The Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up a Smart Home

By Todd Wasserman


You love your humble abode — but some 21st-century upgrades could 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. You might think it all sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be! Here’s a look at some great options for those just getting started with smart home technology.

Smart Security and Smoke Detectors

While it's fun to contemplate a "smart refrigerator" that can text you when the milk is running low, for many, the biggest benefit of home automation is increased safety. If that’s a top priority for you, a smart doorbell could be a great place to start. Such devices include motion sensors and the ability to stream live video, so you can see from inside (or elsewhere) who is at your door before you open it. Installation isn't super-complicated, but will require mounting the doorbell to a frame and connecting it to existing wiring. We recommend the Ring video doorbell, and we'll even give you a $30 discount off your purchase if you're an American Family home, condo or renters insurance customer.

For an additional layer of security, you could also consider installing an Internet-based home security system. Such systems usually run a few hundred dollars, and may include monthly monitoring fees. In many cases, you can set up the system yourself, which is a nice advantage compared to traditional "wired" security systems that require professional installation that costs extra. Setup often requires merely plugging in the base station and turning on various connected sensors, and there are numerous YouTube videos that will walk you through the process in case you have any issues. 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. Nice!

Internet-connected smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are also fairly easy to set up and can be life-saving. Unlike traditional monitors, smart monitors can send notifications to your phone with details about what was detected if they’re set off, or if your batteries are low. Some can contact a neighbor or emergency contact when you're out of town.

One of the biggest advantages of the smart systems listed above is that they give you access, updates and control via your smartphone, no matter where you are. They conveniently provide peace of mind that your home is protected when on vacation or away for the day.

Setting Up Thermostats and Lighting Systems

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. Like smart doorbells, the installation requires some basic electrical work. But once you get it set up, you’ll appreciate the cost savings of heating and cooling your home with maximum efficiency — while also enjoying a home that’s always the perfect temperature.

Smart lighting is another great way to reduce your energy bill, with the potential to cut spending and energy use by as much as 90 percent, according to Gartner, a global leader in technology research. When it comes to lighting, you can choose between bulbs that connect to Wi-Fi, or switches. Setting up the former is almost as simple as screwing in a light bulb. (The other step is to hook the devices up to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.) The latter is a bit more involved and requires some basic electric work, but allows you to purchase standard bulbs. Both options save you that trip back upstairs when you realize you’ve left your bedroom light on.

Smart Home Virtual Personal Assistants

The smart home isn’t just about safety or saving money, though. It’s also convenient — and fun! Voice-controlled smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home can tell jokes, play music, and provide you with real-time weather and traffic information, making 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. Pretty cool, huh? The setup for this life-enhancing technology is relatively minimal, involving downloading apps to your smartphone and following a few simple steps.

But before you start buying cool new gadgets to make your home smarter, you might consider doing a little research first to determine device compatibility, so everything can be more conveniently controlled from the same system. For instance, if you're contemplating getting a smart home security system as well as smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector, you might want to make sure they integrate with each other, so you don't have to use two separate apps and systems to control them. Or, if you've got Google Home and you want to get a new smart thermostat, make sure the thermostat is compatible with Google Home. That way, you can use Google Home to control your thermostat.

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.


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Related Topics: Smart Home