Saturday, April 8, 2023

Smart Home Concept and Choices

Smart Home is a thing for quite some time. Not just for enthusiasts but for pretty much everyone regardless of whether we realize that or not. Smart Home is not necessarily a standalone industry but its ideology spreads out very quickly and its elements get embedded in many areas of our life without our explicit consent. So it's not a question of "if" or "when" but rather how to get onboard and start riding the "smart home" wave to our benefits.


Let's start from understanding what a "Smart Home" really means. I admit there are many various interpretations of the term and most of them are subjective as they are based on individual choices, usages, scenarios, etc. But I think we can really pick a few most important requirements and use them as a baseline that draws the border between the "Smart" and "Regular" home.

The first requirement I will call a "controllable home". This is a necessary requirement meaning without satisfying it there is no way of making a home smart. The name implies that the house is equipped with devices that the occupants use to manage the house conditions and that can be controlled remotely, without a direct physical contact. The most ubiquitous example of such a device is a Wi-Fi connected thermostat.

Another requirement I will call a "connected home". This requirement necessitates an interface between people that occupy the house and the controllable parts (devices, appliances, etc.) of the house. By interface I mean not physical controls that we've always had like buttons, knobs, levers, switches, etc. but a virtual interface that does not require a physical presence of a human in front of a device being controlled nor in the house itself. Since we live in the wireless Internet era most of the homes would have a Wi-Fi local network connected to the Internet and people would have specific mobile phone apps to interact with the smart devices. The same Wi-Fi connected thermostat with a mobile app is a perfect example. Another one is a Wi-Fi connected vacuum like Roomba.

And finally is the requirement that makes a home actually "smart" by giving it an ability to perform set routines and react on specific events in a way that make occupants' lives easier and more comfortable. In a general sense, it's a computer that is connected to the home's Wi-Fi network and can interact with its household devices without a human involvement and at the same time provide a centralized point of access for the people to see what's going on and make necessary adjustments. Using the previous examples, a thermostat can automatically change the house's temperature and a vacuum can clean floors automatically on schedule, which makes those devices somewhat smart.


In its current state, the "Smart Home" paradigm has already evolved enough to establish its own terminology. Let's get familiar with some terms to ease into future conversations.

Firstly, all the household devices that can participate in a smart home ecosystem are called "smart devices". No surprise here. All the home improvement stores that sell such devices use this term as well.

Next, the combination of networking media that connects all household smart devices into a single micro world is called a smart home network. Again, just common sense, but this requires a bit more elaboration because there are various connectivity technologies that are currently in use in the smart home space and it is important to know their names.

The most well recognized is Wi-Fi. It's also the most popular and widely used. The others are way less popular and may sound weird but let's mention them for the information sake. Without a specific order there are: Z-Wave, ZigBee and Matter. All of them are wireless and important to recognize when purchasing a smart device that uses one of those connectivity technologies. In general, if in doubt whether your smart home supports one or another connectivity option choose the one you know of for sure, most likely Wi-Fi.

Finally, the "brains" of the smart home is usually called a "smart home controller" or a "smart home hub" implying that it's a some kind of center of operation, which is true to certain degree. Let's just call it a "Smart Hub" as a generic name. A few popular choices are Samsung SmartThings hub, Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant hubs.

Important to mention, that in some cases the Smart Hub may not be physically present in a house and could be a virtual software running somewhere in a "cloud" owned by a third party vendor and interfaced via a mobile app. Such way of controlling a smart home would require continuous Internet access. Common examples, again, are Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.


If you've read this far and not feeling overwhelmed yet, this is where the excitement will start building up. Because choices are so many they may make an unfamiliar person to simply give up and forget about the smart home idea. But fear not. There are a few simple criteria that would allow anyone to filter out most of the noise and focus on what works well for them.

First Choice

Would you prefer to control your smart home locally or delegate it to a third party? There are pros and cons for either, but knowing which one you have and understanding the implications is important.

An example of a locally controlled smart home would be a computer in your local Wi-Fi network running 24/7 with a software like open source and free Home Assistant or openHAB. Disclaimer, I provide no links to any mentioned products here because it's not the purpose of the post.

Examples of a delegated control of a smart home ecosystem are the ubiquitous Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant but  there are many more other products on the market as well.

A good question to ask here is whether both local and delegated control can be combined together in a smart home setup. The answer is tricky as it's kind of yes and no. What that means is technically it's possible but practically makes no sense as both approaches contradict each other in so many areas.

To put it simply, choose Locally Controlled Smart Home if you are:

  • Like to be in charge
  • Concerned about security and privacy
  • Not afraid of tinkering with technology and dealing with a lot of technical information
  • Feel proud of being a builder and an owner of a smart home

Choose to Delegate Control of your Smart Home if you:

  • Prefer to plug and forget
  • Like simplicity over complexity
  • Trust marketing promises of smart home vendors
  • May feel overwhelmed with large amount of technical details

Second Choice

What kind of networking will you be using for your smart home? Most likely, Wi-Fi is what many people already have in their home so it's a given. Will your smart home need to support any other technologies? Answer to that depends on additional factors like:

  • How many smart devices you plan to use and how large a territory they will be installed on. Wi-Fi, for example, being popular and available has limitations on a number of connected devices and territory coverage.
  • Types of device you'd like to use. Some of specific device types may not support certain connectivity technologies including Wi-Fi. For example, it's not easy to find a Wi-Fi connected home energy meter but a Z-Wave connected is easily available.
The most practical approach is to start from what you already have, most likely Wi-Fi, and then add another technology when a need arises.

Third choice

Which brands of devices should one to choose for their smart home? There are so many now, it's overwhelming. However, common sense dictates to:

  • Choose functionality and quality over price. You get what you pay for.
  • Choose compatibility first and don't jump to creating a zoo of incompatible technologies. It's relatively easy to keep track of your smart home choices and verify that all are satisfied when adding another smart device.
  • Make informed decisions. Don't rush to spend money if you don't understand what exactly the benefits and usage scenarios are. Do a research first.
  • Educate yourself about smart technologies. The time you invest in your own knowledge will pay off many times after you spent your money and realize that your decision was right.


Hopefully, this introduction into Smart Home world will be useful to readers who are interested in beginning their journey into the Smart Technologies but not sure where and how to start. Feel free to comment below about your thoughts and experiences. 

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