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Getting Started with Home Automation Ideas

Getting Started with Home Automation Ideas

Have you ever wondered how a smart home could benefit you? Wouldn't it be nice if you could automate some aspects of your home to make it a more maintanable and comfortable space? Well the technology is here and you can start today!

Brayden Girard's Picture Brayden Girard

Use your voice as a home remote

Have you ever seen that movie Click? For those of you who haven't, the main character discovers a magical remote that allows him to control any aspect of his life. While a smart home won't let you magically create a yacht to sail away on, it can make things around the home much easier to manage. Some of the easiest home automation to setup is voice activated  lighting. You simply ask Alexa (or Google Assistant or Siri) to turn on or off the lights and tada... the lights respond to your voice command. Ok but wait, who is Alexa?

Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri ???

These three names are simply the names that have been given to the artificial intelligence of some of the largest players in home automation. Alexa is Amazons artificial intelligence, Google Assitant is well you guessed it Googles, and Siri is Apples. You can think of these artificial intelligence as the voice behind your smart home devices, they are actually software that is talking to you through the hardware provided by these manufacturers. Today we will talk primarily about Alexa who can be spoken to through some of Amazons more popular line of smart speakers known as the Echo Dot and Echo.

Getting Started with Alexa

Ok, so how do I get an "Alexa" in my home you might be asking yourself. The easiest and most affordable option is to purchase an Amazon Echo Dot which will allow you to talk to Alexa as well as receive responses from Alexa through the built in microphone and speaker. As long as you have a wireless internet connection in your home, setting up the Amazon Echo Dot should be a breeze (Engineer Play will have a post coming soon on the details of this process, incase you need some help). Once your Amazon Echo Dot is connected to your wireless internet, you are ready to have some fun.

Amazon Echo Dot

Alexa Light Control

When you arrive home, the entrance-way lights turn on. When you leave the house, all lights are shut off. When the sun sets, the front porch lights come on. When you wake up in the middle of the night and need a glass of water, just ask Alexa to turn the lights on. All of these scenerios are possible using a combination of Alexa and some smart light bulbs. If you have the Alexa, all that is left to purchase is a smart lighting solution. Smart lighting can be much more affordable than you would expect. There are basically two types of smart lighting systems, a hub-based system and a direct wifi system.

Smart Light Hub

A smart lighting solution that is built around a hub, allows each bulb in the system to communicate with the hub, which is then directly connected to your interent.

Hue Lightbulb System
Hue Lightbulb Starter Kit

The benefits of smart lighting on a hub based system include; the ability to connect more light bulbs without slowing down your home internet browsing (network speeds), remote access to your lights when you are away from home, and increased range for connectivity (meaning lights outdoors or in a large homes may still be able to connect). On the other hand, a disadvantage of a hub based system is that you end up becoming tied to a specific brand of light bulbs as each hub will only work with select brands. If you think the hub based smart light system is for you, I would recommend checking out Hue Smart Light Bulbs by Philips. These are the top bulbs in the industry and are definitely worth the premium.

Smart Light Bulb

A smart lighting solution which does not require a hub works when each individual bulb can directly connect to your wireless internet network.

Lifx Smart Lightbulb
Lifx Smart Lightbulb

The benefits of the direct connection include; typically cheaper bulbs, no need for any additional hardware, and the ability to buy bulbs of any brand. On the other hand, if you plan to have a lot of smart light bulbs or you live in a large home, you may be better off with a hub due to connectivity limitations and strain on your home internet network. When each bulb has to directly connect to your wireless internet connection, you will begin to slow the speed at which your other devices (laptop, tablet, phone) can connect to the internet at. If you are looking to go with a direct wifi connect type smart light bulb, I would recommend Lifx smart light bulbs as they are one of Hue's largest competitors.

Smart Light Setup

Regardless of which smart lighting solution you decide to go with, there will be some setup required. Manufacturers try to make this as painless as possible and it really isn't that difficult but may require some patience. In a future post on Engineer Play, we will also outline the process of doing this for both types of smart lighting solutions. Both processes involve connecting the smart lighting system to your home network (either the hub or the bulb) and then linking the system with your Alexa.

Alexa integrates with majority of smart lighting solutions, just be sure to check your product for Amazon Alexa compatibility before purchasing.

Colour LED Smart Bulbs vs White LED Smart Bulbs

When shopping for smart light bulbs, you will notice that you can buy both colour bulbs and just plain white bulbs. You will also notice that the colour bulbs (which are capable of creating any colour of the rainbow) will be much more costly on a per bulb basis. I would recommend sticking with the plain white bulbs if you are just starting out with smart lighting. They can still be dimmed and adjusted for warmth to create a soft white light or warm yellowish light. The colour bulbs are fun to show off with guests, but I rarely use mine for anything practical. That being said, if you want to have lighting for special occasions or in special areas such as behined a television or bar, the colour bulbs can really make a space look professional.

Using Alexa with Smart Lights

Now that you have your smart lights setup and grouped by room, you can sync these room settings with Alexa. In the Alexa app you can simply press the search for devices button which will recognize any new smart lights in your home. This part is sort of like magic, so if you don't quiet understand how this works, just thank the smart engineers at Amazon. Once your rooms or areas of smart lighting are synced with Alexa, you can simply ask Alexa to turn on or off the lights within a givin area of the home. For example: "Alexa turn off the bedroom lights". You can also have Alexa set schedules for your lights by giving instructions such as "Alexa turn on my living room lights every night at 8pm". There are many different possibilities that you can setup using Alexa and your voice. If you want the lights dimmed, simply say "Alexa dim the lights". In the Alexa app you can also setup routines. These routines can involve actions that trigger effects. An example of a routine you may like if you are a Toronto Maple Leafs fan would be to have Alexa flash the lights blue when Toronto scores a goal...

Wrapping Up

While Alexa and smart lighting may seem like a scary new technology to many, it is a common occurance in many homes these days. You shouldn't feel like you can't use smart home automation technologies just because your are not a technical person. This blog will help you become a smart home wiz in no time and there are many other resources online to help you out in your smart home journies. If you are interested in future guides that we will be releasing here at Engineer Play on setting up some of these smart home devices, subscribe below and we will keep you notified when posts go live! If you have any questions about this post, please leave a comment below or contact us.