It feels like I’ve heard about the smart home for decades, but what does it mean to implement a smart home setup, and what are some useful smart devices examples? For example, do I need all of my lights to turn on when I’m clapping? Not really, but specific lights might be a decent option.
In this article, I share how you can turn your house into a smart home and what smart device examples make sense, and which are less important.
Specifically, I discuss the following:
How to set up a smart home?
The first step needs to be to have a solid foundation. Here that means that the internet is reliable, strong enough, and reaches different areas of your home. I use an eero mesh system to strengthen the signal throughout the home. You can place the extenders into strategic spots in the house. In addition to using them to extend the Wi-Fi signal for all the smart home devices, you can also use them to add an internet access point. For example, one is placed near a secondary TV with a Roku. That Roku is directly plugged into the eero.
Next, I recommend thinking about what smart devices make the most sense. I just added devices as I saw them over time, but it certainly makes sense to think about them in a bigger picture. Where do smart devices make the most sense, and what kind of budget can we use on them?
Pro tip when the WiFi is down: Sometimes, eeros need a software update, prompting some disconnectivity issues. Just go into the app, check, and start the upgrade if necessary.
Smart home setup: Backup WiFi
A smart home won’t do you any good when the WiFi goes out. I use a Ring Alarm Pro Base that kicks on with WiFi through a data plan if our typical internet goes down momentarily.
Smart home setup features that make sense
Let me share some of the smart home devices I have installed and tested in this section.
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A smart TV might be an easy and accidental smart home purchase. Aren’t most TVs nowadays smart? I think so, but the specifics features may vary.
For example, the Insignia TVs have built-in Alexa, and you can watch various streaming shows. If you still use a cable or satellite provider, make sure the TV you are about to purchase has the correct input for that. For example, Samsung smart TVs usually have all these options available.
Cameras as part of your smart home setup
Security cameras are certainly about security, but they can also be used to know when somebody is visiting at the front door, to see that somebody you want to avoid is at the front door, or to supervise the children in the backyard.
Ring cameras work well here and can be installed outside the house. They connect to the Wi-Fi, and alerts are sent to your smartphone. You can also set them only to send alerts when they are seeing people. It will still record other motions – like animals – but won’t send immediate alerts.
If you plan on running Ring cameras on battery, I recommend adding a solar panel to each camera so you don’t constantly have to go and change the battery when it runs out of juice.
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Three of my smart devices are in the bathroom. Interesting, but also useful.
Some toilets know when we are there and when we are done. The Toto Washlet bidet/toilet combo does precisely that. It also keeps a nightlight on, so going to the bathroom in the middle of the night doesn’t require other lights. You have to push the button on the included remote to start cleaning, but once you leave, the Toto Washlet automatically cleans itself. Please note that you need an outlet nearby or an extension cord for this to work.
This RENPHO smart scale tracks my weight and then reports it to the app, which is connected through Bluetooth. That way I can easily see historical data, and it even breaks down muscle mass and body fat.
This smart Oral B toothbrush keeps track of how long I brush, and the connected app tells me when I’m brushing too hard or too softly.
Robot vacuum cleaners as part of your smart home setup
Self-driving vacuum cleaners are a great way to keep the home clean without ever having to run a vacuum cleaner yourself. One primary type is cleaners that connect to your Wi-Fi, and you can see on a map where they are going, and you can restrict areas. And then some models are more analog and don’t connect to Wi-Fi. The ones connected to Wi-Fi also send notifications to your phone when they are stuck or done. The more analog models beep loudly.
All work and price ranges vary. I currently use the eufy 11S, which does not connect to Wi-Fi but does an excellent job.
Remember that you’ll have to order replacement filters, brushes, and the like for these devices.
Who has the time to feed our cats or even clean their litter? Well, there’s an entire industry around automating home pet care. For example, pet feeding setups that are fairly analog, like this one. The water and food get refilled as the pets eat or drink it.
Somewhere in the middle, perhaps, are these electric-powered water feeders that renew the water when they notice the bowl is empty or they notice a cat nearby.
Smart home cat litter
Don’t want to scoop the cat litter all the time? There are now smart home devices for that. They automatically clean after the cat goes to the bathroom.
Clapping light bulbs
The clapping light bulb might be the original smart home feature.
A whole-house generator to keep the smart home setup running
All these smart devices won’t work when the power is out, so consider getting a generator. The easiest option is a whole-house generator from Generac. It is connected to the home, and when the power goes out, it automatically turns on and powers the house. It’s also connected to the Wi-Fi and sends a text when it turns on or when there’s a problem that needs to be fixed by a human. Make sure you know how to install it, find a dealer, and know the local rules around generators – a permit and building inspection might be required.
Things to consider
While smart home features are helpful, and some are just outright fun, it’s also good to remember that they aren’t free. I pick my devices mostly on functionality and how reasonable the price is.
Also, consider interoperability – meaning do the different devices work together? For example, I bought a HomePod Mini which works well with iOS devices but does not work well with other devices.
It does have Bluetooth connectivity, but it only plays sounds from other iOS devices. So, for example, I can’t hook up my Samsung TV to the HomePod mini.