Smart Home For Beginners: The Ultimate Home Automation Guide

Different Smart Home Gadgets Connection Illustrated on a Blue Background

Home automation is a term being used more and more these days. But it’s something that has actually been happening for a while. It’s just that today, it’s more impressive and futuristic than ever. So if you’ve heard the term and want to learn a little more about it, this is the guide for you.

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Home Automation Guide

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We will give you a thorough overview of the topic and answer the key questions like what is home automation? How does it work? What parts of the home can become “smart”? What are the benefits of automating your home? How do you install a home automation system?

Illustration of a Smart Home

These questions and more will be answered below so keep reading and start thinking about how you might be able to benefit from home automation in your own home!

What is Home Automation?

Home automation is a term that actually just refers to any kind of automation of something in the house. Chances are, you already have an “automated” home. Your home is already automated if you currently own something like:

  • A dish washer
  • A washing machine
  • ​A dryer
  • ​A refrigerator
  • A vacuum cleaner
  • A coffee maker
  • Lights

Each of these things automatically performs a task that you used to need to do by hand. Without these machines, you would be washing your dishes and your clothes in a large bucket (or in a river) by hand. You wouldn’t be eating a lot of perishable foods unless you hunted or harvested them yourself. You would be brewing your coffee in the morning in a pot over a fire and when night fell, you’d light your home with candles.

Smart Home Appliances - Fridge, Washing Machine, Coffee Maker, Vaccum Cleaner

These kind of modern conveniences that we now take for granted were once as new and revolutionary as the smart home devices we are seeing today. And soon, at least some of these smart devices will become so standard, future generations will take them for granted the same way we take electric lights and refrigerators for granted.

One day, you’ll be telling your grandkids stories about how you used to have write a list down on paper before going to the grocery store because you couldn’t just call your fridge up and ask it what you needed. You’ll horrify them with tales of accidentally leaving a light on at home ALL DAY because you couldn’t just turn it off using an app on your phone.

Smart Home Automation

While home automation has been happening for decades already, the recent increase in people talking about it is not because we are suddenly appreciating our old appliances again. Today, when people talk about home automation, they are most likely specifically referring to smart home automation.

Smart home automation takes your “dumb” home appliances to the next level. And they do that basically by connecting them to the internet so that you can access and control them even when you aren’t anywhere near them.

If you had smart light bulbs in all your rooms, for example, you’d be able to turn any of them on or off without getting up or even being at home. All you would have to do is open up the app on your phone, tap on the light you want to adjust and tell it how you want to adjust it.

magic pro light bulb product

And now, you don’t even have to use an app, with the right smart home hub device, you can control your smart devices by sampling giving voice commands! Imagine being able to walk into the kitchen and just tell your coffee maker to make you a cup of coffee? Or ask your fridge for the weather forecast? Or tell your TV to turn on the news. And do all of that without lifting a finger or pushing a button.

If your grandparents thought a machine that washed clothes was amazing, just wait until they see a machine that not only washes them but will keep them on a gentle tumble cycle while you’re out of the house to make sure they don’t start to mildew.

How Does Home Automation Work?

To make a dumb device smart, you need 4 key things: a system protocol, software, a coordinator/transceiver, and sensors or “peripherals.” Now, some of these words are probably a little strange sounding to the non-techy ear. But we’ll break it down into plain language.

Home Automation System Protocol

The protocol is pretty much just the language that your device speaks. In order to communicate with any other object, it needs to send and receive signals. And, just as when you speak to another person, it’s important that the two objects that are talking to each other are speaking the same language (using the same protocol).

This is what will decide if two separate smart devices are going to be compatible. If you have a smart security camera that speaks Z-wave and a motion detector that speaks Zigbee, you will have 2 smart devices but they won’t be able to talk to each other.

Home Automation Protocols - Bluetooth, INSTEO, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, enocean, Thread Group, X10, KNX, Z Wave

And this becomes important when you want them to be able to trigger each other. For example, in many home automation security systems, the camera can be automatically triggered to start recording and send you alert when the motion detector detects motion. But if your detector doesn’t use the same protocol (speak the same language), any signals it tries to send to your camera will just seem like gibberish.

This is why you need to check to make sure any new device you get is using the same system protocol as the devices you already own. There are a few different system protocols in use. Z-wave is one of the biggest in terms of the number of devices that use it. But you’ve also got Zigbee and some even use WiFi or Bluetooth (although these are comparatively weaker since they either aren’t as strong or have a very limited signal range).

