I’ll be the first to admit that when someone says “smart home” it’s confusing. There are so many components, devices, and protocols it can be overwhelming, even for an experienced techie like me.
I created this page (an ongoing labor of love) to serve as a “beginners smart home guide”. Really, it’s for anyone wanting to know where the different entry points and smart home capabilities connect.
Over the years, I’ve written a LOT about smart home technology and robotics. This page connects it all together in a useful (and hopefully navigable) way. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment for me and my team.
How to Automate Your Home – What’s the Big Idea?
Where is the logical place to start? In theory, you can start anywhere. Many people do.
So what’s the issue?
It can get messy QUICKLY.
There are so many different protocols, compatibility issues and changes/updates/upgrades that getting your devices to “talk” together, let alone “speak well” together can be challenging.
That is why I generally recommend starting with finding the optimal smart hub FIRST, if you have the choice (and haven’t gone too far down one particular rabbit hole).
Step 1: You need to find the right Smart Hub, first.
The basis of a solid smart home is the network that you use to communicate between devices. With the number of devices growing everyday, the complexity can be overwhelming. Understanding the basics of what gadgets use which “protocol” is important.
Put simply, a good “Smart Hub” can link all the disparate devices together, making sense of what otherwise would be a jumbled mess.
The following is some of our best resource articles covering the top hubs:
Resource Guide: For a round-up of ALL the top hubs this year, check out this comprehensive guide.
Have something more specific in mind? Here are some other resources to check out:
- Wink vs Smarthings Compared: These two are arguably the market leaders, so the average user typically ends up deciding between them.
- Top Z-Wave Controllers: Z-Wave is perhaps the market leading smart home protocol, so I would definitely recommend looking into these specific smart hubs if you are in the early stages of setting up your smart home (you will save some agony later but not locking into an obscure protocol).
- Harmony Hub: For users looking more specifically for an entertainment hub or a hub for a smart home theater, I’d recommend the Harmony Hub as the ultimate experience in smart entertainment automation.
Find Your Smart Hub Match
If you need some “guided” assistance, check out this product selector quiz we created specifically for find the right smart hub controllers:
Step 2: Smartify Your Lights
Interestingly, most users actually end of getting familiar with smart home tech via smart LEDs. Whether it’s a gift or a spur of the moment purchase, experimenting with a few smart lights and switches is not nearly as technically daunting as selecting a full smart home package.
The main issue here is that there are a virtual FLOOD of cheap knock-offs hitting the market every month. At the same time, every major electronics brand has a “me-too” smart light that may not necessarily be well thought out.
In either case, finding the right lighting solutions that integrate well with major protocols is key. At least if you have ambitions beyond installing a few smart lights.
Resource Guide: For a round-up of the major players on the market right now, check out this smart LED guide
If you are looking for something a bit more specific, you can check out the following intermediate guides:
- The Top Smart Plugs: A quick (and more affordable) way to smartify your lighting system (and other electronics) is to start using Smart Plugs. This guide is a great intro to the top options.
- Best Ideas for Using the Philips Hue: If you need some inspiration for how to use smart LEDs (in particular the Hue), this is a good place to start.
- Philips Hue Alternatives: You would be surprised at home many other smart LEDs are out there.
Step 2A (Optional) Get a Starter Pack
If you want to get started quickly with a “bundle” or “package” that will work right away together, consider the following starter kits:
- Philips Hue Smart Bulb Starter Kit: This is a great lighting quick start kit, complete with 4 A19 bulbs and 1 bridge to link them all together.
- Lutron Caseta Smart Lighting Dimmer Switch Kit: If your home has lots of dimmers, this is a great starter kit to consider. This system also works with Amazon Alexa.
- Element Classic Sengled Start Kit: This is another great kit that works with SmartThings, Alexa, and Zigbee.
Step 3: Smartify Your HVAC
Once you have mastered a basic lighting set-up, the next thing to do is level up your heating and air conditioning system. This is a area that has made HUGE strides in recent years, headlined by Google’s Nest and others.
The first place to start is by investing in a capable smart thermostat. Consider this the critical “brains” for your entire HVAC operation. Without a good core thermostat, it’s hard to get it right.
