• Melanie Evans

How to Create a Smart Waterloo Region Home the Easy Way




More people than ever want to live in a smart home, and who can blame them? Smart home gadgets can make your home safer, easier and more efficient to live in on a day to day basis and can even save you a whole bunch of money.


Purchasing a large number of smart home accessories, such as sensors, smart lamps, security cameras, speakers, and other devices, and connecting them all to a hub that enables communication between them and you via your smartphone is one approach to build out a smart home.


But let's face it, doing that can require a significant time and financial commitment. And for some, it's simply overkill. If your smart home needs and objectives are more straightforward, a few simple, reasonably priced gadgets can provide the majority of the advantages a high-end smart home offers, and on a much more modest budget, a plus at a time when most of us are trying to watch our spending.


Additionally, if you check that all of those smart home items are compatible with one another, you'll lay a strong foundation on that you could later develop an even more sophisticated smart home. The secret is understanding which smart home appliances don't require a hub to function.


The most significant benefit of hubs is having a single user interface to control everything, however they are not always necessary. But you absolutely must have a reliable wireless router, ideally one that can cover every area of your house.


Here are a few straightforward techniques and product suggestions for creating a hub-free smart home system you'll love without breaking the bank.


Smart Home Lighting




Lighting is the starting point for most people who are interested in living in a smart home. Many smart lighting systems function well without a central hub and are still able to communicate with other smart home components, such as smart speakers and displays like the Google Nest and Amazon Echo.


Some smart lights—like the most recent Philips Hue bulbs—communicate via the Bluetooth radio in your smartphone, while others—like smart bulbs from Cree, LIFX, and TP-Link—communicate over Wi-Fi.


You might be better off switching out those inefficient wall switches with smart switches and dimmers if the majority of the lighting in your home is in the ceiling. That's because the moment the switch controlling a smart bulb is turned off, the bulb turns dumb. Manufacturers like Leviton, Lutron, TP-Link, Ecobee, and others produce smart light switches that connect to your Wi-Fi network without the need for a centralized hub.


If you primarily use lamps for lighting, a smart plug like the Lutron Caséta or Wemo Mini will let you dim the lamp's dumb light bulb and turn the lamp on and off using a smartphone app and a schedule.


Smart Speakers and Smart Displays




What could be more convenient than using your smartphone to turn down the lights for a movie night? Dimming the lights by telling a smart speaker connected to your smart lighting to do so.


The leading product lines in this sector are the Google Home and Amazon Echo series. While Amazon has retained the top spot for the past few years thanks to its larger installed base, wider support, and initial exclusivity of smart speakers with displays, Google is quickly catching up.


You’ll increasingly find the two companies’ digital assistants—Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant—in unique third-party products. Ecobee puts the guts of an Echo in its excellent Ecobee SmartThermostat with voice control, while Lenovo was first to market with Google Home devices outfitted with displays (the Lenovo Smart Display series).


Additionally, because other manufacturers of smart home devices have embraced these smart speakers so widely, they have effectively evolved into hubs in their own right. They act as a central hub for everything from smart lights to home security cameras, displaying video feeds from the latter on connected TVs or their own displays, if available.


Apple is still very much in the smart home game. The firm is a contender in this market because of its HomeKit platform, and its HomePod mini smart speaker, which is powered by Siri, can serve as a hub for smart homes. In its pitch for smart homes, Apple extols its dedication to privacy over its competitors, and if that is important to you, it is something worth keeping in mind as you shop.


Smart Thermostats





Few smart home appliances can match the comfort and cost/energy savings that a smart thermostat can provide. These gadgets do much more than just set up a heating and cooling schedule based on when you plan to be home to take advantage of those benefits. Your HVAC system will only run when it is necessary, since they can tell when you are at home and when you are gone.


The most recent development on this front is to outfit thermostats with sensors that you can install in the rooms you use the most often, allowing the thermostat to operate based on where you are in the house rather than triggering heating and cooling cycles based on the location of the thermostat, which is typically in a hallway you hardly ever use.


