Smart Home Automation Essentials

Brianne Sandorf
Researcher & Writer
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Published on June 22, 2021
4 min read

A smart home allows homeowners and renters to access smart appliances and systems through their mobile phone and other internet-connected devices. If you’ve been thinking about a smart home but aren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are the basic smart home products we recommend:

Info Box
Why a smart home?

The Internet of Things (IoT) can increase safety, accessibility, and convenience to your home life through a smart home setup.


#1: Smart home hub

First things first! Get a smart home hub to connect all your other products. A smart home hub is the main control center through which your smart devices communicate to each other and you communicate to them.

There are two smart home hub categories: basic hubs and smart speakers. As mentioned, hubs connect products, but they don’t necessarily play music or have voice control.

In contrast, smart speakers play music and other audio. Many of them also offer voice control through some of the most popular smart assistants (Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri).

Smart home hub

Our favorite smart home hubs

Product
Recommendation
Smart hub type
Learn more
Samsung SmartThingsMost reliable smart hubHub
Wink 2Most versatile smart hubHub
Amazon Echo PlusBest smart speaker comboSmart speaker
Abode IotaBest for a security systemHub
TP-Link Deco M9 PlusBest mesh Wi-Fi networkHub

Data as of 06/22/21.

We also like the Google Home and Apple HomePod as speaker-smart home hub combo options. They offer the most compatibility of any smart home hubs and also have top-of-the-line voice control.

Whatever type of hub you pick, choose wisely. Usually, you want a hub that’s compatible with lots of different devices. Limited hub compatibility = limited smart home. So if you already have smart products from a certain brand or are interested in specific devices, choose a hub that will be compatible with what you want.

Heads Up
Wi-Fi woes

Your internet setup is key to your smart home’s performance. You want a solid Wi-Fi connection with plenty of download and upload speed so that your smart home doesn’t struggle to connect with your smart cameras, thermostats, and other devices.


#2: Smart plugs

Plugs are also super easy to install. You plug them in, connect them to the Wi-Fi, and enjoy! Never worry whether you’ve left the straightener or iron on again. You can check on the plugs (and turn them off) from your app.

Smart plugs can also help you save energy and money when you have the ability to turn off connected appliances when you’re not home or on the go.

Smart plug

A plug is the perfect beginner’s smart device.

Why? You can pair a smart plug with almost any piece of technology. Plug in a lamp, and it becomes a smart lamp that you can turn on and off through your hub. Same thing goes for a TV, a laptop, or anything else with a power cord and prongs.


#3: Smart lights

Once you’ve mastered plugs, we suggest moving on to smart lights. Simply use your smartphone’s app that’s connected to your lights to change the brightness or color of your lights. There are lots of pluses to having smart lights in your home, like changing the ambience in a room without swapping out the decor. And turning your lights off while still in bed will change your life.

Smart lights

You can get smart bulbs at almost any price point. (But if you want color-changing lights for your living room dance party, you’re looking at more $ .)

Top smart light recommendations

Product
Recommendation
Learn more
Philips Hue White & Color Ambiance Starter KitBest for smart homes
Yeelight Smart LED Color BulbBest hub-free option
Wyze BulbBest budget buy
LIFX Mini WhiteMost energy efficient
Sengled Smart Wi-Fi BulbBest dimmable white bulb

Data as of 06/22/21.

Alternatively, you can buy smart dimmers or switches instead of smart bulbs. They just require more work to install. (One word: wiring.)


#4: Smart locks

Smart locks are a major convenience. If you forget your key, you can unlock the door using your phone. If you remember you left the front door unsecured but you’re reading a book upstairs, you can ask your smart assistant to lock it.

Info Box
Remote access

Lots of smart home devices have remote access. When you have a smart lock with remote access, you don’t have to be near the house to use it. It’s the perfect solution if you forget to lock up on your way out or need to let someone in while you’re held up in traffic.

Top smart locks

Product
Recommendation
Learn more
August Smart Lock ProMost versatile
Schlage Encode Smart Wi-Fi DeadboltBest Wi-Fi smart lock
Kwikset Halo Smart LockBest for rentals
Yale Assure Lock SLBest keyless entry
Wyze LockBest budget buy

Data as of 06/22/21.


#5: Smart home security

Smart home security isn’t yesterday’s security. Like locks, most smart security comes with an app for remote access. That means you can typically arm your system from your phone or using your voice.

Modern security often connects with other smart devices in your home. For instance, some security systems can sync directly with your smart lock, allowing you to lock up from your security app. In some cases (like Abode), the security system hub can act as a smart home hub, too.

If you’re wondering what components can be added to a home security system (like cameras and sensors), check out our ultimate guide to home security.

Top smart home security systems

Product
Recommendation
Installation type
Learn more
VivintEditor’s choiceProfessional
SimpliSafeBest valueDIY
ADTMost popularProfessional
FrontpointBest customer serviceDIY
Link InteractiveMost flexibleDIY

Data as of 06/22/21.

When it comes to security, you can choose a system you can install yourself or one that a professional will do for you. There are pros and cons to both approaches. For starters, it’s easier to customize a DIY system, but it’s less work overall to have someone install your security for you.

Vivint Home Security

Not-so-basics

Now that we’ve covered the basics, everything else is just smart home gravy.

There are a ton of smart home options. For starters, you can get any of the following:

  • Smart smoke alarms: Get notifications on your phone when the smoke alarm goes off.
  • Smart CO detectors: Ditto but with carbon monoxide.
  • Smart thermostats: Change the temperature without even standing up.
  • Smart cameras: Features like facial recognition and package detection make it easier to keep an eye on your camera feeds.
  • Smart fridges: Your fridge can tell you when you’re running low on eggs and milk (and, in some cases, order more).
  • Smart coffee makers: Your morning beverage will start brewing when your alarm goes off.
  • Smart clocks: Get more than the average clock (think weather reports and timers).
  • Smart TVs: Access your television from your phone.
  • Smart beds: The mattress will gather data about your sleeping patterns and adjust.
  • Smart garage door openers: It tells you when the garage door is open or shut.
  • Smart faucets: Use voice-activation to change the water temperature.
  • Smart bidets: Get different settings for different preferences.
  • Smart outlets: Make anything a smart device by plugging it into … a smart device.

Have fun with your new smart home! There are so many ways you can enjoy it.

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Brianne Sandorf
Written by
Brianne Sandorf
Brianne has a degree in English and creative writing from Westminster College and has spent 5+ years writing professional, research-based content. Before joining Reviews.org, she wrote for ASecureLife.com. Her pieces and quotes are published across the web, including on Stanford's student blog and Parents.com. Hobbies include wearing a seatbelt, wearing a life jacket, and keeping her arms and legs inside the ride at all times. Contact her at brianne@reviews.org.