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Smart Home Made Simple: A Practical Guide for Adding Smart Home Upgrades to Your House

You can add smart home technology to your home without it being super complicated or overwhelming! This post will help make the whole smart home process much more manageable.

How to Add Smart Home Technology to Your House
Abby Lawson

When I laid out our organizing goals for 2021, I did it a little differently than I have in previous years. Rather than naming a bunch of different spaces we wanted to organize, we really only had one major element that we wanted to add to most of the rooms in our house:

Smart home features!

But I made that declaration at the end of December, and then we’ve been pretty quiet about it ever since. I promise there is a good reason for that– we’ve been researching!

There are a LOT of factors that go into smart home systems, and we wanted to make sure we didn’t start buying items or recommending different pieces without a full understanding of what we were getting into.

But now that we’ve taken the time to read articles and reviews and watch videos and test out some of the different smart home elements for ourselves, we are so excited to start spilling the beans and sharing what we’ve learned!

And I say “we” because Donnie is the one spearheading this project in our family! He has been interested in smart technology for years and has really dug into the research with a vengeance lately, so I’m going to turn it over to him…


What is “Smart Home”?

“Smart Home” is a term used to describe physical household devices that are connected to the internet and can be controlled using your voice or remotely using a smart phone app with the goal of making your daily routine and everyday life easier and more convenient.

The past few years it’s been amazing to see how far smart home devices have come. In the past, it seemed like home automation and smart home technology was changing so rapidly that most products and solutions became quickly outdated.

When we lived in our townhouse years ago, I was really interested in smart lightning, smart thermostats, and some other smart home solutions, but I was never confident enough to make any big purchases because of my fear of products becoming quickly outdated. I’m glad I waited.

The smart home and home automation space is a lot more mature now. Devices and solutions are still being updated, but not at the same pace as in the past, and manufacturers are doing a better job at making sure older devices continue to work.

I think that we are in the sweet spot right now for smart home solutions and devices. The technology is mature, the ease of use is so much better than it used to be, and good investments should continue to work and be useful to your family for years to come.

At least for us, this is the year we finally embrace smart home technology in our house.

Ryan Homes Palermo Craftsman Style House

In this post I’ll lay out some of our plans. If you’re interested in adding smart home technology to your own house, I recommend that you bookmark or pin this post, because it will serve as the central place for all the smart home resources on on our blog. As we write a new post, we’ll make sure to update this page and link to the new articles.

Our Smart Home Goals

Our smart home goals may be different than many people. We’re not necessarily searching for the most advanced or high tech option available. We want simplicity and usability. We want to find options that make our lives a little easier, not more complicated.

Here are the smart home solutions and topics we’d like to explore this year…

Choosing a Smart Home Voice Assistant

In a way, choosing a smart home voice assistant be the most important initial decision. There are many differences when considering Siri, Alexa, or Google Home as your voice assistant.

Some people may already be heavily invested in one ecosystem, while others may be starting from scratch. We explored the pros and cons of each system and let you know what voice assistant we’ve decided to use.

The Best Smart Home Voice Assistant: Alexa vs. Google vs. Siri

The Best Smart Speaker

In many ways smart speaks are directly tied to a voice assistant. For example the Apple Home Pod uses Siri as a voice assistant, Google Home devices use the Google voice assistant, and Amazon Alexa Smart speakers obviously use Alexa.

But there are still other important considerations like sound quality, volume, price, and how well multiple speakers link together. And there is also a third party solution with amazing audio quality with two of the most popular voice assistants built in. We’ll take a look at all of these options.

Living Room with Sound Bar Under the TV

The Best Smart Plugs

Smart plugs are a solution for taking a non-smart device and turning it into a smart device. They plug directly into existing outlets and then make it possible to control the power to that device through a smart home voice assistant or app.

We are planning on adding smart plugs to our newly installed under cabinet lights, our outdoor landscape lights, and two large air filters we use in our basement. It will be nice to control all these devices remotely and even set up automated timer functions.

White Kitchen with Under Cabinet Lighting

There are lots of considerations with smart plugs. We’ll explore all those details to help you make a good decision with your purchase.

The Best Smart WiFi Router

We have fairly fast WiFi in our house, but it is not without glitches or annoyances.

Every time I look at our internet bill, I’m annoyed that we pay a few extra dollars each month to “rent” our router and a WiFi repeater that we have at the opposite corner of our house. We should’ve purchased our own router years ago, but setup and compatibility can sometimes make this challenging.

We finally upgraded to a smart WiFi “mesh” system and couldn’t be more happy. Learn what system we chose and some of the unexpected benefits of our smart WiFi router system.

