It is easy to build an intelligent home

The Google Home speaker (above in white, seen with Home Mini speakers) allows you to play music, among other things, through an app.
The Google Home speaker (above in white, seen with Home Mini speakers) allows you to play music, among other things, through an app.PHOTO: GOOGLE

NEW YORK • Get smart, for outfitting a home to make it "intelligent" is no longer a headache.

This is unlike just a few years ago, when creating a smart home with coordinated controls for lighting, motorised shades, multi-room audio and cooling required an expensive, comprehensive home-automation system and a renovation.

"When you used to think about these systems, it was very much high-end," said Mr Mark Spates, a senior product manager for Nest and Google Home in Mountain View, California.

Today, many of these functions are accessible through affordable, consumer-friendly products. You can choose the functions you want and install many items yourself, without opening up any walls.

Mr Michael K. Chen, an architect, said: "One of the advantages of these systems is that they're light, from an infrastructure standpoint."

But there are now so many home-technology products that it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is advice from the experts.

CHECK YOUR WI-FI

Most smart-home products use wires for power, but rely on Wi-Fi to communicate with the Internet and smartphones.

 
 
 

A home Wi-Fi network is a requirement and its range matters.

In a small space like a one-bedroom apartment, a single Wi-Fi router is probably sufficient. But, in larger homes, it may not be enough.

Ms Elizabeth Mathes, director of smart home at Home Depot in Atlanta, recommends a mesh Wi-Fi system, like Linksys Velop (from about US$126 or S$170) or Eero (from US$199), which uses a handful of devices to create a network over a larger area, preventing dead zones.

START WITH ONE THING

There is no need to make your home a technological wonderland on day one.

Mr Spates said: "Starting with one piece is the way to go. I started my journey with a single smart plug."

That allowed him to switch a lamp on and off using an app.

"What you're doing is taking a very logical step that solves a problem," he noted, "or adds value to your home immediately."

Choose the thing that seems most useful for your lifestyle - a smart dimmer, speaker, security camera or something else - and add other things later if you find the first device helpful.

Ms Mathes said: "Normally, once they buy one thing, we see them come back over the next several months and buy six or seven other appliances to really build on it."

CHOOSE SMART BULBS OR DIMMERS

"The thing I get asked about the most is smart lighting, and being able to control your home's lights from anywhere in the world," said Mr Soren Nyberg, an adviser with Best Buy in Minneapolis.

"Even if you're away from home, it's a great way to make sure that your lights are off."

Or you can turn them on when you are on vacation for security.

There are basically two ways to add this functionality: with smart bulbs or smart dimmers.

Smart bulbs like Philips Hue (from about US$70 for a starter kit) and LIFX (from about US$20 a bulb) are the easiest to install - just screw them into an existing socket - and offer dimming and optional colour changes.

Smart dimmers like Lutron Caseta (about US$100 for a starter kit) and Leviton Decora Smart (from US$45 a switch) replace existing wall dimmers and switches to control fixtures with standard bulbs, although installing them does require some simple electrical work.

Beyond being able to control your lights from anywhere, an advantage to either type of system is the ability to set scenes with numerous fixtures dimmed to pre-determined levels, and schedule lights to turn on and off automatically.

ADD MULTI-ROOM AUDIO

These systems, which once required expensive, cumbersome equipment and lots of cables, are now easy to put in place.

A long-time leader is Sonos, which makes speakers (from US$149 each) that can be plugged into any electrical outlet. They use Wi-Fi to simultaneously play the same music across all rooms, or different music in different rooms, with independent volume controls for each, through an app.

Apple offers similar functionality with its AirPlay technology, through its HomePod speakers (US$349) and select speakers made by other manufacturers.

Google does the same with Google Home speakers (from US$49) and other manufacturers' speakers with Chromecast built in.

Amazon Echo speakers (from about US$50) can also offer multi-room audio.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'It is easy to build an intelligent home'. Print Edition | Subscribe