What is a Smart Home System? A 2019 Guide

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25% of household energy usage is unnecessary

89% of burglars said a smart home would put them off targeting a property

Getting a smart home could save you more than £450 per year


A smart home system is a network of devices within your property which you can control remotely from a central hub or smart device.

When you put it like that, a smart home system sounds like a great idea – after all, why wouldn’t you want computers and robots to run everything boring or routine in your life?

With your smart devices taking care of the washing, cooking, cleaning, bins, laundry, and more, you’ll have more time to relax, recharge, and have fun with your loved ones.

Better still, a smart home could also save you money. A US government report from 2014 found that 25% of household energy usage is unnecessary, and a smart home system can help cut this down.

“Studies indicate that smart home technologies could reduce energy use in homes by almost 30%.”– Connected Devices Alliance

For the average home in the UK, this 30% reduction would mean an annual saving of more than £450, according to data from Ofgem and Water.org.uk.

71% of people in the UK own at least two smart products, and that number is likely to rise. A study by GfK found that among the public, when it comes to smart products, the level of interest and intent to buy is higher than the level of ownership – so with this in mind, let’s demystify smart home systems, and find you the best products out there.

Make sure to also fill in this form to get some top-notch quotes for home security systems, and start saving right away.

a man accesses his phone's smart home app as icons swirl around him

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What is a smart home system?

A smart home system is an interconnected network that allows you to remotely control devices around your property. It generally uses your wifi network or Bluetooth to form connections between smart items, which allows you to create command chains.

Did You Know?

The number of owners of smart speakers in the UK doubled in just six months from 2017 to 2018, according to YouGov.

So as long as you have wifi or Bluetooth, and at least one smart device which you control through your mobile device or home hub (more on that later), you have a smart home system. Here are some of the many items you can buy to get your smart home system started.


Types of smart home devices

• Smart lock

• Video doorbells

• Smart thermostat

• Smart alarms

• Smart cameras

• Smart speakers

• Smart bulbs

• Smart plugs

• Smart kitchen appliances

• Smart light switches

• Robot hoovers

• Smart blinds

• Smart smoke detectors

• Smart TVs

• Garage door openers

• Universal remotes


Home automation cost

Before you start fitting your home with everything from a smart thermostat to video doorbells, you need to know how much it’ll cost.

If you want to buy the best product in every smart category, this would set you back a total of around £4,430 – though more than half of that cost would be taken up by your smart TV.

Is more than £4,000 too steep for you? No worries. You can buy as many or as few smart devices as you want. Plus, whether you make one or a dozen purchases, you’ll still have a sparkling new smart home system to enjoy.

A smart home system will also save you time and money, and make your life easier – meaning that in the long run, you’ll be better off.


Benefits of a smart home

Savings: Reducing your home’s energy use by up to 30% could lead you to save more than £450.

Near-guaranteed satisfaction: A 2017 PricewaterhouseCoopers study found that 98% of people who own a smart device are satisfied with their experience.

More security: A 2012 survey of burglars by professor Joseph B. Kuhns found that 60% of the thieves wouldn’t burgle a property if it had an alarm.

Increased peace of mind: You’ll be even more secure with a smart home system. In a 2017 Co-op survey, 89% of burglars said a smart home would immediately put them off targeting a property.

More independence for older people: Devices such as smart blinds, a smart thermostat, video doorbells, and smart speakers can make daily life better for people who are older and less able to get around easily.

Convenience: In a smart home, you can control everything with your voice, from your coffee maker to your TV and light bulbs. If you want something, all you have to do is ask for it – and that’s a level of luxury worth paying for.

Of course, it’s not all sweetness and light with a smart home system, because nothing comes without some drawbacks. Here’s a quick summary of the pros and cons of a smart home.


Pros and cons of a smart home

Pros:

  • Could save you hundreds of £
  • An easier, more pleasant life
  • More independence
  • More security
  • Increased peace of mind
  • Near-guaranteed satisfaction

X Cons:

  • Costs money at first
  • Takes a little time to learn how to use it
  • Can be hacked without proper protections

Information updated in September 2019.


