“Hey Google, Turn Off The Lights” – Smart Homes And How To Set It Up
Smart Homes. We’ve lived for so long without them, but now everyone is trying to make their home a little bit smarter. Except no one knows where to start.
It’s easy to see why more and more people are decking out their houses. From setting the room temperature to cleaning the house on a schedule, the convenience of having a smart home is pretty tempting.
Telling Alexa / Google to turn on the TV? That’s paltry news. But it’s definitely something people associate with smart homes, and the easiest to get into. I started with that myself.
I have two Google Home Minis and a Chromecast hooked onto my TV. I haven’t looked into automation yet (so this article is helping me with research). The next thing I’m looking to get are lights so I can tell Google to turn them off. Our old air conditioner might be a problem for me since it’s connected to a switch on the wall.
This is Your Smart Home Starter Pack
There’s no need to deck your entire home with smart devices to make it feel like you’re living in a smart home.
I recommend getting these one by one in this order. Fit it to one room first to see if you’re used to it, then try making another part of your home a little smarter.
- Google Home Mini / Amazon Echo Dot — since you’re just starting out, there’s really no need for huge speakers
- Chromecast / Firestick for your TV
- Chromecast Audio if you have any older speakers / Firestick works with bluetooth speakers
- Smart Lights (remember: Singapore uses e27 fixtures)
- Smart IR Hubs — Any dumb appliances you want to make smarter that has infrared (like air cons): get a smart IR hub to control those devices
- Smart Air Conditioning Remotes — if you can find the plug to your air con, get a smart plug. If not, get a smart remote control. This is an option if you want fiddle around with your air con settings.
- Smart Plugs — For any remaining dumb appliances without infrared.
|Smart Home Device||What Is It For||Price (SGD unless stated otherwise)|
|Google Home Mini / Amazon Echo Dot||To control your smart devices, and schedule calendars, alarms, play music etc. |
Since you're just starting out, there's no need for huge speakers.
|$56 - $69, depending on retailer|
|Chromecast / Firestick||To make your dumb TV into a smart TV. |
Or, to control your TV via voice assistants like Google Home Assistant or Alexa.
|$55 - $65|
|Chromecast Audio / Firestick||Make your dumb speakers smart. |
Firestick only works with bluetooth speakers so it depends on your setup.
*Note: Chromecast Audio was discontinued in Jan 2019, so if you need it, you should get it before the stock runs out.
|Smart Lights||Connect your lights to your voice assistant. |
Set timers for lights for daily routines, switching light colours.
You could even set a routine so it'll randomly switch lights on and off while you're away to make it look like someone's home.
|Yeelight Bulb - $24, |
LIFX - $44.99 USD,
Philips Hue Light - $71.20 + Hue Bridge (needed) - $66.20
|Smart Air Conditioning Remotes||Controlling your Air Con from outside the house. |
Set routines for when you want your temperature to rise or fall.
Connect to your voice assistant and control it from your bed.
|Sensibo - $145.90|
|Smart Plugs||To make any dumb device into a smart one: just for switching it on and off||From $13|
|Smart Infrared (IR) Hub||Alternative for Smart Air Conditioning Remotes. |
Can connect to not just your air con but also other devices.
|Broadlink Mini - $25|
You can also go into smart blinds if you’re lazy to draw your own curtains, but this is a starter pack so we’ll leave that as optional.
Choosing a Home / Voice Assistant
Between Google Home Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple Homekit’s Siri, it can be difficult to pick one and be forever locked into one system.
For Singaporeans, the choice might be a little easier since Amazon isn’t as big as it is in the US (yet, anyway), so there’s no temptation to use your Alexa to help you with your online shopping or any need to use Prime to watch shows.
But Alexa has been around for the longest time, so it has more skills you can get it to learn.
Part of the fun of having a voice assistant in the home is asking it questions or even playing trivia games with it, so in that aspect, both Alexa and Google Home Assistant wins.
The Apple Homekit is still shaping up as we write this, but if you’re never too far away from an Apple device, it’s a contender.
