I previously written about the disadvantages of smart homes, and somehow came up with a list of 19 reasons. Whilst everything I covered is valid, there’s more that’s good about smart homes than bad – so I wanted to cover 25 reasons why I think smart homes are awesome here.
Whether it’s getting news and weather updates, making home-life easier or improving the lives of the elderly and severely disabled, smart homes have a massive range of benefits and uses.
The most popular type of smart device – a smart speaker (also called a virtual assistant) – makes it really easy to get updates on a wide range of things, including news and the weather.
Devices like the Echo Dot, full-size Echo (both from Amazon) and the Google Home range can also be used to play music and radio stations on, with access to millions of songs through Prime Music or Spotify.
They can also be used as an alarm, timer, calendar-entry reminder, food recipe source and a whole lot more. In this way, smart speakers provide loads of benefits to a typical household.
You might be cooking in the kitchen, in which case timers, music and food recipes are all really useful features. Or you might find that the white noise (which improve sleep quality) and alarm features are useful in your bedroom.
I have four smart speakers in oft-used rooms in my house, and they are really convenient.
Both the Amazon Alexa and Google Home mobile apps allow you to create ‘routines’. These are based on two simple parts:
- Trigger – what must be said – or what must happen – before this routine will kick in. For example, you could set-up a routine to do something when a specific phrase is heard by Alexa/Google Home. Or the routine could be based on the time (essentially an alarm-trigger) or another smart device (such as a security alarm detecting unexpected motion).
- Action(s) – one or more things that will happen due to this routine. The ‘thing’ could be a smart speaker playing a song, your smart thermostat turning the heating up/down, a smart plug being turned on/off – and a whole lot more.
An example of a routine is in my guide to blocking specific songs. This routine uses a single action, although being able to perform multiple actions is where routines become powerful. For example you might have a routine which triggers when you say “Alexa, goodnight”, and does all the following:
- Turns off all your smart lights throughout your house.
- Lowers your heating system temperature.
- Ensures that all windows and doors are shut (based on window/door smart sensors).
- Turns off your internet router (which is plugged into a smart plug).
Obviously you can change things to suit your exact needs, but this example gives an idea of how home automation can be achieved really easily using routines.
See advantage #24 for an especially useful routine for families!
An Echo Dot can be picked up for just $19 during sales (such as Black Friday events), and they provide loads of benefit to households – as I explored in advantage #1. Heck, $19 is the price of 5 coffees at Starbucks, but you’ll be benefiting from a Dot a lot more than a few sips of coffee… and I say that as a big coffee lover!
You can also pick up smart plugs for less than $10 each, some of which can monitor your appliance’s energy usage (thus saving you money as you recognize – and change – usage patterns), along with providing the nice ability of being able to remotely turn devices on and off.
Even a smart thermostat – which I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of – can pay for itself in just 3 years compared to an older, non-programmable thermostat.
In short, the price of smart home tech has plummeted in recent years, and the benefits they provide in terms of convenience and home automation are well worth the initial outlay.
In the early days, a lot of smart devices used technologies like Zigbee and Z-wave to allow the devices to speak to each other, along with reporting back to a central smart home hub. This was a bit of a barrier to entry, because you would need to be sure that any devices you buy are compatible with other devices in your smart home ‘network’.
This has thankfully changed, and nowadays a lot of devices simply connect to your standard internet router over WiFi and can easily be found and controlled in your Alexa or Google Home app (and hence with your Echo and Google Home devices).
You can therefore be reasonably confident that the vast majority of smart devices you buy (especially on Amazon) will ‘just work’, in the same way that a keyboard or mouse will ‘just work’ when plugging its USB into a computer.
This situation will also improve even more in the future due to an industry-wide joint effort to develop a specific standard for how smart devices can speak to each-other: this is called Connected Home over IP.
I recently purchased the Ring Doorbell Pro after some attempted thefts in our neighborhood.
The Pro is one of many ‘smart doorbells’, really awesome internet-connected doorbells which record motion outside your front door and then save this footage.
The footage is usually saved to ‘the cloud’, meaning that you can watch the recordings back at any time and on any device. This is especially useful if your house is unfortunately broken into, because the recording of the burglar can’t be destroyed (as it has been instantly backed up to the cloud).
