Beginner’s guide to building a smart home

Key tips to remember

  • Know why you want a smart home.
  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Build your system at your own pace.
  • Understand any security risks and how to avoid them.
  • Know when it's best to call the pros.
DIY

So you’ve dipped your toe into the land of smart home devices by welcoming Alexa into your household. And you can’t believe what you’ve been missing, right? Those Amazon Storytime and Sleep Sounds apps are priceless when you have a toddler who refuses to settle down at bedtime. And who can say no to a speaker that tells you — on demand, no less — the conversion of fluid ounces to cups?

Now, you’re hooked. You’re ready to go full-on smart home. Lights, door locks, thermostat, microwave — everything. Wait, microwave? Really? Well, technically, yes. Smart microwaves exist, as do smart ovens and smart refrigerators. But do you really need that much technology in your house?

Maybe, maybe not. Ultimately, the choice is up to you!

That’s the great thing about smart home devices: You can work at your own pace. Want to be able to double-check that your front door is locked after you’ve left for the day but not quite ready to tell your house “good night?” That’s totally fine — and a completely realistic goal.

Are you ready to start making your home a little smarter? Check out the following tips!

 

1. Set a budget.

As with any new technology or device — especially those designed for homeowners — it’s easy for costs to spiral out of control. Home automation technology and smart home devices are relatively new to the market, and the reality is that these gadgets are really cool.

There’s huge demand and plenty of competition, so you’ll be able to begin your smart home journey at virtually any price point, and you can ease in with budget-friendly smart appliances. But before you start shopping, decide on a budget you’re comfortable with — and remember that you can always add to your system later on. There’s no need to buy everything right now.

Smart speakers (which you likely already have) are widely available at accessible price points. Look into lighting next. You might be surprised by the convenience of not having to get out of bed to turn off a lamp on the other side of your bedroom. Smart light bulbs that are WiFi enabled and can be controlled via an app on your phone are a great way to gradually build your smart home system.

Do your best to stick to your budget, and keep an eye out for sales and promotions to ensure that you’re getting what you want at a price you’re comfortable with. When it comes to technology, it’s a good idea to exercise patience when a new device enters the market. Let other people be first in line for the next big thing; hold out for the second or third iteration that almost always comes along after the manufacturer has had time to work out any bugs.

 

2. Understand security risks (and how to mitigate them).

Smart home devices might be really neat and convenient, but the reality is that anything that functions on WiFi or Bluetooth can be breached. That’s a risk we take any time we shop online (or in a store, for that matter), use a smartphone or bank online.

This doesn’t mean you need to scrap your plan for home automation, though. You just need to be smart and careful. As much as possible, purchase devices from established brands. Follow the installation and setup instructions, and don’t ignore or put off app or device updates. They might be a pain, but these updates usually include security improvements or patches for known issues.

Finally, follow password best practices. Choose a different password for every app or account you use, and save them in a password manager to keep your sanity intact. Be sure your home wireless network is password protected; change that password every once in a while just to keep your family on their toes (and for security, too, of course). And if you suspect your email or a different account has been breached, change all of your passwords immediately.

 

3. Decide why you want a smart home.

There are plenty of reasons to want your house to be a little smarter: convenience, energy efficiency, security. Or you might just get a kick out of fun gadgets. Any of the above are perfectly good reasons to jump into smart home devices. If you’re not quite sure where to begin, however, deciding on a goal is a good starting point.

Are you looking for convenience with smart home devices? Opt for smart speakers and WiFi-enabled light bulbs and door locks. Is your aim to save energy and reduce your monthly utility bills? In that case, begin with a smart thermostat, WiFi-enabled light bulbs and smart power outlets. Is easy-to-manage, whole-house security your main concern? Start with a smart home security system that gives you complete visibility and control over every door and window.

When you’re ready to transition to a smart home system, simplify the experience by purchasing major items from the same manufacturer. Also, ensure that all your devices use the same language to communicate. Bluetooth and Z-Wave are two common options.

 

4. Learn to spot smart home gimmicks.

Where there is legitimate, successful technology, there is usually a gimmick or two. And home automation and smart home devices are no exception. Do you really need a smart kitchen appliance that you can program from your phone? Probably not. Is it a gimmick? It might be to you and not to your neighbor!

Gimmicks can be hard to spot, so keep these clues in mind to help you identify them:

  • Does the item really need to be smart? Not everything in your house needs to be automated. Think carefully about your own habits and routines. How often are you actually going to open an app and configure your smart oven to preheat? Is this a feature you will use more than once in a blue moon, or is it just adding expense?
  • Will this item communicate with any other platform, hub or device in your home? Ideally, all of the smart devices in your home will work together. That connectivity is what makes home automation so nice. If a particular device doesn’t work with any other item in your home and requires its own smartphone app to function, you might want to keep looking.
  • How long has this particular item been on the market? There are pros and cons to being an early adopter of technology. It’s fun to have the latest and greatest thing, but that first version of a particular device is often the one that makes the second and third versions so great. Before making a major purchase, look for verified reviews and trust your gut.

 

5. Know when to let the pros take over.

For the most part, smart home devices and home automation systems are straightforward to put together. But there are always exceptions. Is the electrical wiring in your house old? Is your wireless network a bit of a mystery? That’s OK! It’s far better to know these things from the beginning instead of when you’re halfway through an attempt at installing a smart home security system.

Fortunately, many electricians and home networking and security system technicians are experts at installing and configuring smart home systems — and making sure they’re safe and as secure as possible. Their services aren’t free, but the peace of mind you’ll have knowing that your home is secure and every bit as smart as you want it to be is priceless.

At Cinch Home Services, helping you take care of your home is our top priority, so we love staying on top of the latest trends. We’re as excited about new advances in smart home technology as you are! Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more about what’s hitting the market next and get a sneak peek into what’s inspiring us these days.