What Is A Smart Home – Everything You Need To Know Guide!

What Is A Smart Home – Everything You Need To Know Guide!

What is considered a smart home?

The first definition of a SMART home actually comes from IBM in 1998. Back then SMART was an abbreviation for “Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology” which was again originally referred to as “Predictive Failure Analysis”.

The big consensus for a smart home today is to be able to control household devices through apps on smartphones. It’s a big generalisation but also true because for a smartphone to connect and control a device, the device needs a computer which has the ability to manipulate what it’s attached to and communicate to the internet.

This is also referred to as IoT (internet of things). IoT is a system of connected devices through a network (internet) and gives the ability for a device to transfer and receive data between other devices. So the more precise definition of a smart home is a home which has devices which can connect to each other and communicate.

So let’s oversimplify this by an example. Let’s say you have a smart light bulb which you control through your smartphone, you now have a set of devices which can communicate with each other and your home is now smart.

Often though a smart home is referred to as when you have most of the basic functionalities connected to the internet and are able to do more intelligent things.

Like a battery pack which only buys electricity when it’s cheapest or radiators that’ll make the air circulate to keep the room at a constant temperature, or if we are going crazy a refrigerator which can detect food which is out of date or even order new groceries automatically.

Table of contents

What is considered a smart home?
What can a smart home do?
Is a smart home worth it?
What are the pros and cons of smart homes?
Can a smart home be hacked?
Why do people want smart homes?
What is needed for a smart home?
How much does it cost to set up a smart home?
Smart Home – Table of Contents

What can a smart home do?

A smart home can make your life easier, save money and make your house more environmentally friendly. A great example of how my smart home is making my life easier is my Phillips Hue Light system of interconnected light bulbs and light strips.

All relevant lights will automatically turn on when I come home from work in the evening and turn off when I leave in the morning. It sounds trivial but I’m actually very bad at turning the lights off when I’m fast out the door in the morning, so it definitely saves me some money.

Another trivial task that can be solved is vacuuming. There is a lot of great robot vacuum cleaners on the market which can easily do the everyday cleaning of your floor whether it be a carpet or wooden floor.

So a smart home can also be really great at removing trivial everyday tasks or make sure to turn things off when not used. What can it else be used for?

If we look at the security of your house, you probably have locks on your doors and you might have intruder or house alarm which may be associated with a camera. All these security features can interconnect and make your house much safer. You can make smart houses today recognize you, your family and friends, and automatically lock up the doors when you arrive home, disable or enable the alarms depending who is home, automatically alert you and the police of any intruders and much more.

With smart locks, you can even unlock and lock your door with your smartphone and grant other people access to your house from a distance through an app. For example, if you are on vacation but you need a friend to water your plants, you can grant and remove access from your location and see a log on when your friend locked him/herself in to water your plants.

The possibilities of a smart home today is almost endless with all the different devices you can get. I think the best way to get inspiration is the YouTube way. One thing to keep in mind though, if you use YouTube to search the inspiration, you’ll probably come across millionaires and their smart homes. Just remember that a smart home is pretty much for everyone even if you live in a smaller apartment. There are alternatives and variations for every smart home solution.

Is a smart home worth it?

It of course depends on what you want to get out of it relative to the cost.
If the questions are economic-related I’d say yes it’s definitely worth investing in smart home devices. Take for example my Phillips Hue Light setup. I spend about a thousand bucks on getting every light bulb in my apartment replaced with a Phillips Hue Light Bulb and then I spend even more on getting Light Strips some places like under the kitchen counter and behind my office desk.

I used about two thirds on electricity when it comes to lighting now because all my other bulbs back then were older incandescent bulbs. These older light bulbs had a much lower lifespan and a higher energy usage compared to the actual lighting they give. So I save about 1/3 on my electricity bill each month. Now 4 years after the complete replacement they are more than recouped again.

