This article is an introduction to the topic of home automation and smart homes, it is the part one of the Home automation franchise, if you already know what smart homes are, check part two of the series.

The home automation franchise

The technical progress can be seen everywhere, and in the last couple of years, it is finding its way into the households at a faster rate than ever before. Things that were once ideas from sci-fi movies are now the living reality for millions of people all around the world.

How would you like to feel like a captain of the ship Enterprise and turn off the lights, temperature or open doors just with a simple voice command? Stick with me a bit longer and we will talk about how to set up all of those things, don’t worry, this will be for the total beginner, no need to be tech savvy at all.

There is a plethora of things we can talk about when on the topic of smart homes, but as I said, this will be just an introduction to the topic, we might go into more specific usages and harder projects, but just now I will assume that while you, the reader, might have some awareness of what intelligent homes and house automation mean, you have no experience with it and are just looking to see how hard is it and how you can start.

You can split the topic into a couple of areas, I will address all of them with a standalone posts later, take this as a sort of an introduction.

Where to start?

Of all the things in your house, most of them can be automated. Wanna a cup of coffee? Sure, you can click one button on your smartphone from your bed and it will be waiting for you downstairs to enjoy after you finish putting on your clothes.

Want to keep your bedroom nice and cold? Sure you do, but you don’t want to look at the bill after keeping the climatization running the whole day every day. That can be taken care of in 2 minutes, just set up a ‘smart thermostat’ and it will cool off your room 5 minutes before you get home from work.

Step one: Getting the brain behind it all

There are many other cases of use, but before we get to them there is one central gadget we need to get. This will be “the brain” behind all of the cool little gadgets.

This will not be needed if you just have smart lightbulbs which can be controlled from your phone or a thermostat that will heat your house 10 minutes before you get home, but as you progress and ‘level-up’ your home, it will start to get necessary.
It will be the conductor in the orchestra that is your home with all of its helpful and energy saving little players.
The two leaders on the market right now arguably Winks and Smartthings, so most of you will end up choosing between one of those two.

Step Two: Lighting

This is probably one of the things that came to your mind. Well, it is one of the most eye-catching features.

Controlling if the lights are on or off with just your voice or remote control is great, but the use case doesn’t stop there.

I remember a couple of years away how I was blown away when a friend turned his lights off with a simple clap, but the technological progress is long past that.

Now you can create mesmerizing color patterns, dim the lights to the perfect level for the occasion, never leave the lights on for a single minute more than you need to or turn the lights on and off as to make an impression that your house is occupied even when you are on a vacation and many more.

This will not only raise your life quality but also decrease your electricity and perhaps even the insurance bill. There are some insurance companies, that will considerably lower your bills if you install some of the smart home’s appliances, be sure to check if your does it.

To start with making your lights start you have 2 options. Either, you can purchase special lightbulbs or stripes that will be connected to the hub.

This will be most likely done by a WiFi connection, I have written an article disscussing the best MESH WiFi systems on the martket and explaining what the MESH even is.

Be sure to check it out if you are interested in covering your home with stronger WiFi signal with potential for further home automation.


You have more freedom here, as you can change the colors, dimness and so on.

The second option would be to somehow connect your current lamps and bulbs to the hub. This can be done as well. You’ll just have to connect the lamps and lights to a ‘smart outlet‘.

More about this later, but you will just be able to shut off the power going to the lamp (or any other appliance for that matter), but the system won’t have a way to ‘speak’ with the bulb, so you won’t be able to change to colors or the dimness unless you purchase a special gadget.

I really like these starter sets, they won’t break your bank and are a great way to help you get into the smart homes. It contains 2 smart bulbs AND a smart hub, compatible with Alexa of course.

, they won’t break your bank and are a great way to help you get into the smart homes. It contains 2 smart bulbs AND a smart hub, compatible with Alexa of course.

But don’t worry, we will talk about them in later posts for sure.

