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Technology is increasingly becoming a vital part of our everyday lives. From tracking our steps with a Fitbit, to quick searches on Google, it's there to make our lives more convenient, efficient, and fun.
Our homes are no different. But, what is a 'smart home'? And, how can you get started integrating this technology into your own property?
In this article we'll cover the basics, the pros and cons, and some of favourite smart home gadgets for beginners.
'Smart' when it refers to a home or a device, simply means: 'connected to the internet'.
This internet connectivity makes it possible for a user to interact with devices remotely using their smartphone, or another 'hub' such as a smart speaker (like Amazon's Echo, or Google's Nest).
A 'smart home' is a property that has 'smart devices' integrated into it's infrastructure. These could be anything from: smart thermostats that allow you to control the temperature of your home from your phone; to smart bulbs, which can be turned off and on, dimmed, or even change colour with voice commands.
It doesn't take much to create a basic smart home system. There are two main ways of getting started. You can either install a number of smart devices. Or, you can make 'dumb' devices 'smart' by installing smart plugs.
Installing smart devices is one of the quickest ways for a beginner to get their smart home started. Simply decide which devices you want to start with, and get them set up!
However, if you're unsure whether a smart home system is for you - or you haven't decided which devices you'd like yet - getting smart plugs is a great way to experiment first. With smart plugs, you don't have to worry about whether all your devices are compatible with your preferred app or hub. And, if you decide you prefer to use your appliances the old fashioned way - or you have a wi fi outage - it's not difficult to switch back.
Note: Although many smart homes include a 'hub' that provides a way to control all the different devices from one place, these aren't necessary. Many devices can be controlled directly from your smartphone.
However, if you're looking to build a strong foundation which you can expand upon in the future, buying devices that are compatible with each other, or a single central hub, will make your smart home easier and more convenient to use.
Smart homes are designed to make your life easier. Whether that's: using your smart thermostat to put on the heating so it's warm when you get home, or talking to a delivery driver through your video doorbell whilst your at work.
Some smart home technology can make it easier to use energy more efficiently. Depending on the devices you install, you can track your usage, or limit it in certain areas of your home.
If you're using less energy, you're also saving money on energy bills. Using smart gadgets in the right way can contribute to lower bills in the long run.
Because smart home devices can be controlled from a phone, or with voice commands, they can make life much easier for those with different accessibility requirements. They can also provide independence and security for older people.
You can set up your smart home so that it provides extra protection during emergencies. For example, a smart fire alarm can be set up so that it'll message to your emergency contacts, and your local fire department in the event of a fire.
Inevitably setting up a smart home can come with a large upfront cost. However, you should also consider the costs of maintenance, repairs, and upgrades. For example, if you have smart locks and find yourself locked out, you'll need to pay for a specialised locksmith. Smart home specialists are likely to be more expensive, and potentially more difficult to find, particularly if you live outside of a major city.
Cyber security issues are always a worry with devices connected to the internet. Upgrading your devices and changing your password regularly will reduce the risk, but any smart home device can be hacked.
Alongside cyber security, privacy is also a concern. Some of the major players in the smart home market, like Amazon and Google, have longstanding reputations of collecting & using data. Some people have even reported being recorded by their smart speaker or camera without their consent. If this is a particular concern for you, check the terms and conditions before choosing which devices you want to use.
Smart home devices rely on a good internet connection to work well. If your internet connection is patchy, it's likely you'll have trouble using your smart home devices consistently. While this may not be too much of a problem for smart lighting, it could be a huge issue if you're using smart security devices such as door locks or smoke alarms.
Not all smart devices are automatically compatible with each other or every hub. When you're starting your smart home, think carefully about which devices work with each other, so that you're not stuck having to operate each device with different hubs or apps.
When you first start looking at smart technology, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice available.
Some of the favourite smart home devices for beginners include:
Smart plugs are great for beginners because of their simplicity and price point. While they look like normal plug sockets, smart plugs allow you to switch things on and off from your phone. Some versions will even allow you to set timers, and track your electricity usage.
Like smart plugs, smart bulbs make the 'best smart home devices' list because they're an inexpensive and simple way to begin adding smart tech to your home. Smart bulbs come in most popular fittings so you shouldn't have trouble finding the right type for your home. And, they have an added bonus: if you're replacing old light bulbs with smart LEDs you'll likely be making your home more energy efficient (& your energy bills cheaper).
Smart thermostats are one of the most popular smart home upgrades. At their most basic, a smart thermostat allows you to control your heating remotely, so you could, for example, turn it on on your way home from work so it's warm when you arrive. More sophisticated versions will let you localise your heating to certain rooms. Smart thermostats are generally made out of two parts - one wired to your boiler, and the actual thermostat. While it is possible to install by yourself, professional installation is highly recommended.
Smart speakers are perhaps one of the first things that spring to mind when people think of a smart home. Not just for playing music, smart speakers incorporate personal assistants (like: Siri and Alexa) who answer queries, set reminders, and can control other smart devices.
Smart security systems are a particularly useful addition to a smart home. Feeds from security cameras can be watched live on your smartphone, and you can program alerts to let you know about any unusual activity. This can give you peace of mind when you're not at your property, and act as a strong deterrent for burglars.
Because smart home systems are so customisable there's no one-size-fits-all answer to whether smart tech increase a home's value. The value added will depend upon which devices you have, and who the target market for your home is.
For example, smart speakers are unlikely to add much value to a property. This is because they're likely to be taken with the seller to their new home. However, some market research has found that having tech like smart speakers in a home can give the impression that a property is up-to-date.
On the other hand, smart home security systems are very likely to increase a property's value. Security systems have an obvious benefit to an incoming homeowner, and an up-to-date system can be a big selling point.
Remember: If you're making upgrades in order to improve the value of your home before you sell, it's important not to spend more money than you'll make back.
Curious about how much your home is worth right now? Check out our free, online valuation tool. Not only can we provide a data-backed estimate of how much your home is worth, we'll also give you some personalised recommendations on the best ways to boost your property's value. Try it for free now.
Yes, smart homes can be more energy efficient - but they aren't always.
A smart thermostat that only heats the rooms you're in, or smart lighting that turns off when you leave the room, will help reduce the amount of energy you're using by making sure you're only using it when you actually need to.
Many smart devices also track how much electricity they're using. This gives you the option to monitor and modify your usage accordingly.
On the other hand, some of the most common smart home devices will actually increase the amount of energy you use. For example, smart speakers - such as Alexa, or Echo - are 'always on', awaiting voice commands. An Amazon Echo will use approximately 2-4 watts whilst on standby. This is a relatively small amount, but having a number of 'always on' smart home gadgets can rapidly reduce the energy efficiency of your home.
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