What does a smart home hub do?

This is a portable control pad that allows you to communicate with and control every item on your network. Hubs aren’t provided with every smart home system, as some systems rely on you using an app on your mobile device instead.

If you only have one or two smart devices, you probably won’t need a hub – but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive smart home security system, get ready to discover the joys a smart hub can bring.

Best smart home hub: Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Generation

The Echo Plus isn’t just a hub – it’s also a speaker, a virtual assistant that recognises your voice, and your source for the latest news, weather, and music. With just a few words, you can access more information than your ancestors could have dreamt of.

It’s compatible with various smart bulbs, smart plugs, and smart home security systems, has an in-built temperature sensor, and can set an alarm or timer. You never need to be cold, you never need to be late, and you never need to burn your roast again.


Smart home security system

If you want to protect your home with the latest technology, you can now get cameras, smart locks, motion detectors, sensors, sirens, video doorbells, and more – then control them all with one app or hub.

Getting a smart home security system provides you and your family with a sense of safety, security, and peace of mind – and it’s more than just a feeling.

As mentioned above, in a Co-op survey in 2017, 89% of burglars said seeing a smart home would immediately put them off entering that property.

Best smart home security system: Verisure

Verisure is monitored by a team of professionals all year round, and comes with two photo detector cameras, four door or window sensors, a fog machine, and a 105dB siren – all of which you can control through your mobile device.

If that sounds too good to pass up, fill in this form to get free quotes for a smart home security system.


Smart alarms

A smart alarm is one that you can turn on and off yourself, using your mobile device. This should limit the number of false alarms, and drastically reduce the chances you’ll generate enough false alarms that the police will stop responding.

If you’re worried you won’t always be available to respond to notifications, you can command your smart alarm to switch on under certain conditions – for instance, if a window is broken.

And of course, burglars aren’t the only threat you need an alarm for. Get a smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm, and worry less about disaster befalling you and your loved ones.

Best smart burglar alarm: Arlo Pro 2

This wireless marvel connects to Amazon, Google, and Apple’s smart assistants, can be used inside or outside to equal effect, and has all the visual capabilities you could wish for.

With a 130° viewing range, 1080p resolution, and a much more affordable price than many other models, you can’t go wrong with the Arlo Pro 2. It even has two-way audio, seven days of free cloud storage, and a 100dB siren, which isn’t a given with cameras of this kind.

Best smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm: Nest Protect 2nd Generation

If you want to protect your home from both silent and extremely visible hazards, this model is your best bet. It’ll tell your phone when it’s low on power, when it’s triggered, and exactly what’s wrong, so you’ll know when your home’s in danger – and when it’s completely fine.

You can switch the Nest Protect off from wherever you are, and best of all, both the wired and battery-powered models last for a decade. This means you won’t have to think about replacing your smoke and carbon monoxide alarm any time soon.


Smart cameras

Whether you want to watch over your home’s security, check in on your teenagers, or just make sure your pet isn’t chewing the sofa, a smart camera can be your eyes and ears when you’re away. All you need is a smart device.

Depending on your chosen smart camera’s capabilities, it may even allow you to speak to someone in your property, so you’ll be able to check in with family members or other housemates, and possibly even scare off intruders – as well as naughty pets.

Best smart camera: Neos SmartCam

To (almost) quote the poets Salt-N-Pepa: what a cam, what a cam, what a cam, what a mighty good cam. This ridiculously cheap indoor model (currently available for £24.99) has everything you could want in a smart camera: 1080p resolution, a 110° viewing range, and 8x digital zoom.

It also stores 12-second clips on the cloud for you to view for two weeks for free, has nine metres of night vision, connects to Amazon Alexa, and can even be programmed to automatically disarm when you’re home. Peace of mind, here you come.

a woman looks at her phone to check what her smart security home cameras are seeing


Smart lock

You can control smart locks remotely, using your mobile device. This allows you to access your home without needing to remember your keys, and to make sure your doors are locked from anywhere in your home – or anywhere in the world.

