Getting Started with a Smart Home

With literally hundreds of smart home products on the market today, getting started can seem like a daunting task. A few years ago you might have found one or two smart home products in a home improvement store. Today, these devices fill their own displays and command their own suite of installation services. Although even the tech-savvy, DIY-inclined among us may find the plethora of options intimidating — who has the time to learn all this stuff? — getting started with a smart home is easier than you think.

Getting your smart home off the ground starts with identifying a need. What do you want to accomplish? What would help make your life easier? For many, some easy and popular starting points include:

  • Checking and controlling a WiFi thermostat
  • Turning a lamp on or off with a smart plug
  • Asking to hear a song or radio station with an Amazon Echo
  • Checking whether the garage door is closed (and closing it if it’s not!) with a MyQ

None of these use cases requires more than a single new device to achieve. In fact, the total cost to purchase devices enabling all of the above use cases starts at $203 + tax. Any of those devices will include easy-to-follow instructions for setting them up from your smartphone. Some devices, like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or various third-party hubs, can help integrate these various devices into a single application for simplified control and advanced shortcuts and automations.

There are three important things to remember when shopping for smart home components:

  • Start small. Pick one thing you want to accomplish, buy that component (e.g. a thermostat, power switch, garage opener, or speaker), and follow the setup instructions. Many even have customer service lines you can call if needed.
  • Google is your friend. There are vibrant home automation communities on Reddit, as well as the forums for specific products, and many of them contain lengthy discussions addressing whatever questions you may have.
  • Online reviews are thorough and will help you understand the benefits and pain points of each product. Take the time to read them, especially focusing on 1-star reviews that can shed light into any problems with the product, and you won’t be surprised.
  • Many components can integrate with one another even across brands, so with a little research, it’s easy to future-proof your system and avoid locking yourself into a specific ecosystem before you are ready.

I’ll go into a range of specific products and automation concepts in future posts and always invite your comments and questions. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to take the plunge if you haven’t already! Pick a simple goal — search online or feel free to post a comment here if you’d like product recommendations — and start simplifying your life.

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