Today’s look at where to start with home automation DIY is very much angled toward beginners.
If you’re an old hand at using voice assistants to control your smart home devices, an Insteon expert, or well underway building out the smart home of your dreams, this guide is absolutely not for you. We’d urge you to check out some more advanced stuff on our home automation blog instead, and there’s plenty of that in place already.
If, on the other hand, you’re thinking about smartening up your home and you just don’t know where to get started, read on.
A quick disclaimer before we get going…
We’re not going to give you a complete walk-through today on kitting out every corner of your home with smart devices, and we’re not going to double down on the more involved complexities of home automation. To reiterate, this is a basic guide to help beginners get started, not a complete solution. We want to strip home automation down to the bare basics not confuse you even more so, with that out of the way, a quick definition…
What Is Home Automation?
In the simplest sense – which is what we’re concerned with today – home automation allows you to control basic functions in your home at the press of a button.
From locking your doors and regulating the temperature through to programming your lighting and monitoring security cameras, home automation puts all these tedious tasks in the background.
Depending on how you go about things, you can take charge of your smart devices using an app on your smartphone, voice commands using a digital assistant or a physical controller.
So, before we launch into the nuts and bolts of getting started, why should you bother with home automation in the first place?
5 Strong Benefits of Home Automation
What’s in it for me?
That’s the most common objection for anyone mulling over whether or not to invest time and money in a smart home.
Here are 5 great reasons to bite the bullet and start automating your home…
- Make Your Life More Convenient
- Ramp Up Security
- Remote Access of Your Devices
- Save Money Through Energy-Efficiency
- Do Your Bit For The Environment
Make Your Life More Convenient
Potentially the biggest selling point of smart technology is the way it makes your life easier.
It’s tempting to write off this kind of gadgetry as lazy. After all, how much effort does it take to turn on the lights, right?
The things is, automating workaday tasks in your home grants more time to focus on the important things. And who doesn’t need to save a bit of time?
You’re coming home in the late evening and it’s raining. Rather than stepping out of your car to open the garage door, you simply hit a small remote in your car and it unfurls to let you in. Stepping out onto the path, a floodlight illuminates your way, lights triggered by your movement. With your arms full of shopping, you enter your home using your smartphone instead of fumbling for your keys, and when you step inside, the lights come on and the temperature is just the way you like it.
All this and much much more is possible if you automate your home.
Mornings will become less hectic, evenings more relaxing, and bowls full of confusing remote controls a thing of the past.
Ramp Up Security
Alongside convenience, security is at the heart of any successfully automated home.
Video doorbells allow you to keep your eye on who’s coming and going even if you’re on the other side of the world.
Smart security cameras not only deter burglars, they’ll ping an alert to your smartphone in the event of any suspected security breach.
With smart door locks, you can streamline your entry system and eliminate the need to leave spare keys in the garden, keys a burglar could find just as easily as the intended recipient could find them.
Door and window sensors strengthen the weak points in your home.
With a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in place, you can sleep more soundly. The same applies to protect your home against potentially ruinous water leaks.
Home automation allows you to do all of this and also to get these various devices and appliances working together in harmony, protecting you and your family along with all your possessions for far less money up front than you might imagine.
Remote Access of Your Devices
Do you frequently travel?
Perhaps you often take extended trips and you’re wary about leaving your home unattended.
When you have an automated household, you can take full control of all those smart devices from a distance using nothing but an app on your cell phone. This allows you to ensure your precious home appears occupied even if you’re sucking down cocktails on a beach thousands of miles away.
You can also keep a close watch on any comings and goings at your front door and even communicate with visitors in-app.
And when you are at home, you can kiss goodbye to fumbling for whatever remote you need and grab your smartphone instead to control anything you need from one universal remote you always have by your side anyway.
Save Money Through Energy-Efficiency
When you’ve got smart thermostats in place, you can make sure the temperature in your home is optimized to slash those rampant power bills. You could save anywhere from 10% to 25% on your monthly bill. With most of the better smart thermostats, you can enjoy free energy reports to help you see clearly how you’re doing in terms of energy efficiency.
Smart lighting you can control remotely and program means an end to bulbs burning all day because your kids forgot to switch them off.
With smart LEDs, you’ll use far less energy and consequently cut down those electricity bills.
Given the realistic ability to save money, this helps you to think about smart home tech as an investment rather than an expense.
Do Your Bit For The Environment
Linked to the concept of using less energy, you can save more than money.
The best-automated homes also help you reduce your environmental footprint and save the planet as well as your bank balance…
Use less electricity. Optimize your sprinkler system in an automated garden to get through far less water without leaving your lawn parched.
With those reasons in mind, how should you get going?
Before Anything Else, Start with an Honest Needs Analysis
First thing’s first, be honest about what you want from an automated home. Taking the time to think about this carefully will save you plenty of wasted time and money further down the line.
Ask yourself which of these areas are of most interest:
- Control and Convenience: Are you looking to schedule devices so they work together, for example, the lights coming on when you come downstairs at night or the door locking behind you when you leave home? Do you want the convenience of a single remote in the form of your smartphone? Would you like to use voice commands to tell your smart devices what to do? If so, investing in a home hub and some basic smart devices is all you need to get started – more on that right below
- Security: If security is your prime focus, you should think about WiFi cameras, a video doorbell, some sensors, smoke detectors, and water leak detectors. Outdoor, motion-activated lighting will also help to secure the perimeter of your property
- Entertainment: If you want to automate your home theater, spend your time looking for the best smart TV along with a smart speaker and perhaps a soundbar
- Utilities: If you want to save money, a smart thermostat and some smart lighting are a great way to get started
With these simple pointers to guide the start of your decision-making process, how about the core idea of home automation stripped down into easy concepts?
