Ultimate Guide of Building a Smart Home from Start to Finish
Internet became available for the General Public in 1993 and from then onward we all have witnessed biggest technological advancements. Post internet world is entirely a different place to live. Things are getting automated day by day.
Human strive to live ultimate luxurious and comfortable live has achieved new heights and led to the development of lots of new devices and among those Smart Home Devices are becoming popular day by day. Voice-Activated assistants from companies like Amazon and Google now wait for your voice command to act. Who could have imagined few years back that someone lying down on his bed will control all the smart devices in the home just with a voice command? Alexa turn on the lights, Alexa can you increase heating, Alexa can you play the song on YouTube and lot more.
You can think of these Voice-Activated Assistants or Virtual Assistants as the brain of other smart devices in your home. These devices have the ability to receive command and then direct smart devices in your home to act accordingly thus making your home into a fully functional smart homes. So in very simple words Smart Devices when work together in a smart way make smart homes.
But to be honest there are hundreds of smart devices available in the market. Where we need to start to make our homes smart? What are the smart devices that we need in our smart homes? How to get those smart devices economically? Lots and lots of similar questions arise in our minds.
Do not worry the only objective of this guide is to provide you with smart solutions J to make your homes smart. We will cover everything that you need to know about building a smart home from start to finish. Further we will also be sharing ways that can be used to make your smart devices work more efficiently.
We will also cover one of the major concerns about these virtual assistants i.e. privacy. You will understand the reality whether your privacy compromises while using these virtual assistants or nor.
This guide might be little long but I can guarantee once you start reading you will not only be enjoying it but also your understanding about smart devices and smart homes will increase. So, let’s start the discussion with the first and most basic question.
Table of Contents
What is Smart Home?
Before going into discussion how to build a Smart Home? Let us first understand what exactly is Smart Home?
In very simple way if I define Smart Home I will define it as:
A Smart home is a home that is filled with electronic devices that are connected to the internet and can easily be controlled from a central point. In most cases this central point is modern voice-activated devices. These smart devices can include heating/cooling system of your home, security system and can go to extent where if you don’t feel like sleeping in the middle of night you can easily play your favorite music just with a voice command by lying down on the bed and leaving the comfort of your bed.
One of the misconceptions about smart homes is that you need to spend heavily to make your homes smart. If you select right smart devices that your home needs and that you need to control remotely you can make your home smart within a very reasonable amount of budget.
Furthermore believe me no technical knowledge is required to make your homes smart. Most of the modern smart devices comes with easy manuals and can be installed and configure in minutes making smart homes much more attractive choice.
After understanding what is smart home? Let us now understand what are the benefits of smart home?
What are the Benefits of Having a Smart Home?
Lot of people think that building or considering to build a smart home is just a trendy or short lived craze. However to be honest building smart home will add lot of benefits to your life as well as makes it more comfortable.
For most of the people security is the biggest concern. Adding smart cameras to your home can provide you with the ability to keep close eye on your property even if you are away from home. Another amazing smart device is smart thermostat that will provide you with the ability to control the temperature of your home and also ensures that the electricity is efficiently utilized and you are consuming only what is required.
Also one of the benefits of smart home is it saves lots of electricity and only power certain appliances when it is required. Thus reducing your electricity bills and helping you to save lot of money.
One more advantage and I believe my favorite one of smart home is, it is very much useful for people with special abilities. It can make their life much easier whether they need to control the temperature of the house, use kitchen appliances or using smart vacuums for cleaning. This all can easily be managed and in even in few cases with simple voice instructions.
With modern life’s getting busier day by day imagine the advantage of smart home that you can add things to your shopping list just with a quick request. Thus no more fear of forgetting things when going to market for grocery or shopping. Coming to fun features of smart home the latest is smart/display speaker. We can set up multiple playlists for different family members and they can listen and watch their favorite music, programs or television shows just with voice commands. Further these smart speakers have voice recognition ability and thus allowing everybody in the home to create their own personalized playlist.
