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How To Turn Your Home Into A Smart Home (Tips For Beginners)

David Giambruno

David Giambruno is a South Bay native with a true understanding and deep appreciation of the market...

David Giambruno is a South Bay native with a true understanding and deep appreciation of the market...

Mar 13 14 minutes read

When the Internet Of Things (IoT) first broke into the awareness of homeowners there was a little bit of a pause in adoption. First off, people were skeptical that “smart devices” would truly do all the great things their inventors were claiming they would do. Some were also concerned about the security implications of having things like cameras, door locks and more, directly connected to the Internet. Lastly, there was, of course, the matter of the price of these devices. Almost uniformly, all these amazing IoT devices were expensive.

Over time though, prices started to drop and people started testing out these devices in their homes. Suddenly everything had changed. The convenience that these items brought forth was intoxicating. Imagine being able to remotely let your dog walker in the house? Imagine being able to pull up a camera on your smartphone to check in on your pet, or perhaps your babysitter? Even controlling lights in your home while you are on vacation and making sure you remembered to turn the heater off became a super simple, enjoyable task.

Even with all these intoxicating modern conveniences, some homeowners are still hesitant that it will be easy enough for them to make their home “smart”. Today I want to share with you the top three voice-controlled assistants on the market, a couple of basic smart home integrations you can perform on each of these assistants, and links to some higher level smart home integrations you can also perform in your home.

Amazon Echo

Amazon’s echo product is easy to install in your home and super simple to use. By simply using voice commands, such as, “Alexa, what is the weather going to be like tomorrow?”, you can easily get all the information they want.

Using the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone, you also have access to a library of other great skills (tasks that Alexa can perform for you), and IoT integrations.

Before we jump into 2 easy IoT smart home integrations you can perform, let’s look at Amazon Echo’s pros and cons:

PROS:
• Easy to set up
• Possibly the fastest path to a “Smart home”
• Inexpensive (The Echo Dot starts at $50)
• It has more than 10,000 skills it can perform

CONS:
•You have to have a Smartphone and use the Alexa App to set up your smart home
• The speakers on Echo are not that great

The Amazon Echo is truly easy to set up. Here are two easy to handle smart home integrations you can do quickly on your own:


CONTROLLING YOUR LIGHTS
A wide variety of smart lighting is on the market. While some systems require a so-called bridge, a device that connects with a Wi-Fi router and talks to the smart light, there are also smart light bulbs with a built-in Wi-Fi connection. Lifx is one of these that don’t require a bridge — so its setup is relatively simple. The bulbs are multi-colored and dimmable, but because they rely on Wi-Fi, their reliability will depend on your Wi-Fi router.

To use your Alexa to control a Lifx bulb, you will need:
1) An Amazon Echo product
2) A Lifx bulb like the A19
3) An Apple or Android smartphone for setting up Alexa to talk to the bulb


How to control the lights with Alexa using a Lifx smart bulb:
1) Screw the Lifx bulb into the socket and flip on the light switch.

2) On your smartphone, download the Lifx app from the Apple or Android app store. Open the Lifx app. On the screen, tap the + or Add Bulbs button and follow the setup instructions to connect the bulb to your Wi-Fi network. Give the bulb a friendly name like “Lamp.”

3) Open the Amazon Alexa app. Tap the menu icon and select Skills. Search for the Lifx skill and enable it.

4) Tap the menu icon and select Smart Home.

5) Tap Devices, then tap Discover. The app will scan for devices and discover the smart bulb named Lamp.

6) Test the light. Make sure the light switch is on. With your Echo nearby, say “Alexa, turn off the lamp.” Then say, “Alexa, turn on the lamp.” Then try things like “Alexa, dim the lamp” and “Alexa, brighten the lamp.”


CONTROLLING YOUR HEATER/AIR CONDITIONER

Smart thermostats, like Nest, connect to the internet via Wi-Fi so they can be controlled with a smartphone or virtual assistant. The main benefit of a smart thermostat is that it can detect when you aren’t home and determine when to shut off the heat or air-conditioning to preserve energy.

