In this article:
- Smart homes are far easier to set up than you might think, but there are still some things you should know.
- Start your smart home with a Smart Hub.
- It’s better to gradually add smart devices as you figure out what you want and need, but start by getting these essentials that should be part of any smart home.
A smart home is one that is fully integrated with technology to make your daily life easier. You can control everything from your lights and appliances to your security system and thermostat all with the touch of a button or the sound of your voice, or maybe without any effort at all thanks to automation!
It’s an exciting thing to work on these days, especially with how much more we can do with the internet, but it’s still tricky to set up, especially if you’re building your smart home without any planning done.
So in this Tech It Yourself post, we will discuss how to set up the smart home of your futuristic dreams by yourself. You’ll find tips on how to choose the right products for your needs and tricks on how to make them as reliable as possible. Let’s get started!
Things You Should Know Before Building Your Smart Home
Before you start building your smart home, there are a few things you should take into account.
The first is how much money you want to spend on this project. The good news is that there are a lot of affordable options these days for people looking to make their homes smarter. However, the more devices and appliances you add, the more the project will cost.
The second thing to consider is how tech-savvy you are. If you’re not very familiar with how these devices work, then it might be a good idea to start small and gradually add more devices as you get comfortable with the system.
Some smart home ecosystems are also easier to set up than others, and the ease of use and price are usually inversely proportional. So if you want the ease of installation and use, you might have to add a bit of cash into your budget.
The third thing to consider is you need to decide which ecosystem you’ll use for your smart home. If you want your installation and set up to be as easy as possible, I recommend getting your devices from the same brand. That makes it easier to setup and integrate new devices and usually means you can manage everything in one app.
So, even if you’re only getting one or two devices to start, check out the entire line of smart devices a brand offers before you buy to make sure you’re going with a brand that has the extras and add-ons you aspire to get later on.
With that in mind, let’s get into the essential devices every smart home needs.
Devices Every Smart Home Needs
One Device to Rule Them All
Before even getting started, the main thing you’ll need is a hub to control it all. The purpose of a hub is to unify all your devices and appliances under one system so you can control them easily and so that they can talk to each other (which makes for easier automation). And there are a lot of hubs out there that’ll do the trick.
There are three main ways for smart devices to communicate. The first is good old WiFi which is pretty versatile, fast, powerful, and it’s basically enough for most things you need.
Then we have Z-Wave and Zigbee which are two different wireless systems specifically made to be used on small and low power smart devices like doorbells, switches, and a wide variety of sensors that don’t need something as powerful as WiFi.
This reduces the load on your WiFi, which is worth considering since the more your smart home ecosystem grows, the more bandwidth it will need and that could end up interfering with your own WiFi needs like streaming shows, gaming, or surfing the internet.
They also have faster response times and a wider range, since it makes a mesh network with other Zigbee or Z-Wave devices. Zigbee, for example, can support over 65,000 devices in a single ecosystem. Z-Wave caps out at about 230 devices but that’s still likely more than you’ll need, even after you’ve transformed your house into the smartest home on the block.
With that said, if you want to use either, you need to make sure any future devices are compatible. Each one has its own set of brands that work on that network. The Amazon Echo, for example, runs on Zigbee, so you’d need to make sure your other smart devices use Zigbee as well.
So Which Smart Hub Should You Get?
For beginners who want ease of setup, there are three main choices: Google Nest hubs, Amazon Echo devices, and Apple HomePods. All three can do a great job as a hub for your entire smart home, but they each have their advantages and disadvantages.
Google’s hubs and speakers are the most affordable out of the three. The Google Nest Mini is the one I’d recommend for beginners if you go with Google. It’s probably the cheapest smart speaker out there and it does all the basics.
The downside to this device is that it doesn’t have a battery and must be plugged in at all times, which can be a bit of an inconvenience especially if you live in an area with frequent power outages, and of course, this doesn’t support Zigbee or Z-Wave if you want that later on. But, a lot of devices will still work with Google’s hubs.
The Apple HomePod Mini is the best-sounding one. It has a built-in Siri assistant and can be controlled with voice or touch. But, like the Nest Mini, it doesn’t support Zigbee or Z-Wave, and if you want to use the HomePod you do have to get HomeKit supported devices which can be more expensive than others.
The Amazon Echo is probably the best bang for your back out there. It has Zigbee support (finally) if you want to take advantage of Zigbee devices later.
I should mention that the Amazon Echo is a bit on the pricey side for that Zigbee functionality, so if you want to go with a more basic setup and ditch the Zigbee functionality, for now, try the Amazon Echo Dot. It’s basically the same as the Echo but half the price and with an added clock making it ideal for nightstands and living rooms.
Whichever hub you choose, make sure that it has support for all the devices and appliances you want to control in your home. I’ll just remind you, most devices use WiFi anyway, but if you want faster response time and wider ranges, try to get ones with Zigbee. And now, let’s get into the essentials.
