperature changes.
While it is compatible with Alexa, which is also a great feature, you still have to purchase them apart as it’s not included.
A few things have been improved from previous releases, such as an improved 5GHz and enhanced screen resolution while still becoming slimmer in dimensions. While these are some improvements, I would not say it’s worth upgrading from the previous generation just for this one. The changes just aren’t that noticeable to be worth it.
However, if you are not an owner of a Nest Thermostat or you want to change brand to Nest from another. This is a perfect user-friendly option that allows you to control your home more efficiently.
If you want to check out this version as well as compare it to the previous generations (noted in related products), you can view them on Amazon.
This article is meant to be an introduction to the modern way of living in a smart home. I hope this information has answered some of the questions you might have if you’re a beginner in this field.
Creating a smart home does not have to be that complicated nor expensive and I am happy to answer any questions you might have. There will definitely be more articles on this topic in the near future!
If you’re interested in more information about smart home technology and the devices that can save you the most money in the end, I also have an article on 7 Ways You Can Save Money With Smart Home Devices.