Smart home buying guide
More and more of the devices we use to control our home are becoming ‘smart’. This means that they’re connected to your Wi-Fi, connected to each other and, most importantly, connected to your routine.
Smart homes are designed to make your home life easier and your house as efficient as it can be. They let you control your heating, lighting, home security and more from your mobile device, wherever you may be.
Many people waste power by leaving their devices plugged in when they leave the house. With a smart home, however, you can programme your devices to turn on and off at specific times, or just whenever you need to – keeping your energy usage (and energy bills) low.
Save energy and money
Do you know how much it costs to heat your home every day? Or how much energy your TV uses while it’s on standby? Choosing a smart device such as a smart thermostat that monitors your energy usage or a smart plug which switches off your appliances can help save you money in the long run.
Make your home safe and secure
Smart home security and monitoring devices let you check on your home whilst you’re away, either via live video streaming or an alert when activity occurs. Lighting schedules can make it look like someone is at home, even when you’re away.
Make life easier
Controlling your devices using your smartphone or voice gives you the freedom to control your devices wherever and whenever you like – your house works to your schedule rather than the other way round.
You don’t need to be a technical wizard to set up smart home products – they’re designed to be easy to use for everyone. Installation is simple – all you need to do is download the associated app for your smartphone or tablet and follow the instructions to get connected to your home WiFi.
Some products may require or include professional installation, but this will be clear before you purchase. Knowhow offer installation services for selected devices.
While most smart devices use minimal bandwidth, you should check the individual WiFi requirements for each device before purchasing.
It’s recommended you have dual-band wireless and check for any WiFi black spots in your home as this can affect the quality of usage – Whole Home WiFi products can help improve coverage.
Smart cameras tend to use more bandwidth than other devices, so you may want to invest in a decent router to optimise the performance of your setup.
Some smart devices require a specialist hub which connects directly to your router which is then used to pair the product to your app or voice controlled speaker.
Just like all devices that connect to the internet, you need to consider how to keep them secure. Smart devices will use many layers of security, such as encryption, secure passwords, and authentication to keep them safe.
Not all devices connect directly to the internet. Some ecosystems use their own separate secure wireless network – for example Samsung SmartThings and Philips Hue use Zigbee.
There’s things you can do to help keep your network secure as well – ensure your WiFi network has a secure password in place and look for a router which offers high security.
Suppliers will periodically release firmware updates with bug fixes, new features, and sometimes critical security patches, so be sure to install any security updates as soon as they come out.
Many different brands work together and synchronise so you can get the most out of your smart home. For example, Philips Hue lights are compatible with Nest products – if your Nest Protect detects a problem, your Hue lights can change colour to alert you and help you see through any smoke.
Voice control products such as Google Home are constantly expanding their range of compatible devices. They currently work with heating, lighting, and power brands such as Nest, Philips Hue, and WeMo.
Smart lighting lets you adjust the brightness and colour of your lighting to suit your mood or environment – dim the lights for a movie night, wake up to refreshing bright light, or create a party atmosphere - all from your smartphone or smart speaker.
Adding elegance, ambiance, and convenience, smart lights also offer home security and better energy efficiency.
Smart lighting helps reduce the amount of energy you are using, and therefore save you money on your energy bills. With instant smartphone control wherever you are, you can easily see if you have left a light on at home and switch it off. Because you’re not lighting an empty home, you can ensure your household is more efficient.
You can also link your smart lights to motion sensors – for example Philips Hue lighting is compatible with Samsung SmartThings sensors. Lights can automatically come on when you walk into a room and motion is detected – for example a dark hallway when you arrive home – then switch off again after you have left, making sure no one leaves the lights on.
LED lights are far more efficient than traditional bulbs and are therefore cheaper to run. They also have a much longer lifespan making them great value for money. Some smart lighting will even monitor the bulb’s energy usage so you can see how much you are using.
