Let’s face it, smart homes are really cool but can seem overwhelming at the start. Pretty soon everyone will be saying “Alexa, turn on the lights” or “OK Google, set the thermostat to 72 degrees.” You don’t need to be an expert or a tech junkie to make your home “smart” or fully automated. Use this guide on how to start a smart home and you will be well on your way to full home automation control.
Decide on How You Want To Control Your Home on How to Start a Smart Home
There are a few different ways in which you can control your smart home. The first way is by using an app on your phone and connecting all of your devices to this app. Each smart product or device you purchase will come with an app that you can download on your smartphone or tablet and connect to in order to control that smart home gadget. It is very easy to connect these gadgets to its relevant app, so don’t worry!
Another way is to connect to a smart home speaker and use the relevant app or voice control assistant. The only ones that I believe are worth using at the moment are Amazon Alexa or Google Home assistant. After all, what is more convenient than saying “dim the lights” and having your home listen to you? Look to the next section to see the best Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices to get started on building your smart home. Below you will find my recommended devices on how to start a smart home. Enjoy!
Smart Home Speakers for Voice Control
If you are going to go the route of controlling your home through a smart home speaker, I recommend either purchasing an Amazon Alexa device or a Google Home assistant device. These are the market leaders in this space. As more and more smart home gadgets become available, manufacturers are making sure all their devices are compatible with Amazon and Google products. These devices are becoming central hubs for everything smart home, including smart lights, home security cameras, thermostats, and more.
The best Amazon Alexa devices:
To start, let me explain exactly what an ‘Amazon Alexa device’ is and what it does. Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant that is used via Amazon’s smart speakers and displays. All you do is say the word “Alexa” and give a command. Your Amazon speaker/display will then carry out the command. When it comes to smart home devices, an Amazon Alexa speaker is very useful in being able to connect to your at home smart devices and fully control them using just your voice. For example, you can say “Alexa, dim the lights” or “Alexa, show me the front entryway” and your device will respond by dimming the lights in your room or showing you the security camera directed at your entryway (as long as everything is set up correctly). Below are some of the best Amazon Alexa devices to get you started…
- Amazon Echo Dot – this device is the best in terms of affordable and performance and is a great entry point into the world of Alexa voice control. It’s pretty small, but the speaker still produces a strong sound. It is easy to tuck this little guy into the corner so it can’t be seen, but can still be heard!
- Amazon Echo Show (Second Generation) – if you want to be able to see your security cameras and other visual aspects of your smart devices, then this is a must have. This Amazon device is a speaker and display all in one. It has a nice size screen that let’s you view visual aspects of your smart devices, such as camera live feed and control settings.
- Amazon Echo (Second Generation) – If you are looking for the best Alexa Speaker that is under $100, then this is the one for you. Although it does not have a screen, it produces a strong sound (stronger than the echo dot). It is great for playing music and can be heard in mostly every room of your house, if placed correctly. If you are not using cameras and don’t mind not having a screen to view, then this is a great choice.
The best Google Home devices:
Google Home is basically the same as the Alexa devices, but instead of saying “Alexa” to wake up your device, you say “OK Google” and then give your command. Google Home devices are available in a range of different sizes. They are great alternatives to Amazon speakers and make intelligent smart home speakers. They all have a built in “Google Assistant” that you use to say “Ok, Google” and carry out tasks. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a Google product. Here are the best Google devices…
- Google Home mini – this is the smallest device of the Google Home family and is very similar to the Amazon Echo Dot. It is compatible with many smart home devices and can be put virtually anywhere around the home.
- Google Home – this is a regular size smart speaker just like the Amazon Echo. It is more expensive than the Google Home Mini, but offers great sound quality and all connected functions of the Google Assistant. The Google Home is a happy medium between the mini and the nest hub.
- Google Nest Hub – it is just like the other Google Home speakers but also has a 7-inch screen attached to it making it a smart display. It is great for watching videos, seeing info graphics, and controlling your smart home devices. This is a must have if you are using smart security cameras as it allows you to view your live feeds or look back at recordings.
There are other brands out there creating smart speaker devices such as Sonos and Apple. To start, I recommend choosing either a Google or an Alexa device to control your home as these offer the most variety when connecting to smart devices.
