7 Amazing Smart Home Essentials For Living Better

Updated on 24th Nov 2020 16:37 in General, IoT, Smart

Smart homes are great for a multitude of reasons, they let you lower how much work you need to do around the house, they can help remind you of things, and they give you peace of mind while you are away. Despite the utility provided, many either don't have a smart home or aren't getting the most out of it. Here we are going to go over 7 smart home essentials for living in your home so that you get a better idea of what smart homes can do for you.

The smart essentials

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Voice Assistants

Not everyone will agree on this one, but for those that like speaking commands, these are certainly great. They seem to have taken over the world as it's hard to find anyone talking about smart homes without mentioning a voice assistant. Here we are, of course talking about the likes of Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and whatever else you might find (like Mycroft!). The advantages of voice assistants are that you can speak your commands to make things happen and that often these will come in the form of a smart speaker, which also allows you to listen to music.

Not everything is perfect with voice assistants, however. For one, they might not always understand you correctly, leading to frustrating moments of repeating the same thing over and over again. Others might find it awkward to speak their commands, especially when people are around. There's also problems relating to privacy and whether these devices that record you are handling the data correctly. In any case, voice assistants are a great part of many smart homes, but you will have to be the judge on if they belong in yours.

Smart lighting

This might be the coolest feeling element on this list. Smart lighting allows you to turn off all the lights at night automatically, or turn your bedroom light on in the morning. There are a lot of elements in home automation, but lighting is perhaps one of the most developed. You can choose from smart bulbs, smart switches, RGB, Edison bulbs, and so much more. That's why lighting is a place where you should spend a lot of time trying different things; the sky is really the limit on your creativity with lights. Motion floodlight for outside that sends you notifications? Yep! 

Most smart bulbs are also easy to install and can get you going in a matter of minutes, which is typically a lot simpler than other types of automation. Even in the age-old debate of "smart switch vs smart bulb", you still have plenty of room to use what works best for you as each side has a mature ecosystem. Check out my post on the subject here if you're interested! There isn't a doubt that lighting has the biggest perceived impact as it's straightforward to see it working. As a result of all of these great benefits, you are sure to enjoy the addition of smart lighting in your home.

If you're looking for a smart bulb, look no further than the Meross HomeKit compatible smart bulb! It has RGB, works directly with WiFi and can either be controlled with the included app or via HomeKit! I've used them many times in the past, and they work great, aren't too expensive, and are still running like when I bought them years ago.

Check out the Meross Smart Bulb on Amazon here!

Control everything: smart plugs!

Perhaps one of the least understood aspects of home automation is how smart plugs can be used to control almost anything. There are limits, but most simple "ON/OFF" devices can easily be made smart using a smart plug. All you have to do is keep the device's switch in the "ON" position, and the plug will toggle the power at the other end of the cord. This works great to get ON/OFF control of a lamp or a small space heater. It can also be used to a certain degree to increase the safety of certain appliances that might get hot, such as a heater or a glue gun. If they are powered through a smart plug, turning it off once you've left the house is easy!

Despite a large number of compatible devices, more and more appliances are starting to have complex electronics inside, which makes things difficult. That's not to say you can't use smart plugs, just that you will have to buy appliances that don't have fancy control systems. As another benefit, some plugs will even be able to monitor power usage, which can be helpful in some situations for determining if an appliance is on or off. Check out my article on making a smart kettle to see this in action here. Others will include a dimmer function that is made to control lamps, although those tend to be more expensive.

Enter in style: smart locks

There are a lot of smart locks on the market now, with models ranging from "addons" to your current lock all the way to a lock of its own that's installed in the door. These can be great for several reasons, one being that it allows you to have separate codes for different people. So if you have visitors that are allowed to come in on their own, you can give them a special code unique to them which will be different than the one you use. That code could also be time restricted to only work during certain hours and can even be revoked in minutes if you need to stop someone from entering.

