If you or your children ever watched Disney Channel in the early 2000s, you’re probably familiar with the movie “Smart House.” While this movie painted a sort of bleak and comedic picture of the potential dangers of home automation and artificial intelligence, we’ve nevertheless found ourselves right there, smack dab in the future. Even without a robot mommy maid in the picture, home automation can definitely be a little intimidating, especially getting started! It doesn’t have to be complicated. Let this post serve as a simple start guide to home automation.
Home Automation = Convenience
Home automation is all about convenience. You’re in bed already and left a light on? Ask Alexa to shut it off for you. You want your outdoor lights to come on automatically at sunset? Set it up to do so on your phone. You want your thermostat to stay between a range of temperatures without having to manually switch it from “cold” to “heat?” You can program that too. Home automation is really about taking tasks you do regularly and setting them in motion automatically. It’s the “set it and forget it” mentality.
Home automation is also incredibly helpful in accessible design! We discussed this a little bit on the Love Where You Live Podcast, Episode 6: An Accident, A Longshot, and Accessible Design with Derek and Leanne Lavender. Derek and Leanne use Amazon Echo devices in various spots of the house to assist in making the home more accessible-friendly.
The whole point here is - there are a lot of uses for home automation, and they can range from super simple to extremely complex. It’s about what you want to implement in your home. But if you’re looking for some simple ways to implement home automation, here are some of our favorites.
5 Simple Ways to Use Smart Devices In Your Home
1. Amazon Echo and Google Home
Probably the most popular “smart devices” at the moment are the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. We have Echos at our house, so I’ll be referring to those in the blog, but just know that the Google Home is an alternative option to pretty much everything I’m writing here about the Echo.
These devices are smart home hubs + functionality, which means that they have intrinsic functionality without any other devices, but they also have the ability to be a “hub” that controls other external devices. The Amazon Echo family is paired with the Alexa App for your smartphone, which increases its functionality. A few things that we use the Echo for regularly are:
Listening to music (“Alexa, play spotify”)
Keeping up with a grocery list (this is great because you can actually check the list on the app when you’re at the store!)
Setting Timers for cooking (“Alexa, set a timer for 5 minutes”)
Getting a weather forecast (“Alexa, what’s the weather like today?”)
Setting Reminders (“Alexa, remind me to take the garbage out every Thursday at 8am”)
I could go on for days, but the idea here is that Amazon Echo and Google Home are powerful tools even on their own.
Another great thing about these devices is that they can control other devices such as light bulbs, TVs, thermostats, and more. Our home automation system is a little more complex, but simply put we can verbally control certain things in our home, such as:
Lights (“Alexa turn off the kitchen lights”)
Television* (“Alexa turn on the TV”)
Watching TV* (“Alexa play baby shark”)
Again, these are all external devices that can be controlled by the Echo acting as a hub. It is incredibly simple to set up, and a great place to start in home automation
*Amazon Fire TV Cube required to control TV, Soundbar, etc.
2. Smart Bulbs
Smart bulbs are a really simple way to use smart devices in your home. They are programmable to keep a certain schedule, turn on or dim with your phone, or be controlled by a hub or other controlling device. The bulbs that I like most are the Singled Smart LED Soft White Bulbs. These work with both Amazon and Google devices, but they also have their own app so that you do not need a hub or other controlling device to use. They are dimmable and a very nice soft white which works in most places!
3. Smart Thermostats
Thermostats are another simple way to integrate automation into your home. This is actually one that I haven’t jumped into, but it is next on my list! There a bunch of smart thermostats on the market, but probably the most well-known are the Nest Thermostat series. The basic idea is that you program your thermostat to keep the temperature in a certain range, and it triggers your AC or heat, whichever is needed, to keep the temperature in that range. You can also control this from your phone, so if you’re in bed and freezing cold you can bump up the temperature without getting out from under the covers!
I’ve put together a short list of well-rated smart thermostats below, so be sure to check them out!
4. Smart Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Another smart device that is incredibly simple to use are smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These function just like normal smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but they link in with an app on your phone to keep you up to date with what’s going on. Again, one of the most well-known smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on the market is the Nest Protect Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm (2nd Gen). This is what we have at the house, and it’s great. It gives you a warning when it starts to sense smoke, you can actually SILENCE the alarm if you know it’s nothing serious (to a certain level of smokiness), and it lets you know when the smoke begins to clear. At all of these points, the alarm is sending updates to your phone.
It’s incredibly easy to install. There is a hardwired version and a battery version - just go with the battery version. It’s super simple, and if it’s smart enough to do everything above you can bet it’s smart enough to let you know when the battery needs to be replaced All you have to do to install is mount the included bracket on the ceiling, and attached. You link into the system using the Nest App, set it up, and done. Super simple, very useful, and a great way to help keep your family safe.
Side note: Even if you don’t want to do get a smart detector, you should at least have a dumb one! These are very important to keeping your family safe, so at least make sure you have something! Here is a great “dumb” detector: First Alert.
5. Smart Locks
Smart locks are a great way to keep from ever locking yourself out of the house again. They are exactly what they sound like - a lock (usually deadbolt or you can get an entire knob assembly) that has a keypad and/or you can control with your phone. There’s a big range in functionality in these. Some are a simple numerical pad that you program a code into that will unlock the door (might I suggest NOT using “1-2-3-4”). You can many times control these from your phone as well, so if you need to let someone in without sharing your code with them, you can do so.
Some locks have increased functionality, such as sensing when your phone is approaching the door and unlocking automatically. These will generally log every time the door is locked and unlocked, and some even have a small camera inside to document who unlocks the door. These are generally made with great safety and security in mind, and they are REALLY easy to install!
I’ve put together a little list of well-rated smart locks below, so be sure to check them out!
So there you have it! Home automation isn’t scary at all now, is it? It can really be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. It’s all about convenience and how automated and interconnected you want your home life to be. What are some of your favorite smart devices? Comment below and let me know! I’m kind of a geek and would love to check them out :)
Also, I feel like I should give a short list of some of the devices we talked about above, as well as a few other cool smart devices you may enjoy. These are all items we either have purchased or have thought about purchasing, and are well-rated and widely-used. Check them all our below!
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