Comprehensive Guide to Building a Smart Home in 2021

Have you ever gone shopping for groceries, and you couldn’t remember whether you were supposed to get more milk? Wouldn’t it be great to just ask your refrigerator, right via your phone? Building a smart home doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive — you don’t have to be Bill or Melinda Gates to afford it.

In fact, you don’t even have to pay a contractor to install an expensive, complicated system that’s controlled via a mobile device or smart speaker.

If you don’t know much about this technology, then you probably have a thousand questions. What do smart homes have? How much does smart technology cost? What pieces of equipment do I need to create a smart home?

Let’s start with the most basic question.

Getting Started

Creating your perfect smart home depends on three things — budget, time, and enthusiasm.

You can buy one home gadget from a certain brand and then figure out any additions later — at least that’s how people have been doing it for the last couple of years.

On the other hand, you can always start building a smart home by buying all kinds of components — sensors, security cameras, smart bulbs, or speakers. You can connect them to a central hub that allows these devices to communicate with each other and with you via your smartphone.

However, keep in mind that you’ll be spending a lot of money and dedicating a lot of time if you opt for this option.

If your needs are simpler, you can start with more affordable products and upgrade them later when you have more money. A basic package will do the trick and deliver most of the conveniences of a smart home while saving you a few bucks.

How Does a Smart Home Work?

It’s all about product compatibility. While you’re choosing features that will suit your needs, you have to make sure that products are compatible with each other. By doing so, you’ll create a solid foundation that you can upgrade over time.

It’s essential to know which home products don’t require a smart home hub to operate. Although the best smart home hub offers certain advantages, it isn’t always necessary.

However, the thing you need is a solid wireless router, preferably one that can spread the connection to all corners of your home.

Without further ado, here’s a simple review to help you start building a home that suits your automation needs.

Choose a Smart Home Assistant that Will Control Your Home

Smart home voice-controlled assistants are AI-based applications that understand voice commands and perform tasks for a user. Most smart home assistants are compatible with smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, and even standalone devices like Google Home or Amazon Echo.

These applications contain software that assists a user by understanding natural language in either a spoken or a written form.

Needless to say, each of these automated software platforms has its own set of pros and cons, so weigh each option carefully before purchasing.

The Comprehensive Guide to Building a Smart Home in 2021

The Basics of Smart Home Assistants

The first step in setting up a smart home is choosing a virtual assistant to control your devices.

There are three big names you can find on the market (others exist as well, but they aren’t as widespread):

Smart home assistants like these can do everything from telling jokes, answering questions, and playing music to controlling objects and appliances in your home, such as the thermostat, lights, door locks, and other smart home devices.

They can respond to various voice commands, make phone calls, or send text messages — your virtual assistant can perform any function available on your phone.

Virtual assistants are an essential component of your smart home because they learn your habits and preferences over time, and they’re always getting smarter.

These AI-based applications can recognize faces, understand natural language, and communicate with other smart devices and software.

How to Use a Virtual Assistant in Your Smart Home Designs

In most cases, you’ll need to “summon” your virtual assistants by speaking simple commands like, “Hey Google,” “OK Siri,” or “Hello Alexa.” Most virtual assistants are capable of understanding natural language.

For instance, you can connect some of your devices, like Amazon Echo, with the Uber app and tell Alexa to request a ride, but you have to phrase the command correctly. You would have to say, “Alexa, ask Uber to call for a ride.”

Generally, your virtual assistants are programmed to control other smart home products through voice commands, so you’ll need to speak to them. Some assistants, however, can reply to commands given in a written form.

For example, you can send commands and questions to Siri (rather than speaking) via iPhone devices powered by iOS 11. Furthermore, Siri can answer by text rather than speech if you prefer.

Correspondingly, Google Assistant can respond to commands by either voice or text.

The Best Smart Home Devices

Now that we’ve established what role virtual assistants have and how they work, let’s see what devices you can get for your smart home.

