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We recently launched a Smart Home category at MakeUseOf, and we’ve posted some really great tips on how you can start to make your home smarter. And coverage of smart home items is popping up all over the Internet. But what is a smart home? MakeUseOf takes a look.

A Smart Home Is About Connectivity

When we went from “dumb” cell phones Why This Technology Blogger Does Not Own a Smartphone [Opinion] Why This Technology Blogger Does Not Own a Smartphone [Opinion] "Do you have a smartphone yet?" It's a question my friends ask often, and it's a reasonable one to ask. I make my entire living writing about technology, explaining how to use software and interviewing... Read More to smartphones, we made a major leap in connectivity. From just being able to call and text, smartphone allowed us to connect to the Internet, send e-mail and instant messages, download files, and all number of other things that require connectivity (though there are plenty of ways to use your smartphone without a signal 5 Productive Things You Can Do With Your Smartphone Without a Signal 5 Productive Things You Can Do With Your Smartphone Without a Signal No signal? That doesn't mean you can't use your phone to get stuff done! Read More , too). You can think of a smart home in a similar way.

What sets a smart home apart from other homes is that the appliances and devices throughout the house are connected and controlled from a central device. Climate control, lights, appliances, locks, and different types of cameras and monitors can all be added to a home automation system and controlled from anywhere in the house or, often, from afar.

woman-typing-smartphone

This connectivity can be achieved in a number of different ways. There are proprietary systems specifically designed for home automation, like Z-Wave, Zigbee, KNX, and Control4, so you can use WiFi to control your devices over the Internet, and many are also Bluetooth-enabled, so they don’t need Internet connectivity. All of these systems have advantages and disadvantages, and the one that’s best for your home depends on what you want to do.

What’s the Benefit of a Smart Home?

What’s the benefit of all of this connectivity? In a single word, convenience. Having a smart home lets you do a lot of the things that you’d normally do — like adjusting the air conditioning, turning off the lights, pre-heating the oven, lending a key to your neighbor — with a lot less effort. You can set schedules for your appliances, so that certain things will happen at specific times of day, and some appliances will even learn your schedule and activities so that the amount of effort you have to put toward managing your home is drastically reduced.

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wemo-smart-bulb

In addition to convenience, however, a smart home also promotes efficiency. For example, the Nest thermostat learns how you like to have your house heated and cooled and adjusts the temperature so you don’t have to, saving energy. It also goes into “away” mode when you leave the house, further reducing your heating and cooling bills. The Webee home automation system also learns from the actions that you take and makes suggestions on how to use your smart appliances and devices more efficiently.

What Smart Home Products Are Available?

There are a lot of great smart home products on the market right now, and many others are entering the market all the time. We’ve profiled a number of product categories in the past, like these smart lamps Brighten Your Home With Smart Lamps: Here Are Your Options Brighten Your Home With Smart Lamps: Here Are Your Options What exactly is a smart lamp, and what's out there? Read More . We also gave you some good ideas for using the WeMo system to smarten up your lighting 3 Ways The Belkin WeMo Can "Smarten" Your Regular Household Lamps 3 Ways The Belkin WeMo Can "Smarten" Your Regular Household Lamps We took the time to look at the possibilities for turning your regular household lamps into smart lamps. Read More . The Philips Hue Light Your Home the Smart Way With Philips Hue Light Your Home the Smart Way With Philips Hue If you can afford the initial expenditure, you won't find a better-supported and more user-friendly smart lighting system on the market. Read More  is one of the most popular options out there for smart lamps, but others, like the Holi Smart Mood Lamp Holi Smart Mood Lamp Review and Giveaway Holi Smart Mood Lamp Review and Giveaway Is the Holi Smart Mood Lamp the ultimate night lamp? Mood lamp? Disco ball? Read More , are cropping up. So what does a smart lamp do? In a nutshell, it lets you program your lights to turn on and off on a schedule or in response to triggers. Or just to turn them off from your phone without getting off the couch.

