Modernizing your home with technology

Woman controlling smart devicesPhoto by(Shutterstock/RossHelen)

If you’ve marveled at a friend’s elaborate smart lighting or thought that modernizing your home with technology was only available to the savviest consumers, good news—now nearly anyone can integrate smart tech into their homes and lives regardless of expertise. So where do you start, and what are the easiest and most affordable upgrades to kick off your smart tech renovation?

Find a great hub

The first step is finding a smart hub to network all your devices. Think of a smart home hub as the brain of your smart house systems, responsible for controlling and coordinating all of the attached systems. While there are dedicated hubs, they’re specialized devices and really only necessary if you plan on attaching hundreds of devices to your smart home network. For most, a device like an Amazon Echo or Google Nest is probably the better option, as it will not only allow you to coordinate your smart home systems but also doubles as a smart speaker and conduit for virtual assistants like Alexa.

Regardless of which you choose, take some time to research the hubs you’re considering and make sure that they’re compatible with the other smart devices you will be attaching. While the Google and Alexa devices are broadly compatible with many manufacturers, they’re by no means universal, and doing your research up front may save you money and headaches down the line. It’s also possible that certain systems, like Philip’s Hue smart lights will need to have their own separate hub.

Alternately, you can build your smart home network with devices all from the same family/brand, though you still want to check that the precise version of the device you’re buying works with whatever iteration of the hub you decided to grab.

Light up your life

Hub in hand, your next stop should be the smart lighting section. The convenience of smart lighting and the granular control over mood and atmosphere make them one of the most impactful smart devices when upgrading your home.

When it comes to which smart lighting option to pursue, you have a number of choices. As with any plug-in device, you can opt for a smart outlet, which will allow you to toggle lights on and off with your voice via your smart hub or through an app. You can even use a multiple outlet plug or several discrete smart plugs that let you toggle lights individually even in the same room. Most smart hubs will also allow you to set lighting routines that trigger automatically throughout the day/evening.

However, if you want more granular control or want to incorporate smart tech into lights that aren’t powered via outlet, smart bulbs like Philip’s popular Hue Lights are a better option. Smart bulbs allow much finer control than just an on/off toggle, letting you control color, color temperature, brightness, and more. Smart bulbs are the way to go if variable mood and atmospheric lighting are important to you.

A veritable feast of technology

If you spend much time in the kitchen, there are a huge number of ways that smart home tech can help make your life easier (and potentially more delicious). A new smart fridge can give you instant feedback on and control over temperature, suggest recipes based on the ingredients inside, or order groceries directly from the appliance. Smart ovens allow you to cook multiple dishes at the same time or preheat and adjust temperature through your hub or smartphone.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every kitchen appliance, from toasters and air fryers to microwaves and thermometers, has been upgraded with smart tech features. Pick the devices and appliances you use most and have the most features you’re likely to use regularly, and take cooking to the next level.

Secure your home

One of the most important services smart tech can provide is next level security. From smart doorbells that monitor who’s at the door (whether you’re at home or not) and can alert you to motion in front of your home, to smart locks that can eliminate the clunkiest key ring, smart security can make your home safer and your life easier. Beyond individual devices, incorporating a complete smart security system means the peace of mind of knowing that your house is protected by a dedicated, high tech service 24/7, whether you’re at home or not.

Just keep in mind that some of these home security options may require a subscription plan if you want to store recorded footage or get connected to emergency services. Fortunately, you have options for local storage from Anker’s Eufy brand, GE Cync and others.

Master the seasons with a smart thermostat

Another wildly popular home tech upgrade is a smart thermostat. Increasingly easy to install, modern smart thermostats allow users to adjust the temperature of every room in their home without getting up, or create a routine to automatically adapt to changing external temperatures and weather conditions.

Smart thermostats can also pay for themselves by reducing energy costs. Google estimates that Nest thermostat users save around 10-12% on their heating bills and about 15% on their cooling bills. By constantly monitoring temperatures and automatically deactivating cooling and heating systems when not required, a smart thermostat represents one of the better values in smart home tech and one of the most eco-friendly.

Get wired (or cut them completely)

There’s never been a better time to upgrade your home with smart tech, given its current ubiquity and user-friendliness. If you’re hesitant to dip your toe in, consider getting a cheap hub (the Amazon and Google options are almost always on sale around Black Friday at a massive discount) and trying only a single device at first.

“Bluetooth is revolutionizing how we modernize houses. Most speaker and security systems are now completely wireless,” said Hubert Miles, CMI, founder, and lead editor of Home Inspection Insider. “Lights can be controlled by a smartphone app or Alexa using smart dimmers, switches, and bulbs. Smart TVs can be voice controlled and use apps instead of bulky cable boxes allowing them to be installed anywhere you have a power source. Smart thermostats like ecobee or Nest can help maintain even household temperature automatically.”

Once you’re comfortable with how the process works, you can expand the scope of your network as much as you see fit. One of the best things about building out your smart home network is that you can do it completely a la carte, adding single devices at a time and only incorporating options that genuinely enhance your life.

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