By Bryan Wolfe
Have you been thinking about automating your home with some smart home products, but you’re not sure where to begin? Wondering whether it’s even worth doing? You’ve come to the right place.
Smart homes aren’t just about being flashy, or showing off the latest gadgets money can buy. Instead, they can serve as practical solutions to annoying realities of everyday life — or even solve problems you didn’t even realize you had!
In this article, you’ll learn about some practical solutions to automating your home, with real-world examples of how smart home technology can make a difference in your life.
1. Solve Internet Issues With Mesh Networks
These days, it seems that every device in a home requires an internet connection. From smartphones and tablets to televisions and security cameras, a robust Wi-Fi connection is an essential part of the equation. Unfortunately, folks often overlook this detail.
You should also consider buying a new router. Traditional modems usually now include wireless modems built-in which work with separate extenders placed around a location. This type of setup, however, often leads to Wi-Fi dead zones around the home.
Increasingly, people are turning to mesh networks to eliminate this kind of problem. With a mesh network, you attach a separate router to your modem and then add self-configuring radios or nodes around the home. In doing so, you’re more likely to have ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage at every corner.
Which mesh network is the best? I’ve tested a lot of mesh networking systems and have found them all superior to a traditional router and extender solution. My current favorite is the AmpliFI Wi-Fi by Ubiquiti Labs (UK).
Priced at $340, the AmpliFI is one of easiest to use Wi-Fi solutions currently available. To get started, just attach the main box to your existing modem and follow the directions on the official AmpliFI app. From there, you’ll be asked to install the two radios at different locations in your home.
Practical Uses: Once setup is complete, AmpliFI allows you to define user profiles, assign devices, and create internet access schedules. You can also assign quiet times to limit access during late night hours. As the father of a 10-year-old with easy access to an iPad, these access controls have benefited our family greatly, giving us 24/7 peace of mind.
Depending on the product, other mesh networking features may include:
- The ability to prioritize the most important devices on your network.
- Built-in virus protection.
- Seamlessly add radios as your network needs to expand.
2. Use Your Echo’s Amazing Capabilities Anywhere
The Amazon Echo remains one of the most popular smart devices on the planet. The smart speaker’s capabilities include voice interaction courtesy of Amazon Alexa, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing weather, traffic, and other real time information.
Unfortunately, the $180 (£150) Echo can become an expensive solution if you’re looking to add more than one to your home.
Luckily, there’s the $50 (£50) Amazon Echo Dot. The nearly weightless unit offers all the voice-related tools of its bigger brother in a much smaller package. Better still, when added to a third-party solution like the VAUX speaker by Ninety7, there’s now a way to enjoy Amazon Alexa wherever you want.
The $50 VAUX is the first battery-powered speaker designed to house the Echo Dot. In doing so, you can enjoy cordless portability anywhere in your home environment. You can purchase a VAUX and Echo Dot from Amazon.com for less than it costs for one Echo. A pretty good deal, no?
Practical Uses: You’ll often find our VAUX-Echo Dot outside on our deck for an evening of enjoyment. Besides listening to music, we use the dual device to hear about the current news and weather, play games, and much more.
Other useful Echo (or Echo Dot) uses include:
- Calling and messaging friends and family.
- Controlling Amazon Video on Fire TV.
- Ordering Uber or Domino’s with a simple voice command.
3. Let There Be Light (When and Where You Want It)
There are plenty of benefits to owning a smart lighting system, including the ability to control lights remotely and changing the colors of those lights with ease. Smart lighting products typically work with a smartphone app. Because of this, many also allow you to schedule the time lights turn on and off automatically.
Practical Uses: In the Wolfe household, we make sure our outside lights turn on at sunset each night. Conversely, these same lights turn off at sunrise.
Inside, we use smart lighting to wake us up gradually each morning. To achieve this, we’ve added Smart Wi-Fi LED Bulbs from TP-Link, which feature a Circadian Mode that automatically matches light appearance to the time of day.
Though smart lighting products tend to be more expensive than traditional bulbs, they’re also made to last longer. Plus, as you can see, they do a lot more.
Other uses include:
- Pairing your lighting system to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to enable voice control.
- Tracking real-time energy used to stay informed.
- Controlling your lights from anywhere in the world via your smartphone.
4. Security Cameras for Peace of Mind
Security cameras take many forms and are available for inside and outside use. Most of the products currently on the market all include the same basic features, including 24/7 live streaming video, the ability to detect sound or motion, and limited recording capabilities.
I’d suggest installing indoor and outdoor cameras in your home to maximize their effectiveness. Increasingly, you’ll find companies offering both types of cameras, including Nest and Logitech.
Practical Uses: The former is set up to work only when I’m not at home. It knows this information by determining my location through my iPhone. When I’m on the road, I’m alerted when there is movement inside the house. Luckily, the only action my camera has ever picked up has been my dog jumping on the living room furniture.
Meanwhile, my Kuna alerts me whenever there’s someone in my driveway. Thanks to Kuna’s built-in speaker, I talk to the person via the Kuna app welcoming them to my back door.
Other practical ways to use a home security camera could include:
- Saving a recording of a special event inside your home such as a birthday celebration.
- Watching your pets when you’re not at home.
- Checking the weather from inside on a cold day by watching a live stream from your camera instead.
5. Smart Switches to Control Any Electronic Device
Practical Uses: I use smart switches at various locations around my home. My coffee pot attaches to one in my kitchen, as does one to my dryer in the basement. A hairdryer and shaving kit connects to one in the upstairs bathroom.
By having these devices connected to a smart switch, I always know I didn’t leave them on accidentally. This type of security adds peace of mind.
- Starting your dinner when you’re still at work.
- Controlling your kids’ TVs and gaming consoles.
- Integrating your switches with If This Then That so that you can turn everything turn off with the click of a button at night.
Final Thoughts on Home Automation
When thinking about adding automation in your home, start with practical solutions and then built up to more challenging ones. By starting with simple solutions, even if they aren’t as flashy as some of the bigger smart home tricks out there, you should have an improved smart home experience.
Which smart home automations make a big difference in your home? Do you have some advice for other MakeUseOf readers? Let everyone know in the comments below.
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