Home automation and the ability to build a truly smart home that gets to work with minimal input from you is now more accessible and affordable than ever before.
Thanks to incredible advances in smart technology over recent years, automating the devices that make up your home ecosystem is now becoming a reality.
Whether you’re looking to automate individual household items such as your lights or the door locks within your home, or are thinking of a fully connected system of always-communicating, intelligent devices, the possibilities for getting started with an incredible home automation system are now virtually limitless.
If you’re new to the scene, deciding on the right devices for your requirements and cutting through the crazy amount of jargon out there can feel overwhelming.
So how do you filter out the noise, get to grips with the basics and start building a hands-free smart home that does it all?
That’s where we come in.
In this definitive guide to automated and smart devices, we’ll walk you through the essentials for becoming a master of home automation, from the types of things you can automate in your home (and how they work together), all the way down to the individual smart home devices that make it all happen (as well as our thoughts on the very best of them).
From Alexa and IoT to Bluetooth and Z-Wave, we decided it was time to put together the ultimate home automation resource that covers the lot.
We’ll drill down to the foundations of smart home automation to help you understand everything from smart home protocols, platforms and terminology through to the kind of setups and systems you may want to consider pursuing to achieve your specific automation goals.
Ready to get automated? Let’s do it.
- 1 Getting Started
- 2 Smart Hubs and Home Automation Controllers
- 3 Smart Home Security and Safety
- 4 Smart Lighting
- 5 Smart Outlets and Switches
- 6 Smart Thermostats
- 7 Smart Cleaning and Home Maintenance Devices
- 8 Voice Control Systems
- 9 Home Automation – Room by Room
- 10 IFTTT – The Perfect Recipe for Home Automation
- 11 Conclusion
As the pace of smart home technology continues to increase, the dream of a fully automated home is rapidly becoming a reality.
With smart home devices now ranging from lighting and audio equipment through to security, well-being products and even kitchen hardware, the potential for totally integrated automation within the home is now readily available to everyone – and doesn’t require an engineering or science degree to get started!
When you begin to pair the possibilities of automating your home alongside the ever growing number of smart products now cataloged within the “Internet of Things“, the sky is pretty much the limit.
Luckily, it’s now actually easier than ever to begin the process of creating a fully automated interior space – you just need to know where to start.
So Where do I Begin?
Here at For the Smart Home, we’re all about intelligent tech and interconnected devices, so when it comes to making your home as automated as possible, we’ve got your back.
If you’re just starting out in the world of home automation and connected smart home devices, it’s a good idea to begin with the fundamentals.
When we talk about the term ‘smart home’, we’re really referring to a pretty wide range of connected devices, systems, appliances and gadgets which, in one way or another, communicate with each other, your home and of course the most important element of the whole setup, you – the user.
Defining home automation on the other hand can sometimes be a little less clear-cut.
Referring to something slightly more specific, true home automation applies to the devices and appliances in your home that can be setup to work autonomously without your input (after initial setup of course).
There are still a whole load of devices that fall within the smart home category, which while not fully automated in their own right, certainly take a lot of the effort out of getting things done and offer a level of semi-autonomous operation.
Some good examples of these would be those items which need only minimal interface input from the user (usually via a smartphone, tablet or voice recognition) in order to get to work on a task, whether that’s brewing coffee, locking the front door or turning off the lights in a specific room.
Basically then, there are two types of smart technology out there, the semi-autonomous devices and those which are fully automated with no physical interfacing required.
In both cases, the common goal is to reduce or remove the amount of manual input needed to get things done once they’re installed in your home.
It’s important to understand this distinction when thinking about smart home devices, particularly as they don’t necessarily depend solely on the type of device in question.
Take smart lighting as an example.
There are some smart bulbs out there that can be fully controlled remotely from an app or using a voice control device.
The ability to do this is essentially the entry criteria for a bulb to be considered smart, however there are some others that offer this functionality and can also be programmed to operate independently of any input from the user, switching on and off at pre-determined times of the day or when they ‘sense’ movement.
Many of the latest smart devices which fall within the semi-autonomous category can also be triggered to activate by the actions of other fully automated devices, effectively removing the need for the user to interface with them at all.
Understanding Home Automation
A fully automated home is a complex machine comprised of a number of independent but communicating parts, also known as smart devices.
Whether lighting, heating, securing or providing entertainment, every smart device in the automated home environment carries out a different job, but all of them carry out at least one of three basic roles:
- They sense or detect things like movement, temperature, light and sound
- They process information
- They respond to an input, situation or command
The most common feature of smart devices is the ability to ‘sense’ changes to the environment in which they’re located, such as motion detection, light or temperature sensing.
These sensors are like the eyes and ears of the automated home, they receive inputs from the surrounding environment and either react accordingly themselves or pass the information on to other devices in the home. Sometimes they do both. For example, lights can be triggered to turn off as a response to your thermostat knowing you’re away from home.
Basically, the smart ‘sensing’ devices provide the information for the other elements of your automated home to decide what they need to do next.
Once a sensor is activated, the device that then actually carries out a specific task in response to this input (known as an actuator) gets to work.
For example, while Amazon Echo may be the device receiving your voice command to make coffee, it’s the smart coffee maker that actually gets the job done.
With a home automation system in place, you can quite literally have parts of your daily home routine happen automatically.
Speaking the Same Language: Home Automation Protocols
Much like the age-old Mac vs PC debate, compatibility between smart devices is unfortunately not a one-size fits all affair.
The range of protocols that smart products utilize is an important concept to tackle when choosing the perfect devices for your home.
Whether we’re talking about WiFi enabled smart thermostats, Bluetooth-centric sound systems, Zigbee based light bulbs or Z-Wave compatible security systems, when it comes to smart home protocols, there’s definitely a variety of choices out there.
If you’re operating a wireless device in your home, the chances are that it utilizes at least one of the protocols mentioned above.
Knowing the names is one thing though, understanding the differences between each on the other hand, can be incredibly useful when it comes down to designing an automated smart home ecosystem that works efficiently and reliably no matter the situation.
Think of the different protocols used by individual smart devices as different languages – each needs to be communicating in the same or a common language in order to understand and be understood by the others.
The ideal scenario when planning your home automation system from scratch is to go for devices that utilize the same protocol (or speak the same language), however there are a number of products that can work across different protocols and with the right gateway in place, you can often get around this and bring your devices onto the same page.
Some of the most common home automation protocols you’ll want to get to know before you dive into building your own system include the following:
Bluetooth LE or “Low Energy”, is used in a lot of wireless devices and as the name suggests, has a major advantage of using minimal power when operating.
While the number of products that utilize this protocol is high, one of the main drawbacks of the system is its limited range.
With this in mind, if you’re planning to make this protocol part of your home setup (particularly in larger homes), it’s a preferable option only where operating distance isn’t an issue such as in a specific room.
The Insteon home automation protocol is interesting in that it offers a hybrid of powerline and wireless based protocol connectivity between other devices within the Insteon product line.
A major benefit of the Insteon range of devices and the protocol they utilize is the fact that it offers backward compatibility with pre-existing home automation systems including much older protocols such as X10 (see below).
Lutron Clear Connect
A proprietary signal utilized by Lutron in their range of devices including Caseta smart switches and their awesome motorized blinds, Clear Connect usually requires a dedicated Lutron bridge to pull device signals together before translating them for use by other devices, although there are some exceptions to this such as with the Wink Hub 2 which includes native support for the protocol out of the box.
As you may already be aware, WiFi is one of those protocols that’s pretty commonplace already and it’s partly down to this fact that smart home automation manufacturers have started incorporating it into a whole load of devices.
One of the key advantages of WiFi enabled devices is that you can simply use an existing wireless router to connect to them, negating the need for a dedicated smart hub to translate signals.
The big drawback however, is that if you live in a house with a multitude of devices already connected to the router (like laptops, TV, tablets, phones), then you could be looking at bandwidth issues from competing devices.
Compared to some of the other home automation protocols, WiFi is also relatively power hungry so it’s not necessarily the best choice for smart devices that run on batteries.
