Can I automate that? Your smart home questions answered

If you're feeling frazzled by terms like smart speakers, wi-fi-enabled doorbells and wondering why you would ever want your fridge to send your phone a message, you’ve come to the right place.

Updated

speaker and books on wood sideboard

Smart home technology has come a long way in the past few years: a Jetsons-esque home of the future is, in many ways, already here. From home automation systems to smart home devices and cool, connected gadgets, our guide will help you get to grips with the basics.

First things first: what exactly is a smart home?

A “smart” home is one equipped with lighting, heating or electronic devices that can be controlled remotely, either by smartphone or computer. This usually means those devices are connected to the internet via your home’s wifi network. Whether you’re in a one-bed apartment or a palatial mansion, any home can become a smart home with the right tech.

What does home automation mean?

Home automation simply refers to using technology to automate things you would normally do yourself. This can include (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Basic things like setting a timer on the dishwasher so it runs during the night
  • Smart thermostats that calculate the best times to heat your home
  • Network connected lighting that can come on and off at set times
  • Bluetooth-enabled coffee machines you can control from your phone
  • Robot vacuum cleaners that can map your home’s floor and can clean while you sleep.
  • Smart speakers that can control other devices, play music, or perform tasks (e.g. setting timers, adding reminders, answering basic questions)

There are now even connected fridges that can keep track of everything inside and, cleverly, will ping your phone if someone has accidentally left the door open.

Home automation systems work like a hub that can control all these things and more; for example, your system could turn on the heating half an hour before you’re due home and switch on the lights as you walk through the door, or pull down the blinds and turn on your house alarm at the end of the day.

Depending on the smart home technology route you opt for, your control hub can be a network within your home (think smart touch screen panels in every room, and a remote control), a wifi connected smart speaker that is able to “talk” to all your devices or simply an app on your mobile.

The beauty of home automation is that the possibilities are endless. More smart home gadgets are being released every day and can often work in tandem - you could tell your smart speaker that’s it’s movie night and it would instantly lower the blinds and dim the lighting. Even though each of these products may have been created by a different company, they’re designed to work together.

Of course, this all comes with a heavy dose of caveat emptor. Not all smart home devices are created equal and you should do your homework to make sure that they are transmitting any information in a secure way.

It’s also good sense to dive into the settings and minimise their use of your personal data as much as possible (for example, many smart speakers save some of your voice commands as audio snippets to use for development and testing as a default, but this is something you can easily turn off).

Robot vacuum cleaner on wooden floor

What smart home gadgets should I get?

This all depends on what you’d like to automate. Creating a smart home is all about removing friction and maximising efficiency. This can be as something as simple as having smart plugs you can control remotely (aka never worry that you left the iron plugged in again), a wifi-enabled doorbell that lets you see who is at the door from your mobile or just smart speakers that will belt out your favourite tune whenever you ask for it.

Of course, here at Cleanipedia, we’re big fans of any smart home gadgets that help cut down on cleaning...

Originally published