By Sam Wasson
Updated Jan 6, 2023
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Part security system, part cost-saving investment, and consisting of advanced, interlinked appliances, smart home systems can feel like science fiction made real. If you’ve looked into investing in a smart home, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. There are dozens of smart home systems to choose from, all offered by a menagerie of companies, each that interacts with countless home appliances. We’re here to help flatten the learning curve for homeowners by answering the question, “what is a smart home,” by looking at how it works and explaining some of the main benefits.
Smart home, home automation, smart home technology, and domotics are umbrella terms that all describe a home whose appliances (fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, etc.) and systems (HVAC, security, smart lighting, etc.) are connected through a network and controlled by remote devices (typically a phone, remote control, or tablet).
Smart homes come in many shapes and sizes, with some systems controlling everything from your refrigerator to your blinds, while others can be as small as a single smart thermostat. These systems are often referred to as the Internet of Things, or IoT, as they’re a system of things (appliances, devices, and systems) that all connect through a network. Interestingly, the term “Internet of Things” is a misnomer, as your smart home network doesn’t necessarily need an internet connection to work, only a functioning local network.
With a smart home, you can have enhanced control and oversight of household appliances and systems. You can set schedules, monitor events while out and about, and keep track of important information from your phone or tablet. As such, a smart home allows you to save money in the long run by disabling electricity-consuming devices when you leave and regulating home systems for optimum efficiency. You also gain improved security, from cameras to window-break sensors, motion tracking, and live video feeds. A smart home offers a wide variety of comfort and convenience with voice activation, schedule management, and even machine learning so your system can adapt to your specific preferences and needs.
A smart device is any appliance or system, like the Amazon Smart Plug, designed to connect to a smart home hub or integrated network. These devices can be connected and controlled directly through an app or integrated into a larger smart home system. They can also be third-party, like most smart TVs or refrigerators, or proprietary and part of a larger interconnected system, like the Google Nest Thermostat.
A smart home system refers to the specific medium in which your network communicates. Smart home systems come in one of three categories, wired, wireless, or hybrid. Each of these systems uses specific protocols (languages) to communicate.
Smart home protocols, also called home automation operating standards, are the languages devices connected through a smart home system use to communicate. While not every device or system needs protocols to communicate with a smart home system (more simple installations like lights and power outlets typically don’t), most major appliances and devices do. Only certain protocols work with certain systems, and if your device requires a protocol, it must be able to communicate with a system’s protocol to be compatible with it. Many popular protocols are cross-compatible, making communication between devices relatively simple.
Some of the most common protocols for each type of system include:
A smart home hub, also known as a smart hub, home automation hub, bridge, gateway, controller, or coordinator, is your smart home system’s nerve center and core. A hub is a piece of hardware (or sometimes software, like the Apple Homekit) that interfaces with and controls communications between smart home devices. Software hubs often come as apps for your phone or tablet, while hardware hubs typically connect directly to the router.
Many systems have their own hubs dedicated to communicating with related devices, like the Vivint Home Security Smart Hub. Numerous other third-party hubs exist and are typically designed to communicate between multiple service devices, like the Samsung SmartThings Hub.
One of the most attractive features of smart homes is their customization. Countless devices, services, systems, and programs can alter a smart home’s cost. Furthermore, the difference between DIY setups and professional installations is massive, with some DIY systems costing as little as $1,500 and high-end installations running upwards of $10,000. However, for a full suite in a single-family home, the national average runs between $2,500 and $5,000, averaging around $3,500.
The world of smart homes can feel like a series of interconnected and increasingly complex rabbit holes. We recommend making sense of these systems on a brand-by-brand basis and looking at a company or service that you feel would improve the quality of your home. Do you want enhanced security features like smart front door locks and video doorbells? Vivint Smart Home Security is likely the best choice. But if you’re looking for a malleable system that “plays nice” with lots of devices, Google’s Smart Home could be better.
Disclosure: House Method participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate advertising program is designed to provide a means for publishers to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
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