The Basic Concepts of Home Automation
The good news now…
To get started with home automation, all you really need is 3 core components:
- Smart Home Hub: This central gateway allows your devices to communicate with one another even if they are from different brands and use different communication protocols. Think of the hub as a kind of translator
- App: Basic control usually takes place using an app on your smartphone. So, you will also need a reasonably current smartphone along with the app
- Smart devices: These electric devices work in tandem with the app and hub so you can weave them together into a fully connected, automated home
Invest In A Smart Hub: The Heart and Brain of Your Connected Home
If you’re looking to automate your home and get devices working together, a home hub should be your first purchase.
Think of the hub as a kind of middleman. You send a command from your smartphone app to the hub. That message is relayed to the smart device. Data received is then relayed back to your phone in the form of alerts, notifications or reports.
While many home hubs are effective, Samsung’s SmartThings Home Hub is arguably the best beginner-friendly option. After a lot of general information, it’s time for a quick look at what this gateway can do in summary…
Samsung SmartThings Home Hub (Third Generation)
Even if you’ve never bought a smart device, Samsung will obviously be a familiar name. Their stellar SmartThings range is a great entry point into home automation and the third-generation home hub is better than ever before.
All you’ll need is a single app on your Apple or Android handset and you can use your phone like a universal remote to take charge of your smart devices.
If you notch things up and buy an Alexa or Google Assistant device – more on these shortly – you can also use voice commands to instruct your devices to perform certain functions.
From lights, switches, and doorbells through to thermostats, cameras and smart locks, you can get a whole bunch of smart devices working together in unison if you make the modest investment in this fantastic gateway. You’ll be able to use routines and schedule to get these devices triggering each other and making your home a stress-free environment with all those mundane tasks taken care of.
Add Some More Devices
So, we’ve thrown in a few suggestions for various smart devices across the full spread of household appliances so we’ll give you 3 specific starting points now rather than peppering away with more random suggestions.
Get started with a home hub and these simple products and you will legitimately be a smart homeowner. From there, it’s simply a case of adding more devices in line with your needs…
For the purposes of simplicity, we’ve chosen 3 starter products all compatible with the SmartThings hub.
It really is as easy as 1, 2, 3…
For a beginner-friendly entry point to smart home tech, things don’t come much simpler than ecobee’s smart thermostat, now into its fourth iteration and better than ever before. If you need help with installation, you can get that sorted for a very modest extra cost.
Working with a full range of voice assistants and fully compatible with the SmartThings home hub, too, you’ll get a fully flexible thermostat that can help you save money month on month while eliminating the need to keep tampering with a fiddly traditional thermostat.
With room sensors, you’ll get more accurate temperature regulation, and you can use up to 32 sensors if you want to get more ambitious over time and you have a larger home.
For a truly intelligent thermostat capable of detecting room occupancy and saving you up to 23% on your power consumption, you can’t go wrong with the ecobee4.
Philips Hue offers a robust range of smart lighting from simple white LEDs through to multi-colored and dimmable bulbs.
While smart bulbs are not necessarily the most cost-effective approach if your intention is to stuff your whole home with them, when you’re just starting out, these LEDs make a great way to test the waters.
You can also opt for a number of starter kits if you want multiple devices in a pocket-friendly bundle.
You can use your smartphone, a tablet or even a web browser to take charge of these lights and you’ll be able to program them with ease even if you’re not the biggest tech-lover. If you want more advanced control, you will need to pick up the Philips Hue Bridge as well.
Are you sick and tired of losing your keys or your kids forgetting their keys and calling you at work to tell you they’re locked out? Again!
You’ve got an array of choices at your disposal with smart locks, but the Yale Assure is both eminently suitable for smart home novices and compatible with the SmartThings Hub making it our standout winner for an entry-level lock.
You want the Z-Wave version for compatibility with SmartThings and you’ll be able to take control using the touchscreen and a code, a physical key, or an app on your smartphone. This gives you the chance to test out smart home tech without feeling over-committed and the added security of having keys when you want to use them. We’ll guess, though, that once you get going, that won’t be very often!
If you use the SmartThings hub, you’ll also enjoy Alexa capability for voice commands. On that note, we’ll round out with a quick look at digital assistants and controlling your smart home hands-free…
Digital Assistants: Voice Control For Home Automation
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you can’t have escaped the advent of digital assistants.
Just like Siri on your iPhone, these nifty little virtual butlers allow you to administer your smart home with nothing but voice commands.
You’ve got 4 main choices:
- Amazon’s Alexa
- Google’s Assistant
- Apple’s Siri
- Samsung’s Bixby
For the purposes of beginners, it’s only really Alexa and Google Assistant that make most sense. Apple’s HomeKit is much more hassle to get up and running while Bixby is very much a minority option.
All you need to do is get yourself a smart speaker so what are your choices here?
For Alexa, just choose one of the Echo range of smart speakers. Go here for more information on how Alexa uses smart home commands.
With Google Assistant, roll with Google Home, Home Mini or Home Max depending on your precise needs. For more information, check out our look at the best Google Assistant devices.
With your enabled device in place, set-up is a breeze and you’ll be able to get any devices in your home fully automated hands-free.
We very much hope you’re better placed now to move from theory to practice and start actually automating your home.
While this field can be immensely technical, at heart it’s a very simple concept and, as you can see from today’s exploration, you don’t need much money or any real know-how to get started with the basics.
If you’re looking for more information, take a good look through our home automation blog which is packed with useful guides, general information, and snapshots of all the best smart devices across all major brands.
And contact us any time if you’ve got any questions at all. We’re always more than happy to help out in any way we can. We’ve also got a useful forum covering everything from smart home security to home theater, so get involved!