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Smart Homes Explained

– What is a Smart Home?
– Examples of Smart Home Technologies
– How to Set Up a Smart Home
– Advantages and Disadvantages of Smart Homes

Smart Homes Explained

Like other Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, smart home systems often operate together, sharing usage data among themselves and automating actions based on the residents’ preferences.
Door locks, lawn irrigation, climate control, home entertainment systems, security monitors, lights, and even appliances such as the refrigerator and microwave can be controlled through a smart home system.
smart home
Examples of smart home functionality. (Image: TechTarget)

What is a Smart Home?

Smart home technology and home automation (also called domotics) uses internet-connected devices that can be automatically monitored and controlled from anywhere with an internet connection. Home focused smart technology provides residents comfort, convenience, security and energy efficiency by allowing them to control the connected smart devices in their home from anywhere via an app on their smartphone, tablet or other networked device.
A smart home is a residence that uses an automation system to (remotely) monitor and manage internet-connected home features like access control, security systems, lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances.
Smart home systems often come with self-learning skills so they can make adjustments according to the residents’ schedules and preferences. By turning off energy-using devices such as lights and television, and adjusting heating or air conditioning, smart homes can help reduce energy-related cost savings.
Similarly for water usage: A smart sprinkler controller is like a smart thermostat for your garden or yard - it intelligently optimizes your lawn irrigation system by automatically adjusting to weather conditions and soil humidity.
Some home automation systems alert the homeowner if any motion is detected in the home when they're away, while others can call emergency services if needed.

Examples of Smart Home Technologies

Nearly every aspect of domestic life has seen the introduction of a smart home alternative, whether it’s the living room, kitchen, bathroom, or lawn. But before you think about all the devices you want to install, you need to make a decision with regard to how you control everything.
A smart hub is the central hub – think of it as the brain – that connects all smart devices within a home. It’s usually accessible through a centralized app that controls all connected devices. However, if you make sure that your smart home devices and appliances are compatible with each other, they don’t necessarily have to depend on a smart home hub to operate. While hubs offer advantages - the most important of which is having a single user interface to control everything - they’re not always essential.
When selecting the best smart hub for your residence, make sure it supports a sufficiently large number of devices; it is compatible with your smartphone operating system (Apple’s iOS or Android); and how it is controlled, for instance, does it allow voice commands?
Now let’s look at what kind of IoT devices for your smart home you might want to connect:
Access – Using smart locks and garage-door openers, users can assign and revoke timed virtual keys to anyone they like, from in-laws to dog sitter and visitors. Smart locks can also detect when residents are near and unlock the doors for them.
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Climate Control – Smart thermostats allow you to control your home heating and air conditioning systems by voice or with an app. Smart climate control system can also learn residents’ behavior patterns and automatically modify settings to adjust ambient temperatures for various rooms. Smart thermostats can also report energy usage and remind users to change filters, among other things.
For instance, smart room thermostats connected can constantly check the humidity in your living space and let you know when it’s time to ventilate, via a push message on your smartphone. Or you can go one step further: there are windows that can open on their own via a motor, triggered by your smart room thermostat. To prevent unnecessary heat loss, the smart heating system automatically turns down the connected thermostats when windows are open.
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Lighting – Smart lighting systems are available for indoors and outdoor use. Smart lighting adds automation, remote control, and other convenience features. Upgrading your lights to smart lights is one of the easiest and most practical smart-home changes you can make in your residence. In addition to being able to be controlled remotely and customized, smart lighting systems detect when occupants are in the room and adjust lighting as needed. Smart lightbulbs can also regulate themselves based on daylight availability.
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Security Systems – By using indoor and outdoor cameras, motion sensors, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, residents can automatically monitor their homes when they are away or for instance at night when they are at sleep. Smart motion sensors are also able to identify the difference between residents, visitors, pets and burglars, and ring alarms, and even can notify authorities if suspicious behavior is detected.
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System & Maintenance – Monitoring systems can sense water failures or freezing pipes and turn off the water to prevent flooding or sense an electric surge and turn off appliances. As mentioned above, smart sprinkler systems can monitor weather conditions and soil humidity and optimize lawn irrigation systems accordingly.
smart home
Entertainment Systems – Sophisticated multi-room audio systems and smart TVs are at the core of smart home entertainment systems. They are connected to the internet to access content through applications, such as intelligent agents like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, or on-demand video and music services. Some of these devices also include voice or gesture recognition.
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Pet Care – Your smart home can be fitted with a range of IoT connected pet devices: smart cat and dog feeders (food and water); smart pet doors; pet activity trackers; litter trays; and assorted smart toys and accessories such as tracking tags.
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Kitchen Appliances – Kitchens always have been a space that is filled with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos, and kitchen appliances like fridges and ovens have been some of the most technologically advanced contraptions in many people’s home. With the entrance of the IoT into your kitchen (and laundry room), expect many more gadgets to become ‘smart’. Read more about this topic and see examples in our article on Smart Kitchen Appliances.
Smart Toys – Children’s smart toys are not strictly smart home devices, but in almost all cases you will find them in your children’s rooms, so let’s include them here. Read more about this topic and see examples in our article on Smart Toys.
Bathroom – Smart toothbrushes, smart scales with body cardio, smart bathroom mirrors, and toilets will complete your smart home set-up.
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How To Set Up a Smart Home