When it comes to consumer home automation protocols, X10 is the old school original.
While not likely to be the standard of choice on any of the newer devices you’ll come across (it’s been around since the 1970’s), X10 is still worth knowing about and if you’re looking at older devices, this could be the protocol in operation.
In the smart home world, ZigBee is a protocol which has become fairly ubiquitous in recent years.
With a very good range, fast communication between connected devices and low power consumption, this protocol uses an 802 wireless communication standard and is available across a wide variety of devices.
Much like Zigbee, Z-Wave’s growth has been significant in recent years, with over 1000 different compatible devices now operating under the protocol. This makes Z-Wave an appealing option if you’re just starting out.
A major benefit of Z-Wave over some of the other protocols out there is its use of a “mesh network” where each Z-Wave product acts as a signal boosting relay for the last, extending the range of your system further than some otheralternatives.
What can be Automated?
The ability to fully automate things within the home has only begun to come into its own in recent years.
Where previously the limits of automation extended to automated lamps on timers and the old favorite – the auto-record feature on the VCR (#RIP), things are now very different.
Today, the recent and increasing explosion in smart home technology aimed at the mainstream consumer market means that even the elements of home living that were once the preserve of manual input can now be automated. You can simply set and forget.
Automated thermostats that know the right temperature for the time of year and your daily heating habits, auto-locking and unlocking front doors, lighting that turns on by itself in the evening and even coffee makers that learn when you’re most likely to need that fresh brew.
These are just a few of the ways in which smart home automation is emerging to drastically change the way we live.
Deciding what, where and how to Automate
If you’re starting out from scratch and don’t know how automation might look in your home on a daily basis, it can be useful to think of the kinds of tasks you currently do on a typical day and how often you change things within your home environment depending on what you’re doing and when you’re doing it.
Where do you spend most of the time in your home? When and doing what? What do your morning and evening routines typically look like? How about at the weekends?
Carrying out this simple exercise and asking these questions will identify the most commonly occurring tasks which are perfect for automating. Not only will these likely be the best candidates for automation, but the chances are high that there’s a smart device out there to do the job.
For example, maybe your morning routine looks something like this:
Alarm goes off, bathroom lights go on, grab a coffee from the kitchen, leave the house and lock the door.
All of these things can be automated in a seamless way that means you never have to think about any of it, buying you valuable time to prep for that big meeting or check you’ve not forgotten the things that really matter in the day (both of which an automated home smart system like Alexa can also help you with).
Smart Hubs and Home Automation Controllers
If you’re looking to expand your smart home setup beyond just a few smart bulbs it becomes a priority to think about coordinating this increased complexity.
When there are lots of moving parts and communicating devices all vying for attention, your setup needs a smart way to ensure that each device in your home automation rig works perfectly in harmony.
Much like the conductor of an orchestra, this is where the smart hub or home automation controller steps in.
Getting to Grips with Home Automation Controllers
The role of the smart hub in your automated home setup is simple.
Smart hubs (also known as ‘Bridges’ or ‘Controllers’) are primarily responsible for controlling multiple connected smart devices in your home so that whatever the manufacturer or protocol, each and every device becomes controllable from a single point for simple and effective home automation.
Integrating every smart device into a seamless, intelligent and automated experience, smart hubs also offer streamlined control (when required) through a single app-based interface.
Think of the hub as the brain of the whole system, bringing all of the separate elements together and allowing you to control the entire setup with ease.
Whether it’s lighting, heating, locking, entertaining, alerting or activating, it’s the individual smart devices that play a role in controlling different parts of your system and the controller or bridge that brings it all together.
In terms of the list of devices that can be connected to a smart home automation controller, the choices are wide ranging, with lighting, heating, entertainment, and security all covered with dedicated, connectable smart devices. Add to this the ability to transform your existing devices into connected smart devices (using a smart plug or outlet) and the list becomes wider still.
At the most basic level, a home automation controller sits at the core of the entire smart home system, acting as the central command center for every connected device.
One of the great things about modern smart hubs is that they will typically be able to bring together the signals from devices working with different wireless protocols (such as Zigbee or Z-Wave) and unify them in one place. The smart hub then puts the different protocols into a format that can be understood by your router as a WiFi signal, banishing the need for multiple apps to talk to the different devices in your setup.
This effectively creates a central command and control center for your automated smart home.
There are a whole load of ways in which the latest smart home automation controllers and hubs can interact with you and your home, from detecting and reacting to specific events (you arrive home, the house lights and heating turn on for example), to allowing you to program pre-determined event scenarios such as adjusting the thermostat, setting the alarm and brewing your coffee when you activate your “Monday morning wake up” routine.
While dedicated smart home hubs like the Wink Hub 2 work by bringing all of your disparate devices under one umbrella for control and automation, there are increasingly alternative options for cross device control entering the market as alternatives to dedicated hubs.
Devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are increasingly capable of controlling a multitude of smart gadgets in your home and many of the biggest names in smart home consumer devices are pushing hard to ensure their products are compatible with these control interfaces.
Similarly, home automation can also be handled by uniting your smart products under a dedicated software platform such as Apple’s HomeKit which allows you to interface with, and control devices through your iPhone using your voice.
Each of these methods ultimately means fewer extra layers of complexity between your various smart devices when bringing it all together, but many in the smart home community believe that – for now at least – a dedicated hub still gains the edge when it comes to connecting your disparate automation devices.
Controlling your Home Automation Setup
When it comes to communicating with your hub or home automation controllers, there are really two main ways to interact with your system.
Most smart hubs and controllers utilize either a partner app which can be interfaced through a smartphone or tablet or less commonly, a dedicated remote which pairs specifically with a controller.
The most common of these two options is the use of an app installed on a phone, tablet or laptop, offering the ability to control your smart devices in a number of ways from activating and deactivating individual units through to receiving information and even viewing live feeds from your smart home camera.
Hubs aren’t the be-all and end-all of bringing your devices together though, and other alternatives to addressing this task exist in the form of platforms such as ‘Works with Nest‘ which allows manufacturers to design their devices’ software around the Nest Learning Thermostat as well as other devices within the range.
Similarly, Apple’s HomeKit is an iOS centered solution that aims to allow you to manage smart devices through your iPad or iPhone using Siri for voice control.
While we’re on the topic of voice activated device control, it’s important to note that there’s technically a third alternative for controlling your smart home kit, with some of the latest home automation controllers out there at the moment actively moving away from the need for a physical app-based interface entirely, and instead using spoken commands to get the job done in half the time.
In these cases, smart devices such as the Amazon Alexa enabled Echo and Dot or Google’s Home device are quite literally transforming the way we control our home environment, providing the ability to issue voice commands to your home and have your connected devices react appropriately.
Whether you’re looking to build an automated home environment around a variety of different protocols or simply want to have way to control every smart device in your setup fro a single interface, a smart hub or controller is the key to making it happen.
Smart Home Security and Safety
One of the most important considerations when it comes to thinking about your smart home ecosystem is the safety and security of you and your family.
Home automation in this area has made impressive advances in recent years with amazing developments in everything from smart cameras and lighting systems through to automated door locks, motion sensors and of course, smart smoke detectors and alarms.
As with standard home security setups, prices and installations can scale when it comes to automated smart home security systems.
For example, are you just looking for a couple of smart smoke detectors or automated door locks?
Or maybe you’ve been thinking about installing a fully integrated solution, complete with smart intruder alarms and a smart video capture device?
Whatever the case, one of the best things about smart home devices is that there’s an amazing amount of flexibility once you settle on a basic set of guiding principles (protocols, individual specifications, budget etc).
When it comes down to smart security, the options are both wide-ranging and scalable meaning you can build up a diverse range of inter-connected devices to help keep an intelligent eye on your home at all times.
In terms of automating the security and safety devices in your smart home, there are a couple of key components that can get the job done well, whether you’re looking for a whole house security system or simply want to monitor a single room or gain peace of mind for a specific scenario.
