If you were to begin building a house, you’d need to make sure that the framing and foundation were strong first. By getting these basics right before adding things like windows and electricity, a home builder creates a better, safer, longer-lasting home.
A great smart home is similar in that it requires attention to the fundamentals. Someone who wants to build their smart home in a way that’s genuinely intuitive and useful needs to master the basics first. And judging a smart home by its bells and whistles is like judging an IoT device by its electrical enclosure (or, yes, a book by its cover). It doesn’t tell you much about how good the device configuration actually is at what it does.
Are you ready to find out how to set your smart home up for success? In this article, we’re going to explore the basics of starting your smart home off the right way.
What Does a Great Smart Home Need?
The path to smart home success begins with your Wi-Fi router. It’s really important that your router is able to handle the demands of a smart home system and that it provides good coverage in your home. If you have a large home that needs a lot of coverage, you might need to grab some range extenders.
A smart home should also be built from the beginning with a careful eye on different IoT wireless protocols. Wireless protocols are like languages that wireless devices use to communicate with each other. Examples include Bluetooth, Zigbee and Z-Wave. Since these are proprietary standards, a device that uses one may not be able to communicate with devices that use the other protocols.
Your First Smart Devices
Choosing your home’s first smart devices will depend on what you want out of your smart home. The following are common entry points for smart homes:
- Thermostat: Smart thermostats are relatively simple to use and can potentially create savings on energy bills. You might automatically cool the house at night as you go to bed and then warm it up in the morning before you get up.
- Lights: Smart lights are another popular choice for smart homes because of their ease of automation and potential energy savings. Many popular smart lighting apps allow users to create “scenes” with pre-set combinations of lights designed to accent room features and provide different vibes.
- Locks and Security: Smart security and lock systems are a popular choice for automation because many people like the ability to activate and operate them remotely. Think you forgot to lock the door? Want to make sure your home is safe and sound? Pull up your security app and do it with just a few taps.
- Media Devices: From TVs to stereos, there’s a world of smart media devices out there ready to entertain you. A simple upgrade like getting a smart TV with a voice assistant can mean you never have to hunt for the remote again.
- Electrical Plugs: Smart electrical plugs are a great choice if you’re looking for a simple and effective way to introduce automation into your home. Smart electrical plugs are Wi-Fi-enabled plugs that can be turned on and off through your phone—basic, but extremely effective for activating a large range of different appliances.
Of course, there’s an enormous variety of smart home devices to choose from beyond the basics. Everything from smart dishwashers to smart litter boxes (yes, really) is out there, so pursue the options that interest you most.
To Hub or Not to Hub?
With smart home hubs like Alexa and Google Home skyrocketing in popularity, it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that a smart home hub is a must-have right away. Although a smart hub is usually a keystone piece for the fully built-out smart home, it’s not required.
Hubs have the advantage of bringing all of your devices together onto one platform, so a hub is a good choice if you have ambitious plans for your smart home and/or have previous experience with IoT devices. If you do go for a hub, remember to pay close attention to what protocols it uses so that you can keep as many of your smart home devices as possible within the same product ecosystem.
For the average smart home user who only has a handful of devices, a hub simply isn’t essential. Instead, focus on getting a small network of compatible devices that your family actually likes and finds easy to use. There are also some DIY smart home hub options available using microcomputers like the Raspberry Pi®. These take a little more know-how but can be surprisingly user-friendly once you’re past the initial learning curve.
Securing Your Smart Home
Security should never be an afterthought with a smart home. Unsecured IoT devices can provide attackers with access to all of your most personal information, so from the moment you start setting up your devices, you need to consider each one’s security features
First, your home Wi-Fi router needs to be properly secured with a strong password. Think about creating a guest network so that guests don’t have the password to your IoT network, and make sure that your system is protected by a firewall.
Individual wireless devices, however, still need to be secured so they don’t give cybercriminals an opportunity. Check each device’s security settings carefully and make sure that each one is secured by a unique, hard-to-guess password. Finally, make sure your IoT devices always have the latest software patches. These often contain security updates to fix vulnerabilities that the developers have discovered.
Your smart home can be a great partner in the ultra-connected 21st century lifestyle. By building it thoughtfully and carefully, you can ensure that you’re making the connections that you treasure while leaving confusing, exploitative or dangerous connections behind.