One key prerequisite you must have is a Wi-Fi router that can reach all the areas of your home where you want to install smart devices. The best and most expensive smart home device won’t do you any good if Wi-Fi signals can’t reach it.
Basically, there are two ways you can go about setting up a smart home: with or without a smart home hub.
Hubs for smart homes are a platform for connected devices to seamlessly communicate and work together and be controlled from a single app. These hubs feature antennas for smart home protocols like Z-Wave, Thread and Zigbee or, in Apple’s case their proprietary HomeKit framework. Some smart home systems can be created from scratch, for example, using a Raspberry Pi or other prototyping board. Others can be purchased as a bundled smart home kit – also known as a smart home platform – that contains the pieces needed to start a home automation project.
Examples of smart home hubs and associated kits include Amazon Echo, Apple's HomeKit, Google's Nest Hub, Insteon Central Controller Hub, Samsung SmartThings Hub and Wink Connected Home Hub.
Most recent smart home products actually don’t require a dedicated hub, making it simple to just install a smart speaker, smart light or smart plug. Companies have developed connectivity features enough to get their products online just through Bluetooth or a Wi-Fi network password.
However, the more devices you are planning to connect, the more complex it will get to manage them all. That’s where it starts to make sense to invest in a smart home hub.
The hub unites your devices that come from different brands with varying connectivity options. For example, if you have Philips Hue lights, Ring security cameras, August smart locks and Sonos speakers all under the same roof, a smart home hub will help them communicate with each other and be controlled from just a single app.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Smart Homes

A smart home offers tangible benefits that make your life more comfortable, frees up time, provides more security, and helps you save money. It also gives you peace of mind when you are away, allowing you to monitor your homes remotely, countering dangers such as a forgotten coffee maker left on or a front door left unlocked.
Smart homes can be fitted to provide extra care and security for the elderly, providing monitoring that can help seniors to remain at home comfortably and safely, rather than moving to a nursing home or requiring 24/7 home care.
A downside of smart homes is their perceived complexity, especially so if you are trying to integrate numerous IoT devices without a smart hub; depending on someone’s technical literacy, they might have difficulty with technology in general or will give up on it with the first inconvenience.
Effective home automation systems have to be interoperable regardless of manufacturer and use the same smart home protocol (similar to the operating system of computers or mobile devices) or, at least, complementary ones.
Another major issue is smart home security. By hacking a smart device, criminals could potentially turn off the lights and alarms and unlock the doors, leaving a home defenseless to a break-in. In addition to home security, smart home opponents worry about the privacy of the data shared by their smart home devices.
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