Automated Vigilance – Smart Home Protection for your Family
Whether you’re looking to keep the most important things in your life safe from break-ins, fire or carbon monoxide, there are now more smart home automation devices dedicated to helping with the job than ever before.
From securing your entryways to monitoring the quality of the air in your home, the range of connected smart devices for protecting the things you care most about in life allow a level of automation and remote control of your home environment that was the preserve of the uber-rich and science fiction just a few years ago.
For example, it’s now possible to have your smart home know when you or a recognized family member arrive home and unlock the door to let you in.
Similarly, you can literally see, hear and speak to whoever comes knocking at the door, wherever you are with the latest smart doorbells and outdoor cameras interfacing with your smartphone for remote control of the situation.
Not home when this happens but need to let that person in anyway? No problem, just remotely unlock your smart lock using your smart phone and let them in.
While smoke detectors have been keeping an automated watch on the air in our homes for decades, it’s only in the last couple of years that the latest generation of connected smart smoke alarms and air quality monitors have brought the functionality of this alert system into the realm of the automated smart home.
Smart smoke alarms such as the Nest Protect will now let you know when something’s wrong, wherever you happen to be using WiFi to send alerts direct to your smartphone or tablet.
Whether it’s detected smoke or carbon monoxide, or if the batteries are simply running low (no more left guessing on that one!), you’ll be alerted to the event.
Smart Home Automation Door Locks
Without a doubt, securing the main entry points to your house is one of the key (see what we did there?) priorities when it comes to thinking about automating the security of your home.
Also, if you’re anything like us, then you’re probably the kind of person that worries about whether you remembered to lock the door when you left the house.
In this scenario, the ability to be able to check (and lock if needed) from a smartphone is a godsend.
The growth in smart home technology in recent years has begun to introduce some pretty awesome key and hands-free alternatives to traditional door locking systems and the kinds of functionality on offer are transforming home security.
With that being said, smart locks have still only been around for the last few years which means the range of choices are somewhat more limited compared to other intelligent (and more established) home devices such as smart bulbs.
How do Home Automation Door Locks Work?
There are two main ways in which smart locks can integrate into your wider smart home ecosystem.
One way is through the use of one of the inbuilt protocols (mentioned earlier) such as Z-wave, ZigBee or Bluetooth. In this case, the smart lock will communicate directly with your mobile devices to allow you to check and operate the lock.
Alternatively, some home automation locks will connect through a hub or smart home controller (the gateway) which orchestrates every smart device in your home, including any connected smart locks.
Smart locks are about more than simply bringing connected security to your home though.
The ability to operate the lock on your front door without house keys adds a level of flexibility and convenience that simply didn’t exist for most people until very recently.
So what kind of things can you automate with a smart lock integration in your home?
Well for starters, using only a smartphone or tablet, some of the best smart locks now offer the ability for you to send a virtual key (kind of like a digital home entry permission slip) to guests, family members or anyone else who needs to be let in whenever you’re not home.
When you’re out of the house, a smart lock system can also send a notification to your phone to let you know if the door has been opened when it should be closed.
Also, you can manually unlock the property to let people in without actually being there, and then re-lock the door again once they leave.
The natural extension of this same functionality is to also allow specific people access to your home during specified times, meaning you can choose to allow the housekeeper access between 10 and 11 on a Monday morning while letting the pet-sitter in on pre-determined days if you’re away on vacation.
As with most smart home devices, there are also some pretty amazing ways to integrate smart locks into your wider connected home ecosystem.
For example, syncing your device setup so that it integrates your smart locks, lighting, and heating into a seamless automated system means you can come home to the perfect ambient environment when you walk through the door, and which automatically switches off when you leave again and the door locks behind you.
Smart Security Cameras
Installing an automated camera system within your home is one of the very best ways to keep an ever-watchful eye on your property when you’re not around.
Operating under similar principles to motion detectors in how they sense movement, smart security cameras can be implemented throughout your home for tasks ranging from monitoring packages left on the porch to a modern take on the traditional nanny-cam.
Some of the most popular uses of automated cameras include:
- General home security and intruder monitoring
- Entryway identification (with two-way communication) and porch monitoring
- Child and pet monitoring
If you set up a smart camera as an element of your home security network, you’re effectively going to be able to capture a visual and audio record of anything untoward in the vicinity of the device when the camera’s sensor picks up any movement.
In some instances, this footage can be live-streamed directly to your smartphone or tablet, but in an almost every case, a digital log will be kept of the event – no more wondering where those missing packages ended up if they were marked as ‘delivered’.
Many of the best smart home camera systems will also include additional features such as night vision for operating after hours as well as the ability to operate the camera as a two-way audio system, allowing you to speak to and hear whoever the camera is near, through a partner app on your phone.
When it comes to smart security cameras, there are two main things to take into consideration, those that operate outdoors and those designed for indoor use.
While installing a smart camera inside your home isn’t a standalone solution for ensuring overall household security (smart alarm systems and locks will do a better job if this is what you’re looking to achieve), as part of a larger array of connected devices, they definitely play a pivotal role.
Depending on your requirements, be on the lookout for some or all of the following features when choosing the best indoor smart camera for your home security setup:
- Wide-Angle Lens – Picking a lens with a field of view of at least 120 degrees will ensure you get maximum coverage of the space your camera is covering.
- Video Quality – If you’re looking for the best smart camera capture quality, go for a device with a capability of either 720p or 1080p.
- Integration with Multiple Devices – If you’re looking to connect your smart camera up to a wider home security setup, make sure it’s able to communicate with your other devices. Knowing the relevant protocols of your smart devices is an important consideration, while some devices such as the Nest Cam will play nice with others (in this case, those devices displaying the “works with Nest” badge) right out of the box
- Motion Sensitivity Adjustment – Almost all smart security cameras will offer motion detection as standard. Look for a model that provides the ability to adjust the sensitivity of the motion sensor and you’ll avoid those annoying camera activations by things like rain outside the window.
- Night Viewing and Low Light Modes – Choosing a smart security camera with the ability to operate in the dark will ensure you’re able to keep watch over your home no matter the light levels or time of day.
- Two-Way Audio Communication – Some smart cameras include both a microphone and audio output allowing you to communicate via your smartphone or tablet, directly through the camera. This is a particularly useful feature if you’re intending to utilize a smart camera as a
- Multiple Storage Capabilities – Most cameras will offer either or a combination of local storage on a memory card or cloud-based upload for any captures.
The best outdoor WiFi security cameras are designed to keep an intelligent and watchful eye over your porch, back yard and garage while providing a more durable (and often weatherproof) construction than their indoor counterparts.
We’ve all seen those videos online of people who recorded their delivered packages ‘going missing’ from outside the front door after the delivery guy had dropped it off.
An outdoor smart security camera acts as your first line of defense for catching any suspicious activity as well as a powerful deterrent to any would-be porch-lifters prowling the neighborhood who may think twice if they think they’re likely to be caught in the act.
Installing an outdoor WiFi camera can provide automated home security peace of mind not only while you’re out of the house, but also when you’re inside, alerting you to potential dangers as well as both welcome and unwelcome guests at the door.
On this last point, some of the more advanced outdoor smart cameras feature a two-way audio system which enables you to communicate with anybody outside your home as well as the ability of others to provide alarm functionality to quickly attract attention from anyone nearby if needed.
Generally speaking, when looking at the key features of an outdoor smart camera system, the key functionality points to keep an eye out for are the same as with indoor cameras (video quality, two-way audio communication, wide angle lens etc.), there are however a couple of extra things to think about including in your requirement set when choosing the best wireless outdoor camera for you outdoor automated security measures:
- Weather/Waterproofing – One of the most important features of any outdoor smart security camera is the ability to function effectively, whatever the weather. Go for a camera that is designed around a base of totally weatherproof components to ensure that whether it’s sunny, raining or snowing, your automated security detail wont let you down.
