The 12 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make With Your Smart Home Devices
Are some of the actions you’re taking with your smart home system actually making your life more difficult and less convenient?
Many of the everyday tasks of life—locking the door, adjusting the thermostat, dimming the lights, and capturing porch thieves—can now be done with a quick swipe of a smartphone. We are more in control of our households than ever before, with home automation features that once only existed on The Jetsons. What many tech enthusiasts may not realize is that buying the wrong gear, or not maintaining the smart home systems we have, can lead to agita rather than convenience. Keep the lights on (and the voice assistant at the ready) by avoiding these smart-home mistakes.
1. Not changing the default usernames and passwords on the devices
Hackers aren’t just targeting smartphones and computers these days—they can also break into your smart home devices. The best way to protect yourself is by taking the time to change the default usernames and passwords your products came with to choices that are strong and secure.
2. Choosing products that aren’t compatible with your home system
You may have a wish list of smart home products—maybe you want a device that turns on the lights when you’re on vacation, and a smart garage door that you can open or shut from anywhere in the world—but when you’re shopping it’s important to know whether these products are compatible with each other. Before you buy, research whether or not a product will work with the smart home platform (such as Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Smart Things, or Google Home) you have. If you buy a Google Home device, it may well not work with your HomeKit (unless the device is compatible with Matter, an interoperability standard that is supported by all of the above platforms).
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3. Not updating your apps
Notifications that your apps need updating are a nuisance, but ignore them at your peril. These updates often include important security improvements; failing to complete them can leave your devices vulnerable to hackers, who can then wreak havoc on your accounts. To avoid getting hacked, it’s a good idea to manually check your apps for updates at least once a month—and, of course, install the updated software.
4. Buying too many gadgets at once
If you’re going to do the smart-home thing, you might as well go all in—or so you thought. Trying too many smart home devices at once is a good way to get overwhelmed, and you may not have time to learn the full functionality of each device. Instead, master a couple devices at a time, and then add devices gradually as needed.
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5. Not thinking about how your smart home gear will affect your Wi-Fi
Most smart home devices will operate on your home’s Wi-Fi connection. That’s great news, sorta. What most of us don’t realize is that smart thermostats, light switches, and other gadgets can potentially slow down your Wi-Fi speed—sometimes way down. If the internet in your home is crawling because you’ve installed a few new devices, talk to your provider about upgrading your service to more bandwidth. Bonus: Your Netflix shows will no longer buffer endlessly.
6. Purchasing devices that you can’t install in a rental
Renters don’t have to miss out on the fun and convenience of having a more automated home. But before you click “add to cart” on a bunch of new devices, double-check that they don’t require drilling or wiring that would violate the terms of your lease. Focus instead on portable devices that you can take with you when your lease ends, like smart plugs and smart speakers.
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7. Forgetting to delete your logins and passwords before you move
When you sell your home, typically anything that’s attached to it—including smart thermostats or lighting—is sold along with it. Before the moving truck pulls up, remember to delete your personal login information from devices that will be left behind, and be sure to give the new owner instructions on how to add theirs. This easy task will protect your privacy, and make the transition easier for the new owner.
8. Not asking for help when you need it
Even if you’re not that up to speed on technology, setting up smart home devices is fairly simple. If your devices aren’t working together as well as they should, or if they work only in certain rooms, don’t hesitate to call a professional (or even a tech-savvy teenager) who can help you tackle the problem.
9. Using public Wi-Fi on a phone that’s connected to your smart home hub
Your phone is the command center for all the smart activity in your home, but if you’re not careful you could put the whole system at risk. Using public Wi-Fi networks could make you vulnerable to hacking. Instead, when you’re on the go use your phone’s wireless hotspot to connect to the internet.
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10. Buying off-brand gadgets
We all love a good deal, but choosing a lesser-known smart home gadget over one made by a more reputable brand might not be such a good idea. Bigger, well-known tech brands typically have more resources for security, offer frequent updates, and sell higher-quality products. The old adage is true: You get what you pay for.
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11. Failing to do your research
It’s easy to get swept up in a Black Friday or Prime Day sale and let a deep discount lure you into purchasing a smart home device. A little research, however, goes a long way when you’re trying to set up your ideal home tech environment. Have a plan for what you want out of your devices, and don’t just leap at what seems like a good deal.
12. Overcomplicating your smart home system
A smart home is supposed to make your life more convenient, not more complicated. If you’re overwhelmed by a home that suddenly seems too smart for you (really, do you need a smart toilet seat?), try letting some of the devices go and using only those that truly make your life easier.
An earlier version of this article was published on March 20, 2019.