So when we first bought our house, I was determined to make it a “smart house.” (Which, by the way, just so happens to be one of my favorite DCOMs.) I kind of thought it would be a one-and-done situation. You buy a few things for a few rooms and, bam, you have a smart house.
That’s sort of true, but I have found that it’s more of a process and there are now SO MANY OPTIONS that it’s overwhelming to know where to even start. I mean, even figuring out which doorbell to get took me a few tries!! (PS I have the Ring and there have been reports of hacking. With the Ring and frankly ALL of your online devices/accounts, setting up two-step authentication is so, so important. I have it activated for everything from my Uber account to my Gmail account.)
I would say we’re about 50% of the way there for where I want to end up. It’s a goal of mine for 2020 to cross the finish line. My biggest issue with videos and online articles is that they go too far. I do not need a battery-operated light-activated water-gauge in my washing machine. You know?
So what should, like, a normal person set up?
I bought an Echo Show for our kitchen and then got Echo Dots for every room. I also bought Sonos speakers for our family and dining rooms but I WISH I had purchased the ones with built-in Alexa. (I’ll probably sell them on Craigslist actually to buy the ones with Alexa.) At the time I didn’t have Alexa set up in our house at all so I didn’t see the point… and now, well, I it would be great to be able to create routines and sync the devices through the Alexa technology.
The Echo Show is fantastic for the kitchen. I am constantly looking up cooking videos with it and using it to set timers. With Alexa, you can actually set multiple named timers. So you could ask her to set a timer for 12 minutes for one thing and five minutes for something else.
I also buy the meal kits from Whole Foods and the Alexa can walk you through with video guidance step-by-step. I talk to her constantly while I’m cooking and love getting the NPR news debriefs throughout the day.
Our oven is also technically “smart,” though I haven’t had the mental energy to figure out how to connect it to our Echo just yet.
The Dots are surprisingly the best little things. They’re so sleek and blend in perfectly but the capabilities are incredible and I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. We literally put them in every room. With the Alexa app you can “group” dots together too. So I have an “upstairs” group and a “downstairs” group and a “whole house” group so you can, for example, play music throughout the house, or just upstairs, or just downstairs… instead of playing from just one single device. (See this is where having the Alexa-enabled Sonos would have come in handy!!!) Despite being so tiny, they do pack a punch sound-wise. Is it the ABSOLUTE best quality? Probably not. But I’m just a regular person with normally tuned ears and it sounds just fine to me.
Doorbell & Security Cameras
We have the Ring doorbell and couldn’t be more pleased with it. It was shockingly easy to set up and get running. And then it was a breeze to connect all the security cameras too. It’s a simple thing but since I work from home, I feel so much safer knowing I can see who’s at the door before I open it. It all works with Alex too!! (This is why I went with Ring versus Nest, which was bought by Google.)
The TRICKIEST part of configuring a smart house is smart lights. You’d think it would be the easiest, but I was stumped. Do you buy a kit with a hub? Do you just get smart plugs? Do you convert to smart switches? Do you just do smart lightbulbs?!?! And then, good god, there are 400 brands to choose from and they all work differently.
I was actually so intimidated by the process but now I think I have a general sense. And, honestly, it’s going to sound confusing to type it out but I promise that as you go to configure you’ll figure out what works for YOU and what EACH ROOM needs, because it could be different for every single room. Seriously.
Hands down, the best and easiest plug has been the Amazon Smart Plug. Makes sense since it’s Amazon, but it was the most straightforward one to set up. Truly a breeze. Right now I have our Christmas tree plugged in and so I can control the tree through our Dots/app… and the lights on the tree don’t have to be “smart” because they’re plugged into the smart plug. (Whew, that’s a mouthful. Hopefully, you’re still following… lol.)
For smart lights, I’ve been doing the C by GE Lights and Plug starter kit. For example, in our bedroom, I have the nightstand lights plugged into the C by GE plug and then swapped out regular bulbs for GE’s smart ones. C by GE doesn’t need a hub, which I love… you just connect it as a skill in the Amazon App. To be totally transparent, this took me three times to properly set up and wasn’t the best UX experience. I think this set up works great and will do this for our guest room as well.
But for the rest of our house, I’m going to just do smart switches and plugs. This is mostly because we want to upgrade our switches anyway (right now they’re all basic). My dad just did this for their house and said GE’s customer service was amazing for help!
Don’t worry if you’re confused. It IS confusing. But basically…. if you have smart plugs, you don’t need the smart bulb. If you have lights controlled by a switch you could either do smart bulbs OR a smart switch.
The Features I Use the Most:
– “Alexa, connect to Bluetooth.” I use this probably five times a day. I connect my phone to the Dot of whatever room I’m in and listen to music while I work or an audiobook while I clean/needlepoint. Because you’re connected to your phone you don’t need any special skills hooked up in your Alexa app. With grouping, you can also play a playlist (like a holiday one for a party) in every room!
– “Alexa, turn on the Christmas tree.” My current favorite one. Because our tree is connected to the smart plug, I can turn it on and off whenever. It’s so, so dumb (and lazy) but I love not having to climb behind the tree to put the plug in. We definitely are taking more advantage of the tree with how easy it is to turn on and off. A follower sent me a DM saying her husband had created this whole “routine” in the app with all their Christmas lights and called it “Deck the Halls”… so they can “Alexa, deck the halls!” and the whole house lights up! Obviously this is Christmas-specific but it’s a good starting point if you’re dipping your toes into the smart house water.
– “Alexa, drop into the kitchen.” Another lazy feature but Mike and I use this a lot. You can essentially use your Alexa devices as an intercom system. You can use it to make announcements throughout the house… like, “Dinner is ready!” or to drop into a specific room to have a quick conversation. I tend to use it at night when I’m already in bed and want to ask Mike to make me tea or something. 😂
– “Alexa, what’s the weather this weekend.” I am constantly asking Alexa questions like the weather. The Echo Show even shows the weather on our screensaver which I love.
– “Alexa, turn on the lights.” Now that we have smart lights in our bedroom, I use this way more than I even expected. I REALLY love that I have the smart bulbs and can ask, “Alexa, dim the lights to 50%.” Or whatever.
– “Alexa, set an alarm.” I do this all. the. time.
For the most part, basic things are pretty straightforward and easily Google-able. But to create more complicated routines and setups, it takes a bit of brainpower. I took a class in college about creating databases and LOVED IT. Creating routines within the app is even easier than that though. I find it helps to start at the end and work your way backward logically. If you’re confused about something though, I guarantee you someone has created a Youtube video on how to do it!!! Here’s how to use the Echo as an intercom, here’s how to install a smart bulb, here’s a video on creating routines!