Aug 31, 2017
Imagine living in a home that understands YOU. Imagine a home where your mattress senses your wakeup time, fades the lights up as your alarm sounds, and starts your coffee brewing. Welcome to the new reality. Believe it or not, you can do that right now with the right smart home technology (and we’ll give you all the details below).
Making your home smart can be as complicated as you want it to be – or as simple. Add one piece of automation at a time slowly or go big and get everything done all at once. Home automation is getting smarter and smarter every day...but one thing is for sure, it can definitely work to make your life easier, healthier, and may save you some money in the long run.
Here’s our introduction to DIY home automation products, ranging from some popular in-home assistants all the way to the devices that make our morning coffee scenario possible.
Your Own Personal Assistant? Yes, Please!
At first use, the Amazon Echo may feel like it’s just a wireless speaker, and it does have that capability to connect with Spotify, Pandora, and many other streaming music services. But the more you learn about its capabilities, the more it can do for you, so much so that it is almost like having your own personal assistant. Besides, actually having to use your hands is overrated, right?
Beyond music, here’s what else your Echo can do:
- Controls your satellite TV. Dish Network integrates with your Echo to control which channel you are watching or fast forward, pause, and rewind all at the command of your voice.
- Orders an Uber.
- Coach you through a quick, 7-minute workout that will definitely have your muscles burning. Includes planks, wall sits, pushups and more.
- Checks your schedule and adds things to your calendar.
- Read books - it can turn any of your Kindle books into an audio book!
- Orders a pizza...or flowers.
Increase the versatility of your Amazon Echo by adding Echo Dots in other rooms around the house. The Dot is a smaller speaker that connects with your main Amazon Echo allowing you to interact in other areas of the house. For example, tuck it under a counter in the bathroom so that you can find out the day’s weather while in the shower or listen to the news as you get ready.
ProTip: Did you know that you can wake up your Echo and Echo Dot by using one of four words: Alexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer. You can also program specific dots to respond to one or the other if you have two within earshot of each other.
Google also makes an equivalent to Amazon Echo called Google Home. Like Alexa, you can ask it questions and tell it to do things, it can even distinguish voices so you get a more personalized experience. Google Home is able to sync up with your Google calendars and email which is definitely a perk of the gadget.
Besides their different shapes, Amazon Echo and Google Home have similar features and compatibilities, so deciding between the two may really come down to design preference.
ProTip: Making your home smart is an investment, you will want to protect your smart components. We recommend adding bumper guards to your Amazon Echo to prevent it from damage.
A Thermostat that Knows Your Schedule and Preferences
Imagine being on the tail end of a vacation. You know you are going to be home in a few hours, so you remotely turn on your air or heat and have the house ready for your arrival. This is just one of the many benefits of a smart thermostat.
Probably the most popular on the market is the Nest Thermostat. It’s all about keeping the temperature of your home where it is most comfortable for you. The Nest learns your schedules, senses when you are home, and runs your heating and cooling in the most energy efficient way possible. For example, if the Nest senses that you aren’t home, the heating or cooling is reduced to save energy.
Another smart thermostat currently on the market is the ecobee3. With similar capabilities to the Nest, its main differentiator is that it comes with more room sensors. The Nest only senses temperature for the room that it is in, while the ecobee3 is able to gather data from multiple areas of the house. It also uses local weather to determine the most efficient way to heat and cool your home.
Even Lightbulbs are Getting Smarter
While at first the price of smart light bulbs might seem like an extravagance, they are actually pretty practical when you read the fine print. For example, some of these light bulbs have a 22-year warranty! To put that in perspective, most LED light bulbs have an average lifespan of 25,000 - 50,000 hours (roughly 2-5 years if you were to have the lights on continually). Smart light bulbs also tend to use up to 80% less power than traditional light bulbs saving you money on your electric bill.
Philips Hue is just one such smart light bulb system that lets you wirelessly control your light from a smart device (or Hub). You can not only turn on individual bulbs or groups of them, but also the intensity of the light and colors of the light. One Hub is able to control up to 63 light bulbs! What more could you ask for when creating the perfect ambiance?
ProTip: You can schedule your lights to come on gradually when you want to wake up. Use your Echo Dot as an alarm clock and combine it with Hue to have an alarm go off and the lights come one in the morning.
A less expensive but still smart option is the Wink Connected Home Hub with Sylvania Smart A19 dimmable bulbs. While you won’t be able to change the color of your light bulbs, you will be able to control them remotely and save energy. The Wink Hub is also a great value because it connects with other smart products, like z-Wave’s door locks and motion sensors.
ProTip: Because you are able to control lights via your smart device and set up schedules, you can create a vacation schedule while you are away for added home security. You will look like you are home even when you aren’t.
Get Smarter About Home Safety
Security systems have been around for a long time, but now there are home automation products that allow you to build your own home security system to your preference – all controlled through your smartphone.
With August Smart Lock, your smartphone becomes your key. This home automation replaces the interior side of the standard deadbolt on your door and lets you remotely control your lock. You can create virtual keys for family and guests and track who comes and goes. It also integrates with Siri, Alexa, or Google assistant, allowing you to verbally lock and unlock your door.
Another great smart home safety feature is the Ring Doorbell Video Camera. Ring lets you answer your door from anywhere, get instant alerts when someone rings or triggers the motion sensor, and allows you to see and speak to anyone at the door.
Smarter Electricity Outlets
If you find all of the above a bit intimidating, but still want to move toward automation in your home, the Quirky Pivot Power Genius is the perfect way to start. It is easy to use and not a huge financial commitment. The Power Genius is a smart power strip. It works just like a normal power strip protecting from power surges, but you are also able to remotely control 2 outlets from an app. You can turn things on and off remotely or program electronics to be scheduled all within the app. Quirky Pivot Power Genius also works with Amazon Echo.
Get Smarter and Healthier About How You Sleep
It’s no big secret that Americans don’t get enough sleep. There have been countless articles on getting the required 8 hours and what happens to our productivity when we don’t get an appropriate amount of sleep. But now there are smarter devices out there to help us get the sleep we need.
Eight’s sleep tracker mattress pad is a sensor pad that fits over any size mattress instantly making your bed smarter. It tracks 15 points of sleep throughout the night including when you are in a deep sleep and your heart rate. When you wake up in the morning, you are able to see your sleep score to know how well you slept. Eight also has a dual-zone warming option so you can heat up one or both sides of the bed to help you fall asleep faster. Like many smart home products, Eight integrates with other smart devices in your home, like your Nest. The best part is that if it senses you are in a deep sleep, it will adjust your wake up time. Instead of scheduling an alarm for a specific time, you are able to schedule a window of time allowing the Eight to wake you up at the best possible time!
Bringing it all together with IFTTT
You’ve probably noticed that many of these smart products work well together, but IFTTT takes it one step farther. IFTTT is a free app that works with “if this, then that” technology to make your smart components interact with each other in specific situations through what they call “applets” or “recipes.” You can create your own or choose recipes from their library.
- If you mattress senses you are awake, then start the coffee maker and slowly turn on the lights in the bedroom
- If your Nest thermostat is set to away mode, then turn off your lights at a certain time.
- Social media addict - if you are tagged in a photo or receive a message on Facebook or Instagram, then blink the lights to alert you.
Pro Tip: With all smart devices, remember to change the default username and password immediately to avoid exposure to hackers.