You can also say goodbye to waiting anxiously downstairs for your kids to get back – with a smart lock, you can be notified when they’re safely home.

Best smart lock: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect

August’s best and brightest has the rest of the market beat, and allows you to gently transition into the life of a smart home system user. The lock latches onto your existing deadbolt, and can still be opened by your old key, if you wish.

It also links to Apple, Amazon, and Google’s smart hubs, meaning that Alexa or your Google Assistant will be able to recognise your voice and open or lock your doors.


Video doorbells

If someone rings your bell, a video doorbell will alert you through your mobile device. This allows you to see who is ringing, and talk to them from wherever you are.

You can ward off a potential burglar, tell a delivery person where to leave a package, or let your loved ones know you’re not there. Some models even offer facial recognition, meaning they can let you know who’s outside your home without having to show you.

Best video doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell 2

When you’re buying a video doorbell, you want to be able to see your visitor any time of day. Ring’s best product offers this ability, with 1080p and 4-metre night vision, as well as 30-day video storage and an initial fee that’s cheaper than its main rivals.


Smart thermostat

This is a thermostat that you can alter from wherever you are. Worried it’ll be too cold or too hot when you get home? Whether it’s after work or after a long holiday, that’s no problem. A couple of taps in your app, and you’re sorted.

Best smart thermostat: Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation

Nest’s machine is intuitive, stylish, reasonably priced, and capable of improving your life in tangible ways. You can easily adjust the temperature from your mobile device, and even instruct the thermostat to warm up your home when it sees you’re on your way back.


Smart speakers

These aren’t your parents’ speakers. These creations make music sound incredible, sure, but they also allow you to control your smart home, set alarms and reminders, and find out anything you want – from weather to news, to facts about Mars – without using your hands.

The number of owners of smart speakers in the UK doubled in just six months from 2017 to 2018, according to YouGov – and with these capabilities, we can see why.

Best smart speaker: Echo Dot (3rd Generation)

This wifi and Bluetooth-connected Alexa product is the perfect first device for your smart home system. Its small, fabric-covered form will fit in easily with your home’s aesthetic, it’s easy to set up and integrate, and you can even use it to make and receive calls.


Smart bulbs

Lighten your load by installing bulbs which you can switch on and off with a word or a tap, from wherever you are, manually or automatically.

You can dim these custom lights, change their colours, and – perhaps most importantly – never have to worry again about whether you might’ve left them on.

Best smart bulbs: Philips Hue White A19 E27 60 W Equivalent Smart Bulb Starter Kit

That’s a mouthful of a product title, we know – but a Philips Hue White A19 E27 60 W Equivalent Smart Bulb Starter Kit, by any other name, would be just as excellent.

For £47.99, you can get two smart bulbs and a Philips Hue Bridge, which is basically a hub for your lights.

You can control the bulbs using Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, or Microsoft Cortana, meaning all your favourite virtual helpers are on hand – and with 16 million colours to choose from, the only problem will be choosing the perfect shade.


Smart light switches

Smart light switches will help you to take your lighting game to another level. Not only will you be able to turn your bulbs on and off from wherever you are, but you’ll be able to instruct them to do so in certain situations.

You can program a switch to light up your home if your security system senses a burglar, or if the smoke detector detects the beginnings of a fire, and to turn off during certain times of the day when people are usually out.

Best smart light switch: Philips Hue Smart Wireless Dimmer Switch

This switch can be used as a remote control, or attached to your wall in the traditional style – the choice is yours. It’s perfect to use with Philips Hue bulbs, and requires no installation.

Seriously, all you need to do is take off the covering, stick it to the wall, and it’s ready to go. Perfect.


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Smart plugs

A smart plug allows you to turn household items which aren’t technically smart into smart devices, simply by connecting them to your network. These newly smart objects won’t suddenly gain new powers, but you will be able to switch them on and off from anywhere.