With an Amazon Echo speaker built-in and the ability to respond to voice commands, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is a voice-activated mini marvel. Additionally, it incorporates remote room sensors, which reduce hot and cold zones in your house. This sophisticated gadget can even act as the central hub for a larger smart home or home security system.


Wyze Labs has entered the market with a very affordable smart thermostat that deserves your consideration if those other models are out of your price range. Nest also makes various excellent thermostats, including the reasonably priced Nest Thermostat.


Home Security Cameras and Video Doorbells




With the aid of a high-quality home security camera, you can keep a close eye on your house, especially while you're not there. Outdoor models can capture prowlers in the act—hopefully deterring them from coming around in the first place—while indoor models can help you keep an eye on your kids and pets.


Several types, like those from Ring, Arlo, Netatmo, and Maximus, come with lights that can help you find your way. Your porch can be monitored by cameras built into doorbells, allowing you to engage with guests without having to go to the door or even be present. The best versions can distinguish between people and animals and can detect when a package has been placed at your door.


Multi Room Audio Systems




Sophisticated multi-room speaker systems from the likes of Sonos, Yamaha (MusicCast), and Denon (HEOS) are largely self-contained, enabling you to drop speakers in multiple rooms in your home, so you can stream music from your own collection or from online services such as Spotify to all of them in sync, or to send different tracks to each one.


Amazon Echo and Google Nest smart speakers can pull off the same tricks, but without the superior sound quality that the specialist speakers offer.


Several companies have soundbars in their collections, so you can improve your TV- and movie-watching experiences when you’re not listening to music. In each case, a smartphone or tablet is all you need to control everything. Some Sonos models even include Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant onboard, rendering them capable of controlling other smart home devices (although only one or the other can be activated—you can’t use both at the same time).


Smart Smoke Alarms




Conventional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are inherently dumb devices. Their alarms might be loud, but if no one’s home to hear them, what good do they accomplish? A smart smoke detector will sound a local alarm, too, but it will also send an alert to your smartphone—and to anyone else you authorize as a contact—if danger is detected.


Smart Irrigation Systems




Our most valuable resource is water. Your lawn and garden can benefit from adequate moisture without wasting any of it with the help of a smart irrigation system. Furthermore, of all the smart home subsystems you can purchase, this one may be the one that gains the least from being included in a hub.


Using a purpose-built app is typically preferable regardless because smart irrigation systems can be complicated. Our favorite items in this category are made by Rachio, but Wyze Labs has entered the market with a low-cost rival.


Getting to Know IFTTT


One of the most powerful ways of making disparate smart home devices work together is to open an IFTTT account. The acronym stands for “If This Then That,” a service in which an action by one device (or service) can trigger an action on one or more other devices or services.


IFTTT is very much like having a smart home hub in the cloud, and it’s widely supported—and not just by smart home products and services.


IFTTT was once a free service, but it is no longer—at least, not exactly. With a no-cost IFTTT Standard account, you can use as many pre-existing IFTTT applets as you’d like—and there are thousands to choose from.


One, for example, will trigger your Philips Hue smart bulbs to flash when a timer you set on an Amazon Echo runs out. Expressed as an applet, this would be “When the timer on my Amazon Echo runs out” (the if this half of the applet), then flash my Philips Hue smart bulbs (the then that half of the applet).


A Standard account will, however, limit you to creating just three IFTTT applets from scratch. If you can’t find an applet that fits your needs, and you want to create more than three new ones, you’ll need to sign up for an IFTTT Pro account, which costs $5 per month. That allows you to create up to 20 applets, while a $10-per-month Pro+ expands that to an unlimited number of applets.


IFTTT is super simple to use: To create an applet, just go to the IFTTT website and then point and click on the service or device you wish to use as a trigger (the this in If This Then That), link them to your IFTTT account, and then point and click on the service or device you wish to act when that trigger is activated.












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