Setting up a smart thermostat with a virtual assistant gives you the extra perk of being able to set the temperature just by speaking a voice command.

For this example, we will set up a Nest thermostat to work with Alexa. You will need:

  1. An Amazon Echo product,

  2. A Nest thermostat,

  3. An Apple or Android smartphone for setting up Alexa to talk to the thermostat.


How to control a Nest smart thermostat with Alexa:

  1. After installing your Nest thermostat, open the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone. Tap the menu icon and select Skills. Search for the Nest Thermostat skill and enable it.

  2. In the Amazon Alexa app, tap the menu icon and tap Smart Home. Tap Devices, then tap Discover. The app will scan for devices and discover the thermostat.

  3. Now test the thermostat. If you gave it a friendly name like Nest, try saying “Alexa, change the Nest to 70 degrees.” Or say “Alexa, what temperature is my Nest set to?”


For a full listing of smart home devices that work with Echo, CLICK HERE.


GOOGLE'S ASSISTANT

Google’s Home smart speaker and some Android smartphones include Google’s Assistant. Working with it and getting it to do what you want it to do is very simple. To summon it, just say “O.K., Google.”

Let’s look at Google Assistant’s Pros & Cons:
PROS:

  • Google’s Home speaker and smartphones running newer versions of Android include Assistant.

  • At $130, Google Home costs $50 less than Amazon’s standard Echo speaker.

  • In terms of artificial intelligence, Assistant is generally smarter than Alexa and Siri because it is powered by the brains of Google search, meaning you can ask a broader array of questions and are more likely get a correct response.


CONS:

  • You summon Assistant by saying “O.K., Google,” which gets annoying.

  • There are far more smart home products supporting Alexa than Google’s Assistant.

  • While Assistant is slightly smarter than other virtual assistants, it is still flawed and has trouble responding to some requests appropriately.

Here are two easy to handle smart home integrations you can do quickly on your own:


CONTROLLING THE LIGHTS

Smart lights come in two varieties. Some systems require a so-called bridge, a device that connects with a Wi-Fi router and talks to the smart light. There are also smart light bulbs with a built-in Wi-Fi connection like Lifx, which don’t require a bridge — a simpler setup. These bulbs are multi-colored and dimmable, however their reliability they are will depend on your service provider.

Here are steps for using Google Assistant to control a Lifx bulb. You will need:

  1. A Google Home speaker

  2. A Lifx bulb like the A19

  3. An Apple or Android smartphone for setting up Google Home to talk to the bulb


How to control Lifx lights with Google Home:

  1. Screw the Lifx bulb into the lamp socket and flip on the light switch.

  2. On your smartphone, download the Lifx app. Open the Lifx app. On the screen, tap the + or Add Bulbs button and follow the setup instructions to connect the bulb to your Wi-Fi network.

  3. With Google Home set up, you should have already installed the Google Home app on your smartphone. Open the app and tap the menu icon in the upper-left corner. Then tap Home Control.

  4. Tap the + sign to add a device. Tap LiFx and sign in to your Lifx account. Tap the Authorize button to let Google Assistant control the light.

  5. Assign the light to a room, such as the living room. This will make referring to the lights easier.

  6. Now test the lamp. With Google Home nearby, say “O,K., Google, turn on the light in the living room.” Then say “O.K., Google, turn off the light in the living room.”

CONTROLLING A HEATER/AIR CONDITIONER
Smart thermostats like Nest connect to the internet via Wi-Fi so they can be controlled with a smartphone or virtual assistant. The main benefit of a smart thermostat like Nest is that it can detect when you aren’t home and determine when to shut off the heat or air-conditioning to save energy. Setting up a smart thermostat with a virtual assistant gives you the extra perk of being able to set the temperature just by speaking a voice command.