In addition to the anti-theft benefits, the Ring Doorbell allows you to communicate with visitors and delivery couriers if you’re out… or in your backyard. It’s a great way of being able to quickly telling them “I’m 5 minutes away, hold tight and I’ll see you in a sec” or “Please deliver my parcel to next door, I’m away for a few weeks“.
No more missing your parcel deliveries by mere minutes!
Smart thermostats aim to learn and understand your household routines: when people go out in the morning, and when they come back in the evening. They also learn what sort of temperatures people like.
Based on this, they can start to automatically adjust your house’s target temperature to suit everyone’s needs – but also, crucially, to save money. They do this by stepping back the target temperature of your heating system.
Google (who own Nest) say that their Nest Learning Thermostat saves 10-12% per year on heating bills, which can be up to $145 per year saved in a typical household. This means that buying the Nest Thermostat and having it installed – which might cost just over $300 in total – will be an investment which pays for itself in 2-3 years.
Smart lights can produce a range of different colors – up to 16 million possible colors on the white and color ambience bulbs.
This means that you can pick light choices that truly suit you. If you’re feeling sleepy or relaxed, a darker or more pastel light choice can suit. Or use the ‘Meditation Lights’ feature to help you truly relax and unwind.
When you need to get something done, a brighter and whiter light can help to make you more alert and productive.
The choices are almost endless… well, there’s 16 million choices of color!
Remember when you (or your parents) went on holiday and plugged the hallway and landing lights into a mechanical timer? You would set what points you wanted the timer to switch on/off (based on pressing down loads of small levers) and it would turn the lights on/off throughout the night, making it look like someone was home.
Smart plug offer this functionality in a much more flexible and convenient way, but also a whole lot more: you can manage the device remotely, see the energy usage (on some models), control it with your voice and create automation rules either singularly or alongside other devices/routines.
Some people use them to turn on slow cookers when they’re at work (so that the perfect meat is ready at the end of the day), others use them to disable the internet at key times. However you use them, they’re a simple yet powerful part of an effective smart home.
More smart devices are compatible with each-other than ever before, meaning that you can easily link them together to create a powerful, interconnected feel to your smart home.
You might have smart speakers in every room, and you could set a timer in your kitchen’s Echo to keep track of some cooking food. Then when you’re relaxing in the lounge, you can ask the lounge’s Echo when the kitchen’s timer is up.
Or you might set-up certain Google Assistant-powered devices to ring and notify you when someone is at your front door.
Finally you might use a combination of smart speaker driven routines and/or smart switches to turn lights on and off as you go upstairs for the night.
There are endless possibilities, but the high-tech future we sometimes see in films is possible right now.
Philips Hue and other smart bulbs have a nifty feature whereby instead of an abrupt ‘throw lots of noise at someone to wake them up’ (i.e. a traditional alarm), instead the light slowly comes on introducing natural light (or as close to this as possible).
This helps people to gently wake up as they would have hundreds of years ago. This method of naturally waking up makes you feel more alert and well rested than the abrupt noise-alarm approach.
A technical research paper agrees that such ‘sunrise alarms’ do actually work as advertised, by making the body follow the circadian system (the body’s sleep-wake regulator) in a natural way.
I’ve spoken about this previously, but smart outdoor lighting is a less commonly used smart product, however they offer a really awesome benefit.
Motion-sensitive floodlights have been in use for ages, but the light they emit is harsh. Whilst this works well for scaring off burglars and helping you to unlock your front door, it can be annoying for neighbors – especially those with young children. It also doesn’t help to set a good mood if you’re relaxing or socializing outside.
What you need instead is a smart outdoor light, which are (as you might have guessed!) waterproof but still offer all the same benefits as indoor lights. They have loads of color choices, and you can add them as part of home automation routines.
You might have a ‘welcome home’ routine which detects when you’re almost home, and illuminate your driveway if it’s nighttime.
Or you might have a ‘chill outside’ routine which will play relaxing music on your smart speaker whilst simultaneously having soft (and changing) light emitted from your smart outdoor lights.
This really helps to set the relevant mood, whatever you are doing – coming home, socializing or relaxing/reading.
Just like you’ve always been able to get baby monitors, ‘pet cams’ have been a staple product for the last decade or so.
However many of these earlier device used clunky proprietary technology and apps to allow you to monitor your pets when you’re out of the home. They often didn’t have motion detection or notification capability, either.