They also allow remote locking and unlocking, which can be great for peace of mind every time you leave the house and can't remember if you locked the door or not. In fact, some smart locks will even lock the door behind you after you enter, making it impossible to forget! Those that are running an Airbnb or a rental will especially appreciate these as the codes can often be set remotely, allowing easy management of multiple buildings. There is no doubt that these are seriously awesome, consider getting one if you want to modernize the entry to your home.

A smart lock
Smart locks come in all shapes and sizes!

Smart thermostat

Probably one of the most widely known smart devices, the smart thermostat has a long list of benefits that extend well past what most will initially believe. Allowing you to change the temperature remotely is only one of the awesome features smart thermostats can bring to a home. They can save energy by reducing the time your furnace or air conditioner runs while you are away and can start getting back to the correct temperature a short time before you arrive. It is also possible to have presets based on who is home, allowing each person to have their own preferred settings that will engage if they are alone. 

All of that isn't even to mention that your local energy board might even give you a climate action discount if you use a smart thermostat! Those that can get this discount will probably be able to get a nice smart thermostat for the price of a regular one, depending on the size of the incentive. Having full control over the temperature is truly amazing, you can change the settings while you are at work so that it's warm when you get home. You can even monitor the temperature in your home over time, which is a feature often missing from traditional thermostats. You don't know what you've been missing until you get to ask a voice assistant to turn down the temperature!

Robot vacuum

These have existed for a really long time, but have had limited adoption primarily due to cost. They have come down in price significantly over time, though the best models are still going to be around 1000$. Depending on your specific situation, a robot vacuum can be a great addition to your smart home. Though they don't remove the need to clean, they can charge up automatically and go out to vacuum while you are away. This will significantly reduce the amount of work you need to do when you do clean as the robot has been picking up bits and pieces every day. The effect of build-up shouldn't be underestimated, the crumbs that fell on the floor could end up on the other end of the house if they aren't cleaned up.

There are also robot mops that will automatically mop the floor once the vacuuming is done. As if it isn't great enough that they will do that, some of these robots will even talk to each other to coordinate the cleaning effort. They can ensure the vacuuming is done first in a given area before the mopping will begin. The best part is that the fancier models will charge and dispose of their collection bag on their own, meaning you only need to empty the bin in the hub. Imagine how great reducing your cleaning workload would be! You might only need to do a thorough cleaning a few times a month instead of multiple per week, which most will agree is an amazing feature to have.

If there is one robot vacuum brand everyone knows, it's iRobot's Roomba! This is the model that was previously mentioned that is capable of self-emptying into a bag located in the docking tower. The benefit is obviously that the bag is bigger but also that the overall capacity is bigger with a bag inside the unit and in its dock. It comes with all the bells and whistles you could want, including collaboration with the Braava jet robot mop. For those looking for something a bit cheaper, iRobot has you covered with products all the way across the price range.

Check out the Roomba i3 on Amazon here!

IR Bridge

While this one is less of a "smart device", the IR Bridge still plays a critical role in a modern smart home. Any device that uses a remote control with a little LED at the end to operate (think TV, portable A/C, RGB strips, etc.) can be made smart with one of these. They are basically little boxes that connect to your smart hub (or the cloud) and receive commands which they transform into IR codes that are identical to the ones emitted by the real remote. That means you could use this to turn on your TV, change the channel, increase the volume, and basically any other action that is done via the remote.

The best part is that the list of products that use IR remotes is quite long, meaning you have no shortage of places to use the bridge and make regular technology smart. An example is a portable air conditioner, which normally would use a small remote but can be toggled on and off using a bridge. In that case, we can use a proper thermostat to control the temperature in the room as the one built-in is often notoriously bad. Considering that these bridges will usually cost anywhere from 20$-80$, they are an outstanding deal and can be used everywhere on the cheap. A single unit can also control multiple devices in most cases, which can reduce the cost below most other options.

Want to know more about IR Bridges? Check out my article entirely dedicated to them here!

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