For this example, we will set up a Nest thermostat to work with Google Home. You will need:

  1. A Google Home speaker

  2. A Nest thermostat

  3. An Apple or Android smartphone for setting up Google Home to talk to the thermostat


How to set a Nest smart thermostat with Google Home:

  1. After installing and setting up your Nest thermostat, open the Google Home app on your smartphone.

  2. In the top left corner, tap the menu icon. Tap More settings, then tap Home control.

  3. In the Devices tab, tap Add. Select Nest. Follow the steps to authorize Google Home to access Nest.

  4. Now test the thermostat. With Google Home nearby, say “O.K., Google, set the heat to 71.” Or say “O.K., Google, what’s the temperature inside?”

For a full list of smart home devices that work with Google Assistant, CLICK HERE.


APPLE HOME KIT (Siri)

Apple’s iPhones and iPads include Siri, which can be triggered by saying “Hey Siri,” or by holding down the home button. In addition, accessories like smart lights or thermostats can be controlled with Apple’s Home app on iPhones and iPads.

PROS:
• With privacy in mind, Apple worked directly with home accessory makers to ensure that the data transferred between accessories and Apple devices is secure and encrypted.
• The integration of Apple’s HomeKit into its mobile devices makes it much easier to set up Siri with home accessories.


CONS:

  • Partly because of Apple’s stringent privacy requirements, it has taken longer for smart home accessories supporting Siri to reach the market, meaning there are fewer available.
  • Siri sometimes has trouble understanding what you are asking it to do.

  • Siri is exclusive to Apple products.

CONTROLLING THE LIGHTS

Adding a set of smart light bulbs is an easy way to get started building a smart-home system. Some of these systems require a so-called bridge, a device that connects with a Wi-Fi router and transmits data to a receiver on the smart light. But the bridge on the Philips Hue bulb can be used to operate up to 50 bulbs in one home, making it an investment that you can use to slowly increase the number of smart bulbs you use.

Here are steps for using Siri to control a Philips Hue bulb. You will need:

  1. An iPhone or iPad

  2. A Philips Hue lighting kit that works with HomeKit

How to control a lamp with Siri using a Philips Hue smart bulb:
1) Follow the instructions to connect a Philips Hue bridge with a Philips Hue light bulb.
2) Open the Home app on your iPhone. Tap the + symbol in the upper-right hand corner and then tap Add Accessory.
3) Wait for the accessory to be discovered. If asked to Add Accessory to Network, tap allow. Use the camera to scan the accessory setup code on the bottom of the Philips Hue Bridge. Follow the instructions in the app to finish setting up your light and give it a friendly name like “Lamp.”
4) Now test the light. With your iPhone nearby, say “Hey, Siri, turn on my lamp.” Then say “Hey, Siri, turn off my lamp.”

CONTROLLING A HEATER/AIR CONDITIONER

Smart thermostats connect to the internet via Wi-Fi so they can be controlled with a smartphone or virtual assistant. They are beneficial because they can determine when to shut the heat or air-conditioning to save energy. Setting up a smart thermostat with a virtual assistant gives you the extra perk of being able to control the temperature remotely just by speaking a voice command.

For this example, we will set up an Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi Thermostat to work with Siri. You will need:

  1. An iPhone

  2. An Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi thermostat


How to set a smart thermostat with Siri:

  1. Follow the instructions to install the Emerson thermostat hardware. On the thermostat, press the Menu button, then Wi-Fi and connect the thermostat to your Wi-Fi network.

  2. On your iPhone, open the Home app. Tap the + symbol in the upper-right hand corner and then tap Add Accessory.

  3. Wait for the accessory to be discovered. If asked to Add Accessory to Network, tap allow. Follow the steps to connect the thermostat with Apple’s HomeKit.

  4. Now test the thermostat. With your iPhone nearby, say “Hey, Siri, set my thermostat to 70 degrees.” Or say “Hey, Siri, what is my home’s temperature?” Also try, “Hey, Siri, lower my thermostat by 2 degrees.”


For a full list of smart home devices that work with Apple Home Kit, CLICK HERE.

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