You have likely seen the ads and articles about smart home tech already, and how a new revolution of digitally accessible and enhanced homes is upon us. Voice commands for everyone and everything, minimal waste with maximum comfort, and toast on a remote timer. It appears no modern convenience is beyond the household willing to embrace the latest and greatest technology and invest some money into the project.
Yet you cannot just install everything and call it a day; you also need to make sure you have a home internet connection that can handle everything and deal with all relevant functions. You need to make sure your home network is sophisticated enough and wide-reaching enough to encompass all your devices. And you need to make sure you are adequately informed about taking care of your devices properly.
Fortunately, we will be discussing all these topics in the article below, so keep on reading.
Is Your Internet Service Fast Enough?
It can be a major problem if your internet connection cannot handle all your new and fancy equipment, effectively making it a waste until you get it fixed or upgraded. That is why it is paramount that you check these things before making major upgrades if possible.
And the first thing to think about, even before you start considering the needs of a smart home, is whether you have enough speed for your home in general. Did you have difficulties loading this relatively simple page? Does your family have to effectively take turns using the internet? Is streaming without buffering a dream for your household? If so, then you will likely need to upgrade your service plan or even switch providers before you can reliably get a smart home setup prepared.
Otherwise, there is a good rule of thumb for how much speed you need. In general, you need about 5Mbps of download speed for every dozen devices in your home. Note that's the total number of devices, not the number of types of devices. This will be an important distinction to make later when you're installing smart bulbs and speakers.
The exceptions to this are devices that stream. In this case, the media and definition of that media will decide the need. If you have devices that record video and send it elsewhere, you should have an extra 5Mbps for each one available. You can lower this requirement if you're willing to accept lower video quality (not necessarily a good trade off where security is concerned).
If you have a broadband connection with download speeds of 100Mbps, you should not have to worry about speed unless you have an entire home filled with smart devices. Less than that, and you might want to work out the math above.
Do You Have Full Network Coverage?
No matter how fast your connection is, it isn't going to help very much if your network can't reach some of the devices in your smart home, even if your network's speed can compensate somewhat for a poor connection at the fringes. Devices require a consistent and reliable connection to work to their fullest potential, which you and your family deserve for the investment you are putting in.
To make sure you have full coverage, make sure of the following:
- First off, walk around your home and start testing to ensure that you have coverage throughout it. You can easily do this with a speed test app and your smartphone, although most devices will work.
- You might have coverage everywhere, but speeds might get slow or the connection inconsistent in certain areas of your home, so make sure to test along those lines as well.
- You may wish to install additional routers or WiFi range extenders throughout your home on top of the modem you are using. You can also install a mesh network to have even coverage. All of these have different price points, so do some research and determine the most comfortable solution for you.
- If you want to extend your smart home benefits out into your yard (and there are certainly benefits to doing so, but more on those later), then it might get a bit trickier, if still possible, and there are a few ways to approach the problem.
- If you have a smaller yard, you can simply install a router or more powerful range extender near the exits in your home, taking care to make sure there's as good of a signal as possible in the area.
- Larger yards might want to look into outdoor shielded solutions and more specific gear designed to extend your WiFi signal outdoors.
Additional Factors on Top of Download Speed
It is not just download speed and general coverage that matter when it comes to making sure your home is all set for smart home technology. You may also wish to consider the following:
- Make sure there is nothing that could interrupt or otherwise interfere with the signals going through your house. While it is unlikely you have sheets of led lining the walls, there may be some positional adjustment of the furniture needed to optimize your setup.
- You will need to make sure your devices will work properly with each other and with your network. Unfortunately, with so many devices on the market and the number of potential issues, there is simply no way for us to go over every potential issue. However, with a quick search, including the problem and the device name(s), you will likely find an answer.
- You may need to give one device control and make the others have less functionality, so there is no confusion.
- A smart home hub discussed later in the article, can solve many of these potential problems.
- Yet while we raise this concern, significant issues and incompatibilities are somewhat rare, and the worst you should experience is some inconvenience.
Where to Get Started with Your Smart Home?
While you should generally work with what you feel most comfortable with or what you know you'll use the most, there are a few items and sub-setups that you might wish to install or research first, both to get the most mileage from your setup and the most day-to-day effectiveness.