A smart appliance that you might be more familiar with is the smart TV What Is a Smart TV & 6 of the Best On The Market Today What Is a Smart TV & 6 of the Best On The Market Today Most televisions you look at now will be smart TVs, but what is a smart TV and which ones are the best on the market right now? Read More , a TV that connects to the Internet to get content; you can easily sign into Netflix or Hulu, download movies, play games, or share on social networks. Just about every company makes a smart TV now, but we’ve reviewed one from Vizio Vizio E320i-A0 32-inch Smart TV Review and Giveaway Vizio E320i-A0 32-inch Smart TV Review and Giveaway To test out whether a TV can be feature-filled yet affordable, I bought myself a Vizio E320i-A0 32-inch 720p 60Hz LED Smart HDTV, which came in at $288 ($290 at retail price). I tested it... Read More  as well as a Samsung model Samsung ES6500 40-inch 3D 1080p Smart TV Review and Giveaway Samsung ES6500 40-inch 3D 1080p Smart TV Review and Giveaway Over the past decade or so, there's been a mad rush to purchase the biggest, flattest, and prettiest television you can get in order to show it off to all your friends and neighbors. And... Read More . We’ve also profiled some of the security risks of owning a smart TV 3 Real Security Risks Threatening Your Smart TV Entertainment 3 Real Security Risks Threatening Your Smart TV Entertainment Read More .

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Of course, there are a lot of other smart appliances, like refrigerators, ovens, smoke detectors Nest Protect Review and Giveaway Nest Protect Review and Giveaway Read More , and, possibly the most well-known of them all, thermostats. We recently published an article on smart locks Forget Keys: 5 Smart Locks You Can Unlock With Your Phone Forget Keys: 5 Smart Locks You Can Unlock With Your Phone Here are 5 different locks that you can unlock with your phone. Read More that let you lock and unlock your doors from your phone, and even give temporary passes to others. Using all of these appliances together can give you a lot of control over your home, letting you run a very efficient house, even though it might use a lot of electricity 5 Smart Hacks To Save Electricity In Your Smart Home 5 Smart Hacks To Save Electricity In Your Smart Home he trick to saving electricity is in knowing where most of your energy is consumed. Read More .

Getting Started On Your Smart Home

While there are some really expensive options for starting your smart home (like this $2,300 smart toilet), you can get some basic devices that are well within your budget. You can get a Philips Hue starter pack on Amazon for less than $200, and a WeMo bundle for about $60.

wemo-bundle

But you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to start creating a smart home — you can even take on some of the projects yourself 6 Smart Home Projects You Can Take On This Weekend 6 Smart Home Projects You Can Take On This Weekend Here are six ways to add a little ambient intelligence to your daily routine. Read More ! Also, you can automate your home with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi Home Automation with Raspberry Pi and Arduino Home Automation with Raspberry Pi and Arduino The home automation market is flooded with expensive consumer systems, incompatible with one another and costly to install. If you have a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino, you can basically achieve the same thing at... Read More , if you want to get into a bit of programming. And, of course, you can always look for good deals to save some money A Guide To Good Deals: How To Save Money On Everything You Buy Online A Guide To Good Deals: How To Save Money On Everything You Buy Online Online shopping makes it easier than ever to get a good deal. We've put together a short guide on how to get the best price on just about anything you might be looking for online.... Read More  on smart home equipment. You’re limited only by your imagination, so why not get started today?

Have you started making your home smarter? Which technologies have you used? How did you find the experience? Do you have any recommendations for getting started? Share your thoughts below!

Image credits: Female hands hold a tablet computer with smart house on a screen on a background of the house (edited) via Shutterstock, closeup of hand woman typing on smart phone at home via Shutterstock, WeMo Light by Jason Cipriani via flickr

  1. Derek
    May 20, 2015 at 4:34 am

    Just to balance out some of the crazies around here... I'm a code slinger getting my PhD at MIT... and my house is crammed full of "smart" and "connected" pieces:

    - Nest thermostat
    - All lights are Hue lights
    - Withings scale
    - Simple human automatic trash-cans
    - Simple human automatic soap dispensers
    - Logitech Harmony Home Control remotes on both TVs
    - Apple TVs on both TVs
    - More!

    Everything is tied together. For instance, I can open the Harmony App on my phone and hit "Watch a Movie" and the TV, receiver, Bluray player come on and switch properly, the lights in the room are drawn down and the thermostat is set at the perfect movie watching temperature (69 degrees according to my wife!).