Start Simple with Smart Lighting
If you are interested in living in a smart home, lighting is a great way to start. Think about how many times a day you flick a light switch in your home on or off. What happens if you forget to turn off the lights after leaving for the day? Or you are going to be out longer than expected and forgot to leave a light on for your little pups at home? Now with smart lighting, you can control the light bulbs in your house with an app on your smartphone or tablet. If you have a smart home speaker, you can connect your light bulbs to your Amazon Alexa App or Google Home App so that you can control your lights with your voice!
I am going to recommend two different lighting options and starter kits. These I have found to be the most simple to set up and also work with a lot of different smart devices. They also have many adjustable features that you can use to enhance your smart living.
Sengled Element Starter Kit
If you are on a tight budget, the Sengled Element Starter Kit may be the choice for you. This kit is relatively cheaper than others on the market and provide a great alternative to more expensive lighting systems.
Here are some perks of Sengled’s Element Starter Kit:
- It is fairly inexpensive compared to other smart lighting systems on the market
- It is easy to set up – see below for my setup process
- Extra bulbs are cheap – usually cost about $9.99 each
- The hub comes pre-paired with the two included light bulbs
Here are some downfalls of Sengled’s Element Starter Kit:
- The Sengled app is not as robust as others on the market
- The light color is not tuneable
- All light bulbs need to be connected to a hub
- Not as many options to integrate with other smart home systems
Sengled’s smart bulbs are easy to use and work great with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. They will also work with Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Wink. Control your lights using the Sengled app, or connect it to a smart home speaker (such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home) and use your voice.
The steps to set up are simple. First, plug the Sengled hub (from your Sengled Element Starter Kit) into your router. Next, download the ‘Sengled Element Home’ app onto your smartphone or tablet and follow the onscreen instructions to create an account and connect your hub to the app. The app will walk you through how to name your bulbs and set up an environment for controlling your lights.
To take things a step further, I connected my Sengled hub/lights to my Amazon Alexa. All I did was download the Sengled Home skill from the ‘skills and games’ section and enabled it. Then I went to my devices section and click the ‘+’ button –> add device –> light –> Sengled –> Discover Devices. My light bulbs were then discovered (make sure you are on the same WiFi network as your hub) and I added my bulbs to my Alexa app and added them to a group called “Bedroom.” Now all I have to do is say “Alexa, turn off Bedroom lights” and all the lights in my bedroom turn off immediately. It’s great!
If you are having trouble setting up your Sengled Element Starter Kit, leave a comment below and I’ll try to help out.
With all of this being said, the Sengled Element Starter Kit is a great option for those starting out with smart home lighting systems. The low price, easy set up, and inexpensive replacement bulbs, make it a great lighting package for those looking to save money and still have an awesome smart home lighting system.
Philips Hue White Starter Kit
If you have the money and are looking for a well polished, easy to use lighting system, then Philips Hue is the way to go. I recommend the Philips starter kit that comes with the Hue Bridge (hub), and two soft white smart bulbs. This kit is definitely a great choice, as Philips company is really good about keeping its light bulbs up to date with the latest products and devices.
Here are some perks of Philips Hue White Starter Kit:
- Comes with a very comprehensive app
- Works with a ton of smart home devices
- Easy to set up and start using
Here are some downfalls of Philips Hue White Starter Kit:
- Can be very expensive compared to others on the market
- All light bulbs need to be connected to a hub
When you receive your Philips Hue Starter Kit, you connect the included bridge (hub) to your router using the included Ethernet cable. You then pair your lights using the Philips Hue app.
Philips Hue app is one of the best smart-LED apps on the market. You create rooms in the app and assign different bulbs to those rooms. You have the option to turn on or off all the lights in one room, or control individual lights in any room. Schedule times for your lights to turn on and off at different times in different rooms. This can come in handy if you usually come home late at night, you can set a light to turn on so it looks like someone is home. A feature that I really like is a ‘vacation mode’ that turns your lights on and off at random times so it seems like you are actually home. There is also a geofencing feature that automatically triggers based on your phone’s location whether you are Coming Home or Leaving Home. You can do so many things with the Philips Hue App, it’s incredible!
Philips has the most extensive compatibility with other smart home systems. If you are looking to shy away from the ideal systems like Alexa or Google, then you may want to go with this starter kit.
Philips also sells a variety of smart LEDs such as light strips, whole fixtures, colored bulbs and more. All of these connect to the Philips Hue app. I recommend starting simple with the starter kit that comes with the two white bulbs.
