Your questions about smart homes, answered

April 21, 2020 | 5 min read

With new smart devices available every year, you may be curious about how you could turn your home into a smart home, and what that even means. We’ve compiled a few common questions about smart homes and devices to help you get started!

What makes your home and appliances smart?

There’s not one definition of “smart,” but typically it means that your device or appliance meets the following criteria:

  • Connected to the internet and to other devices or appliances
  • Programmable (you can set it to turn on and off based on your routine)
  • Remotely manageable (you can turn it on or off from your phone or computer, even when you’re not at home)
  • Able to learn from your behavior or outside forces (like the weather)

Smart homes use a variety of smart devices and appliances to increase the comfort, convenience, and even energy savings in your home. By connecting to the internet, you can control smart devices and appliances remotely, or connect them together through a smart hub to monitor, manage and even automate their activity.  

What smart devices are available today?

Many common home appliances and electronics are now available in smart models. From your dishwasher, refrigerator, and TV to your lights, ceiling fans, and even HVAC vents, there are a lot of options based on your home and your goals. Here are some examples of what smart products can do for you:

  • smart thermostat can be set to run at certain times of the day, so your house is warm when you need it to be but doesn’t waste heat. It can also learn from your behavior or even react to the weather to make sure your house is running efficiently and helping you save.
  • smart dishwasher can help you stop water leaks before they get out of hand, and schedule loads for convenient times for you – and for the grid.
  • smart refrigerator might come with a camera so that you can see your food without opening the fridge door, and check what you already have remotely when you’re at the grocery store.
  • Smart plugs and outlets can help turn any average device into a smart device. When you plug a device into a smart plug or power strip, you can monitor its energy usage, turn it off remotely, or even benefit from motion sensors to turn devices off when you’ve stopped using them.
Do I need a smart speaker or a smart hub to manage smart devices?

The short answer? You don’t need a smart speaker or a smart hub to have smart devices, but they might help them work more effectively in your home.

Many smart devices can be controlled by an app on your phone. If all of your devices are from one manufacturer, you might be able to control them from a single app. But when you start expanding your smart home, a smart home hub can help manage all your devices in one place. Rather than opening multiple apps, you can connect your devices to one smart hub and control them together.

How do I decide which smart hub to buy?

It depends how you want to use your devices. We’ve shared some common considerations about how you’ll use your devices that might help you decide. Remember to check that your devices are compatible with your hub before making a final decision.

I want to use voice commands.

A smart speaker with a voice assistant (like the Amazon Echo Dot with Alexa or the Google Home Max with the Google voice assistant) can help you easily manage your smart devices without having to reach for your phone. Smart speakers are voice activated, meaning the controls are spoken. You might say “I’m leaving” to set off a series of actions you’ve already taught it. Usually smart speakers are best at turning appliances on or off or changing levels (like volume or brightness).

I want to use voice and touch commands.

If you also want to see your controls, look for an interactive display hub with smart speaker. You can place your hub in a common area for easy access. They can still be controlled with your voice but they also have a larger display than your smartphone for easy access. Many brands also allow you to add additional hubs or speakers later, if you want to expand access to your smart home controls to other rooms in your house.

Smart hubs can help you build more complex scenarios involving multiple devices using “If This Then That” (IFTTT) protocols. For instance, “if I say I’m going on vacation, then lock the front door, turn off the heat, shut the curtains, turn down my water heater, and turn off the lights.”

I just want to use touch commands.

A standalone smart hub (like the Samsung SmartThings Hub) can build those more complex scenarios using an app on your phone. These can still be connected to a smart speaker, but don’t come with one.

Do smart homes help save energy and money?

Smart home technology is new, so there is limited data yet around energy and cost savings, but the potential for savings is there. There are some smart devices that directly relate to energy savings, like smart thermostats and compatible room sensors, smart vents, and smart heating systems, but how you use these devices matters.

Whether or not you save energy and money also depends on your electric rates. This can be dependent on many factors such as load shifting, energy storage, and time of use.

How does this all relate to the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (or IoT) is a broad category that describes the way internet connected devices can speak to each other and share data. Smart homes are a part of the Internet of Things because they use the internet to communicate, manage their own behavior, and learn. Cars, streetlighting, and large commercial buildings also have the potential to be part of the Internet of Things.

What are the privacy concerns around smart homes?

Some consumers have concerns over installing smart devices due to data privacy concerns. The companies that make and manage smart devices may use the data that those devices collect to learn consumer preferences and behavior. However, many companies invest heavily in privacy protections for your data. Just like the data your smartphone collects, that data can help improve your experience with the devices, but it’s difficult to control how your data is used by the companies who have it. It’s important to stay educated on the privacy considerations the manufacturers are taking and understand the risks before any buying a smart device.