smart home devices guide
A Bloke

A Bloke

Beginners Guide To Setting Up A Smart Home

Creating a smart home is the perfect project for those who enjoy tinkering with technology. The huge number of smart devices available and the virtually limitless possibilities for their use is a tinkerer’s paradise.

I’ve been playing about with smart home tech for quite a while. I wouldn’t classify myself as an expert but I have picked up quite a bit of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. 

What Is A Smart Home

A smart home is equipped with various smart devices (light bulbs, motion sensors, plugs etc) and systems that provide convenience, efficiency, security, and comfort.

To my mind, there are two types of smart home, the Semi Automated Smart Home and the Fully Automated Smart Home.

Semi-Automated Smart Home – This is where you have smart home devices that are mostly controlled manually. For example, when you get home from work, you press a smart switch or ask Alexa to run an automation that turns the lights and boils the kettle.

Fully Automated Smart Home – This is where you have smart devices that are tightly integrated with each other and there is very little or no manual intervention. For example, your smart home tracks your phone and knows you’re nearly home, automatically turning the lights on and boiling the kettle.

A semi-automated smart home is far easier and quicker to set up than a fully automated one, which requires much more time and thought. I started with a semi-automated home, which has slowly evolved to become more automated.

How To Create a Smart Home

A minimum of 3 components are required to create a smart home.

1) Smart Hub

Similar to a home broadband router, which is the central device that connects all your WiFi devices (laptop, mobile phone, tablet, etc.). The Smart Hub is the central device to which all your smart devices (bulbs, plugs, switches, etc.) connect.

The smart hub often connects to your home broadband router for internet access. This allows you to manage your smart home remotely from anywhere in the world.

Smart Home Hub - Echo and Pi
Echo Smart Hub and Raspberry Pi Smart Hub

2) Smart Home Devices

Devices such as motion sensors, smart plugs, smart light bulbs, door sensors, etc, are all smart home devices. They all wirelessly connect to the smart hub.

The vast majority of smart home devices are designed for indoor use. There are ways to make some smart devices waterproof for outside side use. 

3) Automations

This is the ‘brains’ of a smart home that manages all the smart home devices. For example, an automation might be that if you press a smart switch ‘On’ then all the downstairs lights turn on. Usually, the smart hub is the ‘brains’ where all the automations are configured.

What Equipment Is Required For A Smart Home

Which Smart Home Hub Should I Get

With so many different smart home hubs to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming. However, I think it can quickly be narrowed down to just two smart home hubs.

What you want to avoid is getting locked into a single manufacturer’s smart home solution. If, for example, you buy the Ikea Smart Home Hub you are then locked into the Ikea Smart Home world, you can’t use smart home devices from other brands with the Ikea smart hub.

The only two smart home hubs that you need to consider (in my opinion) are:

  1. Amazon Echo – For some reason, it’s not common knowledge that some Echo devices have a smart home hub built-in.

    The best thing is that the Echo Smart Home Hub isn’t limited to working with just Amazon devices.

    The Echo smart hub has been designed to work with Zigbee devices from loads of different manufacturers. This means you can mix and match devices from many brands, like Ikea, Hive, Phillips, Aquara, Samsung etc

    Echo device that have a built-in Zigbee hub:
    Echo 4th Generation
    – Echo Plus
    Echo Show 10 (Except 1st Generation)
    Echo Studio

  2. Home Assistant – Free (open source) smart home automation software that can be installed on a device to make it a smart home hub.

    Home Assistant is commonly installed on a Raspberry Pi, but it can be installed on a Windows PC, a Mac and various other types of computers.

    Home Assistant is the ultimate in Smart Home Automation. It works with almost every smart home device and can be configured to do almost anything.

     

If you’re just starting out in smart home automation, then I would recommend going down the Amazon Echo route. Home Assistant is brilliant but requires considerably more time to set up a smart home compared to the Amazon Echo.

Note: Annoyingly, the Amazon Echo smart hub doesn’t currently support smart buttons or switches in automations. I assume this because Amazon expects you to manually use your voice to turn things on and off. You can use the Alexa app virtual buttons to turn stuff on and off.

Which Smart Home Devices Should I Use

As long as you buy a smart home hub that isn’t locked (like the Amazon Echo or Home Assistant) to a single brand, you can buy just about any smart home device from any manufacturer.

Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Locked – Apparently, some manufacturers intentionally prevent their smart home devices from working with hubs from other manufacturers. I’ve never experienced this problem and am unaware of any brands that are locked down.
     
  • Protocol – Make sure your smart devices use the same protocol as the smart home hub. So, if you buy a Zigbee hub, make sure you buy Zigbee smart devices to work with it. I recommend using Zigbee as it is currently the most common protocol used in UK home automation and it is what Amazon Echo hubs use.
     
  • Price – On paper, many smart home devices appear to be virtually identical, but in real-world use, there can be massive differences. In my experience, cheaper devices fail \ break more quickly, the battery doesn’t last long, and false positive alerts are triggered.

Recommended: Cheap Smart Home Brands

Recommended: Best Smart Home Brands

Conclusion: Beginners Guide To Setting Up A Smart Home

Whether semi-automated or fully automated, creating a smart home requires thoughtful planning and selecting the right components, such as a smart hub and compatible devices.

Choose a smart home ecosystem that doesn’t lock you into one manufacturer, allowing flexibility and integration of various smart devices. 

Start with a user-friendly smart hub and automations like the Amazon Echo and consider more advanced setups using Home Assistant.

Amazon Smart Hubs

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