Couple sitting on couch setting up their smart home on their phone

Your Guide to Smart Homes and Home Automation

Updated May 4, 2021 . AmFam Team

Do you know what a smart home is? What about home automation? Learn how this new tech can help save on your premiums and utilities too!

For nearly a century, science fiction authors have dreamed of flying cars, robotic homes and complete meals in a pill. Although we may not have the cars that fly or electronic butlers yet, we’ve seen the rise of self-driving cars and robot vacuums. Today's home security doorbell cameras have revolutionized the way we track packages left on our porch and answer the front door, too.

In many ways, real-life smart home automation exceeds what those futurists envisioned so long ago. But what is a smart home? And what exactly is home automation? Not sure? No problem!

If you’re new to these concepts, there’s a lot to learn. That’s why we put together this guide on how to make a smart home and how to automate your home. Today, we’ll help you understand the advantages of getting these technologies into your house — so it’s a safer and more energy efficient place to live.

What Is a Smart Home?

Today’s modern world has seen a real shift in the way we interact with our appliances, our home security systems and even the way we query the internet for information. A smart home enables homeowners to remotely operate appliances, doorbell cameras, lights and thermostats, etc., from a smartphone or tablet with an internet connection.

What are the benefits of a smart home? They extend beyond just convenience. Homeowners are now able to remotely manage their utility usage by leaning on this tech to decrease energy consumption when they’re away. And that alone can add up to real savings very quickly.

Making your home more safe and secure is another great reason to consider investing in smart home technology.

What Is Home Automation?

Home automation is a great way to have the systems in your home work smarter — not harder. How to make a home smarter? It starts by purchasing appliances that incorporate home automation tech and allow you to review the status of these devices are from virtually anywhere.

Home automation offers early warnings

Connected through your home Wi-Fi, home automation sensors can alert you right away if your sump pump has failed or if a carbon monoxide detector is sensing trouble.

Home automation allows you to execute tasks remotely

Now, you've the freedom to knock out chores when away instead of being at home to get them done. New washing machines, for instance, enable you launch a load of laundry so it’s ready to go into the dryer right as you arrive home.

Home automation makes life easier

Making your home smarter goes beyond filling your home with more tech gadgets. Known as the Internet of Things (IoT), smart home technology and automation is an incredible way to help you protect your family, provide energy savings and add real convenience to your daily life.

At American Family Insurance, we want reward you when you make your home smarter. Connect with your American Family agent (Opens in a new tab) to find out how you can qualify for a smart home discount.

How to Make Your Home a Smart Home

Today’s online marketplace is literally awash in ways to make your home a smart home. It’s important to build your smart home in a way that will benefit you the most. Let’s explore how to set up a smart home and review how these must-have smart home devices, components and sensors work:

Setting up a smart home

In order to set up your smart home, you’re going to need reliable Wi-Fi first — so that your tech can connect to the outside world and to you when you’re away.

Here’s a wish list of key smart home items to purchase and install:

  • A smart home hub which acts as local voice-controlled interface between you and your tech
  • Smart outlets, power strips and electrical breakers to help you manage usage and deal with emergencies when away
  • Smart smoke, carbon monoxide and water sensors that alert you to trouble in real-time
  • Wi-Fi enabled lights to customize your at-home experience and control lighting when away
  • A DIY home security system you can install to your home’s exact needs
  • Upgraded appliances to help you track energy use and receive details when something’s wrong

Must-have Smart Home Devices

Although they may cost a little more, Wi-Fi connected devices do a better job of keeping you in the loop on what’s happening in your home — whether you’re in the yard or out of town.

Here’s a closer look at some must-have smart home purchases to consider:

Smart home security systems

You’re probably familiar with some aspects of smart home security systems. But what you may not know is how tightly integrated they have become with the rest of your house. Today, they do more than just chime when a door is opened:

  • They’ll call the fire department for you when they detect heat, smoke or fire
  • Wearable panic buttons can contact first responders for seniors or the disabled
  • Tamper-sensitive window monitors alert you when a window is broken
  • Sophisticated motion sensors can tell the difference between your pets and an intruder

Enhanced smoke alarms

Today’s alarms go well beyond warning you if there is smoke in the air. Equipped with remote monitoring services, a high-tech connected smoke detector can tell your smart home alarm system to report the event to the fire department, alert your mobile devices and turn on the lights to help you find the way out, too.

Smart door locks

Remotely controlling lock and unlock features for doors are great answers if you’re wondering how to make your smart home secure. Digital keys and sensory unlocking are two of the cutting-edge ways digital deadbolts are protecting your home.

