Do you feel life ought to be way easier than it is? It can be, if you make a few smart home decisions…

With the grind of modern life leeching so much time, any chance to streamline that madness is an avenue worth pursuing. This is where a smartly connected home comes in. Everyone deserves to live within walking distance of either beauty or convenience, if not both, and you can achieve this when your little oasis from the world has been creatively set up with the correct devices in a smart home.

Your not-so-distant forebears went through an evolutionary change when electricity made affordable domestic automation ubiquitous, making house chores less of a pain as a result. In our recent, roaring 2020s, a larger leap has come in the form of connected home technologies – modestly priced doodads that give Jetsons-like perks. Basically, even if you’ve got a Flintstones level budget and understanding of technology, acquiring and installing an automated home is both affordable and the stuff of far future fantasy.
But what is a smart home and why do you need one?

Essentially, we’re talking about having a home base that connects to many different devices via an online network. Said devices can include lighting, smart speakers, televisions, window sensors, security systems and even garden irrigation if you have a green thumb that needn’t be quite so green all the time.

As for why you’d bother with a smart home, think of the convenience – with one stab of your index finger on a smartphone you could plunge your entire house into darkness or dim everything to the perfect movie-viewing environment. You could dramatically sweep open every blind you own or even flick on the coffee maker from the toasty warmth of your bed.
Secondly, transitioning into a smart home can be a matter of baby steps.

Piecemeal installations are the way to go – a smart plug here, a door sensor there or a few lovely looking multicoloured lightstrips, well, everywhere. Alternatively, you might wish to scale up your operation with security in mind: smart lights, cameras and smart locks, etc.

Whatever your goals, the fact is this: the days of paying the wages and call out fees of some jumped-up, IT specialist shyster are over. If you’ve got a smartphone and an app, the internet, an imagination, and the ability to follow simple on-screen prompts, you’re all good to go. Honestly, even a tech-phobic could figure out smart devices in 2022.

OK, so, you’ve decided to give this a crack. Excuse the pun, but smart move. Step number one is choosing the ecosystem you’ll have to control everything. Basically, an ecosystem is a hub that corrals and manages all of your smaller devices. The ones worth mentioning are Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Home Kit and Samsung SmartThings. As you’d expect, these four management systems offer fairly similar experiences, but being different brands in the free market means they all kinda deliberately don’t play nice with each other.

Whenever picking up a new piece to add to your ecosystem, always double check to see if it’s compatible with your “smart home sports team” of choice.

Obviously, if you favour all things i-device, then looking into an Apple Home Kit would be the natural choice. It’s also worth mentioning that a ton of third-party devices will fall into either the Google Assistant category or Alexa’s. Lastly, you can pick up devices that are centric to Samsung Smart Things and have them connect through your bog-standard Wi-Fi, not to mention Z-Wave and ZigBee. What on earth are those last two? They’re widely popular automation systems that operate on different wireless frequencies to Bluetooth and Wireless (which is great for keeping data traffic issues to a minimum). They also play nice with an impressive range of non-proprietary devices, which is always a plus.

With an ecosystem selected, it’s time to move into common terms and concepts that are pretty much universally used. The first is a ‘scene’, a set of instructions you’ve set up for a device or devices connected to your ecosystem. Think of it as a simple bit of causality you’ve set up via an app on your smartphone — “if you ever see/hear this thing happen” then “do this thing in response.” Frankly, the possibilities are both endless and incredibly easy to make happen. A few personal examples from our own home setups: for an instant amp up, you could have Eye of the Tiger start to play whenever you approach your home gym. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, we know a guy who returns from work everyday to be serenaded with a mournful saxophone theme when he opens his front door. Yep, it’s the same refrain that accompanies Danny Glover when he has an “I’m too old for this…” moment in Lethal Weapon. Creative!

If you’ve got a bit of a creative streak, the good news is that singular cause and singular effect scenes are just the gateway to cooler things. Routines enable you to conflate multiple, disparate devices into one simple command. From the comfort of your chair and with a sole voice command – maybe “lounge lizard mode: engage” – you might tell your house to lock every door, dim the lights, fire up the next episode of your current TV series, put all phones on do not disturb and make your cat feeder cough up some chow (to ensure it has no cause to meow at you, mid-watch). Alternatively, you can even set routines to start without voice commands at a certain time, like your morning alarm time.

For example, imagine waking up to freshly brewed coffee, a pre-warmed house, a morning news summary tailored to your interest and then a calendar schedule review that wraps with a quick weather and projected traffic report.

And hey – when it’s time to leave, why not a separate routine that switches everything off and locks everything up as you sprint out the door?

Convenience is certainly a big positive of the smart home experience, but what other important benefits can they offer? Well, in the current age that has a much higher percentage of us working from home, energy efficiency and the need to keep running costs down is well worth considering. Having a smart system that knows when you’re active and when you’re not can be quite the boon if you’re determined to not spend needless bucks. A simple solution here would be a smart sensor hooked to engage a smart light (or you could simply pre-schedule it for certain hours of the evening).
Speaking of sensors, security is also of paramount concern, and the stress of remembering to lock up and monitor potential points of burglar ingress really shouldn’t have to be on your mind all the time.

A thief-deterring lighting array is easy to set up, and a camera system that sends its footage to the safety of the cloud isn’t much more difficult to rig up, either.

On the topic of being the all-powerful master of thy own domain, you can effectively be a control freak from afar. With everything neatly tied to your mobile phone, if you have an internet connection, your house is still at your fingertips. That’s great news if you want to either change something while you’re at work or keep an eye on things / pets when you’re vacationing. It also presents amazing opportunities to prank any housesitters you’ve hired. This last one could just be an us thing.

