Guide: How to turn your house into a smart home

A simple guide on how to turn your house into a smart home.
Just a few tech purchases can greatly enhance your home. Photo credit: Getty

Unlocking the front door with your phone, dimming the lights with your voice and putting away the groceries ordered by your fridge - if that isn't you yet, don't worry. Despite the hype about the billions of connected devices that make up the 'internet of things', smart home tech has yet to go mainstream.

"I couldn't even open the lockbox for my spare keys when I locked myself out of my house the other day," one friend huffed as I conducted an unofficial survey of some school mums.

"How would I cope with a house full of smart gadgets. Doesn't that actually create more work for myself?"

The other mums grunted in unison, although to be fair we were doing stomach crunches at a fitness class.

Creating a smart home needn't be the domain of gadget lovers and geeks alone and it doesn't have to be too difficult.

What you need to get started on a smart home:

  • A consistent Wi-Fi signal wherever you place your smart gadgets. Try a Wi-Fi mesh router if this is an issue.
  • A smartphone, tablet, smart speaker or smart speaker-enabled device (such as a new TV).
  • A little bit of time and patience to set-up the gadgets, but most are plug-and-play.

Smart home gadgets are operated in three main ways: via apps, via a smart assistant such as Google Assistant, Siri (Apple) or Alexa (Amazon) which lets you use voice commands; and via automation, which lets apps and devices talk to each other without you needing to act as the go-between.

Here's what to look for when shopping:

A smart plug plugs in normally but connects to the Wi-Fi via a compatible app. You can then plug in an appliance such as a fan and control it through the app or your voice.

Most will support Alexa and Google Assistant but not all will be compatible with Apple's HomeKit, so make sure you check before you buy. Same goes for device compatibility. It depends on the watts a device uses.

A smart speaker has an assistant built into it and is used to control other smart devices. You can ask it to do things such as 'turn on the TV'.

Most gadgets you can buy will work with either Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri; but some of the larger players such as Samsung also have their own alternatives such as Bixby.

A connected speaker can be controlled by an app or a smart assistant via your Wi-Fi. You can use it to select music, play, pause, stop or skip tracks via your phone or voice commands.

Smart home guide - what to buy, what you need, what to remember.
Don't worry, pets can't use smart speakers - yet. Photo credit: Getty

Some TVs have built-in smart home features, or you can use a device such as Google Chromecast or Apple TV. These plug into a TV and let you cast video to it from another device, control streaming services like Netflix with your phone, or be controlled via voice with a smart assistant.

A smart light can be programmed via an app or assistant to turn on and off, dim or even change colour. Other smart gadgets can control heating or track energy and water usage.

Smart home security means devices like smart cameras that connect to your Wi-Fi network and are controlled via app or voice, so you can check what's going on from whenever you are in the world.

A smart lock lets you set time-limited keys for other people and a smart doorbell lets you see who's at the door when you're not at home.

A smart appliance such as a fridge has an internet-connected screen and cameras, so you can do things like look inside it via your phone when you're at the supermarket.

How to easily transform your old home into a futuristic smart home.
A few devices mean you can easily control your home's temperature, lighting, music and more, all from your tablet or phone. Photo credit: Getty

What you'll need to spend:

A couple of hundred dollars will get you things like smart switches or speakers. Upwards of $1000 will get you devices that connect to a home automation network and more than $5000 will get you something like a smart fridge. 

What you'll need to bear in mind:

You'll need to open up your life to the tech companies behind the systems and gadgets you use, with your commands and habits stored in various ways.

It's always wise to buy products from well-known brands so software updates are issued and products are kept up to date.

A unified standard for the design, manufacture and performance of smart home devices should launch in 2021 which will start to make it easier to own multiple products from different brands which can talk to each other, unlike now. 

A smart home should make things easier for every family member.
A smart home can make things easier for all family members. Photo credit: Getty

The future of smart homes:

In Google's vision for the future, you won't even be talking about smart homes or devices. It will just be the de facto way things are and 'devices will just orchestrate themselves'.

The home will act as a brain, learning your habits and developing automated support.

Your alarm clock will check your diary to determine when you should wake up, your toilet will book an appointment with the doctor because it's deduced from waste that you're ill.

Amazon is doing all sorts of amazing things with its smart home brands - think a small drone flying from room to room checking on security. The company's digital assistant Alexa is also getting more intuitive with the integration of a new feature called 'hunches' where Alexa suggests an activity that might be useful that it can do - like, for example, locking the front door if it's been unlocked for too long or at an unusual time. 

Which brings me back to my smart home doubting friend.

"What if everything failed? I'd be trapped in my house, starving to death, not even able to open the fridge to get to the food?"

Let's just hope it doesn't come to that.