Let us know proceed to the next stage and understand some of the key components of any smart home
Some of the Key Components of Any Smart Home:
Once you decide to make your home smart you will come across hundreds of smart devices and choosing the right devices becomes a very difficult task. Don’t worry as promised we will try to cover all the aspects that you need to make your home smart.
In most of the cases Voice-Activated Assistant or cell phone is going to be the brain of your smart home. Any other devices that you add to your smart home will take instructions from them to operate.
Let us now discuss some of the key components any smart home needs also I will try to make it more simplified with few amazing examples.
Most important component for any home is security, same goes with smart homes. The feeling that your home is fully secured makes you much more relaxed and comfortable.
In recent times our lives are getting busier day by day. Most of our times are spent in offices, meetings, parties and so on. Therefore lot of time our homes are unattended and therefore kind of good targets for home intruders. But smart devices have resolved the issue to a large extent. Now we can monitor our homes easily even when we are away with the help of smart devices such as Wi-Fi enabled security cameras.
All you have to do is to install these Wi-Fi enabled security cameras and just by opening the relevant mobile app you can view and monitor every corner of your home. Another interesting thing about cameras is potential home intruders understand their effectiveness and therefore avoid such homes where they can see of feel the presence of smart security cameras. They understand that someone might be watching them and quickly report the crime to their neighbors and nearest police station.
Another interesting advantage of these security cameras is that most of the insurance companies consider them effective in protecting homes. Therefore plenty of insurance companies will offer you with discounts if your home is equipped with these smart cameras. Thus saving you lot of money.
The second and another important aspect of smart home is lighting. Lighting your smart home believe is much more than making it look elegant. It can help also a lot towards the security of your home.
Let’s say that you are away from home, you can easily give impression to others that someone is in home just by clicking and turning on the lights through your smart home. You can also set a specific schedule such as in evening 7 Pm lights outside house or in garden turn on automatically thus creating impression for others that there is someone at home.
Now let’s go back to aesthetic aspect of smart lighting systems. You can easily set different ambiances with smart lighting systems. For example if you are having a romantic dinner with your husband wife you can easily adjust the lighting level to mild making your dining experience more romantic.
Imagine for a second all you have to do is to say “Hey Alexa, Google make lights mild and turn on our favorite music” it is that easy. Smart lighting systems comes with the ability to adjust lighting levels just by the click.
Few of the smart lighting systems even have the ability to switch between different colors therefore allowing you not only different ambient effects but also to have different colors lights for different occasions and times. For example you can select a specific color and lighting level when your children sleep in their bedroom.
Coming to the financial aspect of smart lighting systems. If you properly schedule your lighting system as well as lighting levels you can easily save lot of electricity. This for me is very important because in most US houses lighting consumes the second biggest share of energy consumed.
Gone are the days when we have to look at the complex meter readings to monitor energy consumption in our houses. By the way only professionals were able to understand the readings of those meters properly. Thanks to Smart Home Devices we do not need to do that anymore.
Before going further let’s discuss a bit more in detail why monitoring energy consumption in our homes is important. Two of the most important reasons are High Energy Bills and effects on Environment. This is not a rocket science to understand that more energy we consume higher are the energy consumption bills. Thus taking a big chunk or our valuable earnings. Regarding second reason we all know that higher energy consumption negatively impact the climate as well.
Now coming to the solution is it possible to control these two things? Yes very easily just with the help of smart devices you can control your energy consumption.
Smart Thermostat I believe is the best and most advance smart device to control energy consumption levels. Imagine you are coming back from office to home you can easily turn on the heating while 15 minutes away from your home instead of letting the heating work all day long and thus consuming very high levels of electricity.
Like in smart lighting systems you can easily create heating schedule just from your smart phones or tablets. Thus saving you from the complicated settings setups that old thermostats use to have. Scheduling and managing your energy consumption levels can for sure reduce your electricity bills. Thus saving your valuable money.
Further we all know that more energy consumption has direct impact on carbon levels on our planet. This if you are nature and planet lover person for sure you need to reduce energy consumption levels with the help of these smart devices.
Power Companies are also supporting the cause by offering special rebates on buying smart thermostats so that you can enjoy the benefits of smart thermostats at reasonable prices.