- Visibility – There are two main approaches to installing any outside security equipment on your home. One school of thought favors maximum visibility of your smart security gear to act as a powerful deterrent to any would-be intruders. Other people favour the approach of concealing equipment, however it is important in this instance to check you’re acting within any relevant legislation regarding privacy etc. Whichever method seems most appropriate to your specific circumstances, this can be an important consideration when choosing the best camera for the job.
Smart Smoke Alarms
Keeping your home and family safe and secure extends far beyond just offering protection from break-ins and theft.
One of the most critical considerations when thinking of a full-house safety and security is protecting against the risk of fire.
The latest generation of smart smoke alarms and smoke detectors are designed to monitor your home at all times, not only for signs of a fire, but also for dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and other air quality issues that you’d otherwise miss.
So how are smart smoke alarms different to traditional alternatives and what makes them better?
There are a couple of key differences, but one of the most important has to be the ability for smart smoke detectors to alert you via your smartphone whenever an anomaly is detected within your home, meaning you can respond instantly whenever your phone has an internet connection.
The best smart smoke detectors will not only alert you when there’s a problem but will also run their own self-diagnostics to check they’re in full working order. While some devices will test their battery levels, others such as the Nest Protect will also check the sensors to ensure everything is working as it should be.
A full home automation system is the perfect setup for integrating with automated smoke detection in a number of ways, but one of the most obvious applications (and our favorite) is using IFTTT to pair your alarm with the smart lighting in your home allowing you to do anything from flashing bulbs or turning them red when an alarm sounds, to lighting the way out of the home in the event of a potential emergency situation.
In our opinion, smart smoke alarms could well be considered the essential device to start with when building an automated home ecosystem from scratch given the fact that they will carry out the crucial role of alerting you to danger in your home, even when you’re not actually there yourself – the perfect application of connected smart home automation in practice.
Home Security Systems
The best home security systems consist of an integrated collection of door and entry sensors (preferably wireless), motion sensors and some form of highly audible alarm system, all of which act as an immediate deterrent should a break-in occur.
Some of the latest smart home security setups provide the ability to tie-in to any of our existing smart devices in your home, implementing a full-coverage automated security system is now easier than ever.
With many smart home security systems offering subscription-based home monitoring, it is also possible to achieve a high level of automated security, with the system contacting the emergency services when an event is underway.
One of the major things to consider when it comes to picking a smart home security system is whether you’ll want a subscription based model where your home is watched by professionals on your behalf, 24/7, or if you’ll be intending to monitor yourself.
If you choose the first option here, local fire and police departments will be automatically contacted if an alarm is triggered – as with all things, however, the wider the coverage, the more you can expect this kind of system to cost.
Alternatively, if you simply want all the bells, whistles (and alarms) of a smart home security system without the need for automated emergency service response, many of the best security setups still have you covered.
In this case, your automated home security system connects wirelessly to your home network allowing you to monitor, control and ultimately, respond to your security devices remotely through an app on your smartphone or tablet.
Whether you’re just getting started with home automation or building up from an existing smart device setup, the ability to automate your interior and external lighting is a must have extension of any automated smart home.
From smart bulbs to smart lamps and every other smart lighting device in between, automating the devices and fixtures responsible for illuminating your home is both incredibly simple and affordable.
Smart lighting often incorporates the most efficient modern bulb technology with the tech-smarts that allow for total automation and cross-device integration.
The result is a system of indoor and outdoor lighting that can be controlled and programmed to work both remotely and automatically under certain conditions that you determine.
If you want your lights to turn on when you get home from work, smart lighting is the answer.
If you’re looking to light up a specific room by issuing a voice command, smart lights will make it happen.
If you want to sync your light bulbs up to trigger when another device (like a smoke alarm) is activated, it’s covered by smart lighting.
Whatever the lighting scenario, modern smart lighting can be activated, programmed or controlled so you never have to lift a finger or manually flick a switch again.
The ability to schedule your lighting means you can now set your lights to activate from triggers such as someone entering a room, or even to change color when you receive a new email or social media update.
In terms of the options whe it comes to automating the lighting in your home, the possibilities are becoming increasingly endless.
Let there be Light – How Automated Lighting is Transforming Home Illumination
The latest development in super-smart automated lighting solutions is revolutionizing the way we think about lighting our homes.
Whether you’re looking to save money, create an atmosphere, or simply take hands-free control of your home lighting rig, smart bulbs and lamps can make it happen.
If you’re thinking about carrying out an overhaul of your existing lighting system, LED smart lights are a serious consideration for a connected solution that’s not only future proof and accessible for your other smart devices, but that can offer tangible environmental and financial cost benefits with optimized usage and lower consumption over regular bulbs and lamps.
Alternatively, maybe you’re looking to upgrade a single room of your home (that immersive entertainment experience in the living room for example), no problem, an automated smart lighting system provides the flexibility for this and is perfectly positioned for isolating your light preferences by specific rooms of the house, or pre-programmed ‘scenes’ that can be activated with the tap of a screen or by speaking a command.
Whatever you’re looking for when it comes to automating the lighting in your home, chances are, there’s a smart lighting solution out there that will make it happen.
There are a number of options available when it comes to choosing the best smart light bulbs for your home automation setup.
One of the first questions to consider when making the decision, is whether you want the ability to change the color of your lighting if you’re simply looking for a white light that can be programmed, remotely controlled and synchronised with the other smart devices in your home.
The key thing to remember here is that color-changing smart bulbs will usually offer the ability to also produce almost every conceivable shade of white light, whereas white-light only bulbs don’t go the other way.
If you’re kitting out a room in your automated home for entertainment purposes and want to build a fully immersive light experience, then color changing smart lighting could be the way to go, with many of the best smart bulbs offering the ability to choose from millions of colors to find the ideal shade, hue or tone. This makes colored smart lighting perfect for creating an ambience in a room to match the occasion, your mood or even to synchronise with music, movies and games.
Similarly, you might decide that while color is a cool feature for a room or two, you actually want to maintain traditional (but smart) white lightbulbs throughout the rest of the house – for example in the kitchen or home office where the priority is on high quality, effective lighting over effect.
One of the very best things about building an automated home lighting system around smart bulbs is that it allows for exactly this level of customization. Not only can you control a mix of lighting types by room or area of the house, but you can even further divide the lighting control down to the individual bulbs or units in a room meaning you can switch on that one bulb for reading at night while keeping the others turned off to save energy.
Not only can you control a mix of lighting types by room or specific area of the house, but you can further divide the lighting control down to the individual bulbs or units in a room meaning you can switch on that one bulb for reading in the evening while keeping the others turned off to save energy.
Smart Lamps and Feature Lighting
Of course, the lighting in your home doesn’t start and end with lightbulbs and while you certainly can swap out the traditional bulbs from your free-standing lamps for smart ones, there are also a variety of amazing dedicated smart lamps out there that bring a whole new level of automated and experiential lighting to your home.
The feature set and operation of smart lamps is effectively the same as color changing smart bulbs, providing the ability to remotely control, change colors and instensity, automate activation and activate pre-programmed lighting scenes at the touch of a button.
Some of the best smart lamps and wireless lighting fixtures such as the Hue Bloom and Hue Go are perfect for creating portable and dynamic light scenes around your house meaning you can simply bring them with you wherever you need a little extra ambience and making them ideal if you’re entertaining guests.
Smart lamps can often be connected to your existing smart bulb lighting setup for a seamless and fully integrated lighting experience.
In the case of devices within the same product range (such as the Philips Hue line), this is a case of devices working plug and play out of the box. In other instances, it’s now incredibly easy to get your lighting devices perfectly orchestrated simply by connecting them all to a common point of command and control in the form of a smart hub or integrating medium (think, Alexa or Nest), meaning that your smart lighting systems will work in harmony regardless of brand or wireless protocol.
Smart Light Switches
So how about if you’re into the idea of bringing smart lighting into your life but don’t want to replace all of the existing bulbs in your home?
By simply replacing the traditional lighting wall switches in your home with smart switches, you have the perfect solution in the form of a connected go-between for your traditional bulbs and the ability to automate, schedule and remotely operate the lighting in the room from a phone or tablet, from any part of your home or anywhere you have access to an internet connection.
