Man using laptop to set up smart home

Setting Up a Smart Home

Updated October 2, 2020 . AmFam Team

Learn how to turn your home into a smart home with this simple smart home guide for beginners. Read more to see how to add security, convenience, and savings to your home today!

You love your humble abode — but some 21st-century upgrades would be nice, right? Imagine turning lights on and off, answering your door, or even brewing a pot of coffee with just a few taps on your smartphone. Not only would you impress your neighbors and friends, you could improve your home security and shave money off of your energy bills and insurance premiums. And while installation sounds complicated, it doesn’t have to be!

Table of Contents

  • How Smart Homes Work
  • How to Build a Smart Home
  • Select Your Smart Home Devices
  • Find the Best Location for Your Smart Devices
  • Get Help Installing Your Smart Devices

  • How Smart Homes Work

    Connected via Wi-Fi to a main hub such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, smart homes are a collection of devices that synch to a home’s network. With a tap of your smartphone, you’re able to synch with and remotely access appliances, alarm systems — all at your command. Our smart home starter guide will take you step by step through everything you need to know to set up a smart home.

    Back to top

    How to Build a Smart Home

    One of the key attractions to smart homes is their scalability — you’re able to add more devices as new appliances make their way into your home. As your budget and your smart home needs evolve, you can bring on new gadgets and build onto your smart home platform. From fine tuning your home’s heating and cooling needs to receiving updates on expiring food in your refrigerator, this do-it-yourself home automation can revolutionize the way you live at home.

    Choose your smart assistant

    Before picking up any smart home tech, you’ll need a hub, which is sometimes called a smart home assistant. These devices connect all of your appliances and web enabled smart systems to the internet. And from there, they’re connected back to you through a mobile device or web browser. Apple’s Home Pod, Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home Assistant are examples of hubs.

    It’s a good idea to create a smart home design plan. When shopping for smart home devices, you’ll need to be sure that each appliance will work with the hub you’ve elected to use. Make a list of all the items you’d like to get connected into your home, and then do a little homework to be sure they’re all compatible with the hub you’ve got in mind.

    Design your smart home

    Now that you’ve got a handle on the home assistant and you’re sure it will work with your smart home plan, it’s time to explore your design options. One way to build a smart home can be accomplished by making a room-by-room list. Jot down device names and products you want to use there. Another option is to build a list of capabilities, or the ways that you want your home to be more efficient and remotely accessible. Then create your accessories and device list.

    Many manufacturers are creating products for all hub platforms, but some are only compatible with a single system. Take a look at product reviews and customer feedback as well because not all smart home appliances are created equal.

    Back to top

    Select Your Smart Home Devices

    If you're contemplating getting a smart home security system as well as smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector, make sure they integrate with each other before you buy. This way, you won’t have to use two separate apps and systems to control them. This can be done by verifying that they’re able to both work with the same assistant. Ideally, you’ll want to access all of your devices through a single app on your phone, so select your smart home devices carefully.

    Smart doorbells

    For many, the biggest benefit of smart home automation is increased safety. If that’s a top priority for you, a smart doorbell is a great place to start. Such devices include motion sensors and the ability to stream live video, so you can see who is at your door before you open it.

    Smart doorbell installation isn't super complicated, but it will require mounting the doorbell to a frame and connecting it to existing wiring. If you have a newer home or plan to build, talk with your electrician about how you can optimize your wiring for smart home technology. Older homes may be more challenging to rewire, so consulting a professional is crucial before you attempt to install this technology.

    Smart home security systems

    For an even fuller sense of security, consider installing an Internet-based smart home security system. Such systems usually run a few hundred dollars and may include monthly monitoring fees.  

    Smart home security systems offer a wide array of tech you can mix and match to best suit the security needs of your home. From smart locks to water leak sensors and security cameras to smoke and heat sensors, you’ll find what you need to help keep your home safe and secure.

    In many cases, you can set up the system yourself, which is a nice advantage compared to traditional "wired" security systems which require professional installation that costs extra. Setup often requires plugging in the base station and turning on various connected sensors. And if you encounter any setup issues, there are many online tutorials available that provide additional information on installation.

    Consider purchasing a system that’s sold as a kit to keep things really simple. Many of these systems are "portable," so you can take the system with you if you move to a different house.

    Smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

    Unlike traditional monitors, these Internet-connected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can send notifications to your phone with details about what was detected if they’re set off or if their batteries are low. Some can even contact a neighbor or emergency contact when you’re out of town.

    Combined with your smart security system and doorbell, these easy-to-install smart devices give you smartphone access to your home at any time — and peace of mind in the process.

    Smart thermostats

    Another advantage to a smart home setup is that it can save you money on electric and heating bills. A connected thermostat that automatically adjusts to your schedule can save you around $150 a year. And your savings go hand-in-hand with another unbeatable feature — a home that’s always the perfect temperature.

    Like smart doorbells, the installation requires some basic electrical work. But with the advice of a professional electrician, you can gear your grid to handle an entire suite of smart home accessories.

    Smart lighting systems

    Smart lighting is another great way to reduce your energy bill. When it comes to lighting, you can choose between bulbs that connect to Wi-Fi or switches.

    Installing a Wi-Fi bulb is as simple as screwing it in and connecting it to the Internet or Bluetooth, while connecting bulbs to switches requires more intensive electrical work.