Questions to Ask Yourself When You Choose A Home Assistant
- Where does most of my music collection lie?
- If you’re a heavy Apple music / iTunes user, then the Apple Homekit is your answer.
- If you play music on Spotify most of the time, then it really doesn’t matter.
- Do I like the name I call my Home Assistant?
- Alexa’s the only one who can change her name at the moment, so if you hate saying “Ok Google” all the time, then the Amazon Echo could be a good system for you to buy into.
- Do I like how it looks?
- This sounds like a dumb question since software is mostly where you normally would look at when picking a home assistant, but it’s going to be part of your home so it should fit with your decor.
How To Pick a Smart Light
*Before you buy any light bulb, please remember: Singapore uses e27 fixtures. Don’t get other light bulbs!
How Many Lumens Do You Really Need?
I ask this question because you might be tempted to order a LIFX from the US, which is brighter than both the Yeelight and the Philips Hue bulbs. Normal bulbs that aren’t smart stand at 800 lumens, so you’re not losing out by picking the other two.
Why use Philips Hue if You Need To Connect To A Hub?
Precisely because you need to connect the Philips Hue to a hub, which creates an internal mesh network and allows all your lights to speak to each other without them all having to connect to wifi.
What About Ceiling Lights?
Ceiling lights are a little more complicated because some ceiling lights don’t allow you to just switch out the bulb.
Check if your ceiling light works with bulbs first.
If not, Yeelight offers a ceiling light for at least $83, which is about 3 times more expensive than the Yeelight bulb.
Cleaning Your House With a Robot Vacuum / Mopper
We use a robot vacuum at home and it has really changed our lives for the better. No one argues over vacuuming or sweeping the floor anymore because there’s no need to do so.
Most of these robot vacuums and mops have the same functions, so just pick one that you like that can do these things:
- Return to Home and start charging itself
- Schedule time for cleaning
Smart TVs — Are They Worth It If I Have Chromecast / Amazon Firestick / Roku
The Chromecast doesn’t have an interface of its own, and most of its usability come from your smartphone, so if you need something to scroll through, the Amazon Firestick, Roku, and Xiaomi Mi Box are other options.
The great part about using one of these streaming devices is that I can control my television with my voice. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but picture this: while you’re trying to fumble in the dark to turn on the TV, all I need to do is tell Google to play Daredevil on Netflix.
And Google plays it automatically, at the exact episode I stopped at, no matter if I turned off the TV.
Fridges, Washer/Dryers and Household Appliances
Does the smell of coffee brewing in the morning make you excited to start the day?
While we’re far from the days when we can get a robot to make all our meals for us, kitchen appliances have gotten an upgrade, and you could get your fridge (yes, your fridge) to make you a cup of coffee.
Here are a list of appliances you could get that are smart home ready:
- Smart Fridges — coordinate your family’s schedule, set expiration dates so you know when to throw out food (I definitely need that), make grocery lists or read out recipes while you cook
- Microwaves — notify you when your food is ready, get instructions on preparing your food by scanning barcodes
- Washer / Dryers — monitor your wash, get notified if something is faulty, even control your washer / dryer with your voice
What If I Decide To Get Everything From Xiaomi?
Just note that not all of Xiaomi’s products are compatible in Singapore.
But you could decide to get a few that are compatible with Google Home Assistant, or get Alexa to learn a skill to be compatible with Xiaomi products in order to use them seamlessly with your Smart Home Assistants.
How to Tie Your Smart Life All Together: IFTTT
If you just want to dip your toes into having something automated for you, try downloading this app on your phone called IFTTT.
IFTTT stands for “If This, Then That”, and it basically allows you to do all the cool things you’ve wanted to do in your home: like maybe making the light turn green when your Grab / Gojek arrives, or automatically playing music once you’ve reached home.
You could even use it without having a smart home, just to get the feel of what it’s like to have some things automated for you — you could sync your YouTube and Spotify playlists, make your Twitter and Facebook profile picture the same, or make your own applet to do whatever you want.
*Featured Image Credit: Kevin Bhagat | Unsplash