Smart light switches and dimmer switches offer a good alternative to outright replacing the existing individual bulbs in your home with smart substitutes.
Many of the best smart light switches including the Wi-Fi enabled, WeMo Light Switch (above) are able to connect directly to other smart units in your setup such as voice control devices (like the Alexa-enabled Echo) and some of the options out there such as the Lutron Caseta also include a remote for operation outside of the app interface on your phone.
Smart Outlets and Switches
So what about all of those awesome, but somewhat less smart devices you already own or are still thinking about buying?
If you’re worried that they’ll be out of place with the automated home you’re thinking of building, don’t be. It’s for just this situation that smart power outlets step in to bring everything into sync with your smart device ecosystem.
Providing the ability to transform your non-connected devices into fully functioning elements of your smart home environment, smart outlets sit between your traditional electronic devices and appliances and your wall power outlet, allowing you to switch them on and off, set timers and more.
Basically, the bulk of the core features you would expect from a smart device can be achieved by integrating your traditional devices with a smart power outlet and connecting to your home network.
Smart outlets mean that you can effortlessly add a traditional lamp to your smart lighting repertoire or turn your home office fan into a remotely controlled, automated smart cooler.
Once you plug your device into a fully-featured smart plug, you’ll have access to it wherever you are in the world (subject to an internet connection), meaning you can turn it on and off, schedule activation or an automated routine and more, all from your smartphone or tablet.
Ultimately, smart plugs and outlets are effectively just switches which can be automated or remotely controlled to switch your devices on or off at will or on a pre-set interval. Because of this, there are also an increasing number of smart wall switches which operate on exactly the same principles to allow you to retrospectively turn any wall switch based units (existing lightbulbs, ceiling fans etc) into smart controllable devices.
The ability to automate and control the temperature within your home is one of the foundations of the smart home movement with brands such as Nest, Ecobee and Honeywell leading the way with interconnected heating controllers.
While smart thermostats allow you to remotely set and adjust the temperature in your home, the true home automation capabilities of the best smart heating controllers come in their ability to ‘learn’ your home heating habits, adjusting the temperature based on the time of day and year.
Turning up the Heat – Automating the Climate in your Smart Home
Smart thermostats not only allow you to remotely control and automate the perfect temperature in your home, they can also save you both energy and money, ensuring you strike the perfect balance between comfort and usage.
When you move from a traditional temperature controller to an interconnected smart thermostat, the major advantage you’ll notice once you’re set up is the ability to program and control your heating remotely using your smartphone, tablet or even using your voice through an interface like the Amazon Echo, Dot or Google Home devices.
Once the initial coolness of this remote control ability begins to wear off though (see what we did there?), things start getting seriously smart and the true potential to automate your home temperature becomes clear with the best smart thermostats actually learning your heating habits and adapting accordingly.
But people have been able to program their home thermostats for years, so what’s the big deal with smart automated heat controllers?
Well with the latest generation of smart home thermostats, the days of needing to manually program in the perfect heat settings and relevant activation times ahead of time are becoming a thing of the past, with the device itself looking to take over this job entirely, learning what temperature and schedule works for you and your family and taking care of the rest without you ever having to lift a finger.
Whether through building a history of ‘learned’ behavior, observing your temperature settings or by interfacing with other connected smart devices in your home, your smart thermostat can know when you leave the house or arrive home and activate or deactivate your heating to the perfect level as required.
As well as learning the right temperature for the occasion, the best automated thermostats are even capable of knowing which individual rooms to target when an adjustment is needed.
Smart Cleaning and Home Maintenance Devices
Yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived.
Those days of dreading (and if you’re like us, sometimes ignoring) the household chores are becoming a thing of the past with the latest developments in smart home devices which are looking to usher in an age of automated cleaning and home maintenance.
From robot vacuum cleaners that autonomously navigate your interior space and take care of cleaning your floors, to automated lawnmowers that keep your yard in pristine condition, the latest smart home technology is aiming to take the work out of housework.
Getting to Work – When Home Automation meets Home Maintenance
Home automation is no longer the preserve of just smart lighting and intelligent heating systems.
The latest generations of smart home helpers are designed to tackle some of the most mundane but essential parts of your everyday home maintenance and cleaning regimes.
Since they first hit the market a couple of years back, advances in technology have seen the newest versions of robotic cleaners and automated lawn maintenance devices accelerate to a point where you can quite literally set and forget.
In both instances, whether indoors or out, automated devices have closed the gap between human input and automated work to an extent where you can effectively program once and then never think about it again until you need to empty either the dust canister (for robot vacuum cleaners) or grass holder (for robot lawn mowers).
The best robot vacuum cleaners and automated lawnmowers are now capable of returning to base when they run low on power before setting out to finish the job when charged. In the case of the latter, the device will even return to the charging dock if it detects rain.
Robot Vacuum Cleaners
Automating household chores is one of those things that we all want to do as much as possible and when it comes to jobs around the house, vaccuming is certainly one of our least favorite.
The introduction of the automated vacuum cleaner promises to offer the solution to this tedious chore and with the kind of smart features and scheduling you’d expect from other devices in your smart home arsenal, the best robot vacuum cleaners will change the way you think about cleaning the house.
At the most basic level, robot vacuum cleaners will all carry out the same automated job, that is, navigating their way around your floor and picking up dirt as they go. No need for wires, simply activate and let your automated helper get to work.
When you begin to look at some of the best robot vacuum cleaners on the market, the feature set begins to expand and will often include the ability to return to the charging station automatically when low on power, the automatic sending of status updates and alerts to your phone or tablet and advanced edge detection technology.
The degree of control and ability to automate your home cleaning routine will differ by brand and model but you can expect the best devices to offer advanced scheduling from an accompanying app on your smartphone or tablet.
Automated lawnmowers work on a very similar set of principles to robot vacuum cleaners in that they autonomously get to work keeping your grass in shape with minimal input needed from you.
Much like automated vacuum cleaners inside the home, the best robot lawnmowers can be pre-programmed to follow a regular routine, will know when it’s time to return to the charging station to power up, and will navigate their way around all obstacles in their path while on the job.
The beauty of an automated lawnmower is that they really do get down to work on their own, setting off to graze when scheduled to and returning to their charging stations at the end of the work day.
Combining convenience with intelligent tech is often the key to the best automated devices, and when it comes to mowing the lawn, nothing hits all the bases like a robot lawnmower that knows both when and when not to get cutting.
The best robot lawnmowers now increasingly offer superior battery life to those of previous years meaning that they are able to stay out for longer than ever before needing to juice up.
Voice Control Systems
One of the most amazing additions to any smart home system has to be the ability to control your devices using only your voice.
Adding voice activated control to your home and smart devices is now easier than ever.
Whether turning the lights on in a specific room or playing music from a smart speaker system, devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home are transforming the semi-autonomous home environment.
With home automation voice control systems in place, it’s now possible (either directly or through a service such as IFTTT) to control almost any smart device within your home ecosystem simply by speaking a command.
Voice activation can be used to turn lights on and off and dim the levels, to arm or deactivate a smart home security system and even brew your coffee when you say the word. With your music, lighting, heating, and even complete home automation systems now offering the ability to integrate with hands-free technology, smart devices are now easier than ever to interact with.
Outside of controlling the devices in your home, voice recognition smart units such as the Amazon Echo are on hand to answer questions you may throw their way such as a current weather update or providing help when making your favorite cocktail.
If you’re looking for a standalone device that integrates with your other devices, the dominant players in the smart home voice control market at the moment are Amazon, Google, and Apple.
While the systems effectively offer the same kind of smart device integration, there are a couple of nuances between the different solutions that make them all worthy of careful consideration.
Amazon’s flagship voice control system Alexa is probably the best known of the current iterations of home automation voice controllers on the market, and provides the ability to do some incredible things with connected devices in your home.