Indoor smart cameras have therefore progressed this a lot, allowing you to easily and reliably check-in on your pets from a computer or mobile app when you’re out.
Getting notified when motion is detected is a handy feature, too, because you can capture your pets when they’re up to no good – or just playing! – without having to monitor the stream 24/7.
August, Yuki and Schlage are just some of the manufacturers of smart door locks, handy devices which allow you to see who has accessed your house, along with granting people temporary access as and when needed.
This might seem like a useless feature, but it’s really handy when you’re away and you need someone to quickly pop into your house to check something. You can grant them access via a mobile app (which they also download), and this will unlock the door for them when they approach.
It can also be useful for giving access to emergency plumbers or contractors if there’s a home emergency when you’re hours away from your house.
As we see in advantage #16, they are also a key device for the remote management of rental properties.
Remember when you thought you were free of school, but your parents insisted you finish some homework or revise for exams that are months away? The inevitable response was to be like this guy after a few minutes of schoolwork:
Instead, an Echo or Google Home device can be used as an education aid. The Mum Educates looks at 10 Alexa skills for this purpose – skills are third-party (and usually free) additions to your Echo devices which help with math, spelling and more.
I particularly like Google Home devices for this purpose because when you ask it a question, it’s like doing a Google search of all reputable websites. This means it’s a great homework or education tool because you ask the Home device a question and it’ll give you back a reputable answer.
Echo is similar in this regard, but it usually scans Wikipedia for the answers to main topics – it won’t be able to answer more specific questions.
If all else fails, the smart speaker can be used to play music to hopefully help your child fall into a state of intense productivity… maybe!
Remember discos? Whether you loathed them or loved them, the mix of ever-changing lighting and music was full of energy and definitely fun (for some people, at least!).
Well you can re-create this at home using a mix of smart speakers and smart lights: the speakers can supply the music (with the full-size Echo and Home devices being especially good for bass quality), and the lights supplying the ever-changing disco-light effect.
An example of this is Brandon’s YouTube video:
This is a great way of entertaining your children (or friends!), and it also will get children engaged in technology. They might suggest new colors and songs to try, and you can work with them to adjust the ‘home disco’ routine accordingly – which is a great way of including your children with real-world technology.
Smart door locks – as explored in advantage #13 – allow you to give temporary or permanent access to a properly remotely. In other words, you click a few buttons on your mobile app, and the recipient can use their phone app to gain access to your property.
This makes smart door locks perfect for managing Airbnb and rental properties, as you can grant access to renters for a set amount of time.
In addition to this, smart cameras in certain areas of the property can be useful for monitoring your property (whether inside or outside) – as long as you notify renters of this accordingly.
Also a range of smart sensors can be crucial for protecting your property too:
- Water leak sensors can notify you if there’s a water look (or too much humidity).
- CO/smoke sensors – such as the Nest Protect – will tell you if there’s any smoke or carbon monoxide detected, which is immensely useful for intermittent leaks.
- Window and door sensors as part of a smart alarm system will detect potential break-ins, notifying you immediately.
A range of smart devices can really help reduce your stress levels when you are a distance away from your property.
As touched on in the previous advantage, you can get combined smoke and CO (carbon monoxide) detectors with smart functionality – i.e. they notify you when smoke or CO is detected.
Whilst traditional detectors work well when you are at home, they are useless when you are out because you won’t hear them ringing. Therefore if your boiler had an intermittent leak, you wouldn’t know about it.
With smart smoke/CO detectors, however, you would know about it. You can then take immediate action to safeguard your home and family’s lives.
The Nest Protect is the best selling smoke/CO detector, with great reviews on Amazon and selling for around $100 (the battery version costs more than the wired one).
Whether you’re able to check-in on elderly friends/family regularly or not, it can he hard for elderly people who live alone.
A smart speaker – something you can easily talk to and ask to play music and radio – can be a nice thing for isolated people to have. Equally, a range of smart safety technology including medication dispensers, gas stove shut-offs and inactivity sensors (to detect falls) can help contact the support network around an elderly person if the worst was to happen.
Also video calls are a great innovation which allow elderly relatives to speak to their family who far live away. This also reduces social isolation, and whilst this isn’t directly smart home related, video calls are starting to be supported on Echo Show (and similar) devices.
