A two story home with a well-manicured garden.
Alexmisu/Shutterstock

Are you thinking about starting up smarthome? Great! But don’t jump directly in without a plan. That’s how you end up making common smarthome beginner mistakes. Instead, before buying anything, you should ask yourself a few common-sense questions.

What Changes Can You Make to Your Home?

Creating a smarthome involves varying levels of installing new tech. Some gadgets, like smart plugs and voice assistant speakers, are as simple as plugging the device into an outlet. Others entail making a physical change to your home, like changing the locks or doorbells.

But depending on your home situation, you may not be able to make those changes. If you rent, for instance, you may not be allowed to change the locks without permission. In some cases, the answer might always be no.

In other instances, installing tech may call for a particular expertise. Are you comfortable with electrical work? What about working with the plumbing of your home? If you aren’t, that limits you from installing devices that are wired directly into your home or connected to your pipes.  You would have to pay a professional to complete the install, which adds to price.

What Do You Want to Accomplish?

A Nest Hub, wireless charger, lamp with smart bulb, and kindle.
Do you want smart lights you can control by voice? Josh Hendrickson

Once you know what kind of changes you can make, it’s time to ask yourself what you want to accomplish. These days, manufacturers seem willing to slap a radio on nearly anything just to call it smart and sell it to you. For that reason alone, there are all kinds of smarthome devices you should avoid.

But to figure out which ones are right for you, you should have a good idea of what you want your smarthome to do for you. If your chief concern is cutting back on power usage, then smart bulbs, plugs, and a thermostat is your starting point.

On the other hand, if security is your goal, you’ll want to invest in smart locks, video doorbells, and other cameras. Smarthomes technology can meet a variety of needs and desires, and in most cases, they even solve more than one problem. But start simple. Pick one goal to accomplish and go after that first. Then expand.

Do You Want to Do it Yourself?

We often focus on do-it-yourself smarthome tech at How-To Geek, but you don’t have to do it yourself. Various companies like Control4 and Savant offer customized smarthome systems you can purchase. Typically you’ll buy a centralized hub (sometimes a traditional smarthome hub, but more often a full computer like a Mac Mini) and a series of devices like smart plugs, bulbs, and even smart shades for your home.

Control4, Savant, and others offer a single app solution to control your smarthome. And they usually do work with outside services like Google Home and Alexa. These companies do all the hard work for you, but at a premium cost.

If you’d rather save money, then you can go the DIY route, which means choosing your hub, devices, and managing them yourself.

How Much Do You Want to Spend?

Once you’ve decided on a complete system or a DIY route, you’ll need to determine how much you want to spend. Complete systems typically offer packages, so it’s the DIY route that involves more picking and choosing.

You can build a good starter smarthome for about $400, but you don’t have to start with all those devices right away. If you know your goal voice-controlled lights, and you want to spend less than $40, then Wyze bulbs are a great choice. On the other hand, if you have a larger budget, you might upgrade to Philips Hue bulbs.

This question isn’t a single ask scenario. You should plan out stages: “How much do I want to spend now? In six months? In a year?” Rolling out your smarthome in stages will help spread the cost.

What Voice Assistant Should You Get?

A Nest Home Hub next to an Amazon Echo Show
Google, Amazon

Although automation is a smarthome’s real superpower, the truth is most average people control their smarthome with a voice assistant. If you’re willing to let the cloud into your home, Alexa or Google Assistant may be the most intuitive and powerful component among your smart devices.

But they aren’t the same. Amazon Echo devices come in a wider variety of form factors, for instance, while Google is better at natural speech and web searches.

Some smart devices only support Alexa or Google Assistant, while others support both. Even among those that support both, the features aren’t always equal. The Schlage Encode Wi-Fi lock supports voice unlock with pin and routines on Alexa, but not Google, for instance.

It’s a lot like picking Android or iPhone. Both are capable systems that will likely meet most of your needs. But small details do make a difference. Whether that be a missing app only on iPhone, or a missing integration only found on Google Assistant.

Will Your Family and Guests Like Your Smarthome?

A happy family carrying boxes into a home.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Do you live alone? If not (and to some extent, even if you do), other people will interact with your smarthome. If the family, friends, or roommates who live with you hate your smarthome and are unwilling to use it, you’ll find it harder to use yourself.

That’s true when guests come over as well. If you don’t prepare them for a smarthome reality, they may feel uncomfortable in it and become unwilling to come over in the future. You can mitigate these issues with a few steps to make your smarthome easier to use for friends and family. But it all starts with a conversation about the benefits of a smarthome.

Ultimately, if you have a spouse or children who hate the idea of a smarthome, you may want to think twice before investing in smart gadgets. At the very least, you should address those issues in meaningful ways, so everyone feels comfortable in the home.

Don’t make the mistake of diving right into the first smart gadget that catches your fancy. Proper planning for your smarthome will prevent the need to undo mistakes and rebuy gadgets in the future. And you’ll enjoy your smarthome more for it.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code.
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