Whether it’s changing the colour of your smart lighting by voice or issuing a command to change the temperature in the bedroom, Alexa has it covered.
On top of this, Alexa is also always on call for any questions you need answering as well as providing news updates and even calling or messaging other people you know with an Alexa device for free.
With an increasing number of new and existing smart devices now either directly compatible with Alexa out of the box, with brands such as Nest, WeMo, Philips Hue, ecobee, ink and SmartThings (to name a few) operating alongside the system as soon as they’re activated.
This compatibility with smart devices can be extended further by implementing some amazingly innovative IFTTT recipes and Applets, meaning the level to which Alexa allows you to quite literally speak to your home and have it respond, is now greater than ever before
Alexa devices currently come in a few different variations, and while all effectively allow you to achieve the same goal in your home automation setup, there are some subtle differences in how they operate:Amazon Echo – an always-listening (fully hands-free) voice control device which also doubles up as an effective, standalone Bluetooth speaker which delivers 360 degree omni-directional sound. Echo Dot – the smaller sibling of the Echo, the Dot also utilizes hands-free voice control operation with a slightly reduced feature set such as a lower quality audio output. The Dot does however feature the ability to connect to a Bluetooth speaker so you can still listen to your favorite music with amazing quality using a simple voice request. Echo Show – the latest addition to the Alexa family, the Echo Show brings a 7″ touchscreen to the feature list of the Echo meaning Alexa can now show you as well tell as you. As well as offering the standard functionality of the Echo, the display on the Echo Show means you can make video calls between units as well as retaining full voice control over any connected smart home devices in your setup. Amazon Tap – unlike the other two Alexa devices, the Tap operates on a ‘push to activate’ basis, listening for your voice command when you tap the button on the front of the device. The Tap is also fully portable and can be taken with you as a speaker if required.
Google entered the smart home voice control market in 2016 with Google Home, a voice activated speaker that listens to your questions or commands and responds with an answer or action when connected to other smart devices in your home.
Built around Google Assistant, the company’s voice recognition and response intelligence, Google Home is armed with the standard suite of Google App functionality including Calendar, Maps and Chromecast, all of which give the device a powerful set of features right off the mark.
What you’re really going to be looking for when creating a voice controlled home automation system however, is the ability to activate and run your connected smart devices and in this respect, Home gives rival controllers a run for their money.
Having now been on the market for a few months, Google Home has benefited from a number of updates that have seen it’s reliability and responsiveness to commands bring it almost equal to other, more established voice-control devices like the Amazon Echo.
One of the really great things about the Home is it’s ability to differentiate between voices and offer personalized recommendations based upon who’s speaking.
In terms of home automation smarts, Google Home effortlessly connects with the major players and devices including Chromecast (obviously), Nest and Philips Hue, meaning you can use the device to integrate with smart thermostats, lighting and power outlets with ease, as soon as your set up and switched on.
Beyond this, combining Google Home with IFTTT opens up connectivity to even more third-party devices, increasing the remit of smart home gear you can bring under the control of your voice-assistant.
Apple’s HomeKit system utilizes Siri, the company’s voice recognition solution to allow it to integrate with your connected tech in your home ecosystem through a companion app on your Apple device. This means that with a HomeKit compatible setup in place you’ll be able to control the lighting, heating, outlets and more within your home using your iPhone iPad or Apple Watch.
Voice control is still very much in the early days and while it’s possible to activate any number of connected smart home devices just by speaking a command, there are limitations to what voice response systems are currently able to do. With that being said, the technology is progressing at an intense rate and the gap between smart and really smart home automation systems that respond to your voice is closing by the day.
For example, it won’t be long until you’ll be able to not only tell your voice control system to turn the oven on, but also tell it what you’re having for dinner and have it know the required temperature itself. Or how about just telling your home what your plans are for the evening and having it automatically set the lighting, temperature, and entertainment for the night. Now that’s the smart home automation we’re really looking forward to – and it’s just around the corner!
Home Automation – Room by Room
The scope of smart home automation possibilities out there is now becoming so wide that it can be helpful when getting started, to break some of the options down on a room by room basis.
Whether you’re looking to overhaul your entire home from basement to bedroom, want to build the ultimate automated living room experience or simply want to find the best connected devices for your bedroom, knowing what goes where and the possibilities for the best smart gear out there can be incredibly useful.
Living Room Automation
The living room is the place you go to unwind and relax either on your own or with family and friends.
Therefore, it almost goes without saying that when it comes to smart home automation for the living room, the major considerations revolve around entertainment, environment, comfort and of course, convenience.
Whether you’re looking to set an ambient mood with automated and reactive smart lighting, or want to immerse yourself in the full experience of the very latest smart entertainment devices and audio equipment, it’s now easier than ever to embrace the automated living room of the future you’ve always dreamed of.
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit
If you’re looking to utilize the best of home automation to set the perfect mood in your living room and create an environment for entertaining or relaxing, then your first stop should be smart lighting.
The White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit from Philips Hue is certainly one of the best smart lighting systems on the market today and if you’re new to the automated lighting scene, then this set is ideal for getting you underway in no time.
Featuring three color-changing smart bulbs and a bridge for communicating with all of your current (and future!) Hue smart lighting devices, this starter kit is about as plug and play as they come – simply connect the bridge, screw in the bulbs and begin issuing awesome lighting commands through your smartphone or by voice using an Alexa enabled device.
Once you’re up and running, your Hue bulbs offer 16 million color variations as well as 50 thousand shades of white and can be scheduled to activate in whatever configurations you see fit for the occasion with the simple tap of a screen or by speaking a command to a connected device such as the Amazon Echo. can be setup to sync directly with your music and movies for a fully immersive entertainment experience
iRobot Roomba 980 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner
There’s no doubt about it, robot vacuum cleaners are awesome.
With the Roomba 980 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner, gone are the days of tangled cables and putting off the job of regular floor cleaning (because who really wants to be doing that every week?)
Providing three stages of totally automated cleaning with 10x the suction power of other robot vacuums, the Roomba 980 can be scheduled and controlled directly from your smartphone or by voice using Alexa or Google Home.
The 980 is able to clean an entire floor of your home with ease and while the battery pack offers an amazing runtime of 120 minutes, when it’s finally time for more juice, this automated vacuum will find its way back to the charging point and automatically power itself up for later.
From smart scales and mirrors to intelligent ‘learning’ thermometers, the bathroom is an area that is fully embracing the smart home revolution, bringing together the aspects of health, wellness, and beauty and interfacing these essential parts of everyday life with the internet of things.
Fitbit Aria WiFi Smart Scale
Say goodbye to the days of the old school needle scale. The Fitbit Aria is a smart scale that uses advanced tech to measure and track everything from weight and body fat percentage to lean mass and BMI.
Syncing data directly to your Fitbit account securely through your home WiFi, the Aria can be used by up to 8 individual users within your household.
Once your data is uploaded to your account, you can then accurately track your progress through an interface of graphs and charts to measure trends and see how you’re doing.
Kohler Moxie Showerhead and Wireless Speaker
If shower time also equates to your daily vocal training then the device you’ve been waiting for is finally here.
Providing a magnetic, removable wireless speaker at the center of the spray nozzle, the Moxie from bathroom mainstay Kohler is a showerhead with a difference.
Powered by a Lithium Ion battery for up to 7 hours of wireless listening time between charges, the Moxie utilizes Bluetooth to connect to your music playing devices with a wireless range of up to 32 feet.
The really great thing about the Moxie is the ability to effortlessly remove the unit from the shower head and double it up as a wireless speaker wherever you go meaning that if you want to take it to the bedroom, kitchen or outside, you’re good to go.
Smart home automation doesn’t end at the door and the growing range of incredible smart outdoor devices are transforming the way we think about yard work and time spent out of the house.
It’s now possible to get totally hands off in previously manual areas of outdoor maintenance through energy efficient smart watering systems and fully automated mowers that take care of the lawn while you relax.
And after you’ve got the yard or garden looking pristine?