1. Smart Speakers

One of the biggest challenges in smart homes is finding an easy way to control the system. Until recently, this was achieved via numerous apps, by constantly switching between them to get the job done.

Thanks to the development of smart speakers like Amazon Echo, this is no longer an issue. You can now say, “Dim the lights,” and the smart speaker connected to your smart lighting will do that for you, serving as a makeshift smart home control panel.

Smart speakers play an integral role in a smart home system, and they are worth every penny. The market leaders in this area are undoubtedly Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod.

Apple HomePod is a good solution for homes that have the app kit installed because you’ll be able to control a wide array of (compatible) devices via the iOS Home App.

On the other hand, the other two speakers don’t support as many devices. Out of all smart home accessories on the market, Amazon Echo offers the broadest level of smart home support and some handy features.

For example, through Amazon Alexa’s Routines, you can control multiple devices with one voice command, such as locking the front door and turning down the lights when you go out.

We must give credit where credit’s due, as statistics show that the Google Home support has vastly improved over the years, covering the most common smart devices for your home. Additionally, the Google Assistant is the smartest and the most affable device of its kind.

All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen, 2020 release) | Smart speaker with Alexa | Charcoal

Price: $49.99

2. Smart Lighting

Investing in smart lighting can make your life much more comfortable, as this smart home technology brings a lot of benefits. For example, with the appropriate equipment installed, you can have your lights turn on every time your security camera detects motion.

In addition, you can customize your smart lighting so that the lights turn on and off periodically while you’re away, fooling potential burglars into thinking you’re at home.

If you want to make your home a smart home, installing smart lighting is a no-brainer. Not only can it add a layer to your home security, but it also provides a great number of options for how your home looks and feels.

You can even buy a system with temperature – or color-changing bulbs to help set the mood in your house.

Smart light switches can control smart home lighting that lets you operate the existing light bulbs but don’t provide fancy color-changing options. For those purposes, you’ll need dimmable bulbs because these switches are dimmers.

When you connect your home via smart lighting technology, you can save time and energy far beyond what any typical lighting accomplishes. Installing the right type and number of smart bulbs is crucial to maximizing your energy efficiency, which is an important factor in creating smart home systems.

If you already use your smartphone to control everything else, why not use it to control the lights as well? A set of smart speakers alongside a smart lighting system is a match made in heaven.

Being able to say “OK, Alexa, turn the lights off” as you head to bed or “Google, turn on movie mode” before you start watching your favorite HBO series are only a few great examples of the little things you come to appreciate.

Ring Smart Lighting – Bridge, White

Price: $49.99

3. Smart Plugs

Creating a smart home doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and smart plugs prove that. They’re super easy to adjust, and they represent an affordable way to upgrade commonly used devices — lighting, heating, you name it.

Essentially, they turn any electronic device into a smart home device that you can control via your smartphone. Installing and adjusting these plugs is relatively straightforward, which is great for DIY smart home projects.

Amazon Smart Plug, works with Alexa – A Certified for Humans Device

Price: $24.99

However, choosing the appropriate smart plug is not easy, so read on for more tips.

What Is a Smart Plug?

Whether it’s label says it is a smart outlet, smart switch, or any variation thereof, a smart plug is ultimately a simple-to-use device that plugs directly into a wall outlet (or traditional power strip), transforming it into a smart one.

It usually comes with a corresponding app, allowing you to control any device plugged into the smart plug. For example, you’ll be able to make coffee without leaving the comfort of your bed or check whether the slow-cooker is on while you’re at work.

If you’re building a smart home from the ground up, you should definitely consider installing smart plugs. Not only will you be able to control smart devices plugged into them, but they will also lower your electricity bill.

Note that you’re not losing or gaining any outlets by setting up the smart plug; you’re simply upgrading the existing outlet by making it smart and connecting it to your home Wi-Fi network.

While keeping that in mind, one of the first things you should consider when creating the most efficient smart home design is where to place each smart plug.

