Man using laptop to set up smart home

Setting Up a Smart Home

Updated October 2, 2020 . AmFam Team

Learn how to turn your home into a smart home with this simple smart home guide for beginners. Read more to see how to add security, convenience, and savings to your home today!

You love your humble abode — but some 21st-century upgrades would be nice, right? Imagine turning lights on and off, answering your door, or even brewing a pot of coffee with just a few taps on your smartphone. Not only would you impress your neighbors and friends, you could improve your home security and shave money off of your energy bills and insurance premiums. And while installation sounds complicated, it doesn’t have to be!

How Smart Homes Work

Connected via Wi-Fi to a main hub such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, smart homes are a collection of devices that synch to a home’s network. With a tap of your smartphone, you’re able to synch with and remotely access appliances, alarm systems — all at your command. Our smart home starter guide will take you step by step through everything you need to know to set up a smart home.

How to Build a Smart Home

One of the key attractions to smart homes is their scalability — you’re able to add more devices as new appliances make their way into your home. As your budget and your smart home needs evolve, you can bring on new gadgets and build onto your smart home platform. From fine tuning your home’s heating and cooling needs to receiving updates on expiring food in your refrigerator, this do-it-yourself home automation can revolutionize the way you live at home.

Choose your smart assistant

Before picking up any smart home tech, you’ll need a hub, which is sometimes called a smart home assistant. These devices connect all of your appliances and web enabled smart systems to the internet. And from there, they’re connected back to you through a mobile device or web browser. Apple’s Home Pod, Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home Assistant are examples of hubs.

It’s a good idea to create a smart home design plan. When shopping for smart home devices, you’ll need to be sure that each appliance will work with the hub you’ve elected to use. Make a list of all the items you’d like to get connected into your home, and then do a little homework to be sure they’re all compatible with the hub you’ve got in mind.

Design your smart home

Now that you’ve got a handle on the home assistant and you’re sure it will work with your smart home plan, it’s time to explore your design options. One way to build a smart home can be accomplished by making a room-by-room list. Jot down device names and products you want to use there. Another option is to build a list of capabilities, or the ways that you want your home to be more efficient and remotely accessible. Then create your accessories and device list.

Many manufacturers are creating products for all hub platforms, but some are only compatible with a single system. Take a look at product reviews and customer feedback as well because not all smart home appliances are created equal.

Select Your Smart Home Devices

If you're contemplating getting a smart home security system as well as smart smoke/carbon monoxide detector, make sure they integrate with each other before you buy. This way, you won’t have to use two separate apps and systems to control them. This can be done by verifying that they’re able to both work with the same assistant. Ideally, you’ll want to access all of your devices through a single app on your phone, so select your smart home devices carefully.

Smart doorbells

For many, the biggest benefit of smart home automation is increased safety. If that’s a top priority for you, a smart doorbell is a great place to start. Such devices include motion sensors and the ability to stream live video, so you can see who is at your door before you open it.

Smart doorbell installation isn't super complicated, but it will require mounting the doorbell to a frame and connecting it to existing wiring. If you have a newer home or plan to build, talk with your electrician about how you can optimize your wiring for smart home technology. Older homes may be more challenging to rewire, so consulting a professional is crucial before you attempt to install this technology.

Smart home security systems

For an even fuller sense of security, consider installing an Internet-based smart home security system. Such systems usually run a few hundred dollars and may include monthly monitoring fees.  

Smart home security systems offer a wide array of tech you can mix and match to best suit the security needs of your home. From smart locks to water leak sensors and security cameras to smoke and heat sensors, you’ll find what you need to help keep your home safe and secure.

In many cases, you can set up the system yourself, which is a nice advantage compared to traditional "wired" security systems which require professional installation that costs extra. Setup often requires plugging in the base station and turning on various connected sensors. And if you encounter any setup issues, there are many online tutorials available that provide additional information on installation.

Consider purchasing a system that’s sold as a kit to keep things really simple. Many of these systems are "portable," so you can take the system with you if you move to a different house.

Smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Unlike traditional monitors, these Internet-connected smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can send notifications to your phone with details about what was detected if they’re set off or if their batteries are low. Some can even contact a neighbor or emergency contact when you’re out of town.

Combined with your smart security system and doorbell, these easy-to-install smart devices give you smartphone access to your home at any time — and peace of mind in the process.

Smart thermostats

Another advantage to a smart home setup is that it can save you money on electric and heating bills. A connected thermostat that automatically adjusts to your schedule can save you around $150 a year. And your savings go hand-in-hand with another unbeatable feature — a home that’s always the perfect temperature.

Like smart doorbells, the installation requires some basic electrical work. But with the advice of a professional electrician, you can gear your grid to handle an entire suite of smart home accessories.

Smart lighting systems

Smart lighting is another great way to reduce your energy bill. When it comes to lighting, you can choose between bulbs that connect to Wi-Fi or switches.

Installing a Wi-Fi bulb is as simple as screwing it in and connecting it to the Internet or Bluetooth, while connecting bulbs to switches requires more intensive electrical work.

Smart home virtual personal assistants

A smart home isn’t just about safety or saving money. It’s also convenient — and fun! Voice-controlled smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home can tell jokes, play music, provide you with real-time weather and traffic information, make lists and more.

What's more, they're equipped with customizable virtual personal assistant technology that can allow you to control other smart devices, like your smart thermostat or lighting system. Feeling chilly? Just ask your Echo or Home to boost the heat, and you'll be feeling comfy in no time. The setup for this life-enhancing technology is relatively minimal, involving downloading apps to your smartphone and following a few simple steps.

Find the Best Location for Your Smart Devices

While some of your smart home devices can’t be moved without significant electrical work, consider putting your more-mobile smart home gadgets near your Wi-Fi router to keep them connected at all times.

You can also position your router in a central location to give its signal easy access to your devices. And if you have multiple active Ethernet ports in other parts of your home, setting up another router can boost the connectivity of devices far away from your main router.

Get Help Installing Your Smart Devices

If all of the installation talk has you flustered, don’t worry there are many services that can help you set up your own smart home. Check to see if your insurance company partners with any installation services. Often, they will offer DIY advice for smart home device setup.

Another great way to make your home a smarter home is to explore the ways you can save on your homeowners policy — when you’ve got a smart home security system installed. As you’re building a smart home plan, remember to check in with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) and review our discounts and incentives for investing in this tech.

Bottom line, you don't have to be a tech genius to enjoy the benefits of smart home technology. Whether you’re interested in improving your home security, saving some money, or just making your day-to-day a little easier, there are options available that any average smartphone user can enjoy.

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