The Smart Home
If you’ve clicked on this, you’re probably wondering what a smart home can do for me. We at DominionTT are here to help, this is our explainer on how to go about building a smart home from scratch, and all the things you'll need to consider.
A smart home doesn’t have to mean completely new and crazy gadgets or robots – though it can if you want. Often it just means replacing gadgets, appliances and accessories with connected or automated versions of a similar thing – smart light bulbs, smart thermostats, smart security systems etc.
Why a Smart Home?
Connecting the tech in your home to your Wi-Fi network (and to each other) has a benefits.
First up is controls and convenience.
You can control everything in real time either from an app on your smartphone or tablet, or from a voice controlled smart speaker. We’ll get to these in a minute. A lot of smart home companies are trying to sell convenience – they will make your life a little easier or save you time on a regular basis.
Second, there's information.
Smart home gadgets can give you easily accessible data on things like security – say, access to a history of smart security camera feeds – to energy – smart meters and energy monitors that tell you (and your utility provider) how much electricity and gas you’re getting through.
Third is automation.
If you don’t want to manually control your home gadgets all the time you can go one further and set up scenes, routines and rules. Depending on things like you entering or leaving the house/flat or sensors being triggered, you can set up certain actions as a result. The idea is that your home gets to know you and your family/friends and automatically works based on what’s happening, without the need for your input.
Lastly (and this is only really a taster), well we get to robots.
The next steps up from lights that turn red when your smoke alarm goes off are autonomous gadgets that operate themselves. We’re talking robot vacuums, robot lawn mowers and laundry folding robots, all of which currently exist – but generally this category involves plenty of wishful thinking. The smart home can’t do all of your household chores for you – yet.
Get started with the smart home
Where to start on a smart home depends on three things: your budget, time and enthusiasm. Honestly you could just buy one connected home gadget and get going with the individual brand’s app then work any additions out later. For the past five years or so that’s what plenty of people have been doing.
In the past couple of years, though, things have shifted slightly towards the decision becoming which smart home hub or which smart home system to choose. This can actually mean a lot of things. If you want to control your whole house – both manually and setting up home automation – through one all-powerful app on your phone or tablet, you can choose a hub and platform like Samsung’s SmartThings or Wink.
More likely is that you will choose to take the plunge with one of the big four smart home ecosystems:
So how to decide which smart home system is actually best for you?
Amazon’s own range is called Echo and its assistant is Alexa, Google’s series of devices is called Home and its assistant is called Assistant. They're the big two, and for most people it's a case of Alexa vs Google Assistant.
Both now offer their assistants on third party speakers from brands like Sony, JBL, Lenovo and more and both offer devices with screens - Amazon has the Echo Show and the Echo Spot, Google's smart displays are also now landing, with Home Hub leading the way. Alexa and Google Assistant are both compatible with a huge range of other smart home gadgets and appliances and are very beginner friendly too.
Apple HomeKit is the obvious choice for Apple loyalists. You will be able to control everything from the Apple Home app for iOS, the Apple TV box and the Apple HomePod speaker with its own voice assistant, Siri. If you’re privacy conscious, this might also be for you – Apple has been the most vocal about protecting personal data it captures.
How to build your smart home system?
Once you have chosen your smart home hub or controller, what’s next? A good way to think about building your system is to pick a home category then look around for products that work with the ecosystem you’ve chosen.
The most popular categories in the smart home right now are kitchen appliances, baby monitors, cameras, doorbells, garden, lighting, networking, security systems, speakers and thermostats. So a good move is to dig into one of those, see what looks like a good fit for you and then check out if it works with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit or Works with Nest.
That’s by no means an extensive list though. A smart TV might be top of your list, or you might be interested in smart locks, smart plugs (which connect regular appliances and gadgets) or something quirkier like smart blinds.
We’ve got a dedicated page covering all the smart devices we offer. Which will also give you some inspiration if you’re taking the plunge into Home Automation.