Imagine walking through the door and the lights are already on as it’s past sunset, or sitting on the sofa asking your voice assistant to dim the lights so you can watch a movie – smart lighting lets you do this and much more.
You can automate lights to come on and off whenever you like – set a light to get gradually brighter to wake you in the morning, or dim slowly at night when you go to bed.
Home or away – you can check which lights are on or off from your smartphone for peace of mind.
Smart lighting can help make your house more secure – you can easily program your lights to come on and make the house seem occupied when you are out the house or away on holiday.
Some lights use your phone’s location to tell when you’re on your way home and switch on certain lights for you when you arrive, meaning you never return to a dark home again.
Smart bulbs are available in most popular fittings, including E27, B22, GU10, and E14 so it’s easy to replace your existing bulbs without any special adapters.
Bulbs are available in white or colour versions. White bulbs differ in colour temperature and let you adjust the brightness. Colour bulbs offer a wide array of dimmable colours – ideal for instantly changing the atmosphere of the room to suit your mood. Bulbs can be grouped together to create scenes of coordinating or contrasting colours.
It’s simple – download the app for the brand of lights you have purchased, fit the new bulbs in the same way you would replace any other bulb, and then follow the instructions in the app to link them to your WiFi.
Some lighting brands such as Philips Hue also require a hub for the lights to connect to – check the product page or ask an in-store colleague for more information before you buy.
Smart thermostats let you remotely monitor and set your home temperature and central heating schedule via your smartphone or tablet. They provide you with a more efficient heating system, with easily accessible controls and a user-friendly interface.
They should not be confused with smart meters, which digitally send your meter readings directly to your energy supplier for more accurate bills but cannot control your central heating.
There are three components to a smart thermostat – the first plugs directly into your boiler, the second is the thermostat and main control which replaces your existing thermostat and connects to the first component via WiFi, and the third is your smart device with downloaded app. The app allows you to control your heating from wherever you are.
Some people find traditional thermostats confusing and are reluctant to changes any settings in case it causes issues. With a smart thermostat you get complete control with a user-friendly interface – you can adjust settings within the app or on the thermostat itself.
Setting heating schedules via an app is easy to do and fits in with busy lives. If your plans change and you’re going to be late home, you can easily adjust your thermostat rather than heating an empty home, and if you’re going to be earlier than planned you can switch the heating on so you arrive home to the warmth.
Learning thermostats like Nest go a step further, learning your routine and preferences to customise your heating and hot water schedule.
Inkjet printers use ink cartridges which are usually cheaper to replace than their laser counterparts, although the page yield is lower. If you aren’t anticipating heavy use or you predominately print photographs or high colour images, an inkjet printer will provide exceptional images without breaking the bank when new ink is needed.
While laser toner cartridges are more costly than those of an inkjet printer, they can offer a greater yield along with vastly improved print speeds. If you find yourself regularly printing in large quantities, a laser or office spec inkjet printer is worth considering.
Smart thermostats will work in most homes with an existing thermostat and boiler, but we advise you check compatibility before purchase.
Smart home monitoring
We know it’s important to keep your family and home safe at all times – smart home monitoring devices let you keep an eye on your home even when you’re away. You can check cameras remotely, switch off plug sockets, get alerts for alarms being triggered, and even see who’s at the door.
Lots of smart home monitoring products work together with other smart devices – for example a motion sensor can trigger a smart plug to switch on. A smart home starter kit is a great way to discover how compatible products can work in your home and includes everything you need to setup your smart home.
Smart plugs offer a broad range of uses and are a simple way to make any appliance ‘smart’. Simply slot the plug into your socket, then plug in any appliance or gadget you want to control. The plug connects to your home WiFi network either directly or via a hub to provide wireless control via an app.
You can switch the plugs on and off at the touch of a button, or set up schedules to automate them. For example, you can plug in your existing lamps and easily switch them on and off for convenience or security. Ease worries when you’re away from home by checking you’ve switched off your iron or hair straighteners.
