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Choosing Your Smart Home Technology

The first step in choosing your smart home technology is to determine your goals and learn about the devices that can help you achieve those goals.

If you aren’t sure what your goals are, take the self-assessment which will help you consider your personal wants and needs, as well as the opportunities and limitations of your home environment.

When you’re ready to choose a specific device, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Remember: Focus on the Function
    You aren’t buying a device; you’re solving a problem. Look at your goals first and work backwards from there. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to do?” and then, “What technology or device would best support me in reaching this goal?” It’s easy to be tempted by flashy technology, but by focusing on the task you are trying to accomplish first—the functional skill—you are more likely to find the device that works for you.
  • Do Your Research
    Read about smart home technology online. Talk to people with similar goals and challenges who are using smart home technology and find out what they’re using and why. Read reviews to learn if a device will work with the technology you already have in place at your home, if it will be accessible to you, and how well it will help you accomplish your goals. Start with devices that have been around for at least two to three years, have four- or five-star ratings, and show up on recent “best of” lists.
  • Start Small and Build 
    If you’re new to smart home technology, get acquainted with it first. For example, you can start with just a smart speaker or display such as Amazon Echo or Google Nest. Get comfortable using the device with your voice, explore the device’s app, and try out different commands, skills, and actions. After you have used the speaker for a while, try adding a second device such as a smart light bulb. Connect the two so you can control the lights with your voice using the speaker. Gradually you can add on from there, choosing devices based on your goals. Pretty soon you’ll be a smart home technology pro with an entire smart ecosystem in your home!
  • Consider Accessibility
    Everyone’s needs are different. If you have low vision and use VoiceOver with an iPhone, for example, it’s important to check that a smart device’s app is accessible with VoiceOver. If you are hard-of-hearing, you might consider whether a device’s notifications have a visual or tactile component or if they are only auditory. If your speech is affected by your disability, it may be important to test out which device successfully picks up on your enunciation of the word or phrase that activates the device, known as the “wake word.” 
  • Explore Automations and Routines
    Most smart home technology offers the ability to automate processes to make your life easier. For example, let’s say every morning you listen to the news, adjust the thermostat, and make coffee. With a smart speaker, smart thermostat, smart plug, and conventional coffee maker, you can automate this morning routine. For example, you might configure your devices so that with one voice command the news starts to play through the smart speaker, and the smart speaker triggers the change in the thermostat and powers on the coffee maker using the smart plug. Learn more about automating your home.
  • Keep in Mind Device Compatibility
    It’s always good to check whether the devices you plan to use together are compatible. Some devices integrate seamlessly while others do not. If you already have some smart home technology, or you have a particular (non-smart) device you want to control using smart home technology, be sure to research ahead of time whether the devices you plan to connect are compatible.
  • Read the Specifications
    Part of choosing your technology involves understanding the complexity of its setup. Look up “Technical Details” or “Specifications” for your desired device to get an idea of its dimensions, weight, materials, system requirements, and other technical details (Wi-Fi capability, necessary accessories that aren’t included, etc.). This will give you an idea of what to expect upon setting things up.

    Here are some details to look for: 
    • Do you need to purchase additional devices or accessories? For example, a mounting system may be required to place your device where you want it.
    • How is the device powered: electrical outlet (plug in), hardwired, battery powered, or solar? If hardwired, you will need assistance from an electrician or someone capable of performing electrical work. If you plan to install a smart switch, be sure there is a neutral line, and that your wiring is up to code so it doesn’t experience electrical surges. If the device plugs into an electrical socket, make sure there is an outlet located where you want to install it.
    • Is it a one-time purchase or is there a monthly/annual subscription associated with the product? Some companies require a subscription at a monthly fee to use all features available and cover the cost for software updates and ongoing support. 
  • Look up the Lifespan of the Device
    Different devices have different lifespans. When investing in smart home technology, it’s worth researching how long each product will last. Also check to see if there is a warranty, what it covers, and for how long. 
  • Check Your Internet Speed and Wi-Fi Reach
    Determine what your current internet capability is in your home. Then compare your findings with the requirements of the device you plan to use. Start with running a speed test using a tool such as Speedtest. Results may vary; internet speeds can fluctuate depending on how many devices you have connected, how many programs you have open, and how far you are from the router. 

    Contact your Internet Service Provider to check that the speed you’re getting in the test results actually matches what you’re paying for. If not, you may be due for an update to your equipment such as a newer router or modem. 

    You should also test the reach of your Wi-Fi in each area inside and outside your home where you plan to install smart home devices. An easy way to do this is to take a smartphone or tablet to the area, connect to the internet, and run a speed test. 

What if Your Wi-Fi Doesn’t Reach? 

If your Wi-Fi does not reach the areas of your home where you want to set up smart home devices, consider either a Wi-Fi extender or a mesh network. A Wi-Fi extender is generally used when you have one small dead zone in your home. A mesh network is better for whole-house coverage. Learn more about the difference between Wi-Fi extenders and mesh networks.

  • Only Buy What You Need
    Frequently, new and exciting smart home technology can be purchased in bundles: a group of products combined to lower the overall cost for the consumer. Unless a better part of the bundled products help you to achieve your goals, avoid spending the extra money on items that may seem appealing if you are unsure if they’re useful for you. 
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Illustration of a house with a ramp to the door. The house is sitting on a smart phone touch screen and has icons above and around it for Wi-Fi, accessibility with an active wheelchair user, a light bulb, and a lock.