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The age of technology keeps on moving and innovations seem to be accelerating.  In a couple of decades we’ve moved from corded phones to smartphones and our refrigerators now have more processing power than most home computers from the 1990’s.  It’s an impressive progression to say the least, and while it hasn’t made our lives any simpler, the technological advancements have given us the tools to deal with the complexity and speed of modern life.

Many experts agree that the smartphone might be the most important and widespread consumer-tech development of the last 20 years, but what’s next?  What is going to revolutionize our lives in the same way?

We think that just like the smartphone; the smart home is primed to change the way we interact with our homes and make our lives easier.


What is a smart home?


Smart homes generally have a suite of smart devices and systems that connect to the internet or with a shared network that you can control remotely.  All these smart devices within the home communicate with each other, taking your commands and sending you information.  For example, smart thermostats, smart lights, smart TV’s, smart audio speakers, smart appliances, smart door locks and smart security cameras are all connected and controlled with your smartphone, tablet or other home automation hub.

Window shades that automatically retract when your wake-up alarm rings in the morning and draw down at night.  Pet feeders that dispense food so you don’t have to worry about feeding your pets on time, or a thermostat that can be adjusted remotely when you aren’t home.  These examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smart home devices and what they can do for you.


Does a smart home make sense for you?


Looking at how the last year and a bit has unfolded, our homes have evolved to become our offices, gyms, schools and the places we increasingly find ourselves when it’s time to go out stay in and have a good time.  Our homes have been working hard to keep our lives moving, and now we can give them the tools to work even harder for us.   Upgrading to a smart home means you can automate tasks, stay on top of what needs doings, save money, and have your home anticipate what you need it to do.  Devices like home security cameras, smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, or even smart water shutoff devices can also increase your home’s safety level.


Benefits of a smart home

  • Save energy, time and money
  • Simplify your life (enable voice commands, set schedules, incorporate IFTTT and control your devices remotely)
  • Add security and safety (smart home security cams, smart smoke & CO detectors)
  • Make your home more entertaining (smart lighting, smart speakers)
  • Make regular household tasks easier (smart appliances, smart vacuums etc.)


How to turn your home into a smart home


does a smart home make sense for you?


The easiest way to increase your home’s IQ is to go out and purchase a lot of components.  That means upgrading your lighting with smart bulbs and sensors, installing security cameras, a multi-room audio system, a smart thermostat, emergency water shut-off etc.  – there’s a ton of cool stuff available.  Then take all that gear and connect it to a home automation hub, like your smartphone or tablet, so that you’ll be able to access and control everything with ease.

Of course in reality, you might need to pick and choose what to upgrade because everything costs money, and some of the smart devices aren’t cheap.  You’ll also have to invest some of your time to get it all set up and working to your liking.  Depending on your lifestyle and needs, a fully equipped smart home could also just be overkill.  That’s not to say you won’t benefit and enjoy most smart home devices, you don’t need to go overboard right away with your purchases.

Make sure you pay attention to compatibility when shopping for smart home devices, because you’ll want them to communicate with each other and with your hub.  Compatibility is key to creating a solid system foundation that you can build on over time and enjoy using.

Building out your smart home is fairly straightforward, but the first thing you need to do is make sure your wireless router is up to the task.  Most if not all your smart home devices will communicate over wi-fi, so having a router that provides a snappy connection to all areas of your home is vital for your system to function a smoothly.


Do I need a home automation hub?


do i need a home automation hub


In short, no you don’t, but let us explain.  A hub is the nerve centre of your smart home system and works to tie all your smart devices together.  Most devices will come with their own app, so they will work well independently, but it’s always nicer to have control of everything in one place.  So, while not strictly necessary, having a home automation hub in your setup does add a lot of value and allows your smart home devices to work together more harmoniously.  Having control of your home connected devices from one place means that it’ll be a lot easier for you to install, configure, monitor, and adjust your system.

Most smart devices are programmed to support multiple protocols but it’s a good idea to check for compatibility with your system before buying.


Using IFTTT with your smart home devices


ifttt for smart devices


Incorporating IFTTT into your smart home system is a great way to better orchestrate how your individual devices work together.  The IFTTT acronym stands for “If This Then That”, meaning that if one device or service performs and action, this can trigger an action on another device.  As an example, if you have IFTTT setup on your hub, you could set your smart lighting to blink when your Amazon Alexa timer reaches 0.  Alternatively, as you unlock your front door’s smart lock, the IFTTT applet could simultaneously turn on your entrance and hallway lights.  Pretty cool right?

IFTTT is supported by many devices and there are a ton of free applets available (an applet is the command which will trigger the desired action).  If you are unable to find a free applet for your task, then you can create one from scratch.  It’s easier than it sounds to use so check out the IFTTT website to learn more about how you can truly optimize and connect the systems in your smart home.


Our list of smart devices for your home (the favourites)


There are so many smart devices for home use available that choosing smart home devices can be difficult.  Everything from lights, to speakers, to door locks and appliances would make a great addition, so where do you begin?

Creating a smart home should be fun and exciting especially once you start getting things up and running.  For some ideas, check out what we feel are the top smart home devices categories to bring your home into the 21st century.


Start by choosing smart lighting


smart lighting in your home


This is a great starting point for anyone wondering how to make a smart home.  Smart lights can be turned on and off, dimmed or have their colours changed to create custom lighting scenes and lighting schedule.  Most brands use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to communicate and will come with their own controller app.  Check for compatibility with your hub if you’re using one.

Start by checking out some WiZ 60W A19 Frosted WiFi Full Colour & Tunable Smart LED Light Bulbs.  There’s no hub required (they are controlled through your smartphone), compatible with IFTTT and offer the perfect introduction smart light bulbs and enhancing the atmosphere inside your home.

