The inventions of the internet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth have enhanced our lives on-the-go and at home in ways that society never could have imaged 50, 25, or even 10 years ago. In fact, a single smartphone has more power than the computers that sent the first man to the moon.
The next wave of lifestyle-technology overlap comes in the form of the smart home. 2017 is proving to be “the year of the smart home” already, and this trend is only just beginning.
According to IHS Markit, 80 million smart home devices were purchased worldwide in 2016—a 64% increase from 2015. In 2017, that number is expected to grow exponentially, as tech companies have begun to focus on consumer education as a way of expanding the understanding and reach of the smart home in the coming years. In fact, Statista found that the smart home market is forecasted to reach a value of more than $40 billion by 2020.
Statista reports that the three largest sectors of the smart home industry are smart security systems—which alone are expected to reach $18 billion by 2020—energy management and home entertainment.
But what is a “smart home” and what’s the purpose of implementing smart home devices in your house?
A smart home is more than app-controlled dimmable lights (although that’s part of it). A true smart home integrates smart, connected devices for the ease, convenience, and cost-savings of the homeowner.
“Smart” means that these devices use data to improve and simplify your life. They’re able to learn your patterns and schedule, so they can adjust their programming accordingly. They don’t automate your home; they personalize it.
“Connected” means that your devices can then share this data with one another. Your lights turn on when your security system is engaged; your garage door opens when you start up your car. This integration creates further convenience and security for smart homeowners.
P.S. Smart homes can also be referred to as “connected homes,” “home automation,” and “the internet of things.”
A smart home is there to make your life simpler and easier. Convenience is at the root of modern society’s innovation. The notion that “time is money” has driven tech companies to make products that cut time expenditure down to the minute.
In addition, smart homes have been shown to actually save money, not just in time-related costs but also in decreased energy consumption. Smart homes tend to have more eco-friendly electric processes. They learn your schedule in a way that conserves heat, lighting, and electricity when you don’t need them.
For example, your smart home can turn the lights on and off while you’re away on vacation, rather than leaving lights on for two weeks wasting energy. Or it can lower your heating during the day while you’re at work and raise the temperature an hour before you get home.
Protection and security is also a driving force of the “connected home” revolution. Not only are your devices connected to one another, but you are also connected to your home in a more intimate way. You can check in on your house and control each individual appliance from miles away. You always know what’s going on at home, which drastically enhances security and peace of mind.
Plus, smart homes are fun. Who doesn’t love a tech gadget that makes you feel like you’ve walked right into a Jetsons episode?
If you’ve seen the 1999 family movie “Smart House,” you’ll understand why this connected learning can seem frightening to the untrained eye. The idea that your machines “watch” your every move in order to learn your patterns can send a shiver up any sci-fi buff’s spine.
But that’s a Hollywood myth. In fact, the idea that your house will “take over” goes completely against the definition of a “smart home.” Smart homes are innately programmed to make your life more convenient and secure.
In reality, the risks of a smart home are much more basic than a robot takeover. Simply put, smart homes are still a burgeoning industry. Companies are constantly reinvented technologies, so current devices can be pricey and finicky. The problem with smart homes is that the perfect one has yet to be unlocked.
Furthermore, there are hundreds of tech companies creating smart home products. With such heavy competition and an ever-changing tech market, many of these newer devices won’t be able to withstand the test of time or compete against larger corporation’s bigger budgets.
Even the big names are fighting for their spot on the smart home pedestal. There is no industry-wide standard or company that is dominating the market. While this competition can drive unbelievable rates of innovation, it can also mean that you, as the consumer, are floundering to find the perfect products for your desired smart home.
To make the connected home world more accessible and digestible, we’ll break it down for you below. We’ll go through the steps to unlocking your new smart home and the possible products you may want to consider.
What do you want your smart home to do for you? What are you trying to accomplish by implementing “smart” devices?
Think about your objectives. Are you looking to lower the energy bill? build an entertainment system? have access to home security across the nation? feel more comfortable with a new baby in the house? Impress your friends? save time after a long day at work?
In order to choose products that you’ll want (and want to spend money on), you need to understand how those products will fit into your lifestyle.
As discussed, there are a lot of companies working on the same sorts of technology. Without a clear winner, it’s hard to figure out which platform of integration is best. Not all platforms integrate, and not all hubs and artificial intelligence work with all devices.
Because of this, we recommend picking one main hub and choosing products that will integrate. This helps foster the “connected” part of your home—while also making your life a lot simpler.
To choose your hub, you should first compare products. Keep your smart home goals in the forefront as you do your research. Below, we’ll list some of our favorite products and software interfaces to get you started on choosing an interface.
But don’t worry: the platform is not the end-all-be-all of your smart home. If you’re not confident that one hub will integrate with all of your devices, don’t fret. Most smart products work independently from any hub through smartphone and web apps. This means you can still be smart without needing all of your devices to integrate. (It just makes it easier.)
Start smart small. Even though smart homes are about more than dimming your lights… that’s not a bad place to start. You don’t need to suddenly make your home 100% smart. It’s not a smart-dumb dichotomy. Instead, start with products that are affordable, easy to implement, and most related to your lifestyle goals.
Note that these following reviews are based solely on popularity, research, and ease of use. HomeRev is not promoting any of these brands. The choice is ultimately up to you.
Amazon and Google both offer their own artificial intelligent (AI) environments: Amazon Echo and Google Home respectively. These integrate with other devices to work like virtual assistants in your smart home. You can simply say, “Alexa- dim the lights” or, “Google- turn on security.”
