You wake up to your smartphone alarm, stream your music from the cloud, communicate exclusively via texting, and yell at Siri to mark down meetings.
But you still turn your lights on and off with your finger? Your thermostat doesn’t adjust with voice commands?
Why are you living half your life with the Jetsons and the other half with the Flintstones?
Do yourself a favor and invest into home automation . Yeah, it sounds complicated and expensive. You don’t know where to start. Stop listening to network television and start reading some actual guides from people with technical know-how.
Stop listening to network television and start reading some actual guides from people with technical know-how.
Home automation for beginners is much easier, and certainly cheaper, than you think.
The Basics of Home Automation for Beginners
Let’s start off very simple. Home automation for beginners encompasses everything from voice controlled lights to burglar alarms with push notifications.
We’re focusing on the voice controlled light side of automation, or devices that you can set-up without an outside service.
The first thing you need to understand is how automated devices communicate. Think of this like Bluetooth.
These technologies are just another way for two “computers” to talk.
- Z-Wave: Z-Wave is the standard home automation language. It’s widely supported and lets devices pair easily. Devices will even hand off the “message” to one another if the signal is poor in certain areas of your home.
- Zigbee: Another home automation standard. For our purposes, it functions exactly the same as Z-Wave. Zigbee also offers more user control over technical settings.
- Wifi: Not nearly as applicable, but some smart home devices run on WiFi. We’re assuming that by now you understand WiFi.
Each smart device you purchase will communicate over one of these protocols. However, some devices incorporate all three options.
Smart devices communicate through something called smart hubs. These “hubs” function as a central unit that issues commands throughout your house.
They are also how users control their home automation, usually through a hub’s proprietary smartphone app
Choosing the correct hub is essential to seamless home automation for beginners. In our opinion, there’s only one hub you’ll ever need, and that’s Samsung’s SmartThings.
SmartThings utilizes both Zigbee and Z-Wave to bring you unlimited home automation potential. Nearly any device you’ll ever need works with SmartThings.
Samsung has already fleshed out the SmartThings devices and positioned them as the market leader.
Not only are you buying the most compatible device, but the device most people regard as superior.
SmartThings hubs are available in starter kits, and come with things like smart lights and motion sensors.
Home assistants are leading the way in home automation by allowing users to voice control their smart devices from one central place.
Leading the charge here are Amazon’s Echo, and Google’s Google Home. Each device has its positive and negatives, but both have home automation compatibility.
The Echo device released two years ago to little fanfare and even less functionality. Alexa (The home assistant’s name and trigger word) could answer basic math problems, search the web, and play Spotify.
The real value of Alexa started revealing itself after smart device manufacturers began utilizing Amazon’s open API.
Today, Alexa works with an enormous list of smart devices, with new support added almost daily. Most importantly, Alexa works with SmartThings.
Two “always on” voice controlled Echo devices are currently available, the Echo and the Echo Dot.
Currently, the Dot costs only $50, making it the cheapest home assistant available. The larger Echo costs $180 and includes a higher quality speaker.
The Echo Dot’s low price and unending compatibility make it our choice for the best home assistant to help automate your home.
Earlier this year Google released its answer to the Amazon Echo line, the Google Home.
The Home relies on Google’s vast information cloud and can answer just about any question. Its ability to understand context is really amazing.
The device features integration with other Google devices, like Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, plus many other “skills” similar to the Echo line.
However, the Home is currently lagging behind Alexa in terms of home automation. Luckily, the things it can do it does very well, and SmartThings integration is top notch.
What’s missing is the Echo’s ability to communicate with a variety of smart hubs and individual smart devices.
This seems ok until you realize you’re really only interested in smart lights. Now you’re stuck buying a hub because Google can’t talk to your devices individually.
Keep an eye out for increased smart home compatibility in the near future. Google seems dedicated to the Home and certainly has the money to expand the platform.
Getting started with home automation for beginners can go one of two ways. Either you dive in head first or barely stick your big toe in the water.
Begrudgingly (we love home automation), we always recommend people test the water before they dive.
WeMo smart plugs make excellent entry devices. These plugs simply plug into any existing outlet and give it smart functionality.
You can turn any device plugged into the outlet on or off right from your smartphone.
WeMo also offers smart light switches, which snap over your existing light switch and offer the same smartphone control.
The best part? A single WeMo plug is only $35 and smart lightswitches start at $50.
Other good starter smart home devices are smart lights. These are normal light bulbs that offer basic control like dimming and on/off functionality.
The Philips Hue line of smart lights is perfect for beginners and gives an inexpensive glimpse into the world of smart devices.
If we had to recommend a beginner bundle, it would look something like this.
- SmartThings – We’ve explained this already.
- Amazon Echo Dot – Again, already explained this.
- SmartThings plugs – Paired with Alexa equals voice controlled coffee markers. (WeMo plugs are excellent stand-alone devices, but SmartThings has their own solution)
Those three things should keep you busy awhile. Over time, we’d also recommend Harmony Hub for TV and entertainment center control, and a smart thermostat.
Building out your home automation for beginners system is simple if you smart small and add devices gradually.
Anyone can, and should, start researching and building their smart home. After all, why manually change the temperature when Alexa can do that for you?