    When I'm away the Nest thermostat knows it... it turns out my Hue lights automatically... and even turns them on periodically, simulating someone being home.

    When I drive up to my place my phone knows I'm home and automatically turns on my lights and tells the thermostat I'm here so it can start getting the temperature just right.

    Is any of this necessary? Absolutely not! Is it fun? Hell yeah! Is any of it "dangerous"? How could it be? Everything is behind a firewalled wifi router... and even if someone were to get access to my lights or my thermostat... who cares? The likelihood of that happening is 1/1000000 for sure... but even if it did the likelihood of any lasting / permanent damage is 1/100000000000000.

    I don't know why connected home stuff brings out the crazies... but it really does. It's all about fun and convenience for me and my wife :-)

    • Dann Albright
      May 21, 2015 at 7:20 am

      I knew there had to be others who think like I do! While there's always a very slight possibility that you'll get hit with an attack, the repercussions of such an attack would almost always be fairly negligible. (Dragonmouth once brought up the possibility of someone turning off your heat in the winter, causing your pipes to burst, but that seems like a stretch to me.)

      Glad you're enjoying your smart home tech!

  2. hassan
    May 14, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    a smart home = invitations to hackers :P

  3. Madinazh
    December 7, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Hello, I am a student at the Faculty of Architecture and Construction. And I'm learning projects smart homes. Under the "smart" home should be understood as a system that provides comfort including safety for all users. Smart home systems implies a centralized management of all appliances in the home. So, passing along the corridor at night, your path will be lit, a special security system will fully handle all tasks according to your taste and to hold all the necessary work scheduled for the day. The main and most important advantage - it is an opportunity to control the entire system in his home while away from it. This means that it is possible even while traveling or in the office, control the lights, open or close the blinds, turn on or off the alarm, turn on or off various appliances. it's true. What are the disadvantages of smart home?

    • Dann Albright
      December 9, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      I like your definition of a smart home—comfort and safety are certainly the things that are at the forefront of the priorities when building a smart home. As for the disadvantages of a smart home, a lot of people will tell you that the biggest disadvantage is that you could be sacrificing safety and security by putting appliances and things on the internet, where they can be attacked by hackers, who could potentially damage or gain access to your house. Whether or not that's a serious issue is generating quite a debate around here.

      What do you think? Do you think having a smart home could be a security issue because of its attachment to the internet?

  4. Anonymous
    November 21, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    If you are monitoring your system you can do several things, initiate an alarm to try and scare the intruder away, call the police and lock the intruder in if he came in through a door. You can also talk to the intruder and let him know he is on video surveillance. These are some things that can be done legally.

    • Dann Albright
      November 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      I suppose you could lock the intruder in by locking your door . . . if you have bullet-proof metal shielding that drops down over your windows and turns your entire house into a gigantic panic room. :-) If they broke INTO your house, I'm sure they wouldn't mind breaking OUT OF your house.

      Anyway, you're right—there are some legal actions that you can take. However, it seems like the alarm is the best way to go; alarms tend to scare people away. I'm not sure that talking to them to let them know that they're being surveilled is going to do much.

  5. Joe
    October 20, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I have been slowly automating my house and find that the smartthing hub is a great starting point for a zwave automated house. The big advantage to the truly paranoid is that you can get notifications when something does occur, like the garage door opens, the front door is unlocked, a water leak is detected, etc. Great aid in saving energy, you can have the thermostat set at a more conservative temperature when you leave the house, lights turned off until you arrive. For those comments as to how afraid they are of bad people, move to an island and get rid of your computers. I have worked in the defense industry for 35 years. If someone wants to get to you or your possessions there is nothing that will stop them all you can do is minimize the impact. For me I would rather know when it is occurring.

    • Dann Albright
      October 27, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      You make a good point about being more aware of anything that happens in your home. There's always a risk that someone will be able to bypass any of your security systems, but if you have your home wired up so that it lets you know when it detects anything, you might have a chance at stopping any intruders in their tracks.

      Thanks for reading!

