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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 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, 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.
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.
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. We also gave you some good ideas for using the WeMo system to smarten up your lighting. The Philips Hue is one of the most popular options out there for smart lamps, but others, like the Holi Smart Mood Lamp, 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, 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 as well as a Samsung model. We’ve also profiled some of the security risks of owning a smart TV.
Of course, there are a lot of other smart appliances, like refrigerators, ovens, smoke detectors, and, possibly the most well-known of them all, thermostats. We recently published an article on smart locks 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.
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.
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! Also, you can automate your home with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, if you want to get into a bit of programming. And, of course, you can always look for good deals to save some money 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