A Beginner’s Guide to Home Automation
If you’re dreaming of robotic vacuums, lights that dim themselves, and security cameras that are accessible from the palm of your hand, this home automation guide will get you started.
There was a time not too long ago when home automation was for cartoon space families and spy movies. But, with advances in technology, now anyone with a smartphone can automate their home, benefiting from scheduled and voice-activated lights, security systems, climate control, and more.
With so many smart-home products available, however, getting started with home automation can seem overwhelming. If you’re new to home automation, this guide will get you acclimated and pointed in the right direction.
Choose Your Ecosystem
The first step to home automation is choosing the best smart-home system, also known as an “ecosystem,” for your situation. Home automation newbies have lots of choices.
Generally speaking, the ecosystem that is best for you starts with a digital assistant or smartphone. Alexa and Google Assistant are favorites among Android users, while Siri from Apple is the clear choice for iOS users. From there, users can choose devices that are compatible with their Apple HomeKit, Google Home, Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, or other ecosystems. Some devices, like Philips Hue, utilize a smart hub to control devices, but more on that in a bit.
What Is a Smart Hub?
Beyond the device’s compatibility, many home automation devices require a hub or bridge to unlock their full potential. The hub acts as the link between the user’s phone or digital assistant and the smart devices. Rather than using Wi-Fi to communicate between the devices, the hubs utilize radio signals.
In most cases, you don’t need a hub to set up home automation. The appropriate app and ecosystem compatibility are usually enough. However, hubs can actually improve security. With fewer signals sent back and forth via Wi-Fi, there are fewer opportunities for tech-savvy thieves to steal the identifying information they might need to link to the Wi-Fi or access cameras.
Decide What You’d Like to Automate
When it comes to setting up home automation, new users might find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of devices they can automate: lighting, security systems, door locks, thermostats, sprinkler systems, window blinds, and more. For non-smart enabled devices, smart plugs can control on-off appliances like fans, some window air conditioners, holiday lights, and even coffee pots. Users can even replace standard light switches with smart switches.
When choosing these devices, check that they’ll work with your chosen ecosystem. Some devices are compatible with Alexa and Google Home but not with Apple HomeKit. No device is genuinely universal.
Understanding the Budget
Smart-home devices tend to be much more expensive than standard home devices and equipment, so be ready for some sticker shock. A standard light bulb costs about $3, while a high-quality smart bulb could cost more than four times that price.
The following ranges provide a bit more background on the cost of automating a home with the best smart-home devices:
- Smart bulbs: $3 to $12, with multipacks available
- Thermostat: $100 to $250
- Cameras: $30 to $350
- Door lock: $100 to $250
- Smart plug: $5 to $15 for one, but they are often available in packs
Brand Names Matter
In almost any product category, there are less expensive options that work just as well as the big names. With home automation, however, that’s typically not the case.
High-quality brands offer user-friendly apps, and they’re less likely to lose W-Fi connectivity or stop responding with the hub. The big-name brands like Philips, Apple, Amazon, Google, Nest, Belkin, Wemo, Arlo, iRobot, Ring, Sylvania, and August are the most trustworthy and least likely to cause frustration.
Apple HomeKit is an obvious choice for iPhone, iPad, and MacBook users, but the products are typically a little more expensive than Google Home or Amazon products. However, all three brands do a good job of updating and remaining relevant rather than outdated.
The Philips system is one of the more expensive lighting and smart home ecosystems, but it’s a well-oiled machine and usually worth the investment. For security, Ring and Arlo products are typically at the top of the heap.