Last and another important aspect of any Smart Home is appliances. There are hundreds of smart devices available in the market. Selecting the right devices is the key element in making smart home work properly. Heating your stove or starting a load of laundry when you are away from home everything is possible with these smart devices.
Currently smart appliances are set up in two ways:
The first way is to get smart appliances and these smart appliances can easily be controlled with voice activated assistants like Alexa and Google.
The second option is Wi-Fi plugs. The basic concept of these Wi-Fi plugs is that instead of connecting your devices to normal power outlets you can connect them to these Wi-Fi plugs and these Wi-Fi plugs can be controlled with smart phone, tablets or even voice-activated assistants to turn on and off these devices.
Another advantage that comes up with these Wi-Fi Plugs is that they are much cheaper option then buying altogether new smart appliances. You can easily connect your current appliances with these smart Wi-Fi plugs and start using them.
Where to Start when Building a Smart Home?
Lot of people do the common mistake of immediately start buying smart devices without really understanding what exactly are their requirements and expectations from a smart home. Your Smart Home should not have all the smart devices on the planet but the objective should be to have all the smart devices that fulfill your needs.
The best strategy I can recommend is Needs and Wants list building. Needs are the basics that must be present in your smart home. Wants you can say the next level when needs are kind of fulfilled. Wants are more towards how you think your ideal smart home be like and what devices it should have. I will add 1 example of each Need and Want so that the concept is gets clearer. For example security is the basic need of any home or smart home so smart devices relating are of the most importance. On the other recording and watching your favorite TV shows are more of want then need and these can be fulfilled at later stage.
So once you are done with making needs and wants lists you can easily prioritize purchasing of smart devices for your smart home. Simple go with the needs list first and once you have extra cash you can always buy from wants list too.
Second stage after finalizing the list is to buy yourself a virtual assistant or smart home eco system. Currently the two highest rated in the industry are Virtual Assistants from Google and Amazon. I am referring to “Google Home” from Google and “Alexa” from Amazon.
The good thing about these two smart devices are they are both compatible with almost all the smart devices so you can go with any one of them. You can chose any according to your personal preference and past experience. Only few of the devices are not compatible with both of them.
Another way is not to stick to any one of them instead go for Both Google Assistant and Alexa and in this way you are going to be able to take advantage of brand specific devices during sale too.
An important thing to bear in mind is that whatever virtual assistant you buy keep in mind that these devices work on Wi-Fi. So in order for them to work properly your home should have strong Wi-Fi signals everywhere? Believe me this will save you from lot of frustration later on. This can easily be managed too with the help of Wi-Fi signal boosters.
An important step here is to contact your internet service provider and request a line strength check. By checking properly they can also advise you whether you need any upgrade in your current internet connection in order for your smart home to work effectively.
A Golden rule to ensure your internet speed is fine you should allow 5 mbps for around 10 smart devices and if your smart home has security cameras you need to add another 5 mbps per 10 smart devices.
Once the selection of assistant is finalized we can move to next stage of how to build smart home.
How to Build Your Smart Home?
Since you have already finalized the virtual assistant and also ensured that your internet connection is fine we can start getting smart devices.
There are two important aspects of smart devices, first in installation and second is creating routines for your smart devices.
We will go back to the 4 key components of any smart home and start building our smart home around them i.e. Security, Lighting, Energy and Appliances. Next step after getting and installing these smart devices is to figure out routines and automation options available.
If you are wondering what exactly is routine? Routine in very simple words is Tasks your smart home and smart home devices are going to perform in routine.
Apps like Google Homes can easily help you to build these routines. The best thing about them they are easy to configure, offer you drop down menus and allow you to configure voice commands in way that you can remember them easily at later stage.
The first step in creating routine of the devices is to name them properly so that you can later remember them easily. An ideal way to do that is to Name a Device with its original name such as Vacuum and add next to it the location of the device. Such as Vacuum dining room. In this way you will easily be able to remember which device you are configuring when creating routines. You can name them anything even something funny but my recommendation is name plus location.
You can even create groups of these devices and they will work together in a perfect way. For example you are listening to your favourite music and at the same time moving between bedroom and dining room. By creating groups of your smart speakers they will play the same track with same speed everywhere.