    Smart home virtual personal assistants

    A smart home isn’t just about safety or saving money. It’s also convenient — and fun! Voice-controlled smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home can tell jokes, play music, provide you with real-time weather and traffic information, make lists and more.

    What's more, they're equipped with customizable virtual personal assistant technology that can allow you to control other smart devices, like your smart thermostat or lighting system. Feeling chilly? Just ask your Echo or Home to boost the heat, and you'll be feeling comfy in no time. The setup for this life-enhancing technology is relatively minimal, involving downloading apps to your smartphone and following a few simple steps.

    Back to top

    Find the Best Location for Your Smart Devices

    While some of your smart home devices can’t be moved without significant electrical work, consider putting your more-mobile smart home gadgets near your Wi-Fi router to keep them connected at all times.

    You can also position your router in a central location to give its signal easy access to your devices. And if you have multiple active Ethernet ports in other parts of your home, setting up another router can boost the connectivity of devices far away from your main router.

    Back to top

    Get Help Installing Your Smart Devices

    If all of the installation talk has you flustered, don’t worry there are many services that can help you set up your own smart home. Check to see if your insurance company partners with any installation services. Often, they will offer DIY advice for smart home device setup.

    Back to top

    Another great way to make your home a smarter home is to explore the ways you can save on your homeowners policy — when you’ve got a smart home security system installed. As you’re building a smart home plan, remember to check in with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) and review our discounts and incentives for investing in this tech.

    Bottom line, you don't have to be a tech genius to enjoy the benefits of smart home technology. Whether you’re interested in improving your home security, saving some money, or just making your day-to-day a little easier, there are options available that any average smartphone user can enjoy.

    Related Articles

    Related article test
    • Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
      Woman sitting at table writing a home inventory for homeowners insurance.
      9 Steps to Create a Home Inventory for Insurance Claims

      Your home is more than a roof over your head. It’s where your dreams grow, your family thrives and memories are made. But the possessions you keep inside are important, too.

      Whether you’re renting an apartment or own your home, you’ve most likely got an insurance policy designed to protect your dwelling and the things inside. Should the unthinkable happen and you have to use that insurance policy, it’s important to have a plan in place. And a home inventory list is a great way to get started!

      We’ll walk you through how to create a home inventory so — in the event of the unexpected — you’ll be more prepared and have a streamlined recovery.

      What Is a Home Inventory?

      Quite simply, a home inventory is a complete list of all the items, especially valuables, in and around your home. The best home inventories include photos, descriptions and dollar values of each of your belongings. The more detail, the better! It’ll help you provide a comprehensive list to your agent of items lost in the event your home is damaged or destroyed, allowing you to get the most out of your coverage.

      When your describing the items in your list, remember that the more information, the better. Here’s a quick reference list of the type of information you should include in your home inventory list:

      • An in-depth description of the items. For example, rather than writing down “diamond ring,” be more descriptive, such as: “an emerald cut diamond ring, with white gold shank, accent stones and initials inscribed below the bridge.”
      • Make, model, and/or serial number of the items.
      • Date of purchase, receipts and photos.
      • Estimated replacement cost if you bought it today. Do note that the value of the items might be different today than it was when you first bought them. This is especially true with jewelry, and other valuables.
      • Appraisals at time of purchase. Especially if your items were appraised for insurance purposes.

      Why Do I Need a Home Inventory?

      Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, everyone can benefit from a home inventory!

      If you ever have to make a claim, a home inventory is a great asset to have, especially after stressful events like theft, storm damage or a fire (take a look at how one renter used their home inventory after facing an apartment fire).

      When you make a claim, you typically submit information on everything that was lost — which can be difficult to do off the top of your head for all your possessions. Remembering to replace your TV or computer are no-brainers, but when it comes to remembering each piece of jewelry in your jewelry box, things tend to get overlooked. Having a personal property inventory will help, along with knowing how to properly insure your jewelry.

      When you have your home inventory checklist, you know exactly what needs to be replaced, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your entire household is protected.

    • A row of houses in a neighborhood with storm clouds that will bring strong rain and roof leaks behind it.
      A row of houses in a neighborhood with storm clouds that will bring strong rain and roof leaks behind it.
      Reasons Why a Roof Leaks

      You’re admiring the rain from the comfort of your home when you notice a sound — the unmistakable drip of water dropping onto your floor. The first and hardest step is figuring out why your roof is leaking. And with these tips, you’ll find the culprit in no time!

      Here’s Why Your Roof Is Leaking

      The list of reasons why your roof is leaking may seem long, but don’t worry — when it comes to finding the leak and fixing it, the finding is the hardest part. And the good thing about these problems? They can all be fixed. Check out the list and see what’s troubling your roof:

      Your roof is old

      Roofs don’t last forever. Protecting your home and everything inside it from the elements comes with a cost. And with all that rain, snow, ice, wind and even sunlight wearing down your roof, it becomes more susceptible to leaks. Every roof will eventually need to be replaced, so learn more about how long your roof should last based on what it’s made of.

    • A home with a wet roof after a storm.
      A home with a wet roof after a storm.
      How to Check Your Roof for Storm Damage

      There’s no good time to find out your roof needs repair — but you may be able to mitigate that pain by routinely checking your roof for damage after severe weather. Waiting for a leak or damage to present itself gives the problem time to grow and worsen.

      And sometimes, you’ll be faced with expensive roof and interior damage repairs if you’re not diligent. By being proactive and checking your roof for damage after severe weather hits can help your roof — and your savings — stay healthy.