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We’re so excited to share a little bit about our sweet first home and the improvements we’ve made during the last (almost) 6 months to make it more tech friendly! While we love our home now, there were some little quirks to it when we first moved in. One of our initial findings when we moved into our little Lakeview (without a lake view) home, was that we would need to make some lighting changes right away. The light switches in most rooms seem to be in the worst possible locations: in the opposite corner from where you enter the room. There is also a startling lack of outlets. Who even designed this house?
It was a given that we would have to make some small improvements in this home, and I knew, being married to a techie, that these improvements likely wouldn’t stop with adding some new light switches in ideal locations. We put together this list of 10 ways to make your home a little smarter, based on what we’ve done to improve ours! There are lots of ways to use each of the following tools in your home, so take these as just a few examples of how they can be used. You can find all of the Amazon items from this article below!
(And no, I’m not just saying my husband is smart) The SmartThings Hub is an amazing way to connect various smart devices within your home so they can communicate with each other without the use of Bluetooth or WiFi. This hub uses ZigBee and Z-Wave (think of them as alternatives to the commonly used WiFi) and doesn’t require internet to function, meaning it will still work to connect your devices even if Charter decides it no longer likes you. The SmartThings Hub lets you control all of your smart devices from one app, so no more jumping around from the Belkin app to the Google Home app, to the Nest app, just to make little changes in your home. One way we have used the Hub is to run actions that use several devices in a row. When John says “Hey Google, it’s movie time”, the Hub first turns off the lights, then turns on the TV, and then switches the TV input to our Bluray player. Cool, right?
These dimmable wall switches use Z-Wave to gain control of old, non-smart light bulbs. These are an elegant solution that doesn’t require you to make significant changes in your home. They can be used as normal light switches with the added option of being controlled with an app. Ever remembered you forgot to turn off a light after you have already been on the road for 30 minutes? This switch would allow you to turn them off and on from many miles away. While a smart switch may seem more expensive at first glance, consider that they normally control a whole group of lights instead of one individual bulb. One switch can allow you to control, for example, 12 bulbs in one room, instead of buying 12 smart bulbs that will eventually need to be replaced.
If you’re not comfortable changing out your wall switches or if you are wanting a more customizable experience, you can also purchase smart lightbulbs. These are a great option for lamps! There are bulbs that have multiple color options, allowing you switch either the color temperature or the hue, or both. One downside to using smart bulbs is that the physical switch controlling the light must remain on at all times. So, if you turn off the lamp switch, you no longer have smart control of that bulb. Smart bulbs must have power at all times in order to be used.
Using the SmartThings app, you can also control a single plug at a time. This smart plug can be used to control appliances you may not want running all day, like a candle warmer, space heater, or humidifier. You can even use the app to set up specific timing! Say your coffee maker just needs to be turned on to start brewing coffee. You can set your coffee machine to turn on at 7:25 every morning, so that it is done brewing by the time you get out of the shower. There are so ways these can be used for home automation, so let us know if you think of something new!
Harmony Hub for TV
The Logitech Harmony Hub allows you to control your TV setup by mimicking different IR and Bluetooth remotes. The one below also comes with a physical universal remote that helps clear up clutter by eliminating your need for multiple remotes (or clickers, if you’re from New England). This remote has the ability to set up “activities” so that when you are watching cable, your remote buttons are mapped differently than when you are watching a Bluray. For example, when watching a Bluray, hitting the channel up and down buttons will not interrupt your movie.
Dash buttons and Battery Powered Buttons
Our house has some very inconveniently placed light switches. Our living room lights are only controlled by the pull cord on the fan. With some battery powered buttons (found here), we were able to essentially add light switches wherever we wanted.
Amazon Dash buttons can be used to order common household items through your Amazon account with just one click. It is handy when you notice you are running low on something like laundry detergent; you simply set up your specific shipping, payment, and item options ahead of time, and then a click of the button orders the item. John, however, wanted to use these in a different way. He connected 4 Dash buttons in our home to the Smart Things Hub to use just like the aforementioned buttons. So when you walk into our room, the switch controls our fan and main room light, while the Dash button turns on the two lamps. In our living room, we now have a button on both sides of the room. These are basically a cheaper version of the usual battery-powered buttons you can buy.
Google Home, Chromecast, and Chromecast Audio
Another way to interact with all of these components is to use our Google Homes as voice remotes. We have used the Google Home (found here) to turn lights on and off, control the Christmas tree, set the room up for movie night, and turn on specific shows or music on our TV. We use the Google Home in conjunction with the SmartThings Hub to control any smart requests we have by voice instead of through the app. We have also linked our Google Homes (we have 5 throughout the house) together so they can sync up and play music together. Sometimes we also just use them for silly questions, like “Hey Google, how do you pronounce doge?”
Solar Powered Motion Sensor Lights
Our back/side yard doesn’t have any lights, so we’ve had to use a flashlight whenever we want to grill at night right now (which is often). We just recently added two solar powered motion lights on the side of the house, which will help with grilling as well as for scaring away any intruders… or neighborhood cats. These simple lights collect and store solar energy during the day and then act as motion sensor lights during the night, only coming on when something nearby moves. These have been really helpful in the last few weeks that we’ve had them, and installation is super easy.
You’ve probably heard of Tile before, which is the biggest name in finding lost things! This tiny tool uses Bluetooth to connect your phone to something else, whether it be your keys, purse, phone, or most anything else you often lose. John has a Tile attached to his keys and if he can’t find them, he pulls up the Tile app on his phone and he can see where the keys are, or make them sound off if he knows they are close (like setting your car alarm off in a massive parking lot). Tile also uses the location of other Tile Users to help find missing items. If someone with the app on their phone walks by an item that was marked as “missing” by another user, the app automatically makes a note of that location. John recently got a notification saying he unknowingly helped someone else find something important!
There are various smart scales on the market, but we love the Fitbit Aria in white, which we use in our bathroom at home! The Aria syncs up with our Fitbit apps and watches, so each time we log in to the app, our weight has updated without us having to manually update it daily or weekly. The scale also calculates your body fat percentage each time you step on the scale and it can even recognize the person using the scale. For example, when I weigh myself, the scale tells me my weight, then my body fat percentage, then shows my initials (set up in the app) to verify that it is saving the right person’s information. The scale will recognize up to 8 different people, so this even works for bigger families.
BONUS: Wireless Charging
Just for an additional idea (and because 10 ideas sounded better for the title), we wanted to also mention wireless charging! Did you know you don’t have to have a phone with wireless charging built in to use it? Sure, if you have a new iPhone or one of many Android phones with built-in wireless charging, you’re probably used to this convenient feature. However, you can also buy a receiver add-on for almost any other phone to give it this capability! One of John’s favorite projects from a few years ago was a wireless charging nightstand that he made. He opened up this all wood nightstand and carved an opening right under the surface where he stuck a very small wireless charger. Now, all he has to do is set his phone down on his nightstand in the right spot and it starts to charge. He recently got the Google Pixel, which does not have the built-in capability, so he had to buy a receiver which is extremely thin and fits under a special case for the phone. Still, this is overall a great option for keeping your home a little more free of clutter and tangled cords.
We have a few ideas for future projects we’d like to do as well that may not be as easy to do in our little rental home. In a future home, we plan on using a smart thermostat, likely Nest, smart locks, and more home automation routines. In an ideal world, John would love to have a routine set up that would turn on the lights in the hallway after his alarm goes off.
Let us know how you’ve made your home smarter and your thoughts on these smart home ideas!