Home Automation

Over the past year, I delved into one of my emerging interests—home automation—to see how it could improve daily life with the current technology. The devices I previously owned—a voice assistant speaker, a Wi-Fi plug, some inexpensive cameras—were completely underwhelming to use, but I could see the potential. Maybe with a sizable investment, I could build a real smart home.

After fitting three homes with an array of sensors, tablets, speakers, lights and other gadgets, I have to admit that the small conveniences gained with home automation add up to something meaningful. I can listen to my music synchronized in every room in the house, cast a Youtube video from my phone to the TV while the mood lighting automatically kicks in, and control all my devices from a tablet. When it works, the house truly feels integrated and I feel at peace and can enjoy living in a cool space.

Not every device is perfectly integrated, but the smart home solution I have should be sufficient for newcomers. What you will find here is a collection of unbiased advice and recommendations on each aspect of the smart home, and an honest opinion on what smart homes are capable of with today’s technology. This site is different in that every device listed here can integrate in some way to the home automation hub, voice assistant, along with a review of the quality of the integration.


Who is the audience?


A DIY Skill Level

Not everyone aspires to be an electrician, and neither do I. My product recommendations are for do-it-yourself hobbyists with little to no professional experience in electrical work, but want to learn. To give an example of skill level needed, I can mount a TV on the wall but I would not wire an outlet without an electrician’s help.


Music at my convenience

I wanted a way to enjoy my digitized music collection (over 200 CDs!) and stream music throughout the house — and I’m happy to report that this is easily achievable with Chromecast Built-in speakers and the multi-room audio feature. Using smart speakers meant sacrificing audio fidelity, but that was my only choice in order to stay within budget. It’s been really nostalgic to rediscover old favorite songs from the past two decades back. I love it!


A simple setup unless I really want a feature

I value my time and sanity, so I stuck with consumer products like those from Google and Nest. There are cons to using cloud-dependent products, but I haven’t found any comparable products that are easy to set up and access remotely. I also wanted a nice user interface to highlight the smart home capabilities, so I set up a Home Assistant instance to serve as a dashboard. It has been a huge time sink, but Home Assistant is unarguably the most impressive part of my smart home.


A Reasonable Budget

I favor reliability over cheaper prices, especially if it means saving time and headaches. Starting with a budget of $1,000 is enough to cover the infrastructure purchases and a few aspects of the smart home. $3,000 should be enough to cover everything except extravagant items like the Google Home Max, and iPads.


How easy was it to set up everything?

It wasn’t easy integrating products made by so many different vendors, but the process is much more doable today than it was years ago. The problem with technology is that it advances so quickly, and it is inevitable that some products will no longer be supported.

If you worry about your products becoming outdated, then you will never start building your smart home–so don’t worry about it!


Infrastructure

Though Google Home is slowly replacing its functions, a home automation hub is still necessary to perform real automations and local processing.

Yes, you will need to learn about the available wireless standards for smart homes to avoid buying the wrong sensors and lights.

I yell at my voice assistant on a regular basis, but I can't deny that using my voice to turn off the lights is convenient.

A reliable wireless network is the crux of a working smart home, so spend the money for a quality system.

Media

From low to high-end, nearly every TV offers some ability to stream media.

For the few who own a receiver, they will be happy to know receivers are incredibly easy to integrate into the smart home.

Previously a wired-only and costly solution, multi-room audio is now available for music lovers with modest budgets.

The cordcutter's life isn't as simple as it used to be, but adding a device like the Roku ensures you get access to all the major streaming services.

Video games come first, but consoles also offer many streaming media services, as well as Blu-ray playback.

Music, TV and movies have never been so accessible as they are today, thanks to streaming media services.

Security

Everyone is carrying GPS trackers on their phones, so why not leverage it for home automation? Enter presence sensors.

You'll never be locked out of the house again with a smart lock, unless you forget your phone. Then that's all on you.

Probably the most useless item on this site. Don't even bother reading this article.

A new era of affordable security systems is coming, thanks to companies like Ring, Simplisafe and Abode.

With a security camera, you are one step closer to being a paranoid old man.

Do you want to know when and how your package was stolen? Then get a doorbell camera.

Contact sensors tell you when your doors are open or closed--which is important, right?

Lighting

Light strips are great, until they burn your house down (I'm kidding, sort of).

Though expensive and difficult to install, a smart home just isn't complete without smart light switches.

For the renters out there, smart bulbs are a useful (and the only) smart lighting option.

Not all lighting has to be smart and these solutions prove it.

Gadgets

For the few times I actually used a smart thermostat, I couldn't imagine living without one.

Some say a tablet is just a big ass phone. I think they might be right.

Useful as a Z-Wave or Zigbee network extender, but not much more.

I don't own a robot vacuum, but I do know you need one with cameras or lasers for accurate vacuuming.