Be Smart about your Smart Home

Technology is quickly being brought into all parts of the home.  Doorbells, speakers, thermostats, and lightbulbs are all getting smarter, to name just a few.  When done well, they can make it seem like the home of the future, but they can also add complications and confusion.  It is worth planning and research before you start adding smart devices into your home, or you may end up spending more time managing the ‘time saving’ devices.  If all you want is to add one or two devices, then the brand or type is less important.  But if you want a more integrated, ‘smart’ home, then you will want the devices to work together, or at least to all be available from a common app.

How smart do you want the house and how much time are you willing to spend setting it up and maintaining it?  Although the technology is getting easier to use, the more advanced you want the system the greater the possibility that something doesn’t work right.  Here are 4 types of Smart, from simplest to most complex:

  1. Voiceactivated: commands to a smart speaker will activate the device
  2. Scheduled: the devices can be set on a timer to turn on or off, or take an action at a specific time
  3. Linked: devices work together, for example, when the A/C turns on the fan also turns on
  4. Reactive: devices can turn on or off, or take an action based on your location or presence.  For example, when you arrive home the thermostat changes settings and the lights turn on.

There are three main brands of home assistants, and smart home devices may work with one, two, or sometimes all three.  The main brands are:  Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit

First, you want to see what devices you already have.  Even if you don’t have any smart home tech, you almost certainly have phones, tablets, and computers.  Apple HomeKit is only accessible from Apple devices, so you would need to have iPhones, iPads, or Apple TV to use it.  Google Assistant works best from an Android phone (or Chromebook), but it does have an iPhone app, so you don’t need an Android phone to use it.

Amazon Alexa is the most compatible system, and most smart home devices are compatible with Alexa.  Look for the ‘Works with Alexa’ logo.  This will allow you to access the device from the Alexa app, and to issue commands by talking to an Alexa smart speaker.  Click here to see a list of Alexa compatible devices on Amazon:  Works with Alexa smart home devices

Google Assistant is similar to Alexa, and many devices are compatible with both.  Look for ‘works with Google Assistant’.  Here is a list of devices compatible with Google Assistant:  Google Assistant Compatible

Apple HomeKit is more restrictive, so there is a shorter list of compatible devices, however, it generally offers more options in terms of automation and control than Alexa or Google Home.  If you want to access HomeKit devices from outside your home you will need either an iPad, HomePod (speaker), or AppleTV to act as a hub.

These are not mutually exclusive, and you can combine the systems.  You may have a thermostat that is HomeKit compatible but also works with Alexa.  This would allow you to change the temperature by talking to Alexa through an Amazon Echo speaker and also have a HomeKit automation that changes the temperature at different times of the day.

Lastly, you will want to know what type of wireless signal the devices use and make sure you can connect to each of them.  Wi-Fi is the most familiar, and most homes have a wireless router with a Wi-Fi network.  Next is Bluetooth, which is the same technology your phone uses to connect to your wireless headphones.  Finally, there are Zigbee and Z-wave which are wireless networks designed for smart home devices.  If you need Zigbee or Z-wave you will most likely need a hub or device that connects to them.

If this all seems confusing, then you may want to start small and add a few items that are most important to you and design around them.  Maybe a video doorbell and a smart speaker, or just a smart thermostat and some dimming light bulbs.  New devices are being released all the time, and old devices are sometimes gaining new features, so if you didn’t like what you saw in the past you may want to take another look to see what they can do.

Written By: Seth Tobey

Corporate Chief Information Officer