This could be useful if you want to make a coffee from your bedroom, check whether you remembered to turn off your hair straighteners, or heat up the oven before you get home.

Best smart plug: Hive Active Smart Plug

You can use Hive’s smart plug with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, which is just as well, because you’re going to want to use it all the time.

Not only can you control any non-smart electronic device with this plug, but you can also program instructions. For example, if you want to switch off the air conditioning halfway through the night, or heat up your home so it’s warm when you get up in the middle of winter, you can.

You can use this smart plug to beef up your home security when you’re away. Use the app to get your lights to turn on several times per day, to make it seem like someone’s home and thus dissuade burglars.


Smart kitchen appliances

You can control any number of kitchen processes with smart technology. You have a cornucopia of possibilities at your fingertips – all you have to do is choose which wonderful technological advance you want to try first.

The kitchen might not be your favourite place, but you can make it more welcoming with a smart coffee machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher, fridge, bin, blender, microwave, oven, cooker, baking scale, and more.

Best smart kitchen appliance: The Drop Scale

In conjunction with its app, the Drop Scale will keep your measurements on point while guiding you through any one of its hundreds of recipes.

It can also adjust recipes to make bigger meals, change its instructions based on alterations you want to make (peppers instead of mushrooms? Sourdough instead of white bread? Tofu instead of lamb?), and power off automatically when you’re not using it.


Robot hoovers

A relatively quiet, intelligent robot which moves across your floors, cleaning them of dirt and dust in much the same way as any vacuum – but without you pushing it.

All of this should lead to sheer bliss – as long as they don’t get stuck, or fall off the edge of the stairs.

Best robot hoover: Ecovacs N79S

This cutting-edge model has four different cleaning modes, including spot cleaning and max vacuum, as well as anti-drop & anti-collision sensors, protective bumpers, and a 24-month warranty (just in case).

By using your Amazon or Google home hub, or the Ecovacs app, you can tell your new robot hoover to clean at certain times, in certain ways, in certain places in your home. Then all you have to do is enjoy the results.


Smart blinds

In this bright, shiny new future, you can control your blinds whether you’re in bed or on the sofa. No more getting out from under the covers to block the sun’s powerful glare or reveal its warm light – your smart home can take care of that with a few words, or a tap of your app.

Best smart blinds: Ajax Online Smart Curtains

Ajax Online’s offering is expensive, but if you enjoy the finer things in life – or if you have trouble opening or closing your blinds – it’s perfect for you.

It’ll allow you to control your blinds with an app, your smart hub – whether it’s Amazon, Google, or Apple – or a remote control. The curtains also come custom-fitted to your windows, for total coverage with no excess material to trip up on.

a smart TV called the LG OLED65B8SLC 65-Inch


Smart TVs

A report from Ofcom in 2018 found that 42% of people in the UK own smart TVs. That number is rising – and for good reason.

At this stage in history, it’s inconceivable that you wouldn’t be able to watch Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Amazon Prime Video through your TV. You need your main home entertainment portal to be smart, meaning that it’s connected to the internet.

As well as allowing you to access the best streaming services around, smart TVs are increasingly coming with voice control – and some are even curved, for a better viewing experience.

Best smart TV: LG OLED65B8SLC 65-Inch

Watch everything on a TV which broadcasts in 4K – four times more powerful than HD. Imagine seeing your favourite show or sports team in that much detail, with the deepest levels of black available to the human eye. It’s mind-blowing.

LG’s model also has four of the latest HDMI ports, can be controlled with Amazon Alexa, and supports all of your favourite apps and streaming platforms.


Universal remotes

Would you like a remote that works with every TV? How about one which can control all your smart devices, from your thermostat to your games console, lights, and locks?

Well, look no further. Universal remotes are here, and they’re smarter than we ever imagined they could be, with the ability to act as a central hub for more or less everything electronic in your home.

Best universal remote: Logitech Harmony Elite

Logitech has long dominated the universal remote game, and the Harmony Elite model lives up to that reputation.

