Even if you’re a sworn Luddite (a person opposed to new technology or ways of working), you’ve probably accepted the ubiquitousness of a cell phone or some other smart device in your life by now. And you’ve probably also realized that the latest smart devices really can help make your life easier in myriad ways. Today, some of the most innovative technology is being used to automate things around your house. Here are some tips and ways you might want to consider incorporating more technology into your life.

Why Go Smart?

The key reason to consider smart home technology is that they will make your life easier. We already carry our phones with us practically everywhere. Why not add an app that will let you control things like your thermostat, kitchen appliances or lights, even when you’re not at home? 

Using smart devices in your home is also an easy way to be more eco-friendly. Smart home energy management systems perform certain actions automatically in ways designed to reduce energy costs while being tailored to your living needs. For example, you can install a lighting system that automatically shuts off when it senses that no one is home. 

Finally, adding smart technology can increase your home’s value. As more people seek to simplify their lives and improve the efficiency of their homes, they are looking for places that come preprogrammed, if you will. If you’re thinking about downsizing or moving any time soon, this would be a cost-effective and relatively easy way to make your home even more appealing. 

How To Start

Turning your house or apartment into a smart home doesn’t have to be a huge, expensive undertaking. Many experts recommend that you start with one piece of smart home technology — usually a digital assistant of some sort, such as an Amazon Alexa — so you can get the hang of how it works. Once you’re comfortable with that technology, it gets easier to add more options to your home. Remember: Smarter doesn’t mean more complicated.

First, take some time to think about which aspects of your home you want to make smart, and then consider the devices and services you use most frequently. You’ll want any new tech to be compatible with what you already use. So, if you have and primarily use an Amazon Prime subscription for your streaming services, an Alexa device might make the most sense. If you are an Android aficionado and prefer Google Assistant over Alexa, you should opt for Google devices. Likewise, Apple products have their own Home devices, like HomePod. (Don’t worry: If you’re a little savvy, there are ways to make devices play nice across platforms. But it can get frustrating pretty quickly.)

Smart Home Technology Devices To Consider

Person using Amazon Alexa device while working on laptop
Image by Ibrar Hussain from Ibrar Hussain, via Canva.com

Digital Assistants. As the one device used to control all other smart devices in your home, a digital assistant can really make things easy. Without one, you’ll end up downloading a separate app for each device, which can be a pain/memory drain on your phone; the right digital assistant enables you to go hands-free for everything. But you’ll want to consider your choice wisely: Some smart home gadgets are compatible with more than one or two assistants, but that isn’t always the case.

The main options are Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung’s Bixby. Most come as part of a device with a touch screen and a speaker, like Amazon’s Echo Show, for example, although keep in mind that there are thousands of options you can choose from. (One tech blogger swears by Lenovo products that work with Google Assistant.)

These devices are more than just a control hub, by the way. They usually come with some capacity to play music and stream video as well. So while you’re cooking dinner, you could ask for the latest news update or watch video tutorials, or simply request it to “play soft jazz.” 

(Pro tip: If there is someone in your house by the name of Alex or anything phonetically similar, you may want to avoid a device that relies on voice commands that start with “Alexa…” [This SNL skit offers a humorous take on this issue.] That said, it is possible to program an Alexa device to respond to a different name.)

smart thermostat being adjusted
Image by Yu Sun from Getty Images, via Canva.com

Learning Thermostats. Learning thermostats are exactly what they sound like — devices that learn your daily living patterns and adjust according to your movements. The Nest Learning Thermostat, for example, offers a sensor that can be installed in certain rooms of your house to ensure they remain at a comfortable temperature. Settings help you optimize energy usage to lower your electric bill, and many energy providers offer a rebate when you install one as well. The best part about this particular device is that even though Nest is a Google product, it is compatible with just about everything. It’s also ridiculously easy to install. (The Nest, in particular, “installs itself.”)

robot vacuum on floor of living room
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Robot Vacuums. These little guys have been around for a while, and the technology has only improved. The latest generation of the iRobot’s Roomba i3 practically eliminates the need to sweep or vacuum ever again. It uses sensors to navigate the floors, detect obstacles and respond to changes in flooring types. It can learn your home and your schedule, so it won’t be underfoot in the kitchen when you’re cooking dinner, for example. The newest Roomba can respond to voice commands and, like all models, it will put itself back on the charger when it’s low. 

Smart Plugs/Strips/Outlets. I honestly don’t know what I used to do during the holidays before these tiny gadgets came into my life. (Did we really just go around turning all those decorations on manually??) You can buy a set of smart plugs or a smart power strip relatively cheaply, or go for the slimmer, more attractive smart outlets that cost about the same but require installation. All of the above are designed to turn your device’s power source into something you can turn on and off remotely, whether via an app downloaded to your phone or a program on your digital assistant.

These plugs and outlets are also a good first step toward investing in automated lighting for your house. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll eventually see why so many people have started installing systems for the whole house.

Security Options. Smart devices offer several different ways to add increased security to your homes. Smart doorbells, for example, allow you to monitor (and sometimes record) any activity by your front door. Smart cameras are easy to install almost anywhere, inside or outside your home, and they are available wired or wireless, with and without memory storage options, and with motion sensors and tons of other neat tricks that allow you to see what’s happening anywhere, anytime. You can also install smart locks on your doors, which use fobs like the ones you can use on your car in place of physical keys. These are handy if you’re the kind of person that always finds themselves wondering, “Did I remember to lock the front door?” It also makes it easier to “lend” someone a key (because you can grant temporary access via the app) and you’ll never get locked out again, as long as you have your smartphone on hand. 

Motorized Window Treatments. These seem a tad indulgent, but really, they’re the thing of the future. These energy-efficient blinds or screens raise and lower at the touch of a button (or voice command)! You can program them to open or close at certain times of the day, saving you from having to remember to shut your blinds at night. They can also be particularly handy for those hard-to-reach windows.

smart refrigerator settings being adjusted by tablet
Image by andresr from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com

Smart Appliances. Smart refrigerators — some of which accept voice commands to add items to your shopping list, check the weather or play music — are among the most popular smart appliances. Some even have cameras installed inside, so you never have to wonder if you’re out of milk again. But if you’re investing in a smart home, why stop at a fridge? Ovens, stoves, dishwashers, washers and dryers all come with varying levels of smart technology. The main appeal is in their energy-saving capabilities, but it’s also nice to be able to start the dryer from anywhere for that load of laundry you keep forgetting to finish.

Top image by Jirsak from Getty Images, via Canva.com.

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