Philips is the leading brand when it comes to smart home lighting systems. They continue to expand on their variety of smart lights and the development of their app. Although their starter kit is much more expensive than others, you are getting a greater return in features and a wider range of connectability.
You can also go for some smart light switches. I have compiled a list on another post that you can check out if light switches are more your style.
Keep Your Home Safe with Home Security Cameras
Another big aspect to smart home technology is the ability to stream live video feed straight to your smartphone from your home security cameras. I bought a smart home security camera just so I can spy on my dog while I’m at work. The great thing about home security cameras is that they provide a peace of mind, and you can check up on your home and know what’s going on when you’re not actually there. There are a lot of great options to choose from, whether you are looking for an indoor, outdoor, or doorbell security camera.
Camera capabilities vary from device to device, but there are three main type of smart home security cameras. Indoor security cameras let you see what goes on within your home through live or recorded video feed. Outdoor security cameras let you monitor the surroundings of your home and sense when there is movement that will alert you and lets you view recorded or live feed from anywhere at anytime. Lastly, doorbell cameras lets you peek at who is ringing your doorbell so you know when to answer the door 100% of the time. See below for the best of all three categories.
- Wyze Cam Pan – this indoor camera is featured as one of the most affordable cameras. It is definitely a bang for your buck as it has many features including mechanical pan and tilt, motion tracking, local and free cloud storage, and support for Alexa.
- Nest Cam IQ – this indoor camera provides excellent face recognition and two-way audio. It is very easy to install and provides sharp 1080p video. It is also compatible with many other smart devices. Some cons include that it can be very expensive compared to other indoor cameras, and you may need to get a Nest Aware Subscription to use certain features.
- Amazon Cloud Cam – I personally use this indoor camera to monitor my dog when I am away for extended periods of time. It is very easy to install and provides clear daytime and night visions images. These products work the best with other Amazon products such as the Amazon Alexa Show. I like this camera because it is a cheaper alternative to other indoor cameras. Some cons are that there are no record or snapshot buttons and there is no sound detection. It also does not integrate with other third-party smart devices. If you have an Amazon Alexa device, this will definitely be a great choice. But if not, then you might want to pass.
- Google Nest Cam Outdoor – this is a great outdoor camera that offers a wide-angle glass lens and displays crisp HD video. If you go with other nest products, I recommend sticking with the same kind of products and picking up these outdoor cameras as well.
- Nest Hello – this doorbell camera has HD live streaming and alerts you when it senses motion and a person. It offers 24/7 live streaming so that you can check in at anytime of the day, even at night.
- Ring Door View Cam – this is a solid smart video doorbell that has HD live streaming and motion alerts. It can replace a traditional peephole on your door, making it really great for apartment dwellers. This camera works great with Amazon Alexa and is compatible with Alexa smart display. You can use your Amazon Alexa display to stream your live feed and talk to who is at the door.
Smart Thermostats for Comfort and Cost/Energy Savings
One of the things that make your home the most comfortable is the temperature. If your home is too cold or too hot, then you will most likely be uncomfortable and will never seem to reach that perfect temperature. Making your thermostat “smart” is a great place to start a smart home. Smart thermostats can drastically reduce your heating and cooling costs by learning your daily routines and creating heating and cooling schedules.
You can either go with a basic smart thermostat that provides basic heating and cooling with basic scheduling, or you can get a complex system with many features and capabilities, including control of heating, cooling, dehumidifier, and ventilation systems. Below are a few suggestions of the best smart thermostats at different price points.
Ecobee Smart Thermostat with Voice Control
This thermostat connects great with Alexa and is very easy to install. It can be a bit pricey, but it offers great voice control and is loaded with a ton of awesome features including a touch display, a remote room sensor, and integration with a bunch of other smart home devices.
Nest Learning Thermostat
This Nest thermostat works with Google Assistant and Alexa and includes field sensors to pick up motion activity and displays information such as time and temperature.
Expand Your Smart Home and Look to the Future
I believe that the content above will set you on the path to smart home mastery. Keep in mind that these are only a few ideas of devices you can control in your home and some of the easiest to start with. More and more devices are being invented and soon your whole home will be able to be controlled by the click of a button or through your voice. The possibilities will be endless.
I think smart homes are really cool. If you are reading this article, my guess is that you have some kind of interest in smart homes too. With that being said, leave me a comment below with any questions or just tell me anything you like involving smart homes.
I look forward to hearing what you have to say!