Philips Hue products are another great option, or you could try Globe Electric WiFi Smart Bulbs available at Canadian Tire and Costco.


Adding smart plugs is a good idea


are smart plugs a good idea


Smart plugs (aka smart switches or smart outlets) are a must-have because they allow you to upgrade your dumb devices to smart ones.  Smart plugs are Wifi or Bluetooth equipped so they’re ready to integrate whatever you plug into them with your home hub.  Simply plug one of these into your existing wall outlet or power bar and voila, you’re ready to go.  Use smart plugs to turn devices like lamps, coffee makers, a TV and many more on or off remotely.  Most plugs can also be scheduled so you can have things in your home turn on even when you’re away to make it look like someone is home.  For the environmentally conscious, there are smart plugs that monitor energy consumption.

For rooms in your home that have most of the lights controlled by one switch, it’s beneficial to replace the existing dumb switch with a smart switch or smart dimmer.  The reason is that smart lightbulbs become dumb when the switch controlling them is turned off which may affect how they mesh with other devices, especially in IFTTT controlled setups.

Choose a smart plug that will connect to your home automation hub if you have one and is compatible with IFTTT.   Some reliable options include:

Philips WiZ WiFi Smart Plug

Globe Electric Wi-Fi Smart Plug 2

TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Slim with Energy Monitoring


Upgrade to a smart thermostat


smart thermostats image


For the best mix of comfort and home energy/cost saving potential, it’s difficult to beat a smart thermostat.  These devices not only give you remote control from your home hub or smartphone/tablet, they also enable scheduling of the heating and cooling cycles in your home.  Some of the better products also detect whether you’re at home or away so that your HVAC system is only running when necessary.  IFTTT support is recommended so you can link the thermostat functions to other smart devices in your home.

A high end device like the Ecobee Smart Thermostat with Alexa offers voice control, and includes remote room sensors that reduce hot & cold zones throughout your home.  Other notable products include a Google Nest Thermostat and the Honeywell Programmable Smart Thermostat.


Give voice commands with a smart speaker


choosing smart speakers with voice commands


Install a smart speaker to take automation in your home one step further.  No need to pull out your smartphone to put on the mood lighting as you get comfy on the couch for movie night.  Simply say “dim the lights” and all smart lighting that’s linked to your smart speaker will oblige.

The best examples of smart speakers are the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) and Google Nest Audio.


Stay safe with smart home security cameras & smart doorbells


smart security cameras and doorbells


You definitely want your home to be as safe as possible, and a smart home security camera will help.  Smart home security cams are made in both outdoor and indoor models to let you keep an eye on things even when you aren’t at home.  Outdoor models could catch a burglar in the act or activate a motion sensor light as a deterrent.  Indoor models can help busy parents keep an eye on what their young children are up to.

Smart doorbells generally feature cameras to let you know exactly who’s ringing via your smartphone or tablet.  Many models of smart cameras and doorbells also allow you to interact with your guests via an included microphone and speaker.

There are tons of choices available, so we recommend getting advice from your local retailer to ensure you get a camera that suits your needs and integrates with your existing smart home system.


Smart door locks for more than just security


smart door lock image


These might seem like a small addition to your smart home, but smart door locks really punch above their weight class.  These are some of the useful actions smart door locks can perform:

  • Allow keyless entry and exit
  • Deliver notifications when a door is unlocked
  • Verify that your doors are locked when you’re not at home
  • Lock and unlock your doors remotely
  • Make sure your doors are locked at a specific time
  • Engage or dis-engage auto lock
  • Activate door locks if a security alarm is triggered
  • Turn off your lights as you leave home
  • Turn on your lights as you arrive home
  • Adjust thermostats as you leave or arrive

Popular brands include Samsung, Schlage, Weiser, ALEKO and more.


Smart appliances make daily tasks so much easier


smart appliances for your home


Of course home appliances are smart as well!  There are voice controlled smart ovens, refrigerators with built in cameras that you can access via your smartphone (in case you’re at the grocery store and aren’t sure if you need milk) or the standard IFTTT compatible smart coffee machine so you can have that fresh cup ready and waiting as soon as you step into the kitchen.  There’s also smart kitchen thermometers, auto stirring devices and our personal favourite, the GeniCan Scanner which attaches to your garbage or recycling bins allowing you to scan your items as you toss them so they can be automatically added to an in-app shopping list.


Smart irrigation systems


rachio smart sprinkler controller image


The quest for a beautiful green lawn continues, as does the struggle to save money on your home’s water consumption.  A smart irrigation system could be an amazing addition that will help you achieve both these goals.  These systems can set a schedule, monitor how much water is being consumed and automatically cancel a scheduled watering if it’s raining.  Smart irrigation systems can be complex and therefore most of the top systems come with their own proprietary apps to do the job right.

A standout system is the Rachio R3 8-Zone Smart Sprinkler Controller (16-Zone also available).


Smart smoke & carbon monoxide detectors


smart smoke detector image nest protect 2


One of the biggest and easiest home safety upgrades you can make is to swap out your existing dumb detectors for some smart ones.  Think about it like this, your current smoke alarm might be loud (excruciatingly loud) but what if you’re not home to hear it.  A smart smoke detector will alert you on your smartphone if there’s an issue so you can take action.  Some also include emergency lighting to help you get out of a potentially smoke-filled home.

The most recommended smart detector is the Google Nest Protect (2nd Gen).


Small upgrades can have big improvements


Adding smart home devices might seem like a big task but it really doesn’t need to be.  Simple upgrades can give huge improvements, and as you get used to how the devices work, you’ll figure out more and more areas in your home you’ll want to make smart.  Whether it’s cost savings, home safety or simply your enjoyment that you want to enhance, a smart home can make it happen.

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