Home Automation Software

While the system protocol is what the device uses to speak to other devices, you can think of software as what the device uses to talk to you. Home automation software provides the user interface that allows you to give commands and receive signals or information from your devices.

Software is sort of like the translator mediating your conversation. When you tap a button or give a voice command, the software translates that into the system protocol and transmits the signal to your device. This way, your device understands the command you gave. Once the command has been carried out, your device will send a signal back and your software will translate that in a way that you can understand (either using pictures, texts, or an automated speech function).

Home Genie Home Automation Software

There are a lot of different types of software available. And you don’t have to worry about compatibility here like you do with a system protocol. Because the software is just about communicating with you so as long as you find it easy and intuitive, it’s good to go.

You can even find home automation open source software that’s freely available but getting use out of these requires some background in working with technology.

Home Automation Coordinator/Transceiver

The third piece you need is the coordinator or transceiver. This is your device’s messenger. It sends out signals to whatever device in its network needs to receive that signal. And when another device in the network has a message, it uses its transceiver to send a signal right back. That signal is then picked up by the same transceiver. That’s its whole job—sending out messages and receiving the messages that come back.

Home Automation Peripherals

Peripherals are pretty much just a fancy word for devices. These are the actual devices that are carrying out the commands. So that might be a smart door lock, a window sensor, a light bulb, or whatever else you have that is “smart.”

It is able to carry out the command because it has a transceiver that can pick up signals and it has a system protocol that allows it to understand what that signal is trying to tell it to do.

What Goes Into Home Automation Systems?

You’ll probably be happy to find out that you don’t have to think too much about those 4 key parts we talked about above when you’re setting up a home automation system. A smart home device will have this stuff built into it already.

Using Smartphone as a Home Automation Hub

But knowing how it works will help you be a smarter shopper. You can make sure you are getting devices that use the system protocol. You can check out the software ahead of time to make sure it’s something you are happy using. You can look into the technical specs of the transceiver and its peripherals. It’s good to know.

But when you’re actually in the store or browsing online, you’re pretty much going to be looking for just 2 key things for your home system: the smart devices that you want and the hub that will coordinate them all. So let’s take a look at those now.

Home Automation Devices

There are thousands of smart home devices on the market today. So it would be impossible to try and make a comprehensive list here. But, for the most part, a smart home automation device will use a combination of sensors, switches, transceivers, and the system protocol to carry out commands successfully.

And how much it can do depends on how advanced that technology in it is. At the most basic level, a smart device should at least be able to turn itself on and off based on your command. But usually, you want them to do more than that.

Using Smartphone to Control Home Automation Devices

For example, you might want your lights to gradually start dimming in the evening to help you naturally become sleepier so that your tired in time for bed. Or you might want your shower head to warn you when you’re reaching the target water limit you set for yourself. Or you might want your thermostat to automatically recognize when you’ve left the house so it can turn itself off or into low energy mode.

Researching the different kinds of devices that are out there will help you figure out just what sort of things you can expect your smart devices to do. We’ll take a look at a few examples of what we think are the best home automation devices below. You can use that list as a launching point to help start your search.

Home Automation Hub

At the most basic level, your smartphone or tablet can act as your hub of sorts. The hub is basically the command center. It’s the central location that all of your devices are talking to. If they aren’t all using the same system protocol, you won’t be able to find a hub that can communicate with everything—at least not until the super powerful (and probably pretty expensive) B.One comes out.

In that case, the only kind of “central command” you’ll have is the fact that each device has an app on your phone. But that can get cluttered. And even if you do have plenty of space on your phone to store countless separate apps, it can be a hassle to go from app to app trying to manage your home.

B.One Smart Hub

It’s still easier than manually going from room to room and checking each and every device in person. But it’s not quite the streamlined, amazing smart home experience that you are probably looking for.

To get easy, streamlined access to all of your devices you need a home automation hub. And you need to make sure in advance that all of your devices are using the same system protocol (including your hub).

There are some impressive options for home automation hubs on the market today so to help give you an idea of what you should look for and what you can expect, we’ll talk about a few of our favorite ones later on.

What Can You do With a Home Automation System?

Now that you’ve probably got a better understanding of what home automation and how it works than most shoppers out there, it’s time to get into the more exciting part. That is, all the cool stuff you can do with it! Home automation is being applied to just about everything you can think of. There’s even a smart egg tray! So the possibilities are pretty much endless. You name it and there either already is a smart version of it or there will be in the next few years.

