I’ve finally got down to writing this beginner guide on how create a smart home. If you’ve been wanting to know more about how to get around to it, or about home automation in general, I hope you will find this quick start guide useful.
Where to start?
Firstly, you will need a hub that controls and integrates with all your (future) products in the home. This is usually a smart speaker; some of the bigger brands tend to have a wider compatibility list of products. I don’t know much about proprietary systems, which are expensive, but here’s my suggestion for a DIY solution that you can build on, especially with South Africa being a bit behind with home automation:
- Google Home
- Amazon Echo
- Apple HomePod
The speakers then allow you to control smart things in the house via voice commands (Hey Google; Alexa…?) or via access on the app.
My tip: I don’t use these speakers for sound quality so I go for the “mini” model variants. I own a bunch of Google Home Minis (scattered across rooms) and Amazon Echo Dot.
What will work with my smart speaker?
Now is the fun part, you can research, save and decide what to spend your money on, that will be compatible with the smart speakers.
- Light switches
- Light bulbs
- Appliances (fridges, washing machines)
- Robot vacuums
- Security cameras
- Smart WiFi multi-socket plugs
If your home appliances are fairly new, you could buy a bridging device to make it work with a smart speaker.
- Sensibo (retrofit on aircon)
- Chromecast (we use voice commands to power the TV)
- LG ThinQ (if you’re an LG household)
- Samsung SmartThings Hub (if you’re a Samsung household)
My tip: if you don’t own an aircon yet, look at options from Samsung, LG etc that are already smart. Both Samsung and LG hubs work with Google and Alexa. Oh, the Sensibo is not cheap, we bought one to test.
I’m including this here to give you an idea what you can then do. All smart speakers come with an explore option or online guide of the things you can do. Search the web, there are tons of articles too.
- Play music (link your streaming service)
- Control lights, aircon with voice
- Do searches (Alexa/Google/Siri)
- Ask for the weather, sport scores, traffic
- Power your TV with voice
- Have the smart speakers wake you up
- Get daily/breaking news round-up by region every morning
- Check what’s in your calendar for the day
- Speak to others in your house via speakers if you have multiple of the same speaker in different rooms (you don’t have to shout across the house anymore, LOL)
- Ask Google/Alexa to make animals sounds to trick your pet
- Ask Alexa to read books to your kids (tied to Audible)
- Set reminders
Security cameras and systems
I’m giving security its own section because not everyone has access to an armed response system or if they do, it can be expensive. These may or may not work with a smart speaker (it’s not important that it does) but it has a smartphone app and worth looking into if you’re considering adding an additional layer of security on your property.
It goes without saying, but these options are tied to motion sensing, so you get notified on the app when there is activity. Some allow you to set timetables (like if you have a gardener coming in on certain days, you can disable it during working hours).
- Ring Cameras/Doorbell (owned by Amazon, subscription based, works with Alexa)
- Xiaomi Alarm Sensor Kit (works on Android and iOS)
- Logitech indoor or outdoor home security cameras
- Loads of random brands (do research before buying)
My bonus tips
I created a brand new email address for my household when we first set up our smart speakers. Both my husband and I have access to it and every single smart device in our house is linked to it – nothing is tied to my personal Gmail. I’ve never been a fan of linking social accounts and logins to services, so this was borne out of my obsession with keeping data separate from each other – as much as I can.
This post is basically a DIY version of setting up a smart home, which means you need to be willing to fiddle if things don’t work to set it up yourself. Some of the lights for example were a bit tricky but we eventually got it working.
Think carefully about the naming conventions for rooms (for lights) when using voice commands. It’s a bit of a schlep to change after. Try to make it less complicated or just create nicknames for your rooms. I would not suggest calling it bedroom 1 and bedroom 2; avoid using similar words in the name.
Add your new household email address to your cloud calendars so you can add entries into it for the purpose of the speakers calling out your daily events – if you set it up this way. Pre-covid, I just copied my work events to it. I have not linked my personal or work calendars to the speakers and I don’t intend to.
Basically everything listed here works with an app from anywhere you are in the world. The Google Home and Alexa app can be accessed without necessarily using voice commands, which works in instances were you forgot to switch things off if you’re not at home. I know it’s obvious but I felt it needed to be said because I’ve been through this before.
Lastly, do as much research as you can before spending money, check reviews and compatibility to make sure it talks to your products.
Hope you found this beginner post useful and helps you with your smart home journey.
PS All the products mentioned here are available to buy locally, the list of retailers is very long to mention. Refer to the PriceCheck website to find and compare costs. All smart speakers purchased locally come with an adaptor that works here.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 14 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org