Some plugs offer energy monitoring so you can track how much energy you’re using and make changes to reduce it.
Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are an essential in every home, and a smart smoke alarm offers increased safety features. You not only get an alarm in the home, but also an alert on your smartphone if there’s a problem or the batteries are running low.
With remote access you will know if the alarm has been triggered even when you’re away. If you’re at home and have simply burnt your toast, you can silence the alarm at the touch of a button in the app. Nest Protect smoke and carbon dioxide alarms speak to you in a human voice and tell you what the problem is. You can also connect the alarms to other smart home products for safety.
For example, by connecting your Nest Protect Alarm to your Nest Camera, if your alarm sounds it can switch on your camera to start recording. If you aren’t at home you can quickly check if there is visible smoke.
Nest also links with Philips Hue, so your lights can change colour when the alarm sounds, either to warn you, or to light the way through smoke for a quick exit.
A smart doorbell uses WiFi to notify you via your smart device when there’s somebody at the door. You can see, hear, and speak to anyone at your door so you never miss a visitor again.
Speak to your delivery driver and let them know where to leave your package so it’s secure, or simply catch friends and family visiting when you’re out. They also save recordings and footage from your front door to help keep your home secure.
They are available in a range of options, including hardwired to your existing doorbell connection or battery powered to work on any home with or without an existing doorbell. Check individual product pages for further installation, or see our installation packages offered by Knowhow.
Smart security cameras are the smart evolution of traditional CCTV cameras. You get an instant view of inside or outside your home from your smartphone, tablet, or PC.
They’re ideal for increasing home security, keeping an eye on a sleeping baby, monitoring your pets, and making sure your family is home safely while you’re at work. Along with recording the activities around your property, you can receive alerts if loud noises or excessive movement is registered so you can check and deal with any issues as soon as they happen.
They work with other smart home devices too, so you can receive an alert and a live stream from the camera if a motion sensor is triggered, a door or window is opened when everyone’s out, your baby cries, and more.
Different cameras use different methods of storing footage – some have memory card slots for downloading straight to your PC, whilst others use Cloud storage, so even if your camera is damaged or stolen the footage is still safe. Check individual product pages to find out what type of Cloud subscription each product includes.
Smart baby monitors let you use an app to check in on your baby, and some also include a standard monitoring device. You can see and hear your baby so you don’t need to get up to check on them when they make a noise.
Some include two-way communication, so if all they need is a little reassurance you can comfort them without completely disturbing you and your baby’s rest. Some can also play lullabies to soothe your baby to sleep.
Smart home voice control
Control your smart home products using only your voice with a hands-free smart speaker like Google Home. They allow you to use smart products with a single voice command and provide helpful assistant features. Ask what the weather’s like, check your diary, set a timer, and even play fun family games.
Each smart voice control speaker has a “wake word” so that when you speak to the device it will listen and respond to your request. Google Home, for example, responds to “Ok Google” or “Hey Google”.
Voice control speakers let you use your smart devices without the need for a remote, and because you can link multiple devices, you can turn on groups of lights or speakers with just one command.
Connect to your music on streaming platforms like Spotify or play the radio with web-based services like TuneIn without needing to connect a thing. Simply say “Alexa, on Spotify play the Acoustic playlist” or “Ok Google, turn on BBC Radio One”.
Using the Voice control assistant functionality you can set an alarm for the morning, check your calendar, check the traffic, and much more, all without having to touch your phone.
It only takes a few minutes to set up a smart speaker. Simply plug the power cable in and open the companion app – you’ll be guided the rest of the way on there.
A wireless connection that allows devices to connect to the internet or communicate between each other.
A short-range wireless connection that can be used to transfer data between devices.
Stands for the Internet of Things. It’s another term, like “connected devices” or “smart devices” used to describe devices that work together using the internet.
Stands for If This Then That. It’s a free web-based tool that lets you create ‘applets’ which can be used to automate smart devices using apps or websites. For example an email from a certain correspondent could trigger a light to switch on.