Egg Minder - Smart Egg Tray

In this section, we’ll take a look at 4 home automation applications that might be most relevant for you: saving money and energy by controlling, monitoring, and tracking your resources and usage; improving home security; monitoring and improving your health; and making your entertainment system even more entertaining.

Save Energy & Money

One of the greatest practical applications of a smart home system is in saving you money. Any device can do this by the simple fact of not being on when you don’t need. You can save a surprising amount of money on your energy bill by simply turning your appliance off when they’re not in use.

But not many of us actually do this because it’s kind of hassle to go from room to room and make sure everything is off. With a central command and all of your devices hooked up, turning everything off is as easy pulling up an app on tapping on the symbol for each device. Or, if you have the right hub, it’s as easy as just giving your house a voice command to turn everything off.

But keeping your devices off when not in use is not the only way that a smart home saves you money. You can also get home automation lights which can be dimmed to a precise level. When lights are dimmed, they are using less energy than they are at maximum intensity.

A smart thermostat can automatically turn off when you leave the house so that you aren’t spending money to heat or cool an empty house. It can also automatically turn on right before you get home so that you can save money without having to come home to a boiling hot (or ice cold) house.

nest thermostat in use in kitchen while man cooks

That same thermostat could also keep a constant, up to date record of your energy usage. You can set targets and budgets and check in daily to see whether you are staying on track to stay under your target usage for the month.

Smart sprinklers can check the weather forecast, the current temperature outside and determine the perfect time to water your lawn to avoid wasting water through evaporation or through unnecessarily watering your lawn on a rainy day.

Smart flow detectors track your water usage inside the house and detect leaks as soon as they start so that you can repair them before you waste a bunch of water through leakage.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of devices that are designed to help make your home more efficient and cost effective.

Improve Security

Home automation security is another big area for smart home devices. A full smart home security system can often be cheaper than paying for a security service and, in some cases, it can offer you more functionality and protection than a standard service.

With smart home security, you not only have more control over your home security, you can also enjoy cheaper prices. In some cases, services like storing recorded video clips from your cameras or automatic calls to the company’s security support team when an alarm is tripped are free (at least to a limited degree).

And for a monthly fee that is often cheaper than a standard service, you can get a fully serviced security system with very advanced protection.

app connected to zmodo outdoor security camera

But even at the most basic level, you can afford to secure your home with smart home devices even if you can’t afford to pay for a full service. A smart camera paired with a motion detector installed at your front door can automatically send alerts to your phone when activity is detected.

You can view live video feeds, automatically record the activity, and manage any alarms all from your phone. So no matter where you are, you can keep a protective watch over your home.

There are all-in-one security devices (which can also act as hubs in some cases!) that include cameras, audio recording, motion detectors, and will even measure the air quality in your home!

And because a smart home security system is smart, that means it is also easily expandable. You can start with one all-in-one device or a simple single camera and sensor set up. Then, each time you have enough cash to spar, you can add a new piece to your system to make your home increasingly more secure. Just make sure they all use the same system protocol and you’re set!

Monitor & Improve Your Health

Using smart wearable technology and other devices, you can help improve your own health as well. Here are a few ways that home automation and smart technology can improve your health and wellbeing:

Decrease Stress

For starters, the fact that you will never again have to worry about leaving the stove on, forgetting to turn on the alarm, or leaving the thermostat on is going to be a huge weight off your shoulders. That’s a whole range of nagging little worries that’s just gone now because you can easily check and control everything from your phone.

Smart Home Mood Lighting in Living Room

But home automation can also decrease stress by helping to create the optimal environment at home. Whether that’s through air purification that removes pollutants, lighting that soothes and relaxes you, or music and sounds that calm your mind, being at home will be more enjoyable and relaxing than ever before.

Improve Sleep

There are a variety of devices that can help you get your sleep schedule on track. And light bulbs are one of them! With the right light bulbs, you can program them to gradually dim in the evening to mimic a natural sunset, turning off right when you’re ready to get in bed. This will naturally trigger your body to become sleepier and sleepier.

This can also be used to help wake you up more gently by doing the same thing in reverse—gradually brightening in the morning to mimic a natural sunrise. There are also alarm clocks that can sync up with a wearable device which measures your brain signals. And when it’s nearing the time for you to wake up, it looks for the optimal wavelengths in your brain so that it can wake you up right when you’ll feel most refreshed and rested.