While most are thin enough to fit next to one another in your regular wall outlet, some of them aren’t, and power strips are yet another issue. If your power strip is crowded, it’s important to keep in mind where the plug’s outlet is positioned.

Some smart plugs, like an iDevices Switch, have outlets on the side. Outlets with this layout type can either be more difficult or easier to access, depending on the type of power strip and its position in the wall. It’s important to know how to set up a smart home so you can make the most out of it.

What Does a Smart Plug Do?

Once you’ve made sure that you’ve properly installed the smart plug, you’re one step closer to getting your smart home ready. However, it’s important to consider what a smart plug’s features are and what it can do.

First, note that most smart plugs offer some kind of schedule. With this smart house technology, you can program your connected coffee-maker to start brewing coffee at the same time every morning, for example.

Most smart plugs also feature an “Away” mode that can be used to turn on and off the lights plugged into it at random intervals, warding off potential intruders and improving your home security.

If you are wondering how to automate your home in a way that will allow you to save energy and money long-term, you should consider adding a smart plug to your checklist when shopping for your dream smart home.

With a smart plug up and running, you can track real-time information about energy use, and cost for each device plugged in. You can also set smart plugs to prevent and restrict latent energy consumption by turned-off devices.

The Comprehensive Guide to Building a Smart Home in 2021

4. Smart Thermostats

Have you been wondering how to make a smart house where you can control the temperature remotely from your phone, tablet, or PC? A smart thermostat is way more than just another cool smart device — it provides convenience, savings, and comfort.

After all, who wouldn’t love a device that’s designed solely to make you comfortable and help you save money on energy costs?

What Is a Smart Thermostat, and How Does It Work?

Since heating and cooling make up most of your household energy and electricity bills, those looking to cut utility costs often opt for smart home gadgets that automatically regulate your home temperature. In fact, this device is so useful that we would always recommend it wholeheartedly.

But what makes this tiny device so beneficial? Well, let’s start by saying that it’s no different than other smart home items in terms of operation. It allows you to control your home temperature remotely via a smartphone or another compatible, internet-connected device.

This capability offers simplified control of your home’s cooling and heating while also helping you save energy and money.

With a wall-mounted thermostat, you can regulate the temperature in your home by pressing a button on your smartphone. On the other hand, a programmable thermostat offers more sophisticated smart home features. You can schedule temperature changes during certain times of the day.

Smart thermostats consist of three basic components. The first part goes directly into your HVAC system, like a traditional analog thermostat, through a wired connection. This part directly communicates with the thermostat that is the second component.

The third and last component is the app (i.e., what makes it a “smart” thermostat) that you can download and install on your mobile devices or computers.

This state-of-the-art smart home tech allows you to regulate home temperature while going home from work, for example. Went on vacation with your family and forgot to turn the heating off? No problem.

By regulating the thermostat remotely from your phone, you’ll have more control and convenience than ever.

Google Nest Learning Thermostat – Programmable Smart Thermostat for Home – 3rd Generation Nest Thermostat – Works with Alexa – Stainless Steel

Price: $227.99

Smart Security

Smart security is the most important part of our smart home guide because nothing is more important than making sure your loved ones are protected and safe.

Over the last couple of years, technological advancements have made traditional security systems outdated and less effective at protecting your property and assets.

So the question begs to be asked — what is smart security, and how does it help secure our belongings?

Streamlining Security and Home Automation

Every smart home should include smart security systems — they allow you to monitor your home from pretty much anywhere via a smartphone. This is all thanks to advancements in the Internet of Things technology.

Smart cameras, window and door sensors, and a central hub that will communicate with these devices via wireless protocols like Wi-Fi, Zigbee, or Z-Wave all add to your home’s overall security. However, you might be wondering how to create a smart home that’s 100% secure.

As we mentioned above, this is only a basic security system. If you want to build an impeccable comprehensive system, you should consider buying an extra door, motion and window sensors, surveillance cameras, sirens, lights, water sensors, and smoke/CO detectors.

