Articles - Technology

A simple guide to creating a smart home

15th July 2019

In 2015, the average Australian house had 9 connected devices. In 2018 it was 17, and by 2022 it's expected to reach 37. That's a four-fold increase in 7 years.

Today most appliances have some form of 'smart' technology built-in. Combined with the use of smartphones, tablets and smart assistants that are used to control smart products, making it more accessible to the average person. Have you been thinking about testing out some smart products? With so many different options and brands available, it can be challenging to know where to start.

To help you get started, we've put together our guide to creating your very own smart home.

What is a smart home?

A smart home is a home that uses smart products to perform automated functions - like turning your lights off automatically.

A smart home can have multiple levels of "intelligence" – So you can have one smart product in a single room, or you can have various products in every room and outdoors as well. It all depends on how automated you would like your home to be.

Why invest in smart home technologies?

    • Make your life easier - smart homes make every day smoother with automated functions that activate how you want when you want.
    • Save you time - because everything's automated, you can set and forget, and even skip the little time-consuming actions.
    • Save you money - a lot of smart products can be set on schedules or timers, which means you don't have to turn them off or have appliances operating when you aren't home
    • Give you peace of mind - A smart home is a more secure home thanks to smart lock doors that log every entry, video doorbells with real-time notifications, and more.
    • Add value to your property - did you know that is has been reported that smart homes can add serious value to your home?

The Basics

Apps - There are more apps than ever before available for both iOS and Andriod devices, the only issue is most apps direct from the manufacturer are not compatible with other brands which can make it difficult if you want to control everything in the same place.

It may be easier to add Google Homes into the mix, creating a smart home hub as it allows you to control multiple devices from one place.

Smart assistants - There are now a few different smart assistants you can choose from such as Google Assitant, Siri and Alexa. You don't need one when creating a smart home, but they do make things a lot easier by controlling all of your devices in the one place using voice commands.

For beginners, when selecting a smart assistant, it may be easier to go with the same brand as your smartphone. Android comes with Google Assistant and iPhones have Siri.

Controlling your smart home with one of these gadgets in super convenient as all you have to do is tell it to do something. For instance, "Hey Siri, dim the lights in the dining room" or "Hey Google, play country music on Spotify."

When you get used to the system, you can then set up your voice commands. You can set up these commands based on your personal needs such as "It's date night" dimming the lights, and playing romantic music.

Home automation - You can also use smart home features to automate your life. For example, you could set the coffee machine to turn on ten minutes before you wake up or your air conditioner to turn on one hour before you get home from work to cool down the house.

Smart Home Benefits

Entertainment - There is now an increasing number of entertainment integrations available for smart home devices, making it a great starting point. You can group smart and wifi speakers together or use them individually. A smart speaker has an automated assistant built into it, while a separate connected speaker can also be controlled by an app or a smart assistant via your wifi.

You can also select music, pause, play, skip or stop tracks via voice commands or your phone.

Some TVs have built-in smart features, but other media devices like Google Chromecast or Apple TV are often a superior option. These gadgets plug into a TV and let you cast a video to it from another device, control streaming platforms like Netflix with your phone, or be controlled via voice if you have a compatible smart assistant.

General Appliances - New appliances are getting smart all the time.

Fridge, washing machines, ovens and even microwaves can be joined to your smart homes system with a variety of different uses, like pinging your phone when the washing is done, or something is cooked.

Smart fridges now have an internet-connected touchscreen on the front, and some include internal cameras to answer the age-old shopper's problem of "do we have butter?".

Smart switches allow you to turn devices off or on with phone or voice commands. Plug your old 'dumb' appliance into the switch. Suddenly an old lamp becomes a smart light, or you can double-check you didn't leave the heater on when you go out. If you did, you could turn it off with the tap of a button.

Lighting and temperature control - Smart lights can be turned on and off, dimmed, and some can even change colour via a mobile app or smart assistant. You can also program some to simulate an occupied home when you're away.

Smart thermostats still haven't made their way into Australia, but devices such as the Sensibo are a useful workaround. This gadget acts like a regular universal remote control, except you mount it to a wall and control it via a smart assistant or phone.

Home security - Smart security cameras connect to your wifi network and can be controlled via voice or app. Paired with a smart lock and doorbell, you can see who's at the front door and let your guests while still sitting on the couch.

Some smart locks can allow you to set time-limited keys for guests, so your house-sitters can use their phone to gain access to your home while you are away, or cleaners can get into work during certain hours, but not others.

Sustainability - Some devices and appliances track water and energy usage so you can find the best way to cut back and reduce your environmental footprint.

Accessibility - Home automation, along with voice commands, has opened up a world of accessibility options for people with many different disabilities.

You can control music, TVs, or unlock the front door via voice commands.

You can also do this with a tablet or smartphone if you're unable to speak.

Remote Access - A lot of IoT gadgets can be controlled from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection.

What costs are involved?

The price of home automation can depend on what features you would like to include.

Simple $100–$200: With a simple set up you will be able to tap a button on your phone to turn off a couple of lamps turn on at once, you can even retrofit smart switches to "dumb devices" for as little ss $50 per switch. You could add a smart speaker from Amazon or Google from $80.

Intermediate $500–$1000: At this level things start to get a little more technical but are still limited to basic commands. Here, you're buying devices that will connect to an automation network piggybacking on your wifi, doing things like dim lights, turn off speakers or schedule an airconditioning cycle.

Advanced $5000+: At this stage, things get expensive but it can be a lot of fun. In addition to the use of simple commands, you can monitor devices from a smartwatch or smartphone. You can see how long the washing has left, see how long it will be until your roast is cooked or even ask Google to suggest a recipe based on the expiry date of foods in your fridge.

Is creating a smart home difficult?

This depends on automated you want your home to be and how many devices you wish to connect, but unless you're into crazy-advanced territory where multiple third-party devices are communicating in sequence at precisely 8:03 in the morning, you'll find setting up IoT devices isn't overly complicated.

To fully utilise smart devices you'll need:

A consistent wifi signal wherever you place your IoT gadgets - along with a tablet, smartphone, smart speaker or intelligent speaker-enabled device.

Some systems may require you to connect a hub to your modem or router. Serving as a signal between the smart devices and your home network, but most work by themselves.

All you need to do is download compatible apps on your smartphone and connect the smart device to your home network – the technology handles the rest.