If you have narrowed it down to a few choices, these articles will help you reach a final decision:
- Ecobee vs Nest: A broad brand comparison between these two leading smart thermostats.
- Nest E vs Ecobee4: More specifically comparing the two latest models from the two market leaders.
- Best Z-Wave Thermostats: Looking for something that will integrate specifically with your Z-Wave system? This guide will help focus you in the right direction.
Take the Smart Thermostat Quiz
If you want to either 1) confirm your selection or 2) figure out what you really need, the following quiz will deliver a customized match based on how you answer the questions:
Step 4: Smartify Your Security
The days of the old over-priced local security provider are over! Well, maybe not quite yet, but the smart home is seriously disrupting this space.
There are now numerous ways to connect security features to your smart home (as well as some new vulnerabilities). The nice part about how the smart home is developing is that you can mix and match which features you want.
Only need motion detectors? You can just install those. Only need a smart lock? You can do just that. You can now build your ideal smart security setup, one block at a time.
Resource Guide: Read our guide to the best smart home security systems
For more specific guides, check out the following:
- Best Smart Home Security Cams: If all you need is a good video monitoring setup, this article is a great place to start.
- The Top Smart Locks: Looking to get your locks enlightened? This guide takes you the the best options currently available.
- Best Smart Cams for SmartThings: If you are trying to specifically build on the SmartThings platform, this guide is a great initiation.
- Best Smart Locks for Z-Wave: Similarly, if you are looking to build on the Z-Wave platform, this guide will orient you to the best options.
- Best Z-Wave Doorbells: And if you need Z-Wave doorbells, see this guide.
Step 5: Add a Robot to the Family
Yes, I’m serious. Well, at this point the best options are robotic vacuums and cleaning bots. They are DEFINITELY ready for prime time, while others like robot lawn mowers (see next step) are just emerging.
AllHomeRobotics was originally found around robot vacuums! So we know a thing or two about which ones are best. The following guides break down the various options by use case, but this is a good place to start:
Resource Guide: Robot Vacuum Buying Guide
For more specific guides, see the following robot vacuum articles:
- Best Robot Vacuums for Hardwoods: If you primarily have hardwood floors in your home, this guide will help focus you on the best options.
- Comparing Neato Botvacs vs iRobot Roombas: These two companies have been facing off for years. This comparison helps walk through the differences to consider.
- Best Roomba Models: If you know you want a Roomba, but are struggling to settle one a specific model, this guide should help.
Step 6: Smartify Your Lawn
Ever wondered if you could have a Roomba for your lawns? The tech is still not mainstream, but for curious early adopters there are some promising new lawn bots on the market today.
Resource Guide: Robot Lawn Mower Buying Guide
Again, if you are looking for something specific, here are some popular models:
- Worx Landroid: This robot mower has been a surprise early contender for the best option on the market.
- RoboMow RS622: This is another popular model that has received some traction.
Also, you can smarten up your lawn irrigation and monitoring system. This can lead to REAL savings both in terms of time and money.
Resource Guide: Smart Sprinkler and Irrigation Buying Guide
Step 7: Add the Extras
While steps 1-5 will get you the best of smart tech today, there are still a few more random smart devices to consider. They might be too early stage or specific to warrant an entire category, but worthy enough to be mentioned.
- Window Cleaning Robots: Believe it or not, there are not robots for your windows. If you have lots of glass that is typically out of reach (or you just don’t want to be bothered), this is a great guide to get started.
- Best Smart Garage Openers: Want to control access remotely? Monitor comings and goings? This guide will get you started with the best options available today.
- Best Smart Smoke Detectors: These things can save your life! With regular safety checks, remote monitoring, and wireless / wired options, a smart smoke detector can be a life changing device to add.
- Best Smart Remotes: Tired of juggling remotes to manage your entertainment system? Also want to control your lighting, blinds, and more for movie night? These smart “super” remotes are easy to use and an obvious time saver.
- Best Smart Pet Cameras: If you have pets, getting a pet cam is a wonderful idea for piece of mind while you are away (also for evidence of guilty fur criminals!).