These may sound like overkill, but they will give you coverage for the entire house and secure your home from intruders.

One of the things to think about when making a smart home security system is wireless protocols. In a perfect world, all home security elements would communicate with the main hub via the same wireless standard.

However, factors such as signal range, power requirements, size, and price make it almost impossible to operate on just one.

For example, smaller components like window or door sensors usually use Zigbee or Z-Wave technology to communicate with one another because they don’t require a lot of power, which means they can run on smaller batteries.

These home automation devices can also help extend the range of connected devices. However, neither of them gets you the bandwidth you get with Wi-Fi.
They’re usually integrated with security cameras to provide smooth video streaming.

Also, Zigbee and Z-Wave devices are connected via a hub, while Wi-Fi devices don’t require a hub and can be controlled via an app and connected directly to your home network.

The best smart home system designed for security has components implemented in a seamless network that can be controlled using program rules.

For example, you can program the system to unlock the doors in your house automatically when a smoke alarm is triggered or have the lights turn on when motion is detected.

If you’re on a tight budget, locally stored video is a good choice. It costs less, but you have to be extremely careful when saving the video on a separate storage drive.

Some systems offer cloud storage, but it can cost you hundreds of dollars every year, depending on the subscription. You can probably live without this if you just want to stick to the smart home basics.

Some systems provide both local and cloud storage, while others offer a dedicated storage drive with time-lapse recording capabilities to simplify finding a video that took place at a specific point in time.

All the systems we’ve come across feature an app that allows you to use your smartphone as the smart home controller. Through this command center, you can activate or deactivate the system, add or delete components, customize your preferences, and receive notifications when alarms are activated.

You can use these apps to lock and unlock doors, view live and recorded videos, silence alarms, or regulate the temperature on your smart thermostat.

The best security systems usually come with more expensive smart home upgrades, like a touch-screen display or a wall-mounted panel that can be installed to act as a communication hub.

When the alarm triggers, you can communicate with a professional monitoring service and watch the video from any security camera. Some of the apps will allow you to do things like automatically activate or deactivate the system, depending on your physical location.

SimpliSafe 8 Piece Wireless Home Security System – Optional 24/7 Professional Monitoring – No Contract – Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant

Price: $199.25

The Comprehensive Guide to Building a Smart Home in 2021

Smart Home DIY Security Systems

You can create a smart home according to your preferences and needs without the aid of experts and professionals. This way, you can save on subscription fees and installation charges.

DIY systems are easy to install and operate, and they come as a package with kits you can configure to suit your specific needs. If needed, you can order additional equipment and add it to your existing system in a matter of minutes.

If you want to learn how to start a smart home with a basic DIY security system, you should be aware that these systems usually support only one or two wireless protocols and offer a limited selection of add-on components.

On the other hand, more sophisticated DIY systems support multiple Wi-Fi protocols, and you can pair them with dozens of add-on components. When the devices are being triggered, you’ll receive a notification, and it’s up to you to decide whether to contact local authorities.

Professional Home Security Systems

Since you’re learning how to make a smart home with a top-notch security system, you should know that some of its components require professional installation.

These top-of-the-line systems are considerably more expensive than their DIY counterparts, but they provide 24/7 professional monitoring services.

If you’re having second thoughts about purchasing a costly security system, we recommend you wait until you’re 100% certain since you may have to sign a multi-year contract with the security company. If you decide to break it, a hefty fee may have to be settled.

However, building a smart home system like this means that you’ll have an impregnable security system monitored by professionals at all times.

It would be like building your own private Fort Knox with door locks, window sensors, indoor and outdoor cameras, glass break detectors, video doorbells, smoke/CO alarms, thermostats — you name it.

When a smoke or intrusion alarm is activated in a professionally monitored system, an agent will immediately try to contact you via your phone number. If you fail to respond, they will dispatch an emergency responder to your home.

With these features, it’s no wonder that a professionally installed and monitored system is the go-to for every smart home in 2020. You’ll spend a few extra bucks, but in return, you don’t even have to lift a finger.

