Building a connected home can be a daunting task. From smart lighting products to Wi-Fi enabled kitchen appliances, the sheer quantity of what’s available can be overwhelming—not to mention the quandary of how to make it all work together in a seamless way. Despite these hurdles, exploring the Internet of Things is more accessible than ever thanks to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities and the decreasing costs of installing new products. If ever there has been a time to dive into the possibilities, it’s now. To help you get started in the process, we turned to Greg Rhoades, director of marketing for smart home products at Leviton, for expert advice.
Do Your Homework
If terms like Z-Wave and ZigBee make you sweat, you’re not alone. Getting educated on the basics of home automation can start with a quick jaunt to YouTube or Google. (Z-Wave and Zigbee, by the way, are two technologies that allow you to control multiple devices; think of them as two "languages" your products use to speak to each other. That being said, newer devices connect through Wi-Fi.) "It is a confusing marketplace out there, and there’s not a clear champion," says Rhoades. Understanding the many variables involved in setting up your home will help you determine the best suite of products for your specific lifestyle.
Set Specific Goals
With the vast selection of gadgets out there, it can be tempting to try to do it all, but just because you can automate something doesn’t mean you should. "The biggest mistake in automating your home is not understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, getting confused, and either over-engineering to the max or abandoning your smart home out of frustration," says Rhoades. Start with one or two objectives, whether it be lowering your energy bill or building out an entertainment system.
Know Your Limits
Fortunately, good design mandates that new products be intuitive to install and use. If you can install a light dimmer or switch, for example, then you can handle a Decora Smart™ product. However, there are some tasks that may require more expertise. "Know when to call a professional, and seek out products that have professionals installing them," advises Rhoades. "They know the best products that give you the most bang for your buck and provide the least amount of headaches during install and real-life usage." Leviton, for example, boasts a network of professional installers who are available to specify, install, or service the equipment, so you can feel supported at any stage.
Start Out Slow
"Today, you can create a comprehensive smart home with a lot of affordable products," says Rhoades. "Understand that these systems are modular, allowing you to add over time." If you have an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or an Apple TV, for example, you already have a foundation for an intelligent environment. Rhoades suggests that you consult friends or neighbors for advice about their chosen solutions, what they would recommend, and what their pain points are. Visit hardware and retail stores to get acquainted with the products in person. If you’re uncertain about where to start, consider the smart lighting category, which is simple to integrate, has an immediate impact on your home, and contributes to several goals—from safety and security, to energy consumption, to mood and ambiance.
Recognize the Risks
Thanks to the democratization of the smart home category, there are a plethora of startup and crowdfunded solutions on the market. While these can pose some of the most exciting and innovative options out there, there are some associated hazards. "Many individuals have incredible ideas that fizzle out before becoming true solutions for real customers," says Rhoades. "We call this ‘vaporware’ in our industry—great notions that never quite make it to fruition for one reason or another despite meeting a clear consumer need." That’s not to say that you can’t invest in these devices; just don’t go all in. As a rule of thumb, says Rhoades, "It’s a bright move to go with a company that has a strong manufacturing history, a good heritage of warranty support, and ongoing development at a steady pace."
What some of your tried-and-true tips for building a smart home ecosystem? Share them in the comments below.