    • dragonmouth
      November 20, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      "The big advantage to the truly paranoid is that you can get notifications when something does occur, like the garage door opens, the front door is unlocked, a water leak is detected, etc."
      Yes, that is a nice feature to have but notifications are AFTER the fact. They are reactive, not proactive. By the time you find out, the event such as a break-in has already happened; your house has been emptied of valuables. A bear trap under a window that a burglar is likely to use is much better than a notification that a window was broken. 20,000 volts through the door handle when someone is trying ti jimmy it is a much better deterent than a notification on your Smartphone. :-)

      A Smart Home should be smart enough to defend itself and its contents, not just plaintively bleat "Help! Someone is breaking in."

      "move to an island and get rid of your computers"
      Not a good idea. You would be isolating yourself from any possible help. You would be the perfect target. :-)

    • Dann Albright
      November 20, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      How do you think a smart home should be able to defend itself? And are you aware of any of the potential legal ramifications of doing so? (Just curious; I have no idea what they are or might be.)

  6. pmshah
    September 12, 2014 at 3:00 am

    I don't exactly have a smart hone but have a lot of automation around the house.

    I can buy fully programmable ( with button cell backed up clock) time switches for $ 10/-. These lose no more than a couple of seconds a month and can handle 20 A loads without a problem. I have a network connected Energenie power controller with 4 controlled outlets that can be switched on or off from any network connected device. I could also control these from the internet but don't trust the mode as secure. I have a very low power consuming Netbook connected that will turn on at certain time and run fancy batch files and switch on / off devices as and when required. It will also power on or off its charger depending on the charge level of the internal battery.

    I don't think I need anything more.

    • Dann A
      September 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      Well, if you don't need anything more, then you're set! If you're happy with the system you have, then you don't need connected smart home tech.

  7. dragonmouth
    September 11, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    X10 does not use WiFi so it's security cannot be breached from outside. Smart Homes of the 1990s were much more secure than those of today.

    My objections are not to having an automated house. I also used X10 in the past. My concerns are for the security of WiFi-enabled devices. Go through the MUO articles for the past year and you will find at least 5 dealing with the insecurity of WiFi-enabled devices.

    "I still can not imagine why would would need to or why anyone would need control of anything besides lights and a few appliances like a fan."
    Why do people want/need a 100" curved screen Ultra HD 4k TV? Why do people want/need the latest iPhone? Because it's kewl. Because of bragging rights. Because it's avant-garde. Because the advertising flacks convinced them that if theirt home is not Smart, they're stupid and SO last millennium.

  8. qwertinsky
    September 11, 2014 at 4:57 am

    Software Babe and dragonmouth F.U.D aside smart homes are so 1990's. I had all my lights and a few appliances running on X10 for years, and even that was 70's technology for goodness sakes. By the 90's full computer control and programing was available along with remote control through a modem, by 95 the internet.

    Sure I could not change my refrigerator's temperature but I still can not imagine why would would need to or why anyone would need control of anything besides lights and a few appliances like a fan.

    • Dann A
      September 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Many people will want control over their homes for peace of mind. The Nest thermostat helps you save electricity. The Adam and Eve sprinkler system helps you save water. Smart doorlocks ensure that your kids can get into the house after school even if they forget their keys in the morning (they sure as hell aren't going to forget their phones).

      And, as I mentioned in a previous comment, it's fun. You could say that having a PlayStation Network account is a security risk, after they lost some information to an attack a while ago. But no one's questioning why you would buy a PlayStation.

  9. dragonmouth
    September 10, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    "What Is A Smart Home?
    As Software Babe says, with the state of today's (in)security, SmartHome is a Stupid Idea.

    "What’s the benefit of all of this connectivity?"
    To the home owner - NONE. To the hackers and script kiddies - endless hours of fun, making all the smart devices act stupid. To thieves and burglars - might as well leave a key on a nail next to the front door.

    "convenience"
    There is a high price for convenience and that is security.
    How convenient is it to clean up and replace couple hundred pounds of spoiled food because some joker decided to change the temperature on your Smart Refrigerator?
    How convenient is it to clean up after some script kiddie made your Smart Toilet flow backwards?
    How convenient is it to have to replace all your Smart Devices and valuables because a thief hacked your Smart Doorlock?

    Smart Homes only look good in commercials, advertisements and magazine spreads. They only look good and work well at Consumer Electronics Shows.

    How many articles has MUO run on how various "Smart" devices can be easily hacked?! Considering all those articles, how can you, in good conscience, run an article encouraging Smart Homes???