The best way to build your routines is to think of everyday activities and how these routines can make your life more comfortable. For example most of the people when they wake up they want the lights to be turned on, playing your early morning motivation songs to make your mood better or latest weather report etc.
Another way of making routines is to make them ready for special days. For example you can set up routines for extra cold days when your heating needs to turn or turning on the lights on rainy day when there is no sun light or preheating your oven for a delicious meal etc.
These routines once set up can easily be activated just with the help of voice commands. For example you can set up your morning routine with voice command Good morning. Once you wake up you can simply say “Hey Alex, Good Morning” and leave the rest to Alexa.
It takes sometime before you get use to of these voice activated assistants but believe me once you are it takes comforts of life to next level.
Now let’s discuss about essentials for your Smart Home.
Essential Devices for Smart Home:
As discussed above Essential Devices also revolve around the 4 key components of making your home smart i.e. Security, Lighting, Energy and Power. You can go for any smart device that you think you need but these are some of the basics just to provide you with the idea from where to start.
It is also not necessary that your smart home should have all of these smart devices even one or two from each category is good enough to start and as you have more and more budget you can get the rest.
The prices of these smart devices can vary and you can buy what suits your budget. So let’s move to the must list of smart devices.
Smart Door Bell
Smart Lighting System inside and outside house
Smart Security Cameras mostly outside of the house
Smart Security systems including smart alarms
Smart Door Locks to make entry points more secure
Smart Switches to turn on and off the lights
Smart lights or Bulbs.
Smart Thermostat to keep Smart Home temperature in control
Smart Power outlets for efficient energy consumption
Smart Air Conditioners to keep your smart home cool.
Wi-Fi Plugs as discussed above budget friendly and effective
Smart Appliances if you don’t want to go for Wi-Fi Plugs
The main purpose of this list is to give you with an idea about smart devices, most smart homes have in general. However this list can vary from person to person and also from home to home. You can adjust the list always according to personal preferences.
Almost all of these smart devices can be easily be configured with your voice-activated assistants. Most of them just need you to download mobile apps on their phone. Although once connected with these voice-activated assistants these apps will not have any more role. However still it is good idea to keep the apps in your phone just in case you need trouble shooting with any of the devices.
Few of the smart devices brands that are compatible with both Alexa and Google Nest are:
However still it is recommended that before you buy any of the smart devices you should check whether the smart device is compatible with your voice-activated assistant or not. It can save you lot of money and hassle also.
Building a smart home is a continuous process you can add new devices to your smart home from time to time and reassess the existing devices as well.
Creative Smart Home Ideas:
I hope by now you have developed understanding of essentials of making smart home (Security, Energy, and Lighting & Power). You can take them as foundation or base of any smart home and that needs to be set up properly.
However once the setup of essentials is done it is time to go to next step. Just by developing routines and installing some of the smart devices you can have lot of fun in your smart home. Let us discuss few of the examples so that you can see how you can enjoy the benefits of smart home.
Blinking Lights Notification once UBER arrives:
Many of you might not be aware that with the help of device IFTTT it is possible to connect your smart lights with UBER app. Once the driver arrives at the door the smart lights blinking so that you are notified immediately. This is really helpful sometimes when you are away from your mobile. No more bad ratings from UBER.
Scheduling Holiday Lights:
Devices such as GE-Z allow you to schedule your holiday light according to specific date and times of the day. You even have the ability to turn them on and off manually. On the lighter note this device is really helpful if you want to take the neighborhood rivalry to the next step.
You can even take this to next step by scheduling your indoor lights too with the help of Wi-Fi plugs. You can turn them on and off with the help of your smart mobile phones. This is how easy to win the neighborhood rivalry.
Mail Alert by Smart Devices:
With the help of magnetic design you can easily get mobile alert once mail worker inserts mail into your mail box. No more forgetting important mails into your mail box. This is particularly helpful if you receive confidential mails such as bank statement and you don’t want anybody to see.
All you have to do is to insert magnetic senor in to the mail box and install the mobile app into your mobile that’s it, it is ready to go.