Smart home hubs and the free Home Assistant give you a great snapshot of all the devices in your smart home, allowing you to get a nice overview of your house’s electrical devices.
Equally smart plugs can not only help you to see if a device is turned on or not, but some also monitor the device’s electrical usage – allowing you to tweak your use and potentially save some money in electric costs.
One of my personal bugbears is when I’m about to fall asleep, then my wife asks me if I closed the back door… or whether we left the living room window open.
Apparently mumbling “yeah, probably” isn’t an acceptable answer, and I somehow find myself marching downstairs to see if the door/window is actually closed.
Smart door and window sensors make this annoyance redundant, however. You can get a simple view of which doors and windows are open/closed, and you can also arrange to be notified if doors and windows are still open at bedtime.
It’s a small thing, but it’s a really convenient one – and a definite advantage of smart homes.
You can order Amazon Prime products with your Echo device using simple voice commands: “Alexa, order [item]” then “Alexa, checkout“.
Whilst this can be a clear disadvantage (with children finding this out and ordering random items… or expensive games consoles!), you can ensure that only authorized people can order in the Alexa app (under Voice Purchasing).
In general this is a really nice feature to have, because you might suddenly remember you need to order something but you don’t have the time to go through the full checkout process.
I always find it annoying when I’m watching TV on my set-top box (with a single remote), then I switch to my fire TV stick – but I don’t have the remote on me. Yeah, I know it’s silly – and lazy – to find this annoying (first world problems and all that), but it’s still a little frustrating.
Anywhoo, you can use your Echo/Alexa device to control your fire TV or fire TV stick. This means that you just need to switch the TV mode from your set-top box to your fire TV, then you can control it with your voice.
The support for this can vary – it’s good for the main apps like Prime Video and Netflix, and it can launch and search YouTube, too – but I sometimes have issues with navigation around (and selecting specific videos) on YouTube. Your mileage may vary though.
You can also download a Fire TV phone app to do a similar thing, but this obviously depends on you having your phone with you at all times.
Using smart devices, you can very quickly tell if your doors/windows are opened, get notified if there’s unexpected movement via your smart alarm, actively view video of any motion inside and outside your home (with smart cameras), see visitors to your front door (with a smart doorbell)… and more.
All these smart devices work really well together and will instantly notify you if something’s wrong. This means that you can fairly easily make your house more secure than ever before.
Yes, you could do most of this before, but it certainly wasn’t as integrated nor seamless – plus notifications mainly involved hooking your alarm system to your phone line and receiving a phone call.
Repeatedly calling upstairs that “dinner’s ready” is frustrating, especially when your children (or partner!) keeps responding that they’ll “be down in 5 minutes“.
It’s much easier to use your smart speaker to announce this message to everyone in the household at the same time, via the ‘announcement’ (also called ‘intercom’) feature. With this, you tell Alexa (or the Google Assistant) your message, and it will be relayed to all smart speakers in your house. Heck, you can even set it up so that the announcement plays on people’s mobile phones, too.
If “dinner’s ready” doesn’t get results, how about “dinner’s ready, the internet will be disabled in 2 minutes“?! This could easily be set-up with a custom routine:
- Set up a trigger, such as saying “Announce dinner“.
- Set up the first action, which is to announce “Dinner’s ready, the internet will be disabled in 2 minutes” to all speakers in the house.
- Set up the second action, which is to turn the power off to the router (via a smart plug).
Simples! You can then easily turn the internet back on by saying “Alexa, turn on the router plug“.
The announcements/intercom feature isn’t widely spoken about, but it can be used for a wide range of really useful purposes.
I explore this exciting topic in more detail in a full article, but the summary is that technology that reads brainwaves and allows you to control computers is getting better and more reliable all the time.
This is known as brain-computer interface (BCI) and it works by understanding your brainwave patterns for simple commands like yes/no/open/close.
The technology isn’t good enough to understand (relatively) complex thoughts like “Alexa, please play Miley Cyrus’ latest hit“, but BCI has been proven in academic studies to work well for simple smart home applications.
Whilst this might seem overkill to you, this could be a game-changer for severely disabled people who are unable to move – such as those with neck-down paralysis.
This is an exciting area and even Elon Musk (the guy behind PayPal and Tesla) is actively working to improve severely disable people’s lives using this technology.