After you place your order, the technician will come to your house, set everything up for you, and explain how the system works.

Please note that, in certain areas, you may have to file for a permit to have a security system installed in your home.

If you’re learning how to make a smart home, you should know that nearly all latest home security systems offer support for voice control via Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and, in some cases, Apple’s Siri.

Installing these virtual assistants will allow you to lock or unlock doors, activate or deactivate the system, and open the garage with a verbal command to a connected hub like Google Home or Amazon Echo.

Many security systems also support IFTTT (If This, Then That) widgets that use IFTTT-compatible web services to perform a command.

Ring Alarm 14-piece kit (2nd Gen) – home security system with optional 24/7 professional monitoring – Works with Alexa

Price: $329.99

How Much Does It Cost to Build a Smart Home?

You should know that a smart home is an expensive project, no matter how you slice it. A “one size fits all” solution doesn’t exist, which is why we’re going to look at every element of smart home and come up with a broad estimate.
Here is what you need to buy if you want to make your entire home smarter.

Lighting

As far as smart lighting goes, you don’t have to get the best home lighting automation system. You can find a single light bulb that’s controlled via your smartphone or voice assistant for just $25. Assuming that the average household has around 50 light bulbs, you’ll need around $1,250.

Smart Home Hub

A central hub to control your home’s smart devices was highly recommended when building a smart home in 2020. Surprisingly, smart hubs aren’t expensive.

You can purchase the Samsung SmartThings hub for $80, or similarly priced smart speakers, like Google Home or the Amazon Echo.

You’ll want to install several of these throughout the home. We recommend one in each bedroom, plus one in the kitchen, dining room, and living room. If you opt for the cheaper options, you’ll need to spend around $350 for your whole house.

Door Locks

This is one of the best home automation products, but if you’re on a limited budget, we recommend buying no more than two door locks. In fact, you only need one for the front door and one for the back door to secure your property.

Naturally, you can add smart locks to other doors as well, but then costs will significantly increase.

If you want the best smart lock that can be controlled from anywhere, with handy features like voice commands or push and email notifications, expect to pay somewhere between $200 and $300.

Once installed, a smart lock can be customized to unlock automatically when you approach the door. It’s definitely one of the smart home essentials, and buying two of these will cost you around $50.

Video Doorbell

Although not entirely necessary, a video doorbell works great with a smart lock. These devices look like a regular bell or buzzer, but they have a camera, microphone, and speaker, allowing you to see and talk to a visitor no matter if you’re lying in your bed or you’re on holiday with your family.

A smart video doorbell system costs around $200. Obviously, you need just one.

Smart Plugs

This piece of home automation technology can make your ordinary devices smart. For example, if you plug a regular heating device into one, you can have it automatically turn off when the temperature rises above a certain level.

The same principle applies to air conditioning units, fans, and pretty much any device that starts working the moment you plug it into an outlet.

Smart plugs cost around $18 each. Assuming you’ll purchase two for each room, that would make approximately 15 pieces at a total cost of $270.

Motorized Window Blinds

These devices are definitely not among the cheap smart home devices you can install in your home. Getting smart blinds for your windows might seem a bit flashy and unnecessary, but it sure looks cool.

The price for smart blinds starts at around $300 but can increase depending on the window size and the material you choose to install. You can program the blinds to raise or lower at certain times of day, or you can just ask Google or Alexa to move them.

Let’s say the average house contains 20 windows. You’ll need around $6,000 to cover them all with motorized blinds.

Thermostat

On our list of smart home ideas, this is probably the most affordable yet useful item. A smart thermostat is designed to save you both money and energy by cooling and heating your home only when necessary.

Over time, it learns your temperature habits and gets to know which rooms are a priority to heat or cool.

Compared to the blinds or the lights, this is a much more affordable device. The basic Next E costs around $230, while Honeywell products cost around $170. Another option we have recently found is radiant floor heating, so if that works for you better, feel free to try it out!