Protecting Your Home against Fire:
With the help of small routine and smart devices you can easily make your home more secure against natural disaster such as fire. All you have to do is to connect your home fire alarms and sprinklers together. In case there is a fire and fire alarm continue to ring for a particular time the sprinklers will start soaking water into your garden thus stopping fire from spreading.
This will help not only to stop spread of fire in your home but also protects to your neighbors too.
Cinema lighting effects in your home:
Now you can easily create cinematic effects in your home with the help of smart lights. Just with the help of smart lights and smart phone you can dim the lights change color and give special effects to the family movie night.
This feature is particularly popular among kids and they love special lighting effects making movie night more fun.
Monitoring your home when you are away:
With the help of smart interior security cameras now you can easily monitor what your little ones and pets are doing when you are away from home. Especially watching your pet when you are away from home is great fun. You can see what they do when you are away from home.
With Smart treat dispensers you can provide them with occasional snacks too.
Setting Home Announcement System:
Now you can easily command your voice activated assistants to make announcements in a particular room or on a particular speaker. Imagine you are working down stairs in kitchen and you have to tell upstairs your husband and kids to get down to dining room as the dinner is ready.
You can command your voice activated assistant to announce in kids room “Dinner is ready”, no more yelling.
Security and Privacy of Smart homes:
We all have heard lot of theories surrounding smart home and smart devices. Especially many people believe that these voice-activated assistants are used by companies such as Amazon and Google to create targeted marketing campaigns thus compromising your privacy. Another theory surrounding these smart devices is that they can be used by Government agencies for the purpose of surveillance and other purposes.
We will try to explore this little more so that we can reach to the reality of these theories. Are we really at risk of compromising our personal privacy and security by installing these smart devices.
First of all do you really think FBI or CIA have no better means or devices to monitor someone if they want to. Believe me there are much better ways they use for the purpose of surveillance. On top there is no evidence so far any of the security agencies are using them for any purpose. In my opinion it is hundred safe and there is no need to worry that your security will compromise just by installing these smart devices.
However it is true that these voice activated assistants listen to what you are saying in house and record the most common words. These words are then used to create targeted marketing campaigns. So yes in certain ways your privacy is compromised. But in my view this how modern marketing campaigns are working.
We all know companies like Google and Facebook monitor our browsing and buying habits and then these are used by for creating targeted marketing campaigns. To be honest in today’s world your buying habits and browsing interests are not private even if you think they are. So I will say yes your buying preferences and other interests are somewhat compromised by installing these voice activated assistants however believe me they are no more private even if you don’t have these devices.
However still there are some extra measure you can take to keep your privacy secure:
Regular update of Devices: Companies like Google and Amazon continue to improve the security of these devices. Especially if they find any kind of security breach they immediately move to fix them as they cannot afford bad name of their brand. I understand this is little annoying every time smart devices asks for update but I recommend it is worth updating to protect your privacy and security.
Never Share your Personal Information: Remember the Golden rule whenever any smart device asks for your personal information such a social security number do not share. They absolutely don’t need them to perform any function.
Turning off Microphone when you don’t want them to listen: You can easily turn off the microphone of voice activated assistants when you do not want them to listen to you. But you have to remember to turn them on when you need them to function.
In my opinion there is no serious threat with respect to security and privacy when it comes to smart devices. The prime objective of these smart devices is to make your life more and more comfortable. For those people who are extra conscious of their privacy and security there are additional steps that you can take as mentioned above to ensure your security.
Final Thoughts on Smart Home and Devices:
To be honest in current times we are surrounded by these smart devices. As the time goes by it will be literally impossible to live without them. They can make your life comfortable and secure.
Just with the help of smart devices and creating right routines you can increase your home security, make it more love able and comfortable.
The concerns regarding compromise of privacy are true to an extent however there are always some extra measures that you can take to protect your privacy.
In my honest opinion smart home and smart devices are there to make your life more comfortable and there is no strong reason not to use them. The slight disadvantage of compromise of privacy is far less compare to the advantages that come with smart home and smart devices.
Go ahead understand how these smart devices work, make your homes smart and take the comfort of your life to next level.