When picking up a smart bulb or something similar be sure to read the reviews, there are many appliances coming to the market from China that are, to put it politely, not very thought through. While the price may be tempting, let me assure you- it is not worth it.

Overview

Overall ease of use and installation: 5/5
Price friendliness: 4.5/5
Money and effort saved: 2.5/5

Don’t get me wrong there, I think that having smart lights saves a TON of hassle and even some good buck, but when compared to the rest of stuff that can be automated, it is just not that impressive. Still, a great stepping stone for someone looking to start with smart living!

Step Three: Heat and Air

Okay, now that we’ve been over the smart lights, we can get on a higher level: smartening your HVAC.
The upgrades you can do here are not going to be as flashy as the lights, but the comfort and money saved will compensate for it in excess, a studies constantly show that purchasing a smart thermostat saves around 18% of the heating costs for the average user, which is nice couple of hundred dollars for a normal family. This means that the thermostat will pay itself off the first year and then start earning you money every day.

How does smart thermostat save you money?

Simply put, it makes decisions that a person would to reduce the time a heater or AC is used.

Not home? Why would it heat the house when no one is there? $ saved

Not using the room? No heating/ AC > $$ saved

Hot/cold outside? The thermostat takes that into account and either shut the heating or start it sooner. $$$ saved

This use of smart home technology is really close to me. Where I live, half of the year you need AC and the second half you need heating. I LOVE to have a fire burning in the fireplace, but every time I do that, I need to go to the basement and turn off the heating, otherwise the house will get unbearably hot and I better remember to turn it back up, no one likes to wake up to a frozen house.

But this is no longer a problem, the Ecobee4 thermostat takes care of all of this now.

Overview

Overall ease of use and installation: 3.5/5
Price friendliness: 4/5
Money and effort saved: 4.5/5

Installation is a bit harder than screwing on some lightbulbs but still manageable by everyone, I believe. Here is a great guide on how to install it. The thermostat will cost around $200 and should pay for itself in the first 1 to 1.5 years.

Step four: Securing it all

There are many things we can talk about here: from smart locks, wireless cameras and motion detectors, to the intelligent doorbells.

I know that the piece of mind is one of the biggest factors in life’s happiness. While I don’t feel the need for any over the top safety measures in the area I live, maybe you do. Appliances and gadgets can be mixed and matched together.
One thing I want to mention here is the nest smart doorbell, they will connect to your phone or hub, show you who is at the door on your phone or TV and come with many cool features.

Overview

Overall ease of use and installation: 3-5/5
Price friendliness: 4-5/5
Money and effort saved: 3-5/5

As you can see I left an interval in the score, this is because there are so many aspects to take into account and you can go million different paths. Someone will be happy with just a smart lock, someone might build a very impressive house security system.

Step Five: Outsource Cleaning

Moping and sweeping might be wasting your much too pressure time in this time and age. Why flush hours upon hours down the drain each week with a task that could be easily handled by a robot?
Don’t ask me, I didn’t have an answer to this question, that is why I purchased one of the cheap Roomba knockoffs couples of years back.
Truth be told I wasn’t satisfied with its performance, that is why it slowly stopped being ‘deployed’ and I started doing the chores manually again.
That is also the reason why I was a bit skeptical when I received the Neato BotVac. But damn, was I blown away, now I recommend it everywhere I go.

Overview

Ease of use and installation: 5/5
Price friendliness: 2.5-5/5
Money and effort saved: 3.5/5

Time is money, and time wasted by doing a chore you hate and can delegate hurts twice as much. Starting with a smart robot cleaning is very easy, just be sure to get the right model for you, some are better for households with pets, some shine in small apartments and so on.

Conclusion

I hope this article has done its job of introducing you to the variety of options one has when looking to automate and smarten one’s home. There are more articles coming about this topic and if you face a particular issue or have any question please contact me and I will do my best to help.

Till next time

Ryan