Track Your Vitals

With one of them any great wearables out there, you can track your heart rate, temperature, steps, activities, and more. You can also set goals and targets using that information to help you create the most customized fitness plan ever. Being able to monitor and track your progress this precisely is also a huge motivator because you’ll be able to notice every single improvement.

Know What You’re Eating

You can get a fridge that literally sees (using a camera and sensors) what you are eating and tracks it for you. It will also be able to help you create a diet plan to help you achieve your health goals. We’ve got a specific fridge in mind here and we’ll tell you more about it below in the best home automation devices section.

Samsung Smart Refrigerator

Stick to a Diet And Exercise Plan

Studies show that having a friend helping you with your diet and exercise plan (or doing it with you) dramatically increases your chances of sticking to it long enough to get the results you are after. But even your best friend can’t be there for you at 3am when you’re standing in front of the fridge, eyeing that leftover piece of chocolate cake.

But you know who will be there? Your fridge. And it will be keeping an eye on you! These devices can help keep you on track by sending you reminders, notifications, and even motivational messages.

Now we’ve talked about 3 practical uses which are definitely exciting in their own way but maybe not as fun as some of the other uses that smart devices can have. So, enough with saving money and improving your health! Let’s look at the kind of stuff you can do purely for the sake of having fun!

Enjoy a Better Entertainment Experience

The world of entertainment is finding some pretty cool uses for smart home automation. For example, you can instantly transform your home into party central using smart lights that can be changed to different colors or even synced with the music to provide an automated light show that coordinates with the song!

Those who aren’t on a diet or are ready to take full advantage of a cheat day can order a pizza by simply asking their smart device to order it for them. That’s the ultimate cheat day!

You can get powerful speakers that create a surround sound experience and then control them by talking to them. You can get a smart TV that also acts as a central hub for all of your smart home devices!

Samsung Smart TV

If you can’t afford one of the fancier smart home entertainment systems, you can get an affordable devices that “throws” movies, shows, or videos from your phone or tablet onto your existing TV—essentially turning your TV into a projector for your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

There’s a lot of really cool stuff available out there and we’ll take a look at some of them in the next two sections.

The Best Home Automation Hub For Your Home

Here are a couple brief overviews of some of the best hubs you can get to coordinate all the devices in your home:

Amazon Echo

By the simplest definitions, this is a smart speaker. And the speaker is very impressive. For such a compact device, the 360 degree speaker does a fantastic job of filling up a room with crystal clear sound.

However, it’s much more than a speaker. It’s also a great home assistant with the ability to carry out voice commands. Simply say “Hey, Alexa” to activate the Amazon Alexa software and then give your command. That means that you can control anything linked to it by voice commands. Want to turn off the lights? Say “Alexa, turn off the lights.”Want to listen to music? Say “Alexa, play my morning playlist.”

Amazon Echo on a Table

Because it works with a lot of third party partners, Amazon Echo has over 3,000 skills and features. So it would be impossible to mention them all here. But here’s a taste of what you can do simply by giving voice commands:

  • Order a pizza
  • Order an Uber
  • ​Plan your next vacation
  • ​Dictate text messages
  • ​Use it like a personal trainer to workout
  • ​Check stock prices
  • Check the news, weather, and traffic reports for the day
  • Play games like trivia, 20 questions, Jeopardy, chess and more with Alexa as your opponent

Unfortunately, it only works with 2 system protocols right now (WiFi and Bluetooth) so if you’ve already started to build up a smart home with devices that don’t run on either of those, this hub won’t be able to talk to them.

Samsung SmartThings Hub

While Amazon Echo is a market favorite right now for all the neat things it can do and its impressive design, the hub from Samsung is also a very smart buy as well. It can work with the following system protocols:

  • Amazon Echo
  • Bluetooth
  • Zigbee
  • Z-wave
  • WiFi
  • Nest
Samsung SmartThings Hub in a Package

One of the things that makes the hub stand out is the battery backup. Like all hubs, it needs to be plugged in, but if the power goes out, the SmartThings hub has a backup battery to keep it functioning so you won’t skip a beat once the power comes back on.

Wink Hub 2

This hub supports so many different system protocols making it easier to coordinate all of your devices! Protocols it works with include:

  • Z-wave
  • Zigbee
  • WiFi
  • Alexa
  • Kidde
  • Bluetooth
  • Thread
  • Luton Clear Connect

In addition to being so universal, it’s got a powerful processer and a massive amount of memory. It is pretty impressive and for all that, it is definitely very affordable. For all that, you don’t get the same kind of fun, intriguing services. And it even though it can communicate with so many devices, it doesn’t provide the same level of control or functionality to third party devices that you would get from that device’s own dedicated app.