Boy on Laptop Computer, Sitting in a White Chair

The Best Smart Thermostat

Smart thermostats have many benefits like reducing energy costs and the ability to control the HVAC system remotely. It’s usually one of the first smart home upgrades people make.

In our house, we have two heating and cooling “zones” (upstairs and downstairs) controlled by two separate thermostats. Those two thermostats control mechanical baffles by our HVAC system in the basement and allows airflow to be directed to one zone or the other by opening and closing.

These multiple zones will make installation of a smart thermostat a little more complicated, but we’ll compare the best smart home thermostats on the market.

The Best Smart Home Doorbell

This is the one upgrade that Abby is very excited about.

I’m sure you’ve seen the Amazon Ring or Google Nest Hello doorbells. They have a built-in camera so you can monitor your front porch or know who is knocking on your door from an app.

There are lots of considerations in terms of installation, night vision, field of view, and speaker options. We’ll compare the different options and then walk through our installation.

Front Door of a Craftsman Style House

The Best Smart Home Door Lock

There are a number of keyless smart locks on the market. These allow someone to use a passcode or possibly a fingerprint to unlock a door to the house. Typically these smart locks control the deadbolt.

I used to be skeptical of smart locks. Are keys really that hard to use? But at this point, I think I’m sold on a smart lock. You can…

  • Check the status (locked or unlocked) from an app while in your home or even a thousand miles away.
  • Get access to your house even if you forgot a key.
  • Create temporary passcodes for others to enter your house. This seems particularly useful while on vacation. No more need to give a neighbor a key so they can check on things.

The Best Smart Home Security System and Cameras

I am not a fan of the big national home security companies. I don’t love their sales tactics, and it’s always nice to break free from all of the monthly charges.

Fortunately, in recent years a number of new smart home security systems have been released. This year we would like to upgrade our home security to a smart home security system.

The Best Robot (Smart) Vacuum

A robot vacuum is slightly outside the “smart home” category, but I think for our purposes it fits well.

I have been skeptical of robot vacuums for years. I know they have limitations, but I have heard from way too many people about how much they love their vacuum to ignore them any longer.

Our house will be challenging because our first floor is a combination of hardwood floors and many area rugs. We want to find a robot vacuum that can do a nice job on both surfaces.

View of Living Room from Kitchen

How to Use IFTTT to Automate Your Smart Home

IFTTT (If This Then That) is an online service that allows you connect various apps and devices using pre-made or your own custom applets. It’s a powerful way of getting more out of your smart home devices.

For example, you can create an applet to stop your Roomba just before your arrive home. Or you can use IFTTT to send you a notification when your Nest Cam has detected an event.

Those are just two examples of endless options. A nice thing about IFTTT is that you can explore premade applets by searching for your particular smart device. This is a great way to get ideas and truly automate your smart home devices.


Abby Lawson

Yay! Can you tell we’re just a little bit excited about integrating smart home technology into our house?! This post was meant to give a quick bird’s eye view of where we’re headed with our smart home series.

Over the next few months, we will go into each of the areas we discussed in much more detail. We’ll be sharing reviews and comparisons of equipment and systems, step-by-step tutorials for installing various smart home elements, and making each piece super easy to understand and implement in your own home!

If you’re planning to follow along with this smart home series, be sure to pin the image below so you can come back to this post– this will be the central hub where all future smart home posts will be linked!

Smart Home Made Simple

And if you have any smart home tips and ideas for us, we would LOVE to hear them in the comments below!

Thank you so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!

5 Comments

  1. I’m so excited about this! This is one of our plans once we find a house and get moved!

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      We are excited too.. should be fun! 🙂 Hope you’re having a great week, Brianne!

      ~Abby =)

  2. We used several Nest cameras paired with Google Home as one way to monitor my elderly mother (who lived downstairs). Since she was Deaf and became blind later, it was a way to monitor her safety as she moved around from bedroom to bathroom to family room (if we weren’t downstairs or asleep). We see her on the phone App if not near the Google Home monitor. Very effective devices as caretakers.

    1. Abby Lawson says:

      Wow, thanks so much for sharing, Mary! That could be helpful for many I’m sure!

      ~Abby =)

  3. Mike Donghia says:

    Hi Abby and Donnie,

    Nice overview of all the smart home tech on the market. I’m excited to follow along with the series to see which products you choose in each category and how they all connect with each other. I have built some pretty cool automations at work using IFTT (and similar tools, like Zapier), but have never thought about all the interesting ways they could be applied to a home with smart devices. The possibilities are nearly endless!

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