Smart home FAQ: Your questions answered

smart home basics

So you’ve decided to start building out your smart home. Congratulations! We obviously think that’s a great choice. While some smart home gadgets might be a little gimmicky, most have useful real-world applications. But we’re also willing to bet you might have a ton of questions too.

That’s why we’ve developed this FAQ. Below are some of the questions we most frequently see online or hear for our readers. But, of course, we’re also here for you — if there’s a question you have that isn’t answered below, please feel free to contact us! Let’s get started.

Editor’s note: This FAQ covers questions on smart home technology and its use in the home. If you’re experiencing issues and need help resolving them, check our FAQ on common smart home problems.

Smart Home Basics

We answer the most basic questions on the technology below.

What is a smart home?

The term smart home refers to a group of technologies and devices that allow homeowners to control their homes. Smart home devices can be accessed by an app, virtual assistant, or even run autonomously. In many cases, these devices talk to one another and/or use data from the internet to run more efficiently.

What are the benefits of smart home technology?

The biggest benefit of smart home technology is its connectivity. Depending on what devices you own, your home knows whether your home or not, the conditions inside and outside your home, what time of day it is and sometimes even your specific habits. This connectivity aims to make managing your home more convenient, less stressful, and even less expensive.

Is smart home technology affordable?

Yes! While years ago, devices were expensive, the cost of building a modern connected home has dropped considerably. These days, a basic smart home setup with lights, a video doorbell, a smart lock, and even a smart security camera might cost you less than $500 in total, thanks to plenty of lower-cost yet high-quality options.

What smart home devices should I buy first?

While everyone is different, we recommend starting with four types of devices first. Smart lights and video doorbells are a good place to start, and you might want to consider a smart lock if your front door has a separate deadbolt. Next, choosing a virtual assistant like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant makes controlling your smart home as easy as using your voice.

Which smart home assistant should I choose?

Our preference is Amazon Alexa. We use Amazon’s platform because of its compatibility with a wide range of smart devices and the fact it isn’t tied to a specific ecosystem. However, households well invested in either the Apple or Google ecosystems might be better served by choosing either Siri or Google Assistant, respectively.

Do I need to subscribe to any premium services?

Many smart home devices don’t require a subscription to work, but their functionality will be limited. We recommend sticking with one brand across your home as much as possible, so if a subscription becomes necessary, it enhances the capabilities of several devices you own.

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Smart Home Installation

Here are questions we’ve heard on installing smart devices in the home.

Must smart home devices be professionally installed?

No! Most devices are simple to install, requiring few tools other than a drill or screwdriver. Most manufacturers include basic tools for the install in the package and very frequently items like bits. If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, a professional installer should be able to complete most installs in less than 30 minutes.

Do I need to upgrade my Wi-Fi network?

If you don’t have a mesh networking system already, you may have to unless you don’t plan to use many smart devices on your network. We’ve found mesh networking to be able to manage traffic much better than your standard router, and it typically has more bandwidth, too, meaning your devices have plenty of space to transmit data back and forth.

Do I need faster internet?

Probably not. With the smart home, your internal network is much more important than your connection to the internet. However, if you’re watching your video remotely or the devices themselves use the cloud to store data, a slower connection will make your life a bit miserable. So we recommend a step above the most basic package to be safe.

Smart Home Devices and Services

Got questions on smart home devices and services? Look below.

What is a smart home hub?

A hub is a device that acts like a central place for all of your devices to communicate. The earliest devices did not have Wi-Fi connectivity but used other radio technologies like Zigbee to communicate. The hub was connected to your home network and acted as the gateway to the internet. These days, the hub is obsolete, as most devices have built-in Wi-Fi support.

What is IFTTT?

IFTTT is a third-party service that allows internet-connected devices to talk to one another. It’s also become a popular way to trigger smart devices based on certain conditions. For example, you could use rainfall data from your weather station to tell your sprinkler system to shut off or your robot lawnmower to stop mowing.

Which smart home devices work together?

Just about any device that uses IFTTT will be able to connect to other devices using IFTTT. However, where it gets a bit trickier is on devices that don’t. A quick Google search or your device’s documentation should provide some guidance.

smart home speaker

Other Great Smart Home Questions

Here’s a few more questions that don’t fit into any of the categories above.

Can I control smart home devices if the internet or Wi-Fi is down?

Typically, the only features unavailable during an Internet outage will be the remote control of your devices when you’re not on your home network. However, if your Wi-Fi fails for any reason, you may have difficulty controlling your devices during that outage. Some devices have backup methods of connectivity, such as Bluetooth — but in our experience, it’s pretty rare.

Can smart home devices save me money?

They sure can! Smart Thermostats are probably the single biggest money-saving smart devices you can buy. HVAC systems use a significant amount of energy, and smart thermostats will help you heat and cool your house more effectively. They can also help you save money by turning off lights you aren’t using or monitor for home issues — like leaks and fires — that, if caught quickly, could save you thousands in repairs.

Are smart homes secure from hackers?

We hear this question a lot and understand why many are concerned due to the sometimes sensitive data that our connected homes may detect, see, and hear. Smart home devices, by and large, are safe from hackers, as the companies themselves spend a good deal of money on ensuring data or access to your smart devices doesn’t fall into the hands of hackers. However, we strongly urge our readers to review their home networking security, as there is a far greater chance of hackers breaking in through vulnerabilities in your Wi-Fi network.

We hope this answers some of your questions, and as we said at the beginning, if you have any questions we’d be glad to answer them for you. Use our contact form to get in touch!

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