20 Smart Home Tips and Tricks to Optimize Your Smart Home
1) Your network matters.
A solid home networking setup and a strong and reliable network are critical to a smooth-operating smart home. We’ve written a blog on the best Wi-Fi routers for smart homes to steer you in the right direction. You’ll also want to optimize your network: here are five networking tips to implement immediately to improve smart home network performance.
2) Start small, but plan it out first.
While it’s tempting to buy all the smart home technology you can afford immediately, that’s not always the best idea. “Map” out your smart home first: this will give you an idea of what you need and how much you’ll need to budget. Start with only a few devices at first, then build from there. The installation process isn’t always smooth, although it’s improved. See our smart home beginner’s guide for recommendations on where to start.
3) Consider a smart home hub.
While most smart home devices use Wi-Fi to connect to the internet, choosing devices that connect to a dedicated smart hub can save you money and bandwidth on your home network. The smart hub is connected directly to the router, which frees up your Wi-Fi network for other devices. Generally, hub-dependent smart devices are significantly cheaper than their Wi-Fi-enabled counterparts. SmartThings and the Wink Smart Hub are two of the most commonly used.
4) Use a smart speaker (or smart displays).
With so many companies making smart home gadgets, the number of apps you’ll need will be unwieldy before long. Consider using a smart speaker or smart display to control your devices by voice commands. It’s much quicker. Our preference is Amazon Alexa. However, we’ve also published a comparison between Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, which you might want to read.
5) However, don’t stick with one platform.
When purchasing smart home devices, ensure they are compatible with at least two of the three major smart speaker platforms: Alexa, Google, and Apple HomeKit. This way, if you decide to switch platforms, it’s much less painful, and all your devices are guaranteed to work.
6) Use geofencing.
While the term sounds super complicated, geofencing is pretty simple. When you enter and leave your home, your smart home turns on (or turns off) devices in and around your home based on your settings. This is especially useful in smart thermostats, so you’re not heating or cooling an empty house.
7) Get to know your home’s wiring.
While most smart home devices won’t require you to hardwire them to a source of electricity, some will. In older homes, you may be missing wiring, such as a ground or neutral wire in switches and plugs or the “C” wire to your thermostat. If this is the case, your home’s wiring is incompatible.
8) Opt for smart light switches over smart lights.
Replacing the switches controlling your lights is a better idea in most cases than using a smart bulb. We had to tape over certain switches early on because family members kept using the switch, completely disabling the lights! Old habits die hard, I guess. See our smart lighting guide for suggestions on smart lighting and smart switches.
9) Expect issues.
I’ve used smart home technology for nearly a half-decade now, and while I can tell you things have certainly gotten much better in terms of reliability and performance, there still are hiccups now and then. The great thing is, there’s a supportive community, and chances are somebody’s had the same problem at some point! We cover a few of the most common issues in our smart home troubleshooting guide.
10) Hardwire where possible, or use solar power.
Smart home devices, by and large, are battery-operated. While it’s nice to be able to place these devices anywhere you want, in a large smart home, that’s a lot of batteries to keep up with. Opt for hardwired smart devices: many have backup battery power if the power goes out.
11) IFTTT is your best friend.
IFTTT stands for “If this then that” and is a service that allows you to connect all kinds of smart home devices. Most smart devices aren’t natively compatible with those from other manufacturers, and IFTTT is a way around that. Plus, in our opinion, it makes owning a smart home so much more worth it.
12) Understand how your smart home data is used.
When purchasing a smart home device, make sure you understand how your data from that device is used. For example, a smart thermostat purchased from an electric company might come with the condition it can change its setting during high energy use. While a lot of what’s out there about what these companies collect is exaggerated, there are some things you should know. Our blog on smart home privacy has more.
13) Do not reuse passwords, or better yet, opt for passwordless options.
Keep your smart home secure by selecting complex and unique passwords for your online accounts for the devices you own. If the company offers a passwordless option, use that. This will protect your home from attackers (more on smart home security later in this article).
14) Give your devices unique names.
No, not give them a name like Bob, or Matt, or Kelly (unless you want to). Name each one in their apps by where they are or something identifiable. This makes it much easier to understand what’s happening when you receive a notification, especially from motion or door sensors. Your smart speaker will often use these same names to allow you to control them by voice, so make them easy to say, too.
15) Don’t forget about the outside.
There are so many great outdoor smart devices, from smart sprinklers to robot lawn mowers and smart lighting. While you should build out your indoor smart home setup first, we’ve found our mower and outdoor lights have made our yard secure and well-manicured. It’s a luxury, yes, but it was worth it!
16) Cheap isn’t always bad.
Smart home technology can be expensive, so it’s natural for people to look for ways to save money. But unlike a lot of gadgets, many cheap smart devices are pretty darn good. One of our favorites in this price range is Wyze. The company’s smart gadgets — which include smart bulbs, a smart lock, a smart video doorbell, a smart plug, and more — perform well in our experience, and the customer support is excellent.
17) A smart lighting system is the easiest to install.
Opt for smart lighting if you want to dip your toes in smart home technology. They’re the easiest smart home devices to install and use, and the ability to change colors is fun. It’s also a great place to start as other smart devices can control these lights.
18) Set up routines.
If you find yourself using your smart home devices in a certain way day in and day out, set up a routine to handle them all at once. With Alexa and Google Assistant, they’re called routines; Siri calls them “automations.” This way, a single phrase like “good morning” can control all these devices at once.
19) Be wary of big promises.
While it’s not a big problem among smart device manufacturers, from time to time these companies will make big promises of how “revolutionary” a device is when it’s really not. However, plenty of folks on the internet (us included) actually review these devices to verify those claims. Buying from reputable companies and sellers is a must.
20) Keep your smart home devices up to date.
Most smart home device manufacturers regularly update the firmware for the devices they sell. In our experience, most devices do this automatically. However, it’s worth it from time to time to check to ensure these updates are being downloaded and applied.
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