Smart home systems, or home automation systems, once were expensive luxuries (and professionally installed and custom programed systems still can be), but today many DIY home automation products are actually very practical and reasonably affordable.
If you hadn’t thought much about adding smart home devices to your home, here are seven home automation ideas for simple smart home projects that any family can appreciate. Most of these projects require little-to-no experience with smart home products, can be completed in a couple hours or less and cost under $300 to get started.
Lighting is one of the easiest smart home projects to tackle, because replacing traditional lighting control with app-based smart lighting control can be done by simply unscrewing your old light bulbs and replacing them with wireless LED bulbs (and then following the setup instructions). Some systems, will require a main smart home hub or gateway that gets connected to your home network, while other smart light bulbs can be operated via Bluetooth directly from your phone or tablet. More advanced lighting control can be achieved by replacing traditional switches and dimmers with smart dimmers and wireless switches that you can control with your phone’s smart home app. Try the Philips Hue, Lutron Caseta Wireless or Quirky Wink (with GE smart bulbs) systems.
The Nest smart wireless thermostat got lots of people thinking about mixing energy savings with home automation (though it’s not the first wireless thermostat to do that). Adding any smart thermostat is a good way to get started with energy savings. Further savings can be made by using wireless motorized blinds to regulate the outside light (and heat) that comes in through your windows, using motion sensors to automatically turn off lights and using smart ceiling fans like the Big Ass Fan (yes, that’s really what it’s called) to help regulate air motion (and rely less on AC) in your home. Check out more about smart thermostats here.
A home automation system can go a long way in creating ambience in a home. Smart dimmable LED bulbs (especially color-adjustable bulbs like the Philips Hue and others) can create completely new looks in any room with simple commands in a smart phone app. You can integrate music with your smart home system as well. Create custom scenes that automatically adjust your lights and turn on music to suit your mood. The SmartThings system is compatible with Sonos wireless speakers, making this kind of mood integration easy.
Home monitoring is one of the most popular uses of a smart home system. With most any smart home hub (check out these DIY smart home starter kits), adding door and window sensors is easy. The system will alert you through push alerts, text messages and phone calls if a door or window is open (glass break detectors will also tell you if a window is broken) so you can check up on it or call the authorities. Read more about wireless security sensors here.
Besides intruder problems, a smart home system can prevent or alert you to other home hazards, such as fire and smoke, carbon monoxide leaks and water leaks. An early warning on any of those hazards can save lives and save money.
Child Monitoring (or pet monitoring)
Wireless security cameras can be a big help in lots of ways—parents of young children can use them as child monitors. Even for older children, security cameras are a good way to alert parents when the kids come home from school, and to make sure they’re doing their homework when they’re supposed to. A wireless security camera can also help you keep an eye on your pets while you’re away. Of course, they’re also useful for monitoring your home against crime. Check out our review of the Piper DIY home security camera here.
Media Center/Entertainment Control
Home entertainment and home automation often overlap. Most custom designed home theater systems, those coasting tens of thousands of dollars or more, almost always are integrated with a professional home automation system. But on a smaller level (and less expensive level) even moderate media room systems and home entertainment systems can benefit from some integration. DIY smart home systems of the sort discussed above, don’t usually integrate with your TV, A/V receiver and Blu-ray player (the Logitech Harmony Smart Control is one exception, among others), but there are several affordable DIY systems designed specifically for home theater gear. iRule’s app based system allows you to put the control of all your media room components into one app that can control multiple devices at one time. For things that can’t be controlled via an IP connection, bridge devices are available to control components via infrared. For instance, instead of picking up the TV remote, turning it to input 1, picking up the Blu-ray remote to turn that on, and using the receiver remote to turn that on and switch inputs, you could press “watch movie.” DIY system such as this can take some time to program, but they’re surprisingly affordable.