Most of the posts I’ve put up on building your smart home, up to now, have been pretty specifically tailored to my setup. A full-on smart ecosystem is not, however, required for everybody. Let’s look at building your smart home from a slightly broader perspective. No programming, no hub. Simple lighting and temperature control.
What do you want to accomplish?
Before you begin, think about what your ultimate goal is going to be. Do you want energy savings? Are you looking to improve home safety? Are you looking for improved efficiency? Or do you just want it to look cool? Or all of the above?
The point is you do not want to start throwing in different smart devices without some sort of a game plan. Most of these things are not cheap. When building your smart home, you want it to be functional without being a pain in the a** to maintain.
Before you start, my suggestion is to make a notebook and jot down your behavioral patterns throughout the day. When do you usually get up? What do you usually do first? Do you sometimes get up in the middle of the night? How warm/cold do you like your home? Do you like it cooler while sleeping?
The goal is to get an idea of how you can utilize smart devices to improve your day. It can be as simple as turning on lights, to managing your heating and cooling based on when you leave and arrive.
“The best smart home is the one that you don’t even notice.”— Multiple (including me)
Building your smart home-getting started
In most cases, the easiest way to get started is with smart lighting. There are many different options available (Lifx, Phillips Hue, C by GE, Leaf) with many different ways to brighten your home. That being said, the sheer number of options is sometimes a little overwhelming. My suggestion in this arena, if you want to keep it simple, is to start with Phillips Hue. I do not recommend anything WiFi…too much congestion on the home network and my experience has been that these devices can be a little unreliable.
The Hue ecosystem has a robust selection of different products. These include light strips, bulbs, in-wall and in-ceiling lights, outdoor lighting, and many others. You can also use their motion sensors to trigger scenes and routines. Everything connects through the Hue bridge, which integrates with many popular home assistants (Alexa, Apple Homekit, etc.).
As an example, lets say you, or someone in your home, gets up at night. On you way to whatever you’re doing, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see where you are going, without turning on the main lights? With smart lighting you can! Add a Bloom lamp to a corner table, or light strips under a counter, coupled with a motion sensor to activate low-level ambient lighting.
Alternatively, how about movie night? We want it dark to see the movie, but maybe not so dark if we need to move around. Again, ambient lighting for the mood and trip hazards. Get fancy; elevate your smart home to turn off any overhead lights when your TV turns on and activate the ambient lighting automatically, without you doing a thing.
Building your smart home-Temperature control
How about saving money and improving your home? Add a smart thermostat. Again, there are many popular options available including Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell, and others. Speaking from personal experience, again, I’ve been able to knock ~$100 off my monthly electric bill with a smart thermostat. Why heat or cool an empty home?
While most of these options are sorta pricey, check your utility provider’s website. Many companies will either offer a rebate or even provide a free smart thermostat. Because you are using less energy, its a win-win for you and the electric company. Once you get it installed, go about setting up your heating and cooling routines to match your lifestyle.
Now step it up
Okay, so you’ve got some lighting going on and automated your thermostat. Now tie them in using a home assistant such as Alexa and create more advanced routines. Most apps have geofencing built in. That means you can tell your home when you arrive. When you are 5-10 minutes away, your home can turn on the heat/AC and, if its after sunset, turn on some lights so you don’t have a dark home.
When you’re ready, take it to the next level. Consider a hub that can handle Z-wave/Zigbee and start automating outlets and old light switches. Turn off power to some of those vampire devices when you are not using them. Adjust your heating/cooling setpoint based on outdoor temperature. Add door/window sensors to automate heating/cooling and tell you to close the windows if it starts to rain. Check out my primer on how I built out my home; its a little over the top, but maybe it’ll give you a few ideas.