While some people may just think of Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, in truth, these programs are tied to a variety of smart home devices that can effectively act not only as basic internet access points handled by voice commands but also hubs for the rest of your smart home. This makes a digital assistant an excellent option for those not knowing where to start with your smart home.
We will be talking about them a bit more when we get into smart home hubs, but for now, simply know that connectivity and integration are key. These digital assistants make those steps so much easier and more intuitive. With them, you can often link smart home functions to voice commands, more easily get information and status reports, and more.
What if you are worried about privacy, intrusiveness, or confusion regarding your digital assistants? Just make sure you check the possible settings first and work with an arrangement you know you will be comfortable with. If you are not feeling ok with a setup and thus do not use it, that is as bad as not having one in the first place.
Smart Home Hubs
A smart home hub becomes increasingly necessary the more smart home devices and gadgets you install in your home. Yet what exactly does it do? You can think of it as a translator for all your smart home devices, allowing them to work together even if they are not all made by the same manufacturer. They are not perfect, and they might not make every combination workable, but they will make things much easier for anyone operating your household.
There remains a vital question in the discussion, though: which one should you get? That depends partly on the brand of devices you plan on using and which aspects of a smart home hub you deem most important. Ultimately this can be a complicated decision, and we cannot provide a catch-all answer, but you can consider the following:
- Do you want something that acts purely as a smart home hub or something like Amazon Echo that may have other uses? Some hubs can also act as smart speakers.
- How many different devices will you plan on managing, and do you have plans for further expansion?
- What design are you looking for? Will a potential hub stick out like a sore thumb in your living room?
- How do you like the app or web interface?
Once you find the right balance, you will be glad you invested in a smart hub. They won't be too stressful on your home internet setup and could even save bandwidth through improved understanding and efficiency of your setup.
Your Heating and Cooling Systems (Smart Thermostats)
One of the most common examples of the utility of a smart home is the smart thermostat. It allows you to either adjust the temperature at home remotely or to let you program it remotely for a regular schedule (programmable thermostats aren't strictly smart home devices, but there's a great deal of overlap). You can also monitor the situation from your smartphone with an app quite easily.
There are also be air conditioning units or modifications to existing units to that allow for remote control and programming of your air conditioning, so that you can not only enjoy a cool home after you take a trip out but so that you do not have to waste energy most of the time you aren't home to enjoy it.
Your internet set up will find that these systems do not take up much bandwidth. Still, you should make sure that you can always maintain a consistent connection, so there are no malfunctions that accidentally turn your home into a sauna or icebox (even if there are failsafe measures to prevent this).
A smart TV can certainly be considered a smart home device, given its many uses in the home and the likelihood that it is one of your living room's centerpieces. And as the years have passed us by and most TVs sold today are smart TVs, they have improved their ability to connect, and there are devices with digital assistants and voice commands installed.
Connecting a smart TV to anything else is an easy process, given that most of them are designed for households that do not have many or any smart devices.
As for what you need to keep one working properly, a regular WiFi network should work, given that many people keep their router in the living room and the fact that a connection isn't entirely necessary in the first place for the TV to work.
Additional Entertainment Devices and Speakers
It is nice not to have to use a remote or to use a different remote for every single device in your home. And while you may not consider devices such as Amazon's Echo or similar products from other tech giants primarily smart home-related devices, they most certainly are. These devices can let you play music or books from command and more (often other functions described elsewhere in this article).
Smart speakers and smart home entertainment systems can also easily connect with other devices throughout your home. Have you ever wanted to play and control music throughout your home? With a smart speaker setup, the wiring does not need to be hard, and you can get extremely high-quality sound throughout your home.
On top of these options, things like gaming consoles might also be considered part of a smart home, given their many uses.
There are many variations of these devices (far too many for us to go over), but if you're wondering if your connection can handle them, first double-check to see if your connection can handle the media they're streaming. If this is the case, the smart home aspects of the device should not be an issue.
While a simple light switch probably doesn't need too much replacing, there is so much more you can do with the lighting in your home if you know where to look and are willing to embrace smart lighting technology.
And automated lighting and things such as motion detected switches have been around for a long time. Yet those technologies do not even mildly compare to what is available today. With some forms of smart lighting often involving both bulbs and more advanced controllers or switches, you can control the exact dimness and color of the light (perhaps to help you get some light while still trying to help out your sleep cycle).