You can give friends or family members digital keys so they have access whenever they need it, and with some systems, you can even have your doors unlock as you approach.

Cloud-connected video doorbells

As high-quality cameras and wireless networks have become more affordable and more reliable, home monitoring has improved as well.

With motion detection technology built into video cameras, you can use your smartphone to see what’s happening around your home in real time. If that’s not enough, the improved cameras offer you night vision and zoom capabilities as well.

Smart water leak sensors

Smart home water sensor systems detect water leaks before they get out of hand, giving you a heads-up if something’s amiss with your kitchen sink, washing machine, refrigerator, water heater, dishwasher, toilet or plumbing.

The sensor is designed to connect with your smartphone, tablet or computer, where you’ll be able to track the device. You’ll get an alert if the device detects water so you can take action. It puts you in control of what’s going on in your home, so you can rest easy, even when out of town.

How to Automate Home Appliances

Most home appliance manufacturers today have a line of Wi-Fi enabled systems for almost any application. From water heaters to electrical monitoring systems, the options — and benefits — are seemingly endless.

Automating your home is as simple as:

  • Setting up your home Wi-Fi router and broadband internet
  • Connecting your automated appliances to your Wi-Fi network
  • Downloading and installing the app for the appliance on your smartphone
  • Enabling the app to “talk” to the automated appliance
  • Opening the app and customizing it to work according to your needs

Here’s more great ideas to help you after completing the above tasks:

Save money at the outlet

One of the easiest ways to automate your home’s appliances is by using a smart plug to act as an on/off switch. Use them with coffee makers to help wake you up and table lights to make it appear you’re home when you’re not. Wi-Fi supported power strips are another alternative.

Monitor your home’s climate

Following a monitoring period, smart thermostats equipped with machine learning begin to understand the patterns of your day-to-day habits. The artificial intelligence in the thermostat monitors your home and adjusts the temperature to heat or cool the space according to your schedule.

Automating your home’s climate control systems offers significant annual savings to your utility budget while reducing wasted energy.

Program your automated appliances to work while you’re away

Many automated appliances can be programmed to start at a time convenient for you. When enabled, these devices will synch up with your phone's location services to time your arrival and have your dinner ready to eat as you're pulling in the driveway.

Automate your appliances to lower utility costs

Do you live in an area where electricity costs are greatly reduced during non-peak hours? Automating your smart dryer to start a cycle after midnight can chop those utility bills down to size.

Let smart LEDs save you money

Today’s dimmable LED light bulbs have surpassed the longevity of yesterday’s compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and are easier to dispose of. Plus, many now provide the color temperatures that rival classic incandescent bulbs.

Smart Home Energy Monitors

Somewhat new on the scene are smart energy monitoring systems that can do a lot for your energy budget. More than just delivering details on how much your home is consuming, these intelligent systems serve up charts and usage patterns which lead to suggestions on ways to save:

Use smart breakers for safety and convenience

Once you have efficient bulbs in your sockets, consider installing smart breakers to monitor energy usage. By adding our optional equipment breakdown coverage to your homeowners policy, you’ll have even more protection for your smart home hub and costly appliances.

Wash your hands of wasteful water use

Water-use sensors quickly attach around your pipes and let you know when you’re using the most water. They’ll even deliver tips for reducing your water consumption. Better yet, some sensors can even alert you to leaks occurring within your walls. Some systems can be programmed to shut down your water main if uninterrupted flow continues for a given period of time.

Seal the deal on an efficient home

Door and window sensors offer the protection of letting you know if anything has been left open. When programmed accordingly, they'll even turn off your air central conditioner if a window is open.

The Benefits of Smart Homes

Once you’ve got your climate controlled, your lighting just right and your utilities optimized, it’s time to splurge on smart gadgets that bring you joy at home:

Make the most of your music

Hello, traveling DJ! You can put your entire collection of tunes in every room with intelligent stereo equipment, and you can even have motion-activated speakers so the music moves with you from room-to-room.

Pick up that robot vacuum cleaner

An automated vacuum can clean carpets and hard surfaces all day, every day. That frees up your time at home to be spent doing what you want to do — which is probably not doing the floors.

Learn About Our Smart Home Discounts

Smart homes are “smart” for many reasons. Of course, you’ll likely find more peace of mind once your smart home security system is up and running. But if you do it right, you may be able to score a smart home discount on your homeowners coverage, too. And that’s just brilliant, right?

So, be sure to talk to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) about qualifying for discounts. And remember to check out our homeowner coverages to learn about all the ways we can help safeguard everything that means so much.

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