Lighting, heating and entertainment systems are just the start of it as David Gilbert shows how to connect up your home to ‘the internet of things’
You walk from your office to your car. The door automatically unlocks as you approach. At your home 20 miles away the oven clicks on to heat up tonight’s dinner in time for your arrival home while the thermostat checks to make sure there is enough hot water for a shower. As you approach the front door, a camera automatically scans your face, recognises you and opens the door. Simultaneously, the lights come on, your favourite Spotify playlist kicks in, and you can relax.
This may sound like a scene from a science fiction film, but this is not a vision of the future. This is technology which is available today as companies like Apple, Google, Samsung and Amazon want to make everything “smart” — from your fridge that automatically reorders milk when you are running low, to the toothbrush that warns you when your children haven’t brushed their teeth for long enough.
The smart home revolution is only just beginning, and technology companies are still working out how it is all going to work together — but if you want to, you can make your home “smart” today.
There are two options to make this happen. The first option is to pay a specialist company to wire your entire house for automation. This route is much less painful than the DIY approach — until you get your credit card bill, that is.
For those who like a bit of a challenge and save some money, while still feeling like they are living in the future, here is a guide on how to make your home smart.
First things first. You will need a Wi-Fi network in your home and a smartphone. While these connected devices are “smart”, for them to work they will need to connect to your home internet and will need either an iPhone or Android smartphone to work.
As the devices are connected to your Wi-Fi, if that network goes down then your home will very quickly become dumb again and, unlike traditional manual controls, getting smart devices to work again can take a lot of pressing reset buttons and scratching of heads.
Finally, it should be pointed out that just like any other computing platform, the internet of things — as the collection of connected devices is known — presents a security risk, and if you consider your smoke alarms, locks and cameras are all connected to the internet, the potential threat is pretty big.
While smart lights and sensors will all work OK on their own, to get the most benefit from them, you should invest in a smart home hub.
Hubs comes in various shapes and sizes and some work better with certain devices than others, but all do essentially the same thing. A hub allows you connect devices from a range of manufacturers to a single point and control them all with a single app. You get the added benefit of a network effect, wherein you can trigger one device with another. For example, unlocking your front door with a smart lock could automatically turn on the lights in your hallway.
Most smart home hubs are available as part of a starter kit, which is a efficient way to get up and running with your smart home project.
Samsung’s SmartThings Hub is one of the best hubs on the market (costing around €120 on its own) but is available as a starter kit which includes a smart plug to allow you remotely control “dumb” products like lamps or radios from your smartphone; a motion sensor you can switch on when no-one is home; and door/window sensors to alert you if someone is trying to break into your house.
If you are going all-in on the smart home thing, then a bundle like this is a good way to get started before adding extra devices. The SmartThings Starter Kit is available for €290.
Ring Ring is essentially a smart doorbell. It replaces your old doorbell with a button and a camera. It hooks up to your home hub or Wi-Fi network and when someone comes to the door you get an alert on your smartphone along with a live video feed showing you who is calling.
While it isn’t much use when you are at home, it can be a vital tool when you are away, letting you see exactly who is calling, and allowing you to speak to them via an intercom.
Paired with a smart door lock, it could allow you to open the door for guests visiting while you are away (think AirBnB) or to allow you tell a courier to deliver a package to your neighbours.
Everything you need to mount the device comes in the box and the installation process is extremely easy. You can also save videos directly to the cloud.
Available for €200 including postage from the Ring website.
Philips was among the first to jump on the connected home trend and the Philips Hue Connected Bulb remains the best known brand on the market — and also offers the most functionality.
With these bulbs you can control your lights with your smartphone, customise the colour and intensity, set lighting scenes, and even set a timer for individual bulbs to turn on and off.
Kitting your whole house out with them won’t be cheap when you consider a single white bulb costs €20 while a starter kit of three coloured lights and a hub will cost €200.
One of the best known smart home devices on the market, the Nest Learning Thermostat allows you control your heating remotely via your smartphone, while learning your living patterns and automatically turning the heating up and down when you are home or away.
The third generation model now lets you control your hot water too — though you still cannot heat different parts of your house independently, a feature other products do offer. It costs €249, but if you are an Electric Ireland customer you can pick one up for just €99 including a professional installation.
If you want a taste of the smart home of the future but don’t want to spend a lot of money, a Chromecast from Google is a sound investment. For €40 this dongle will plug straight into any TV with an HDMI port, connect to your Wi-Fi and transform your television into a smart TV. It allows you wirelessly stream photos, video and games directly from your smartphone, tablet or laptop on to the big screen.
This is a great way to share YouTube clips with friends or play Angry Birds on a big screen.
Google also sells an audio version of the Chromecast (again €40) which will plug into any speaker and transform it into a connected speaker you can control from your smartphone.
If the Chromecast Audio is a little bit lo-fi for your tastes, then at the opposite end of the price spectrum is Sonos Home Audio, a connected home audio system which allows you connect multiple speakers in different rooms and control them all from your smartphone or tablet.
Sonos’ connected speakers can set you back anywhere from €249 right up to almost €800, while the bridge which connects them itself costs €400.
However, for that price you do get a fully-featured audio system with top-end sound quality and the ability to stream from pretty much any source, including Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer.
It also plays nicely with your other smart home devices, meaning you can automatically set the lighting to match your music.
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