Wink Hub 2 on a Table in a Living Room

So it is a strong option and it’s one of the most secure hubs you can get. But it doesn’t have the flash or fun of something like the echo.

The Best Home Automation Devices For Your Home

Here’s a list to help show you the range of different kinds of devices that you could get to make your home smarter—whether that’s to help you save money, help the environment, get healthier, or just to have fun!

Nest thermostat

This thermostat not only lets you set the temperature, it learns your habits. It learns what your preferences are during different times of the years. It knows when you are at home and when you leave. And it provides suggestions for saving energy. It can automatically set itself according to what it learns about you. And you also have the option to make your own custom settings as well through the app.

LG’s ThinQ Fridge

This is a new smart fridge from LG that helps you stick to a diet but also helps you just manage your food better. It will scan the barcode of every single item you put into it and then track expiration dates, suggest recipes, and more.

LG ThinQ Smart Fridge on a White Background

It uses voice recognition to figure out who’s opening it and can then track who is eating what. So multiple users can input their nutrition goals and it will be able to track each individually. When you’re shopping, forget the grocery list. Just open up the app and see a live video feed of the inside of your fridge to see what you already have. And get warnings when something’s about to expire soon!

Philips Hue

These are pretty much the leader in smart lighting right now. They have a massive pallet of millions of possible colors, multiple different tones and moods so you can custom create the perfect atmosphere or use one of their suggested settings. It also syncs up with your music to create a light show or simply create a fitting atmosphere to go with the music. And you can set schedules that could potentially mean you never even have to think about turning lights on or off ever again.

Smarter Coffee

The dream of every coffee lover who can’t also afford a live-in made or cook is to be able to somehow wake up in the morning and find freshly brewed coffee already magically in their coffee pot. This machine makes that possible.

Smarter Coffee World's First Wi-Fi Coffee Machine

Just make sure it’s stocked with coffee beans and water (it can hold enough for a couple days) and set up a wake up mode which will not only start brewing before you wake up but will act as an alarm as well, only waking you up when there’s already coffee ready to go. It even has a home mode that will welcome you home with a fresh pot! You can also adjust the strength of the brew and even the coarseness of the grind size.

Some Quick Tips For Home Automation Installation

There is no one way to install a smart home automation device. Each thing will have its own instructions. But, for the most part, they try to make their products pretty easy to install. So unless you are building from scratch (meaning getting hardware and programming it yourself), you should be able to do it all yourself.

If you’re worried you will mess it up or it’s beyond your skill level, a lot of companies will offer professional installation for a fee. But, honestly, most of the smart devices coming out are designed to be as easy to set up as possible so you most likely will not need to spend the extra money on professional installation.

Home Automation Kits vs Piece by Piece Set Ups

There are ready to go kits available on the market that include all the pieces you need to get started. These can range from super basic to pretty elaborate and inclusive. And in some cases, the kits are the best way to go.

They are usually the best option for when you are just starting to bring smart home automation into the home because buying your devices in a bundle can save you money.

Swann One Smart Home Control Kit

But once you’ve gotten a kit set up already, we’d recommend going piece by piece after that. Individual pieces are cheaper than a whole bundled package and they allow you to customize your system to your exact needs. If you want 20 sensors and only 2 cameras, you can do it. If you want 20 cameras and no sensors, you can do that, too (although we might look at you strange).

Basically, getting each device separately lets you build the exact home automation system that you want for your home. However, it does come with the added stress of having to make sure that each new device is compatible with what you already. But we think that’s a small price to pay for the ability to build a totally custom home automation system.

Final Word

There are so many areas of life and your home that can be improved through smart home devices or a full smart home system. The home automation market is growing rapidly so you’ll be able to find exciting new products to add to your home all the time. And nearly all of them can help you save money, live a better life, or both. They also tend to make your home friendlier for the environment. So, they are a great investment in the future no matter which way you look at it!

Smart Home Illustration on a White Background

And the great news is that you don’t have to make a steep investment right from the beginning. You can build up your smart home piece by piece as you go. And so long as each device is compatible with the rest of the devices in your home, they’ll be able to seamlessly integrate each new addition you bring in, making your system not only more comprehensive but better integrated!

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