    • Dann A
      September 14, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      When you say that there's no benefit to the homeowner in having a connected home, I think what you're trying to say is that the benefits don't outweigh the risks. Because there are obviously benefits. If you're someone who always forgets to turn the lights off when you leave the house, you can now just turn them off from your phone, reducing wasted energy. And, of course, there's the fun factor—whether or not you agree, a lot of people will find having a smart home fun, both for the things you can do and the effort it takes in getting it all working together.

      On security risks—yes, there are security risks. And we've talked about a number of them in the past. And because smart homes are pretty new, there are going to be more than you'll see in more established things, like smartphones. But there are security risks with everything, and many people will find them worth the risk. Sure, a smart doorlock might not be the best thing to buy first generation. But a smart lamp? Why not? And the manufacturers aren't going to take security threats likely. They'll get more secure as they're around longer.

    • dragonmouth
      September 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      "you can now just turn them off from your phone, reducing wasted energy."
      If you can turn them off from your phone, your friendly neighborhood hacker can turn them on again from his phone, increasing the waste of energy.

      "many people will find them worth the risk"
      No, many people will think that getting hacked only happens to others.

      "They’ll get more secure as they’re around longer."
      I will wait until the fourth or fifth generation of the devices come out. Let people who are sanguine about the risks be the guinea pigs.

      BTW - I am in the process of renovating a house that was destroyed by a broken pipe, so I am vey aware what damage can be caused when the plumbing system gets hacked in a smart house.

    • Dann A
      September 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      Yes, many people will think that getting hacked only happens to others and won't take the time to educate themselves about security. But how is that different from any other smart thing? Not everyone educates themselves about security for their phones or even their computers. That's why sites like MakeUseOf exist: so people can become educated.

      Also, while I haven't seen a smart plumbing system yet, it's possible that it could be coming. But someone being able to cause a broken pipe, or even that much damage? Seems quite unlikely to me.

    • dragonmouth
      September 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      "But someone being able to cause a broken pipe"
      Please, do not be obtuse. How about turning on your fire sprinkler system when you are at work? No ned for broken pipes. Or if someone shuts down your Smart heating system during the winter, which in turn could cause the pipes to burst. Of course, that can only happen in cold climates. In warmer climates a toilet can be caused to backup, a smart refrigerator can have its thermostat set to 50 degrees or the power can be turned off. How about your smart fridge ordering 500 lbs of caviar using your credit card?

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
      In other words, there are many ways a Smart House can be sabotaged.

  10. Software Babe
    September 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    We have NO Smart devices, except a Samsung TV IN MY HOME (for Amazon movies, and other online content). WHY? I see a security issue with ALL Smart products, whether it be the government snooping (NSA, IRS, etc) or just your regular black hat hacker who has nothing better to do than wreak havoc on the innocent household. I have been in technology for over 30 years and have a degree in Programming, so I know what is capable using a wired/wireless network. Everything I have is LOCKED DOWN TIGHT. I am what you may call a "WHITE HAT" programmer, so I know how to get around security issues by preventing them in the first place. I don't even have a wireless network, as I have turned that off on my home network, even though my network is extremely secure.

    And, don't get me started on AUTOMATION. Old-fashioned is the safest way to go UNLESS you are very knowledgeable in the art of networking, smart devices, and programming. And then, you may have to live the rest of your life keeping up with the technology because it changes so rapidly.

    ANYONE who does not know what I know, is being naive if they believe that their Smart devices are fool-proof, secure, and safe. I don't even have Facebook or Twitter accounts, because I KNOW what evil people can do, even those who claim they are doing it for 'your own good'. NO THANKS. No Smart devices except one, in my home.

    Beware of the technology that comes to you as a bright light in the darkness, only to find out it is just as black and scary as the worst virus you can get.

    • Sixty
      September 13, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Why so paranoid?

    • Dann A
      September 14, 2014 at 3:28 pm

      While I definitely sympathize with your reluctance to network the appliances and things in your house, I'm a bit taken aback by how afraid of hackers you are. As far as I know, most people with wireless networks and social media accounts that have taken the time to educate themselves and secure their account don't run into problems. Have you experienced some of these things first hand?

      Also, you said that there's only one smart device in your home—what is it? Which device do you feel is safe enough to operate?

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