Because these AIs are from different companies, they also offer different integrations. Amazon is generally considered the AI of choice because it works with a wide variety of smart home apps, including Nest and Ecobee (which you’ll find on this list).
However, there are some smart devices that do not—and will not for awhile—integrate with any voice activated AI. For example, smart locking systems could easily be turned off by burglars screaming through an open window, “Alexa- turn off the security system.” Without flawless voice recognition software, there are still challenges to using AI as the center of your smart home.
In this way, both Amazon Echo and Google Home are not considered smart home “hubs.” They are instead artificial intelligence systems that can help you control your smart home. They do this by integrating via applications—rather than direct connectivity or networks like smart hubs do. So you may also want to consider a hub.
Hubs serve as the brain of your home system. The two most popular are Wink and Samsung SmartThings, with Insteon (a mesh network) coming in at a close third.
Wink is usually the most recommended because it’s affordable and has the most third-party integrations. It’s also easy to use with a friendly interface and simple set-up. Wink will work with most devices on this list, and any beginning smart homeowner can use it.
Samsung SmartThings is great for people who want a smart home without the worry of finding products that will integrate. Samsung offers a “kit” of smart devices like motion sensors, lights, smart plugs, and door locks. In theory, these devices can all communicate and work together because they’re made by the same manufacturer with the same software. This option is for the person who wants fast and simple convenience. However, this locks you into the Samsung platform, so it’s not for the techy or trendy consumer looking to be on the edge of new tech.
Similar “kit” products include Apple’s HomeKit and Amazon’s variety of Alexa-controlled devices.
You may also want to consider ZigBee or Z-wave as your hubs. These are mesh networks that use radio waves to connect appliances in the house to one another. This creates a more advanced “connected” network outside of specific devices.
A classic “smart home” light is the Philips Hue Lights. These can be controlled by Apple, Amazon, or Google. They are easily controlled and dimmed, but they can be on the pricier side without much in the way of energy consumption savings.
Leviton also offers a variety of lighting products that work with Amazon or Google. These lower the energy bill while giving you total control over your lighting.
Our top pick is Cree’s Connected LED Bulb. This only integrates with Wink, but it is the least expensive and the highest quality bulb on the market. It gives off a lot of light while conserving energy. It also has a simple, usable interface that’s easy for anyone to control.
A switch gives access to your entire lighting system in an automated and manual way. It creates a single hub for universal lighting, which can be accessed on your phone or the physical switch in your home. It’s the best solution for overall lighting control, but it can be pricey and requires professional electrician installation.
Our top pick for light switches is the Lutron Caseta because of its usability and ability to control your lights, temperature, and shades all from one spot.
The August Smart Lock lets you control your locking system right from your smartphone. That means you can let the dog sitter without giving her a key; you can double check that the door is locked if your motion detector goes off, or you simply don’t have to carry around a key anymore because you can unlock your front door right from your phone. One of their products also offers a doorbell cam so you can see who’s at the front door. It’s the easiest, most intuitive smart lock on the market right now.
Ring is a smart doorbell that allows you to have live (and recorded) video of people who ring your doorbell or walk by the motion sensor. The video will stream right to your smartphone, and you can talk to the person at the door through the monitor. This can improve the safety of you and your loved ones—or just let you know if the FedEx man has dropped off your package yet (the package containing your new smart device of course).
In-home cameras are rampant in the tech world, but none are more popular than the first-to-market Nest Cam. These are easy to set up, offer a clean interface, and allow you to see the quality recorded video right on your smartphone.
However, if you want to integrate your cameras with your security system, we recommend Canary. This not only provides online recordings but also gives you the ability to quickly contact local authorities. It can also integrate with other environmental monitoring in your house, like temperature, humidity, and air quality.
Nest Protect offers smart smoke and gas detectors that alert you at the most important moments. For strong leak detection on your HVAC system, try leakSMART, which not only alerts you to potential leaks but also automatically shuts off the valve of the system to prevent any further damage.
Nest also offers thermostat control from your web or phone. Again, Nest was one of the first to market and it still proves to be one of the best heating and cooling solutions with the most hub integrations.
Not only can you access your thermostat from your smart phone, but Nest will also learn your heating schedule and adjust accordingly. This can help you save significant costs by reducing expended energy automatically. Plus, the main switchboard is easy to use and has a pleasing aesthetic.
An alternative is Ecobee, which integrates with Wink, SmartThings, and Amazon Echo. You place Ecobee sensors throughout the home, which monitor occupancy and temperature. You can also use these intuitive sensors for other purposes; for example, you can link them to your security system to be used as additional motion detectors.
If you have average appliances and fixtures you want to transform into smart devices, you can use smart plugs. You plug any device into the smart plug, and the plug itself will automate that device and give you access via your smartphone. We recommend looking into the Wemo smart plug, which is the simplest and cheapest on the market.
Bonus: If not all of your devices integrate on the same platform, use If This Then That. This is a third-party platform that can link all of your smart-home devices on a single, minimalistic interface.
Don’t let the smart home world overwhelm you. Technology is a learning curve for everyone, including its manufacturers. Start by focusing on those products that best meet your lifestyle goals and make life easier, safer, and more convenient.
As fast as the tech world is changing, so are our lifestyles and the conveniences that come with it. Things we never even dreamed of are commonplace today—who knows what’s next?