Cleaning Robots

If you think these smart home appliances are necessary to call your home smart, then you might consider investing in one.

iRobot is the market leader in this field of electronics. Its Roomba starts at around $250 and heads up to $900. Models from other brands have prices ranging from around $100 to $1,000.

Security Cameras

What’s the point in learning how to build a smart home if you aren’t going to secure it from potential intruders? Security camera prices can vary significantly. If you want a single indoor camera that monitors the front door, you can purchase one for $20.

However, if you want a top-notch surveillance system with infrared lighting, night vision, and facial recognition, you’ll have to cash out around $500, depending on the camera model.

Alarm System

If you want a fully equipped surveillance system, your smart home setup should also include sensors that monitor windows and doors, and some of the best smart smoke detectors. You have two options — either install a DIY system or hire a professional surveillance team to monitor the house 24/7.

For a solution that falls between the professional and DIY category, you can purchase a starter kit for $300. With this package, you’ll get door and window sensors, a motion sensor with a camera, and a smartphone app for both iOS and Android.

On the other hand, you can buy a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm from trusted smart home brands for $120.

Total Sum

After doing the math, we came up with a total of approximately $10,000.

For this money, we’ve equipped your three-bedroom home with smart light bulbs in every room, a smart thermostat, a couple of smart speakers and plugs, motorized blinds for every window, a decent security system with cameras and alarms, a smart doorbell and smart locks, and a robotic vacuum cleaner.

Of course, if you want to keep up with the latest smart home trends, you can always throw in a $200 irrigation system for your garden, a $3,100 robotic lawnmower, and a $3,300 smart fridge.

This is in addition to the items like media streaming sticks for the TV, a smart bathroom scale, or an even more fancy lighting system. We hope that we’ve given you an idea of the costs in making an entire house smarter.

The Comprehensive Guide to Building a Smart Home in 2021

What Are the Top Smart Home Devices?

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best devices for your smart home:

  • Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen, $39.99) – This is the smallest of Echo speakers. It saves space but makes a quieter sound (still louder than your phone).
  • Blink Mini Cam ($34.99) – For this price, you can purchase a top-notch smart camera that provides the 1080p HD live feed, free 24-hour clip, and prompt motion notifications.
  • Lifx Smart Bulb (one light is $9.99) — Plenty of light, plus cool features, colors, and integrations.
  • Ecobee Smart Thermostat ($169) — With a reasonable price, this device is one of the many smart home must-haves. It possesses a responsive display with tons of features, including a built-in Alexa speaker.
  • August Smart Lock (3rd Gen, $127.99) — Secure, keyless entry for your smart home. The product is compatible with the Alexa hub and other devices.
  • Nest Protect (2nd Gen, $119) — A great connected smoke and CO detector.
  • Neato Botvac Connected Robot Vacuum (around $799.99) — Although not cheap, it comes with an intuitive app for remote control.
  • Lutron Serena Remote Controlled Shades ($474) — Great motorized shades with plenty of features and flexibility.

What Is the Best Smart Home System?

You can use countless combinations to create the smart home of your dreams. Because it’s based on your preferences, we can’t say which one is the best with absolute certainty.

However, the products from our list are all tested and validated by satisfied customers, so it wouldn’t be a mistake to combine the items from our list to build the best custom smart homes.

As you can see, choosing items for your smart home is not nearly as overwhelming as it seems. Now that it’s clear how to build smart homes, the only challenge arises from choosing the appropriate elements and making them work together effectively.

Over time, devices and systems are becoming more impressive than ever. For example, the features of the best smart home devices in 2019 have come a long way to what they offer now.

Not only do these devices provide a sense of convenience, but they can also tackle more serious tasks, like monitoring your house when you’re out of town and lowering utility costs.

Whatever your reason is for wanting a smart home, there is something for everyone. For most, the driving force behind building a smart home is the potential to save energy and money while knowing that your family’s protection is in place.

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