Welcome to Smart Home!

The smart home technologies have been around for quite some time now and these are continuing to get better. However, many people are still not aware of these and are just not sure whether smart home is their cup of tea. In this post, I will attempt to introduce smart home and hopefully clarify some myths. Welcome to Smart Home!

But, some background first. I started looking into home automation a few years back. It all started with some vague thoughts and technical curiosity. I was not even clear on what smart home really means and whether it is just a buzzword or this is for real. So, if any of that resembles your state of mind you have come to the right place.

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What is a Smart Home?

Before I get into the technicalities, keep in mind that ‘smartness’ is relative (that is, what may be smart and sufficient for your needs may be too much for someone else or may be minuscule for your friend). With that said the essence of a smart home is to add value to your routine by adding digital capabilities to your home. Here are some examples of value additions.
Turn lights on and off based on time of day or some event

  • Lock or unlock doors remotely or based on some event
  • Control garage door remotely
  • Adjust temperature based on your routine (such as, consume minimal energy when you are away)

The point being adding value to your routine or lifestyle.

What do I need to make my home a Smart Home?

I am sure there are techies out there who may get a kick out of setting up Smart Home gadgets. However, I think for most other consumers the key question to ask is what value would you like to add to your routine? The answer may not be always obvious. So, in general, it is a good idea to start simple and add things incrementally. This also gives you time to not just evaluate the technology, but to increase the comfort level of other members of your home who may be bit skeptic about what are you up to? And, of course, this may spring other ideas in your mind.

Once you have identified the value additions (lets call these ‘usecases’), you can start building the Smart Home by buying gadgets that will help you fulfill these. Many Smart Home technologies use a hub that is the brain of the whole Smart Home ecosystem. Some of the popular hubs are

If you have already identified the need for more components other than the hub, it may also be worth checking if there is a vendor bundle/kit available as that may be cheaper. For example, SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit bundles together some most commonly used components.

Note: Not all usecases will require a hub. For example, if you just want to turn on/off your festival lights, a smart switch (like the WeMo Switch) may suffice. You can always add a hub later.

Again, the good thing is most Smart Home solutions can be built incrementally and the cross vendor support continues to improve. That is, you do not have to invest in one vendor only. You can pick and choose products from different vendors as long as they follow compatible protocols. The most common ones being ZigBee and Z-Wave at the time of this writing. However, if you want to be absolutely sure, start small and vet out the solution before doing any big investments.

Smart Home Cheatsheet

Once you have identified your initial value additions (remember ‘usecases’), I highly recommend making a simple cheatsheet (or checklist or whatever you prefer) for planning purpose. This could also give you insight into some dependencies. For example, if you are replacing your existing toggle switches with GE Smart Switch, you will most likely need to replace your wall plates as well. There may be some additional labor and material costs if you have to make changes to your home, such as, additional wiring. Last but not the least, this is helpful for understanding how much you would be spending and keeping track of items as these arrive. Here is a very simple checklist I had used.

Note: The prices below are what I had used for planning purpose.

Item Unit Price Qty Total Ordered? Received?
SmartThings Kit $250 1 $250 Y Y
GE Smart Switch $40 5 $200 Y Y
WeMo Switch $40 2 $80 Y Y
Total $530

Don’t miss the fun!

It is true that setting up a Smart Home could be very time consuming. You may find comments in forums and elsewhere where some people have done these tasks in minutes whereas you have spent hours pulling your hair and yet you are no where close to being done. Do not be disappointed. Projects like these may take more time, esp. if you have not done similar things before. So, do not be hard on yourself. In the end, the joy of accomplishing and seeing the solution work as you expected could far easily out-weigh those momentary thoughts.

So, have fun and enjoy your Smart Home.

Happy New Year!
– Nitin

Looking for Smart Home resources?

Our Smart Home Product Recommendations provide quick reviews and ratings of commonly used smart home devices and more.

Interested in learning more about how to set up a Smart Home? Check out our Smart Home – Beyond The Buzz course.


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