I think the same goes for a lot of smart devices because they are able to do things much smarter by automating tasks that a human wouldn’t do. By installing a smart ait condition, for example, you’ll be able to set it to a fixed temperature all year around this will in itself save a lot of money but you can also take it a step further and make it reduce the room temperature when you are not home and heat it up again when you come again. This will save energy and therefore money when you are not home. It could also lower the temperature when you are sleeping, which is both healthier and will save a lot of money in the winter.

The conclusion to this is yes on an economic standpoint if you have the money to invest in a smarter home, it’s most definitely worth it. Especially if you are willing to sacrifice some time learning how to optimize it to its full potential.

But it can actually be worth in more ways than money, because what is more worth than money? TIME. Time is in general way more worth than money because it is something you cannot get back once used. When you’ve spent that hour vacuuming or mopping the floor you cannot get it back. So unless those things are things that you enjoy, maybe you should invest in a robot vacuum cleaner.

I’ve invested in a Neato D4, not really that expensive it’s a very good mid-range robot vacuum which can be configured in many smart ways. As of writing this article, it’s been almost 6 months since I bought it and I’ve used my manual vacuum 3 times and all the 3 times it took less than 10% of the time I would normally spend vacuuming the floor. Money. Well. Spent.

This concept of using smart home devices to save time is also applicable to many other things than robot vacuums. This could be as simple as turning the lights on and off, making sure doors are locked, adjusting thermostats, opening and closing thermostats or even windows, etc.

All this makes smart homes definitely worth it, both in time and money. It only depends on if you would even like for everything to be automatic and if you have the money to invest in it. There is no one saying you need everything at once, I started with lighting than a robot vacuum and now security, next thing will be heating I think. So for me, it’s a step by step process of my home becoming smarter and smarter.

What are the pros and cons of smart homes?

The Pros:

  1. Convenience and ease of life
    With an 8+ hours workday and maybe a partner plus kids, it can be really hard to fit in time for cleaning, managing temperatures, ventilating rooms, etc. You can target smart devices based on your needs and for tasks that you don’t have time for or don’t want to do yourself. If you hate regulation the room temperature for when it’s cold or warm outside, you can have smart thermometers which do this automatically. Or if you hate the daily vacuuming routine you can buy a robot vacuum to do the hard work for you. I bet your partner and your kids will love you for an investment like these.
  2. Cost savings and value increase
    Overtime almost all smart devices will actually save you money. This is because you cannot do things manually as good as a computer can do for you automatically. It’ll never forget to turn off the lights or regulate your room temperature when you are not home. Smart devices do what they are programmed to. Another huge economic factor can actually be that your house will increase in value because of these things. This is because people value things like security and climate control and if you already have all these things installed it’ll definitely increase the selling price and attractiveness.
  3. Security and safety
    You can get smart locks and other smart home security systems with cameras, motion sensors, smoke detectors, C02 detectors and much more. These things will definitely put some easy to your mind when you are not home or if you have kids in your house. For example, if a burglar breaks in can automatically alert the security company or the police so you and your kids can be safe.
  4. Accessibility
    Smart devices are great for elderlies or disabled. If you are unable to move your arms you can use voice command to control, enable and disable devices. Robot vacuums can clean the floors on a regular basis so you won’t rely on family, friends and social workers as much. There is potential unlimited stuff you can do and at least for an elderly or otherwise disabled person, a smart home can be life-changing. As an example, when my granddad couldn’t mow the lawn anymore we got him a robot lawnmower and now he can still use the summer days outside looking at the lawn gets mowed while enjoying a nice cold beer. After we bought him the robot lawnmower he bought a robot vacuum for himself as well. Now he as way more energy to play with his grandkids again.
  5. Insurance savings
    Your smart home can actually give you insurance incentives. This is because a smart home with smart locks and a good security system will less likely be broken into. This way the insurance company can actually give you incentives.