Wireless, voice controlled smart speakers and outdoor smart lighting let you bring the entertainment outside.
Robomow RS630 Robotic Lawn Mower
Imagine being able to relax and enjoy the best of the sun while your lawn is effortlessly managed by an automated smart assistant.
Robotic lawnmowers promise exactly that and the RS630 from Robomow is one of the best on the market.
The Robomow is able to navigate narrow passages and those tricky cuts while a shock sensor system allows it to navigate around obstacles in its way.
Quite possibly our absolute favorite feature however, is the ability of this amazing robotic lawnmower to automatically return to its home base to recharge when running low on power or when the device detects rain.
Nest Cam Outdoor Security Camera
When it comes to automating home security, the task begins outdoors with the ability to see what’s going on.
Offering 1080p HD coverage both day and night, the Nest Cam Outdoor Security Camera features a 130-degree wide-angle view as well as an all-glass lens.
A true smart home automation device, the Nest Cam will keep a watchful eye over your home, detecting activity outside and alerting you directly to your phone with a snapshot of what it sees when it picks up movement.
As well as providing the ability to talk to and hear any visitors (expected or otherwise) using a built-in speaker and microphone, the Nest Cam is also designed to withstand the elements with weatherproofing from the camera itself through to the adapter and cables.
Sylvania Lightify Gardenspot Outdoor Smart Lights
Smart lighting isn’t just about illuminating the inside of your home and the Sylvania Lightify Gardenspots are the perfect solution if you’re looking to bring automated light to your outdoor space.
Featuring 9 energy saving LEDs with the ability to dim and change color remotely from your smartphone or tablet, these outdoor smart lights are the ideal addition for extending your smart home connectivity out of the house.
Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller
If you’re looking to replace your current sprinkler scheduling system with a smart one that can save you time and money, the Rachio could be the answer.
With the ability to remotely control and adjust your sprinklers at any time using the app interface on your phone, the system itself is also smart enough to know just the right amount of watering your lawn needs and doesn’t water if rain is forecast.
Rachio can be integrated with a whole host of other connected devices either directly or using IFTTT (more on this later) to maximize the automated effectiveness of your smart home ecosystem.
For example, Rachio connects with Nest out of the box and can be set to automatically activate your sprinklers if your Nest Protect smart smoke alarm has been activated. Similarly, pairing Rachio with a voice control system such as Amazon Alexa enables you to run preset programmes for your watering system using more than 100 different commands.
There are a lot of options out there when it comes to bringing smart home entertainment out into the yard, but if you’re looking to build a smart home automation setup around a voice control system like Alexa, then the Amazon Tap is one of the best ways to get it done.
Tap is effectively a portable, Alexa-enabled Bluetooth speaker and voice control device with almost all of the same features as the Dot and Echo, with one important exception – the Tap requires a ‘push to talk’ input before it will listen for voice commands.
With that being said, what the Tap lacks in hands-free operation, it more than makes up for in portability, with the major selling point being that the device is powered by a rechargeable battery meaning it can go wherever you do, so long as it’s in range of your wireless internet connection (unlike the power-outlet bound Echo and Dot).
This means that the Tap is an excellent accompaniment to any existing Alexa home automation setup you’re running and is ideal for taking with you outside for portable music listening and control of your smart home devices from outside. The perfect smart home companion for yardwork, sunbathing or hanging out by the pool.
Automating the devices in your bedroom can mean anything from voice controlled alarms and lighting through to smart mirrors, outfit planners and even smart sleep aids that monitor and feedback on the quality of the sleep you get every night.
In a wider sense, home automation is carried through into the bedroom in the form of house-wide smart devices such as connected thermostats that know your heating habits and are able to adjust the temperature in your room based on the time of day or year – perfect for those cold winter nights.
Amazon Echo Dot
The Dot from Amazon really is an essential element for building voice-controlled automation into your bedroom environment. Offering effectively the same level of functionality as the larger Amazon Echo from the same family of Alexa enabled devices, the Dot sacrifices reduced audio output in favour of an ideally sized bedside footprint.
As with the other devices in the Alexa range, the Amazon Dot is always listening for the wake word “Alexa” at which point you can do anything from turning on the lights, getting a news update and even setting an alarm for the morning, all using the power of your voice.
If you’re looking to inject some style into your smart device, the latest range of cases for the Dot are also the perfect way to complete the look in your room.
Withings Aura Smart Sleep System
Designed to help you achieve the perfect night’s sleep, the Withings Aura combines light, sound, and smart home connectivity to monitor and improve your transition into and out of sleep.
If you’re looking to bring smart automation into your sleep hygiene routine, then opting for some kind of smart sleep tracker is definitely the way to go.
Providing smart lighting programs alongside an ability to connect to Spotify, the Aura can help you fall asleep naturally and wake you to the music of your choice in the morning.
One of the features that we love about the Aura is the fact that it can connect to a Nest smart thermostat if setup in your home. With this connectivity in place, the Aura is able to communicate directly with your smart heat controller and regulate the ambient temperature within your bedroom, ensuring it’s just right for the ideal sleeping conditions.
WeMo Mini Smart Plug
With some level smart automation features and control available in an increasing number of devices, what happens to those traditional appliances that don’t offer the same level of interconnected technology out of the box?
Well, with a smart power outlet adapter like the WeMo Mini Smart Plug, you can hook your traditional devices up to your home WiFi and enjoy the same level of connectivity as the rest of your smart home rig, bringing home automation functionality from voice and app-based smartphone control through to scheduling when to switch your attached device on and off.
The WeMo Mini Smart Plug also features some awesome functionality including an ‘away mode’ which randomly switches lights on and off if you’re on vacation as well as the ability to pair with both Amazon Alexa devices such as the Echo and Dot and the Nest Thermostat for automatic control of your lights or appliances.
Kitchen devices and appliances are an area that have historically been at the forefront of innovation and automation in the home and as you’d probably expect, the growth of smart technology is no exception to this rule.
From smart coffee makers and refrigerators through to one-touch buttons that order in supplies when you’re running low, the interconnected devices of the kitchen are looking to make culinary headaches a thing of the past.
June Intelligent Oven
So, we’ve been waiting a long time for this kind of smart technology to make its way to the kitchen and it’s finally arrived in the form of the June Intelligent Oven.
Simply requiring you to place what you want to eat inside the unit itself, June then gets to work, utilizing an array of smart tech including Wi-Fi, culinary AI and a camera to recognize what you’ve decided is on the menu and then getting to work with the cooking – minimal input required.
Once you confirm to the oven that it’s cooking what it thinks it’s cooking, you simply let it know how you want the item cooked and June takes care of the rest. Amazing.
Amazon Dash Wand and Buttons
The Amazon Dash is a “stick anywhere” smart button that is directly connected to your Amazon account. With a simple press of the button, you can instantly place an order for whatever you’re out of, whether that be detergent, paper towels, coffee or even pet food.
The Dash Wand takes the functionality of the standard Dash Buttons a step further, utilizing additional smart tech to help you resupply your kitchen when things are running low. A built-in barcode scanner allows you to scan the items you need to reorder, while Alexa is also included as standard, meaning you can ask your smart kitchen assistant for the usual things you need an answer to – think recipe advice, kitchen conversions etc.
Gone are the days of having to fire up the computer to place a re-order – simply stick your Dash Buttons or Wand in a convenient place, tap, scan or speak when the cupboards or shelves are looking bare, and Amazon will take care of the rest.
If you like the Amazon Dash Wand, then you’re going to love this.
GeniCan allows you to swipe the barcode of an item you’re about to throw in the trash and in doing so, automatically adds it to your grocery list.
With the barcode scanned, GeniCan adds the item to a grocery list on the accompanying app on your smartphone for when you hit the stores.
Anova Precision Cooker
It used to be the case that “Sous Vide” cooking – vacuum sealing in a plastic bag, immersing in water and slow cooking to perfection – was the preserve of expert chefs alone.
