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With more and more smart home devices hitting the market, the idea of automating our houses seems less left-field than it once did. Despite that, only a small minority of people have chosen to take the plunge.
Perhaps that’s because prospective smart home owners just don’t know where to start. If that sounds you, read on. We’re going to talk about five basic beginners smart home projects you can build right now.
Protect Your Pipes With An Automated Smart Valve
This is a smart home project that anyone with a bit of plumbing know-how could do in an evening. If not, you could just hire a plumber.
Smart valves essentially replace dumb, mechanical valves on your plumbing system. You can use your smartphone to shut off your water, without having to go on all-fours. This is handy if you’re about to go on a long road trip, and you’re worried about pipes bursting.
Some smart valves allow you to couple them with a water sensor, which will actively sense when a pipe has burst and shut off the water. No interaction required.
Although smart valves can be expensive, you might find that long term they’ll save you money, as your insurance premiums may go down. Plus, the risk of a burst pipe flooding your home will drop significantly.
There are a few to try. One I recommend is the LeakSMART Smart Home Kit, which costs $399.00 on Amazon. This includes the valve and the water sensor, and a central hub to tie it together.
For the same price, you could also get the FortrezZ Z-Wave Water Valve, which costs a little bit more, but has great reviews and is built in the USA.
It also works with the Z-Wave protocol, which means you can easily connect it to other smart home products, through a compatible Z-Wave hub.
Level Up Your Lighting With Philips Hue
LED lights are just better than their halogen counterparts in all areas, except perhaps in their initial price. They’re way more energy efficient. They last longer. They’re also significantly brighter than old-school halogen bulbs.
Some bulbs, like the Philips Hue ones, can be controlled through your smartphone, via a central hub.
So, what’s the point? Well, there’s a lot you can do with Philips Hue. You can group lights together, and turn them on ensemble. You can set moods and zones, and you can even control them through Siri, thanks to Apple’s HomeKit!
As an introductory experiment in home automation, Philips Hue is as easy as you can get. You literally just need to screw in some bulbs, connect the hub to your network, and define the behavior of the bulbs through a convenient smartphone app.
You can get a starter kit from most good DIY stores, as well as from Amazon, where it will cost you around $200 for the latest generation kit.
Older versions are slightly cheaper, but should be avoided as they lack features like Siri integration.
Build Your Own Smart Security System
One of the great things about smart home tech is that it can ultimately make you safer. There are a great many products in this sphere, which range from smart smoke detectors, to smart home locks.
There are also smart home security systems, which allow you to remotely monitor your home, track intruders, and take action if you need to.
You’ve got a lot of choice in this space. There are out-of-the-box solutions, like Google’s Nest Cam, and newcomer Canary, which James Bruce reviewed last year. These tend to be on the expensive side of things, but work rather well.
If you want to increase the difficulty level just a little bit, you can also create your own DIY security system by cobbling together individual components.
Dann Albright wrote a piece on how to do that late last year, which featured projects from the likes of Lowes, Honeywell, and Belkin. The overall cost will be slightly cheaper, too, with the cheapest DIY security system costing a paltry $60.
Automate Your Heating and Save Money
One of the biggest costs involved with owning a home is actually heating it. Fuel is expensive, and it’s not unusual for a heating bill to stretch in the hundreds of dollars, especially in winter.
But are we heating our homes efficiently? Quite often, homes are overheated past what would be adequately comfortable. Another problem is that we often heat rooms which we don’t occupy. But this can be fixed with a quick weekend project, by installing a smart thermostat, and doing some clever automation tricks.
The most widely known is the Nest Thermostat. In addition to allowing you to remotely set your home’s temperature, it will also automatically adjust it as required. The Nest actually uses machine learning algorithms to learn how you use it.
The device itself should cost around $250, and you can install it yourself as a weekend project.
Although, if you’re not feeling confident, there are a number of Nest-approved plumbers who’ll be glad to fit it for you.
Automate Your Garden
The final frontier of home automation is undoubtedly the garden. It’s a field that’s bustling with interest right now, and there are an increasing number of smart garden devices on the market. It’s now possible to build a mostly automated garden. Here’s what you’ll need.
You’re probably familiar with the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. These wander your home sucking up dust and debris as they go. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could get one that cuts grass?
Well, the Husqvarna fits that bill, and more. It’s a true, set-and-forget lawn mowing solution. As you’d expect, at $2,399.95, it’s a little bit more expensive than your bog-standard mower. But it’ll save you time and effort.
But it doesn’t stop there. Some products, like GreenIQ, fully automate the process of watering your lawn and your plants by tracking the weather in your local area. If you feel your lawn needs a bit of a top-up, there’s a web app which allows you to manually turn it on.
There’s also Edyn, which continuously monitors the quality of your soil. Once installed, Edyn will provide you the information you need to keep your plants looking green. It also allows you to control the irrigation of your garden.
Another product I’ve been impressed with is the Parrot Flower Power. This, like the Edyn, monitors the aridity and quality of your soil. But it also works with the GreenIQ system.
Although it has the potential to be eye-waveringly expensive, one fun weekend project would be to see how much of your garden maintenance you can automate. From hydration to lawn trimming, there’s a lot you can do.
Any Other Ideas?
If you want to augment your house, these five projects are a great place to start. Dann Albright has four other suggestions, too. Have you got any other ideas I missed? Let me know in the comments below.