What is home automation?

Home automation is a way to connect everyday things in your home together so you can control them from just one place, wherever you are; or, like a sci-fi movie, they can control each other. But it’s not just for the tech-savvy — in fact, the goal of home automation is to make things simpler for busy families. You may already be familiar with early automated devices, like timers for your lights, sprinklers or coffee maker.

It may sound complicated, but don’t worry. We’ll take it slow with some simple examples of how you can start with a few basic smart appliances so you can get an idea of the benefits of a smart home.

Several benefits of home automation are:

  • Energy savings. Monitor energy usage and have better control over heating or cooling with a smart thermostat.
  • Safety. Monitor your home inside and out with cameras, make sure your front door is secure with a smart door lock and control and schedule lights in your home when you are away.
  • Convenience. Imagine lights in your bedroom gently waking you up as the thermostat warms up your home before you get out of bed, or being able to open your garage door with your smartphone.
  • Entertainment. Turn on your favorite music or TV shows with just your voice, and set lighting “themes” for family movie night or entertaining guests.

What can I do to get started?

Start small. It’s easy enough to connect new things later, so for now just get your toes wet with only a few simple pieces of smart technology.

First things first – make sure you have a good wireless router. Most smart devices need a connection to your home wifi signal to be able to talk to the app on your phone. If you haven’t upgraded your wireless router in a few years, now would be a good time so you don’t run into any issues connecting smart devices later. For a few tips on getting the most out of your home wifi, take a look at these ways to improve your wifi signal.

The most popular starting point for a smart home device is wireless cameras, like the Nest Cam or Arlo HD security camera. These small but powerful cameras are simple to install anywhere inside or outside your home, and come with their own free smart phone app so you can see what is going on from wherever you are.

Many people choose these wireless cameras or “drop cams” as an inexpensive and flexible form of home security. Most cameras install in just minutes, usually with just a couple of screws, or even an included magnetic plate to attach it to anything metal. Alerts can be sent to your phone when the camera detects motion, and video is stored in the cloud for you to watch later. Most brands offer some small amount of free cloud storage, with the opportunity to buy more if you need.

These cameras have also become popular as a way for people to monitor their home while they are away – watching their pets while at work or a child at home after school.

Try it for yourself:

Start with a single camera, like the Netgear Arlo HD. Download the free app on your phone and set up your camera. Next, follow the simple instructions to mount the camera outside to watch your driveway or front door, making sure to test the camera’s view with your smart phone so it is capturing the area you want to view. At night, you’ll be able to see in the dark with the camera’s night vision feature, and during the day you’ll be able to see who is coming to your front door. Guess what? Your home is getting smarter, and you can feel safer knowing your camera is watching your home while you are asleep or away.

Related article guide to smart cameras

I’ve gotten started, what comes next?

Okay, so you’ve started making your home smart with a  wireless camera. What you do next is entirely up to you. If you are interested in saving money on your energy bill, maybe you install a smart thermostat, like the Nest, which can learn your preferred temperatures and turn the heat down when you are at work and turn it back up right before you get home. If home security is a concern, there are simple to install smart light bulbs and smart door locks, all controllable by your smartphone.

Each of these devices comes with the ability to control it with its own free app, but where this gets really cool is when you can combine devices to work together to make your life easier. Let’s look at a few examples:

Home safe from school. When your son approaches the front door, the motion-sensing camera turns on and notifies you of activity. You check your phone and see your son coming through the door, which you make sure is locked behind him with your smart lock app. With the camera in the kitchen, you are able to see him putting down his things, getting a snack and starting his homework at the table.

Stay safe in an emergency. In the unlikely event of a fire, your smart smoke alarm, such as the Nest Protect, will detect the smoke in your home and sound the alarm while turning on all the smart lights in your house, making sure no one is left in the dark.

Gently wake up. With your smart thermostat, you can begin warming the house a few minutes before you wake up, while the smart light bulb next to your bed to gradually increases in brightness. Using a free app called If This Then That (IFTTT), you can even have your smart coffee maker begin brewing coffee at the moment the Fitbit on your wrist knows you are waking up, so fresh coffee is ready when you are.

What does a smart hub do?

This is where things start getting advanced. A smart hub is a device that connects all of your smart items together, making them easy to control from a single place. Some, like the new Google Home, are voice-controlled devices that allow you to ask Google questions, turn on lights in any room, or even find TV shows or play music with a few simple phrases.

Other systems, like the Apple HomeKit, don’t require a new device (yet), but turn your iPhone into the hub, connecting all of your smart items together with a single app. The Apple HomeKit app runs $14.99, still far less expensive than a smart hub device.

Where it can get tricky is for any hub to work with your smart home devices, they have to be compatible. So, for example, some smart light bulbs or cameras will work with Google Home, but not with Apple HomeKit, and vice versa.

But the benefits can be pretty amazing. A hub centralizes the control of all your smart devices in one place, and allows you to set things to happen automatically, like shutting off the lights and thermostat and locking the front door as soon as you leave your driveway.

Making home automation work for you

Ultimately, you will want to choose the smart home items that work best for you and your family. Home automation can help keep your home safe, save you time, stress and even money. Enjoy exploring all the ways a connected home can make your life easier.

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