With the Anova Precision Cooker, you can take the uncertainty out of preparing amazing food with this method thanks to a wireless connection between the device and your smartphone to let you know exactly when things are ready – no more guessing.
For those of you that love to bake, you’ll know that baking well is a science and as with chemistry, the measurements you use can quite literally make or break the final product.
The Drop Kitchen Connected Scale ties up to an accompanying app on your smartphone or tablet to walk you through a number of recipes to see you on your way to success. What makes this automated kitchen helper even more awesome is the fact that the system will automatically adjust the proportions for ingredients if you’re looking to double the recipe.
Entryway and Hallway Automation
From the moment someone approaches the front door to you letting them inside, the opportunities for smart home automation to make life easier, safer and more secure are greater than ever.
Smart door locks and smart doorbells enable you to bring the benefits of connected smart home automation to your front door, while devices such as smart smoke alarms and smart thermostats enable you to build a truly smart interior space throughout the common areas and hallways of your home.
August Smart Lock
The August Smart Lock turns your smartphone into a smart key, allowing you to automatically lock and unlock your door hands-free.
As well as allowing you to get in and out of your house without reaching for your keys, the August Smart Lock can also be setup to provide virtual keys for guests or temporary visitors (cleaners etc) and can keep track of exactly who has entered or exited the house.
Easy to install (simply mount over an existing deadbolt switch) the Smart Lock is Apple HomeKit-enabled and compatible with Amazon Alexa meaning as an automated door lock solution, it’s about as ready to go as they come if you’re looking to get your smart home locked down with minimal fuss but maximum cross-device compatibility.
Ring Video Doorbell Pro
Find out who’s at the front door without getting up off the couch with the Ring Video Doorbell Pro.
By pairing with the companion Ring app, you can both view (through the built-in camera) and communicate with (through the two-way microphone system), whoever’s at the door, wherever you are.
The beauty of this is you can effectively ‘answer’ the door, no matter where you are meaning you’ll never miss that package again.
Motion sensors let you know when someone is at your front door, 1080p HD video captures the detail and if it’s dark outside, infrared LED’s still allow you to see who’s there in low light conditions.
Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm
The Nest Protect smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm is bringing the traditional smoke detector into the era of the connected home.
Knowing exactly what issues are occurring in your home and where they’re happening is one of the key features of any smart detector and the Nest Protect does exactly this, providing you with both a visual and audible alert from the device as well as sending an alert directly to you smartphone or tablet.
Similarly, the Nest Protect also gives you the heads up before a potential hazard gets out of hand – perfect for those all too common toast burning days.
We’re all familiar with the remote garage door openers that make life that little bit easier when you get home from work or from the store, but as we enter the era of full home automation, smart connectivity is now beginning to make its mark on the humble garage.
The natural descendant of the humble remote garage door opener, the Nexx Garage is a WiFi enabled system that hooks up to your existing door opener and makes it smart.
What this means in practise, is that while your current garage door opener remains in place, the Nexx Garage will act as the smart controller for the existing mechanics meaning that you can open and close the door automatically when approaching or through the interface on your phone. The Nexx Garage is also compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home meaning you can finally use your voice to open the garage door before heading out in the morning.
IFTTT – The Perfect Recipe for Home Automation
A key ingredient in the automated smart home toolkit comes in the form of IFTTT (If This, Then That), a totally free online service that allows for the linking of smart devices and web services using ‘Applets’ (the evolution of what were previously known as ‘recipes’) to achieve some awesome home automation results.
Basically speaking, the service allows you to trigger actions or events on your devices automatically each time a certain condition is met elsewhere in a trigger/action relationship.
IFTTT offers an incredible number of options for available Applets and recipes with more added daily and is a powerful tool for taking your home automation experience to the next level.
Introducing IFTTT Applets
What used to be known in the world of IFTTT as a ‘recipe’ has now become an Applett in the automation nomenclature and while things effectively remain the same as before in terms of operation, the major difference is the scope of what can be achieved by the system.
Previously, a recipe would allow you to set a set a trigger and action rule that went something along the lines of:
“If X happens, then do Y”
This trigger>action system could be something along the lines of:
“If it’s 6:00 am on a Monday, then turn on my smart coffee maker”
“If my Nest Protect alarm detects smoke, then turn all of my smart lights red”
Applets on the other hand, still allow you to work through the standard ‘if this, then that’ routine, however you can now trigger multiple response actions through the use of an Applet, rather than the one you were limited to when using a recipe. For example:
“If it’s 18:30 pm on a weekday, then turn on the lights in the house, then turn on the heating, then close the blinds in all rooms”
Once the first action is triggered and completed, it can be followed by the next one, then the next one etc.
With this flexibility in mind, it’s easy to see how IFTTT is an incredibly powerful tool if you’re looking to build a seriously automated home environment that reacts not just to other devices, but also having your smart home devices triggered by other external events ranging from receiving information (like an email or SMS) through to responding to the time of day or year.
If there’s an external input out there, the chances are you can set your automated devices to react to it using an IFTTT recipe or Applet.
Using IFTTT Applets to Automate your Home
The really amazing thing with IFTTT is that it allows you to take your home automation game to a whole new level, essentially filling in gaps that smart devices can’t (yet) do out of the box.
By registering for a free account with IFTTT and then tying up with your individual smart home devices, extended home automation functionality becomes as simple as flicking a digital switch.
Here are some of our favourite ways to maximize your home automation setup using IFTTT Applets.
1. Turn your smart lights on automatically at sunset
By connecting your Philips Hue smart lighting to Weather Underground via IFTTT, you can have the lighting in your home automatically activate when the sun goes down, whatever the time of year, without lifting a finger.
2. Automate your grocery list with Alexa
Gone are the days of needing to scramble around for a pen and spare paper when it’s time to add milk and bread to the list. By activating the Applet in IFTTT, you can simply tell Alexa what you want to add to the list and have it emailed directly to you when done.
3. Never spend time searching for your lost phone again
Phone wandered off again? Don’t worry, IFTTT and WeMo (and Alexa) have you covered. If you’re phone is missing, set up IFTTT to call your phone when you press your WeMo light switch for a longer time or ask Alexa to drop you a line and help you find that handset.
4. Save water when it’s not needed
This IFTTT Applet for the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller will tell the system not to water the plants or lawn if rain is forecast for the next day, meaning you can rely on the device to totally automate the procedure of keeping things in check outside, whatever the weather.
5. Make sure everything’s off when it’s time to turn in
While functionality such as Alexa’s ‘Groups’ feature allow you to batch the voice controlled operation of some of your devices together, it can be tough to find a way to switch off everything in the house that’s not needed at the end of the day. The ‘Goodnight All’ Applet from Hunter Douglas PowerView is the answer you’ve been waiting for. When it’s time to hit the sack, simply say “goodnight all” to Alexa and everything will power down for the night.
6. Laundry’s done
Although smart home automation hasn’t (yet) reached the level of full domestic automated assistance, there are ways that the latest smart devices are looking to make life as easy as possible on this front. The latest Samsung smart washers can be connected with this Applet to let you know when the wash cycle is nearly complete so you don’t need to keep checking up on progress during those crucial parts of a movie.
If you happen to own both a FitBit and WeMo smart plug, morning coffee just got a lot simpler. With your coffee machine plugged into the smart plug, combine with your FitBit using this amazing recipe and your machine will automatically activate and get to work with the morning brew as soon as you’re awake.
Smart home automation is undoubtedly changing the way we interact with our homes and the devices within them. It’s now easier than ever to multi-task and have your smart connected devices take care of things where previously they couldn’t.
The immediate benefits of a move towards creating an automated smart home are an increase in productivity and convenience with smart devices freeing you up to take care of business elsewhere. This could be as simple as being able to use your voice to increase the brightness of your kitchen lights while you wash the dishes or as complex (but as easy to implement) as having your house automatically prepare itself for the evening before you even arrive home from work.
Beyond this though, home automation is having a transformative effect in other areas of home life such as energy efficiency savings, reduced financial running costs, and even increasing happiness and well being during periods of relaxation and self-care.