As with most smart devices, lighting won't be a significant drain on your network's resources, but if you install a dozen smart bulbs in your home, you will want to account for them, and they might affect an already slow network.
Smart Doorbells and Camera-Based Devices
The smart doorbell is an excellent innovation that allows you to see who and what is going on at your front door, either when the doorbell rings or when the device detects movement in the area. There are a few variations, but all of them can help with home security and allow you also to make sure your packages are safe.
Those systems that allow you to communicate with someone on the other side can be a wonderful solution to some of the problems presented by lockdowns and social distancing needs while also enabling you to stay safely behind a locked door if you wish.
Additionally, there are smart baby monitors that allow you to keep tabs on how the babysitter is doing or just check on the baby from the other room. There are also smart security cameras that are explicitly for this purpose. If there is a use for a camera in your home, then there is a smart home device that will cater to it.
While useful, these devices can be some of the most bandwidth-intensive objects in your smart home, as you might expect with a video feed. You should plan on having 5Mbps available for every device regularly using a camera in your smart home.
How do you make a "dumb" device a smart device? While you might not be able to get the nuance of control available with a specific smart device, smart plugs are your next best option. The most obvious example could be a fan or air conditioner you set to always on and then remotely turn the power to it off and on (as long as this can be done safely). Effectively, if there's an electrical device that you can change in this way to benefit your household, a smart plug is what you want, especially for the price (you should never have to pay more than $20 a unit).
Smart plugs also commonly allow you to check your power usage from that outlet, time usage for certain devices, and more. Experiment to see what the best potential set up for your home can be.
However, much like smart bulbs, you should make sure your home has full internet coverage, so you do not have to deal with annoyances and slow or unstable connections. Additionally, like smart bulbs, having many of them in the home can add up on the taxing of your bandwidth, so just stay aware of how many you are using.
Protecting Your Setup and Yourself
Now that you have an idea about what you want and what you might need internet-wise to set things up, you should look at the security side of the equation. Set up also means that you should make sure nothing happens to your devices once they are installed. This means preventing damage and securing your devices from a privacy and cybersecurity standpoint.
Naturally, you don't want these devices to get stolen (coincidentally, you can almost certainly connect a home security system to a smart home setup, allowing you to monitor your home situation from anywhere at any time), but that isn't the primary focus of what we're talking about here.
Instead, we want you to think about your privacy and data security. Try the following:
- Be careful about voice commands and the information you could be giving away with them. If you're providing passwords and other sensitive information clearly to Alexa in your apartment building, can you be so sure that the person in the apartment next door or below you isn't able to write it down and use it against you later?
- While you should not have to worry too much about it, do check the privacy policies of the products and programs you use related to your smart home. Everyone has their own comfort zone and lines in the sand when it comes to online privacy, and you should not compromise those to get some more functionality or convenience. The worry about it will undoubtedly outweigh the benefits you receive.
- Make sure your smart home devices are not compromised and specifically put extra effort into protecting related control devices and accounts. Would you like the idea of someone outside of your home being able to control your thermostat or use the cameras in your home? Most companies will be careful about security, but some less known and reputable brands might cut corners. Make sure you do not.
These are mostly expensive devices you're working with, and the last thing you want to happen is for them to break unexpectedly or in a way that could damage other parts of your home (or break at all, to be entirely honest). And while most smart devices aren't inherently dangerous, their malfunction could cause problems such as communication errors with other devices in your home or sudden shutoffs. For these reasons, you are going to want to minimize the risk of damage.
Here are a few tips on how to do this:
- Keep smart home devices out of the reach or access of pets (with perhaps the exception of smart pet feeders) or small children. As you likely know, your pets certainly do not care about how valuable or important devices in your household are, and small children are liable to bump into things or use items as toys.
- Keep them out of the way of potential water damage as well, with the exceptions of water-resistant or waterproof items, which may very well be meant for use in the kitchen or bathroom.
- Keep dust off and clean them regularly. While this will not affect performance terribly, you'd hate to think your device was malfunctioning only to learn a smudge or buildup of some sort was interfering with the signal.
As you can see, there are many factors when it comes to setting up a smart home, and some of them can be a bit difficult to adjust for if you do not have them already. The outcome and time saved can absolutely be worth the initial investment, especially if you plan on keeping up with smart home technology and sticking with your home for years to come. We hope that this information has proven helpful to you and encourage you to return to this page as you move forward with each step of your check and setup.