As stressed health care systems face limited resources and workforce shortages to address the complex needs of our aged and differently abled populations, innovative approaches utilising smart home tech can help lighten your load considerably. Using either the devices hooked into your residential infrastructure, or wearable tech that captures data describing activities of daily living and health related events, your smart home can greatly improve clinical outcomes and quality of life.

If you suffer from hearing loss, an idea up your alley might be to set your smart lights to flash when the video doorbell rings. Smart light options that can achieve this task are abundant. The two big players here are Philips Hue and LIFX, that not only offer a broad range of lighting for entertainment and practicality around the house, but also for handy programmable alerts.

These quality lighting solutions are simple to install and even easier to connect, delivering 16 million different colour variations to suit any task, mood or your preferred visual cue.

If your house is fitted with downlights, consider the LIFX 100mm downlight. Also, the Philips Hue 90mm plug in and play downlight is the perfect solution, bringing smart lighting to the most popular downlight size in Australia.

The beauty of introducing smart lighting to your house is that it can be done progressively – all you need to do is choose the first room, and you’re off. This piecemeal approach is perfect for vision impaired folks who wish to target certain problem areas of their abode before others. Got a ludicrously hard to find light switch located on the wrong side of a glass coffee table? A motion sensor keyed to a smart light could solve that. Likewise, barking “coming up” or “headed down” to a voice assistant can help trigger a terracing effect of either stairway lights or proximity triggered audible notifications that help you gauge where these accident hazards start and end.

The hearing impaired can take advantage of some clever smart home ideas as well. If a fire ever breaks out for whatever reason, you can’t always assume that you’re going to be in close enough proximity to catch a whiff of disaster coming. One solution would be to rig up your smart lights to interact with a 3-in-1 device that’s tracking real-time CO2 concentration, humidity and temperature. If it detects anything amiss, have the lights in your home do the illumination equivalent of a klaxxon – bright, pulsing red seems to be in chromatic fashion for this (this is based off years of watching sci-fi media where starship bridge crews are alerted to fire/Klingons). Heck, you could even alert the outside world as to what’s going on – and better enable rescue crews to locate your house – by having your smart garden lights go full disco mode as well.

Obviously, the same illumination logic can be applied to a range of other, less life and death scenarios. You could set up a smart home scene for your beloved oldies to make their lights turn green whenever a known contact calls on their mobile. If it’s not on the list (read: telemarketer) the call receives no such fanfare and we can avoid a needless rousing from an armchair and/or bank transaction. To take this concept a step further into a routine, you could time schedule a light to turn red at predetermined times to indicate when it’s time to take medication. In addition to that, your medicine cabinet could have a smart switch that resets the light for next time when the door is opened and closed.

Here’s a bit of ease of living that everybody will want to get onboard with – making absolute pain in the butt domestic chores automated. Take a robot vacuum cleaner for instance. If you get the right one, you can have it map out the vast ocean of floor space of your house, like a mini-Magellan, then you can smart schedule it into getting the job done while you’re off doing non-vacuum related things. Even better, some of these have back-to-base technology to avoid situations where their battery might run out mid-clean (and create an unexpected trip hazard,) plus the expected anti-collision technology to prevent furniture bumps or any ill-advised escape attempt down your stairs. Heck, some of these carpet masters are two-in-one dealios that can polish up your hard surfaces – it could mop while you shop!

Speaking of keeping your loved ones happy, safe and out of trouble, despite sounding like a counterproductive measure, a smart house can often be the best way to more sensible screen-time parameters and curtail less desirable internet habits. Digital wellbeing is a newer feature that allows you to take control of how guests and family-link managed accounts can interact with your smart home system via two functions entitled filtering and downtime.

Filtering does exactly what it says on the tin – it allows you to selectively limit or utterly restrict video and/or music content coming from the likes of YouTube, Spotify or other popular entertainment services.

Furthermore, you can limit the types of voice commands and responses which can be uttered by the voice assistant of your chosen ecosystem. Quick example: disabling all forms of yodelling media, or the command to ask Alexa to have a crack at some herself, is highly recommended.

Next up, there’s the matter of deciding when enough screens are enough. Downtime modes allow for nuanced control or complete removal of the ability to play music or videos from a certain hour onwards, thus allowing you to start a more orderly bedtime routine with less distractions for kids or grandkids. Alternatively, if you have a common area in your smart home or have an Airbnb-style arrangement, you can use the aforementioned functions to ensure your internet can provide visitors with online access for general knowledge queries or entertainment, but also ensure everything stays above board.

As a parent, your child’s bedtime might not be something that you’ve thought about using your smart home for, but the science says it’s definitely worth investigating. According to the National Sleep Foundation: “When you’re ready to begin the day, exposing your body to the sun will not only help alert the brain and set you in motion, it will also help you sleep later on. Have blinds or curtains that can cocoon you in darkness by night, but that you can easily pull back to bathe the room in sunlight when you wake. Before you start the day, spend some time in the light, and remember to give your body doses of sun throughout the day when possible.”

This can be achieved with sleep conscious smart lights like the Philips Hue, a range that offer “White Ambiance” bulbs that may be tuned to glow warm at bedtime before slowly fading out, then in the morning, fade-up to a natural sunlight mimicking cool white light. End result: a much more relaxing, natural sleep routine. In addition to that, the power of scheduling “transition” times via your lighting can help you manage the expectations of a staunchly anti-bedtime child. Maybe go with a chill colour shift when they’ve got 15 minutes to go. Fade in some relaxing music for the coup de gras that sends them packing to “Bedfordshire”.