A decade ago, smart home technology was hugely expensive and very complicated. Today, you can start building a ‘smart home’ for less than the price of a meal out, with voice-control speakers and standalone Wi-Fi smart lamps.
But what’s the best way to get the most out of a smart home? And how do you start?
We spoke to some top smart home installers and experts to find out.
You don’t have to start off by wiring up your whole house. Instead, dip your toes by kitting out one room, and start with cheaper wireless kit, advises Phillip Pini, Head of Residential Development Europe for smart home control company, Crestron.
Pini says, ‘You don’t have to automate your entire home if your budget doesn’t allow. It’s possible to design a system that can grow with you. You could start with a smaller system, something that’s wireless, and build up to a centralised system at a later date.”
Invest in powerful Wi-Fi
Most smart home gadgets rely on a Wi-Fi connection, so if you’re starting a smart home, it’s wise to boost your Wi-Fi.
If your Wi-Fi coverage isn’t up to scratch, consider upgrading to a ‘mesh’ network which can offer more coverage in larger homes.
Anthony Gallon, Technical Director at smart home installer Clever Association says, “If I was to give a single piece of advice relating to smart home technologies, it would be to invest in a robust and reliable network first. Almost all technology is reliant upon a connection to the outside world, or the ability to share data between devices locally within your home.
“Having a good network infrastructure in place will set you off on the right path.”
Make sure everything works together
Keeping the controls as simple as possible is key: otherwise it’s easy to end up using multiple different apps for the heating, lighting and music, for example.
‘Integrated’ smart home systems are more expensive, but will use a single app to control everything. For a similar effect on a budget, use voice commands via systems such as Amazon’s Alexa, and check that your equipment is compatible.
Chris Knight, MD of smart home company Perfect Integration Limited, says, “The best way to get the most from a smart home is to keep things simple. The whole idea of home automation is to make daily life in your home easier and more fun. Having to unlock your phone and use an app to switch on the lights as you enter a room is much more hassle than simply flicking a switch.”
Take time to plan your smart home first
Don’t splurge lots of money on expensive smart home gadgets before thinking about how it will all work together.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ smart home system out there,” says Anthony Gallon, Technical Director at Clever Association.
Gallon says, “Before committing to any particular smart home solution, consider how technology might complement your own lifestyle. Do your research and speak to professionals within the industry as they’ll be able to explain the pros and cons of different solutions to you.”
Don’t expect it to do everything straight out of the box
As with most things, the more preparation you do, the better the outcome. Things are no different with smart home tech.
It’s easy to assume that all smart home tech will just work and do everything you want as soon as you plug it in. But that’s not always the case. Yes, many will have direct access to features to get you sailing into a more streamlined, hands-free life, but spend a little time at the beginning and the devices will get better and even more useful.
For example, the Amazon Echo smart speaker can do a lot of things to keep you moving and entertained without you having to do too much. But to get the most out of it, really sit down and understand everything it can do, what will help you in your life and make sure it’s set up right. The Echo Show offers valuable on-screen feedback and tips that can help you get going.
Save money on energy
As the price of installing smart home technology has fallen, it’s become an attractive way to save money on electricity bills.
Smart thermostats such as Nest and Hive equipment can cut electricity bills by working out when families use heating systems, and turning them off when not required.
Smart home expert Darren Staniforth, Technical Development Manager at the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) says, “The cost of installing products to create a smart home have come down considerably over recent years.
“Investing in smart solutions offers an ideal way for homeowners to reduce their energy bill. Even small changes can make a real difference.”
Smarten up your kitchen
If you’re starting a smart home, the kitchen is a great place to do it, with an increasing amount of smart technology from ‘intelligent’ fridges to Amazon’s ‘Dash’ buttons which allow users to order groceries instantly.
Voice control can really come into its own in the kitchen, says Michael Mauser, executive vice president at Harman. Mauser says, “Try putting your smart speaker in the kitchen as it can really deliver in here. Straight out of the box, it can convert measurements, read out recipes or set a timer.
“In fact, 24% of UK consumers with a voice controlled speaker use it as their kitchen assistant.”
Enable the whole household to use it
Voice control systems such as Amazon’s Alexa allow multiple users, each with their own level of access.
This means parents can restrict access to services when needed and each user can access their own to-do list and calendar. Allowing the whole household to use the one device makes it a much more economical purchase and ensures that everyone can benefit from it.
Michael Mauser of Harman says, ‘One in five children use the voice controlled speaker without supervision. Creating separate accounts, turning off voice purchases in the settings or adding a pin code to buy things could prevent unwanted orders.”
Get clever with smart home gadgets
‘If This Then That’ is a web-based service which allows you to customise what a smart home can do, so that, for instance, you can get your lights to pulse when an email arrives.
You could also, for instance, enable your lights to change colour in response to weather conditions outside.
Kathryn Middleton from smart light supplier Lighting Direct says, “Many smart home products, such as the Philips Hue smart lighting range support IFTTT, a service that allows users to create simple conditional statements, known as ‘applets’. This allows users to truly customise their smart home experience.”