The Cons:

  1. The initial investment, potentially expensive
    Smart home devices relative to normal devices most often cost way more. This is because a lot more technology is involved and there for the product is more expensive to produce. This creates a huge gap in prices, for example, it’s easy to get a normal bulb for under $10, but search for a smart LED bulb you’ll easily be paying triple or quadruple that. I would say that the investment is worth it, but frankly, not all can afford it. At some point, I couldn’t either, when I was a student there was no chance of getting any kind of smart stuff. When I got more money I started collecting it bit by bit, wishing it for birthdays and such. Little by little the whole apartment has become smart.
  2. Always online, grid and internet
    Your smart devices always have to be connected to both power and internet. This is someplace a huge disadvantage. So when buying smart devices for your smart home, please make sure that all your smart devices also come with manual control. Like the Phillips Hue Light system, when not connected it just works like a normal light source.
  3. Compatibility or smart devices
    So many smart device manufacturers are coming to market and so many are already on the market. This means millions of different devices and thousands of different manufacturers. All have their own apps and their own standards which really put a strain on the compatibility of smart devices. It also makes the job of Google Home and Alexa plus many other smart hubs very very hard. A product like Alexa makes a kit or API for developers to tap into for connecting their devices to it. But Alexa also needs the commands to control it and for this, they have a very hard time keeping up. This sadly means that not all smart devices are compatible with each other or even enable to connect properly to a smart hub. When you buy any smart devices it’s a very good idea to make sure they are compatible with your Alexa or Google Home.
  4. Installation and usability
    Some smart home systems can be quite hard to install by yourself and you may need electricians or other professional service workers to do it for you. This will increase the initial costs by a lot. Smart devices which are actually made for ease of install can also be pretty hard if you are not especially tech-savvy. Sadly also many smart devices are over-engineered or actually designed by an engineer and not by a usability designer. This greatly impacts the experience of the product and how easy it is to use. A good finger note is that the more well-known brands often also has the best user experience because a lot of newer brands prioritize functionality over usability, which is understandable but frankly quite stupid. It doesn’t matter if your product works if your users can’t learn how to use it.

Can a smart home be hacked?

So are your smart home even secure? Adding more and more devices will also increase the risk of having a device which is compromised and an easy target for hackers. First of all, I want to say, don’t worry. All devices sold comes with at least a basic security standard which can be encryption and other similar protocols. But the devices security quality may differ a lot.

If you buy an old smart device or if a company hasn’t released a security update in years the device may be compromised and could risk getting hacked. The most worrisome part of a smart device getting hacked is once they are in, they have your wifi key and once they are on your router they have access to everything even potentially everything on your computer, or at least they have it much easier getting access to stuff on your computer. This is also the goal of many hackers.

Hackers are not in general interested in opening your garage door or turn off your lights to annoy you. But they are interested in getting as much personal information as possible to potentially get access to your bank or stock account.

The best thing you can actually do against hacking is not protecting you against hacking but actually render a hacking useless. What I mean by that is, don’t store any passwords on your computer and use a DNS service to hide your traffic. Change your thought of mind to “how can I keep a hacker for getting my personal information” instead of “how can I keep a hacker out”, because just like a burglar if they really want to get in, they’ll get in. But if you don’t have any value or what they are searching for you don’t lose anything so the hack is rendered useless.

Why do people want smart homes?

Most people want a smart home for convenience. Especially the convenience in managing all your devices at one hub. Connecting all your devices to a smart hub, this one place where everything will interconnect, give you are a huge advantage and it’ll feel like entering a whole new era, just like when you got your first smartphone.

You’ll suddenly be able to control all connected devices with your voice and automate trivial tasks like turning your lights off when going to bed or going out of the house. You can even use App connectors like IFTTT which unlocks pretty much-unlimited possibilities. Once pretty funny example is that when I say “Execute Orde 66” to my Google home it’ll start playing the Darth Vader intro “The Imperial March”, my lights will dim and my TV will turn on and show Darth Vader coming in. I know it’s pretty nerdy and yes it took me some time to set up, but it just gives a pretty nice example of what can actually be done when everything is connected.

