Home automation is increasingly popular as technology improves and devices become more affordable. The concept of a smart home is now within reach for many people, making life easier, safer and more convenient. Whether you’re starting from scratch or adding to an existing setup, this guide will help you get started with smart home automation.
How It Works
Smart home automation works by connecting various devices in your home to a central hub or directly to a network. These devices can then be controlled remotely through a smartphone app, voice assistant or web interface. As the devices send and receive data, they can react to vocal commands to turn on a light or sensor readings to detect motion, for example.
The central hub or network provides communication between the devices, allowing them to interact. For example, you could set up a rule so that when a motion sensor detects movement, the lights turn on.
Smart home components like security or climate control can be integrated with other smart devices, like your home entertainment system. This allows you to create a comprehensive and integrated smart home system that can automate many different tasks and make your life easier, safer and more convenient.
If you’re brand-new to the smart home space, you’ll want to make a plan before you start buying devices and equipment. A plan will help ensure integration is seamless and intuitive. If you’ve already acquired a few smart home devices and want to work toward automation, a plan will help you determine what you need to complete the process.
Determine your goals. Before you start buying devices, determine what you want to achieve with your smart home setup. Consider your needs and budget and think about which areas of your home you want to automate.
Choose compatible devices. Once you know what you want to automate, research compatible devices and brands. Look for devices that use a common communication protocol and are compatible with your existing hub, if you have one, and smart devices.
Set up your home network. A strong and secure home network is crucial for your smart home devices to work properly. Make sure you have a good Wi-Fi signal throughout your home and consider using a mesh network for larger homes.
Install the manufacturer’s apps. Most smart home devices come with a companion app that will allow you to control your devices and configure their settings. That said, using multiple manufacturers means installing multiple apps. However, certain systems make it possible to control devices from different brands using a single home control app. For example, if you’re using Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, or Apple Home, you will be able to control multiple devices from different brands. The new Matter protocol shows promise to bring about more simplified and centralized control as well.
There are more advanced options for control. Hubitat or Home Assistant are protocols and apps that require more time researching and setting up, and tend to be designed for those who like to tinker. On the other end of the spectrum professionally installed systems such as Control4 or Crestron are best for very large or luxury homes.
Connect your devices. Once you’ve set up your home network and installed all the apps, start connecting your devices. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for each device and make sure everything is set up properly.
When in doubt, YouTube is always a valuable resource if you get stuck, have questions or things aren't working as they should. Here are some channels I recommend:
- Smart Home Solver
- Tech with Brett
- The Hook Up
- Life Hackster
- Automate Your Life
- Steve Does
- Shane Whatley
- Smart Home Tours
Smart Home Protocols
Smart home devices can communicate over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, using standards including Zigbee, Z-Wave and now Matter. Here’s a quick overview of each:
Wi-Fi. The most common communication medium for smart home devices and is easy to set up. It’s suitable for larger homes and can handle more devices.
Bluetooth. A short-range protocol that’s suitable for small smart home setups. It’s not ideal for larger homes, but it’s a good option for simple installation.
Zigbee. A low-power protocol that’s ideal for devices that run on batteries, such as motion sensors and smart locks.
Z-Wave. A reliable protocol that’s designed to work well with many devices. It’s a good choice for larger smart home setups.
Matter. A new standard that will work across brands and make setup easier. Because it’s still new, not many products currently support it, and those that do may have fewer features. This should improve as more manufacturers adopt this standard.
Now that you’ve got your devices installed and communicating with each other, it’s time to build out your automations. Use your chosen app or web interface—Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s SmartThings, or your preferred other option—to create automations and rules for your smart home devices. Select a trigger such as a motion event or time of day, the device(s) you’d like to control, and the actions that should be taken. For example, you could set a rule that turns on the lights when motion is detected or turns off the lights when you leave the room.
Looking for more in the smart home realm? The Ultimate Smart Home Series offers a wealth of information for smart home topics such as devices and products, launches, how-tos and more.