You can use it to create chain events, in which multiple different devices act in a certain way all at once – for instance, when you’re throwing a party and want the music, lights, and TV to pump up the jam, or if you’re going to bed and want the exact opposite.

Having the Harmony Elite also allows you to control your TV by speaking to it, which is extremely enjoyable, and will make you feel like a futuristic overlord of your viewing experience.


Garage door openers

Imagine being able to open your garage door with just your voice or the tap of an app. No more forgetting your keys or scrambling around for your remote – just seamless entry to your home.

It’s easier, it’s more convenient, and it upgrades your security system. If you can afford it, it’s a no-brainer.

Best smart garage door opener: Meross Smart Garage Door Opener

Meross’s model connects to Amazon and Google’s hubs, is easy to install, and will send you real-time alerts about who’s coming into your home.

Whether you’re at work or in bed, you can check whether you remembered to close the garage door, and benefit from that all-important peace of mind.


Other smart home gadgets

We’ve gone through many, many smart devices so far, but when it comes to upgrading your home, the possibilities are almost endless.

You can launch your kitchen into the future by getting a smart coffee machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher, fridge, bin, blender, microwave, oven, cooker, or baking scale, as well as the Drop Scale mentioned above. Phew.

And don’t worry – we’ve got every other room of your home and area of your life covered.

You could get smart devices that improve your health or comfort level, like a sleep tracker, alarm clock, air conditioner, or a sensor to monitor your air quality.

There are smart items that help others, like a sensor that tells you when to water your plants, a smart power strip that saves energy, and a smart litter box.

And then there are spectacular smart light fixtures, like the panels which react to sound to create an ambience that syncs with your film or video game, and smart Christmas lights that change colour on your command. ‘Tis the season – whenever you want it to be.


a woman interacts with her smart home fridge

How do I make my house a smart house?

If you can control at least one aspect of your home remotely, you already have a smart home system.

If you want to embrace the future in the fullest way possible, you can also surround yourself with innumerable devices, so that every aspect of your life is better and more convenient.

Either way, you’ll have created a smart home system in your property. How far you want to go from there is up to you – though we have some tips below.

In terms of what you need to get connected, a wifi network is your best friend – though a Bluetooth connection will often do the same job. For most of you, this means your place is already fully equipped with everything a smart home system needs to function.


Smart home setup ideas

When you’re setting up a smart home system, you should focus on what matters to you. So if you’re struggling to pick between the many different types of device, choose one of the following paths, and start your new life in a smart future.

Security

If beefing up your security is your main priority, you could get a monitored smart security system, garage door opener, and video doorbell for around £323.

Energy-saving

Want to save energy? We love that idea. All you’ll need is a smart thermostat, smart bulbs, and at least one smart plug, which will come to £269.

Entertainment

If improving your entertainment experience is your jam, you could get a smart TV, smart speaker, and a universal remote, for £2,711 – or just £212 if you don’t get the TV.

Easier life

Maybe what you’re really after is an easier life – and in the end, don’t we all want that? Well, it’s just a few items away – specifically, smart blinds, speakers, bulbs, and light switches, a robot hoover, and a Drop Scale. All of those devices will cost you £742 altogether.


Summary

A smart home system is exactly what you make of it – but whatever you choose, it has enormous potential to improve your life, making it more convenient and more cost-effective.

And hey, if you’re worried about not being able to understand or get used to having a range of smart home devices, don’t worry about it – chances are you’re already using at least one piece of smart gear.

A 2018 report from Ofcom showed 78% of UK adults use a smartphone – a number which is likely to continue rising – while an increasing number of people own smart TVs (42%) and wearable tech like smart watches (20%).

The knowledge and expertise you’ve picked up from using any or all of these devices (along with the information you’ve read in this article) should stand you in good stead when using a smart home system. You can fill in this form to get free quotes and start your smart life.

You’re ready for the future – and the future is ready for you.

Josh Jackman Editor

Josh is The Eco Experts’ main man for home security, smart devices, and boilers. If it can make your life better and help the environment, he’s on it.