This leads me to, people who want a smart house is also often people who want to experiment and evolve their house to something more. People who are often tech savvy and who want the interconnectivity and whom can really exploit it.

So there are many reasons and objectives to why people want a smart home, it really ranges everywhere from convenience, economics, flexibility, nerdiness, future-proofing to data and insight. For me, it was definitely an investment in my hunger for tech and investment in saving time from cleaning and such.

What is needed for a smart home?

Smart hub

If you are 100% new and don’t have any smart devices other than maybe your smartphone, I’d start with a smart hub like Amazon Alexa or Google Home/Nest. It will take a long time for you to get used to the idea of speaking to a computer and using voice commands.

I had my Google Home for months without really using it much, but now I use it for alarms when cooking, recipes, weather and checking the traffic before driving to work. And it’s also really awesome that you can create a shopping/grocery list and pretty much ask it everything especially math and science-related, it’ll come up with an answer in an instant.

Smart lighting

Next, I would focus on what you feel could benefit you the most and at the same time could be the easiest to implement and learn. For me this was lighting. I got all my bulbs and other light sources changed to Philips Hue Light, you could, of course, start off with a single bulb and a hub, but this system is very easy to set up and is ultra compatible with Alexa and Google Home. I never use the switches on the wall anymore it’s way easier to just say “Hey Google, turn on the kitchen lights” when you get used to it.

Smart speakers

Next after, I got was a smart speaker, I got a set of Libratone speakers. Actually just needed some speakers for everyday use and the Libratone speakers was nice and coincidentally Google Home compatible. Now I love that they are connected because I can just tell Google what I want to isn’t to and the speakers start playing. Also, smart speakers are also one product where “smart” doesn’t make it cost twice as much.

Robot vacuums and mopping

This could easily also be one of my things to consider getting first. My robot vacuum was a life changer! I, of course, hated vacuuming the rooms and with not much spare time it was just a horrible task to do. Now I use my regular vacuum so little it’s almost pointless in having, though not completely replaceable yet.

If you are already considering getting a robot vacuum while reading this, just go get this one first without the other things. It’ll help so much. One advice though is, if you are considering a robot vacuum as a 90% replacement to your existing vacuum, buy a mid to high range robot vacuum with better suction, battery, navigation, mapping, scheduling and control.

Chromecast

Can’t recommend this product enough and that’s even without providing any affiliate links! A Chromecast will let you use your smartphone, Google Home or Alexa to control what to watch on your TV through streaming services like Netflix, HBO, Disney+ or YouTube. It makes your streaming experience so much easier.

Home security

Home security like smart locks or systems with security cameras and infrared motion sensors will ease your mind when you aren’t home. It’ll make sure everything is all right at home and if anything were to happen it’ll notify you right away.

A smart lock can register any forced entry and a motion sensor will set off any house alarm and send the alert straight to you as well. While home security is typically one of the more expensive smart homes add-ons you can invest in, it might be just the thing for you. Also, security has the added value that it’ll increase your house worth, so might be a great thing to invest in if you are considering selling.

So a small conclusion to what you need in for a smart home is that you really just get what suits you the best. It might just be the security system only or a multiple set of things. There isn’t a single one definition to what you need for calling your home a smart home. It can be a single thing or a multiple set of things.

How much does it cost to set up a smart home?

Depending on if you are considering making your whole home smart or just getting individual things. But one thing is for sure, it can be really expensive making your house smart. Having a decent smart home with a decent amount of automation could easily set you back a couple of thousand bucks. I spend a thousand bucks in my Phillip Hue Lights setup alone.

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_home_technology

Auther:

Morten Pradsgaard

Morten has been working with technology, IoT and electronics for over a decade. His passion for technology is reflected into this blog to give you relevant and correct information.

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