Essential Smart Devices
Now that you’ve chosen your smart hub or speaker, it’s time to start adding devices! And since we’re talking about essentials, I’ll list a few of the devices that are commonly used in smart homes and are great for beginners.
Philips Hue Bulbs
The Philips Hue is probably one of the most popular smart bulbs on the market. You can control how bright or how dim they are, how warm or how cool the light is, and even change the color of the light to pretty much any color you want.
You can control up to 10 Philips Hue lights using your phone via Bluetooth. It’s supported by Alexa, Google, and HomeKit. But if you want to use automation, WiFi, and the ability to control 10 devices and more you do need to purchase the Philips Hue Smart Hub.
If you want to start with lights on your smart home, you should probably get this Philips Hue Starter Kit:
It includes four full-color bulbs and a smart hub to get you started! But if you don’t want for your house to go all colorful yet, you can get the starter pack with four Philips Hue White Bulbs:
But, here’s the thing: If you didn’t already notice, Philips Hue Bulbs together with the Smart Hub can get a bit pricey. It’s worth it if you have the cash to spare because it’s probably the most reliable system out there and it has one of the widest offerings of bulbs. But if you want something a bit more budget-friendly, try the Sengled bulbs below.
Sengled Smart Bulbs
Sengled Smart Bulbs are some of the most popular budget-friendly smart bulbs. They connect directly to your home WiFi and can be controlled with your voice assistant or phone. One thing to note is while you don’t need a hub right away to use these, you will need it if you want to control up to 64 bulbs in one go.
HVAC systems are one of the biggest electricity consumers in your home, so a great way to start saving on electric bills is by getting a Nest thermostat. You can program it to automatically turn down the heat or air conditioning when you’re not home and save yourself money in the long run.
Plus, the Nest thermostat is great at learning your habits and will start to automatically adjust itself after a week or two of being installed!
You can control the Nest Thermostat with voice assistants, your phone, or even through a web browser. It’s a little bit more pricey than the regular thermostats you would find at your local hardware store, but it definitely pays off in the long run.
It supports most HVAC systems no matter how old or new they are. But just to be safe, doublecheck that your HVAC system is compatible with this compatibility checker.
TP-Link Tapo Smart Plugs
Next on our list is a set of smart plugs! So far we now have control over your lights and HVAC system. But what about everything else? For fans or other small appliances that plug into an outlet, smart plugs are just the thing.
It’s a great money-saving trick for beginners. Instead of buying an expensive new smart appliance, you can plug a “dumb” appliance into a smart plug. While you won’t get all the cool features that a truly smart appliance might come with, you get basic automation functions like being able to program your phone charger to stop charging after two hours (to protect your phone’s battery life) or turn your appliance on and off using voice commands.
The plugs I recommend are Tapo Smart Plugs. Tapo is a line of smart products made by TP-Link. If you’re not familiar, TP-Link is a company that more or less specializes in network tech, and it’s known for offering excellent, reliable Wifi connections on its products. I can confirm that because I use Tapo products!
Tapo Smart Camera
Last but certainly not least is a great smart camera. I personally use a Tapo camera in our home. And yes, this camera works on the same app I control my smart plugs with!
The camera I’m using is the Tapo C200 camera. It’s a pretty jam-packed camera for its price. It has night vision, up to 128GB SD Card support for local storage (but you can also pay a subscription to get cloud storage and some other quirky features like active human tracking).
Other than that it also tilts and swivels using the Tapo app and you can mark different positions so you can point the camera using your voice or a button. Plus there’s also a two-way communication feature so you can listen and talk through the camera itself.
It’s an indoor camera, but I’ve been using it outdoors (protected from rain) for quite some time now and it’s been wonderful and reliable. The only problem I’ve had is that it’s hard to reconnect if I change our Wifi password (which is probably a safety feature now that I think about it).
The cherry on top? It can also stream its video on supported devices like Smart TVs and Smart Displays like the Amazon Echo Show 10.
How to Set It All Up
You don’t need much to set it all up. For most, it’s just a matter of plugging the smart device in or loading them with batteries. Many of them have dedicated apps that’ll guide you through the setup process which is just essentially taking you through connecting the device to WiFi.
But I’ll say one thing: To make sure that your setup is reliable, you should spread some WiFi mesh and repeaters throughout your house to boost the signal. That’s probably the easiest one-size-fits-all solution for optimizing your smart home setup.
For more detailed instructions on how to set up some devices like the smart thermostat or any device that needs some moderate to complicated wiring, refer to a device’s instruction manual.
What do you think about all this smart home tech? Do you have thoughts or suggestions for people looking to build their smart homes? Leave them in the comments below! If you like articles like this, stay tuned for more and check out my previous TIY article!