I’m building my dream smart home – here are the 5 things I decided on first

a smart home rendering sitting on  tablet

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I’ve lived what one might charitably call a nomadic existence for my entire adult life. In the past 30 years, my wife Judy and I have lived in eight homes in five states. You know where this is going, right? We’re about to move again, to a completely new state.

Moving is always stressful, but it also offers opportunities. You get to discover a completely new part of the world, meet a bunch of new neighbors, and discard large amounts of stuff it turns out you really didn’t need.

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For this move, we get a bonus. Because this next home is brand-new — built from the ground up — we can work with contractors and tradespeople to take advantage of all the technology that’s available as we accelerate into the middle of the 21st century. And that, as it turns out, is a lot of technology!

When you move into a home that’s already built, adding home automation features like smart lighting and climate control is a matter of retrofitting. (I documented that process for our last move three years ago.)

This time around, we get the luxury of thinking about all that technology while the building still exists strictly as a collection of blueprints. We get to avoid all of the headaches of retrofitting an old home and maybe even do some future-proofing.

For this post, I’ll share exactly what we’ve settled on.

1. The network

Your internet service provider is the heart and soul of any smart home, and we’ve been lucky in recent years. In our current ┬áhome, we have multiple options for reliable high-speed internet from both Comcast and Google Fiber.

Our new home is in a new community that’s already wired for fiber, and some of our soon-to-be neighbors a few streets over have AT&T Fiber accounts. That means we’ll probably be dealing with AT&T Fiber, which offers symmetric speeds of up to 5 Gbps. (There’s a good chance Google Fiber will be available over the same infrastructure in a year or two.)

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When we last built a new home from scratch, way back in 2003, I obsessed over placing RJ45 jacks for wired internet connections in every room. Having physical Ethernet cabling was a big deal because Wi-Fi in those days was slow and unreliable. Today, with Wi-Fi 6 (soon to be 7) equipment commonplace, that’s much less of an issue. We’ll have three locations where the main access point can be installed, but the wireless access point will be in my office. That room is pretty much dead center in the house, so coverage should be good everywhere, with no need for a mesh system.

The most startling thing I noticed when looking over the wiring diagram is that we won’t have a single coaxial cable in the house. I guess that answers the question, “What comes after cord-cutting?” The answer is: no cord at all.

2. Smart lighting

The last time I chronicled our smart home experience I called smart lighting the killer app. That’s still true. Every table lamp and pendant light in our current home is equipped with Philips Hue bulbs that give us nearly infinite control over the intensity of that light. Some of those bulbs even offer control over the color and warmth of that light (although we’ve learned that those effects are best used sparingly). We’ve also added smart Hue lightstrips for cool indirect illumination effects.

For fixtures where smart bulbs aren’t appropriate, a smart switch capable of connecting to the network via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth adds the same capabilities, albeit at a cost. We didn’t bother paying for smart light switches in a few small spaces in our current home, and one key location turned out to be stubbornly incapable of automation.

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In the new home, we’ll finally move away from our hodgepodge of smart lighting solutions to one built on a single standard. Every switch in the new home is a simple on/off model from a company called Deako. Deako’s attraction is its modular backplate (the metal box that sits inside the wall and connects each switch to the house wiring). They’ve been especially successful in winning over big builders in the US, where the company claims its products are now installed in 1 out of 6 new homes.

Normally, this is the stage when I’d have to hire an electrician — or risk electrocuting myself — to replace those standard switches with Wi-Fi-enabled models. Thanks to this modular design, I can just pop out the standard switch and snap in a new smart switch or smart dimmer, tying everything together without ever touching a bare wire or paying an electrician. It’s all tied together by an app that can enable custom options like turning all the lights in the house on or off with a single long press on the switch at the entry.


You don’t need to pay an electrician or risk electrocuting yourself to swap in a Deako smart module

Photo credit: Deako

We’ll still have a few Hue bulbs for table lamps and light strips for mood lighting above cabinets, but the entire setup should be dramatically simpler and more powerful than our current one.

3. Smart energy

In the past 30 years, home builders have become much more sensitive to energy efficiency. Partly that’s because of stricter building codes (if you’re curious about the topic, this discussion by two energy experts is worth a listen). But it’s also because more home buyers are demanding it.

Our new home will come with the right amount of insulation and will be equipped with an Ecobee smart thermostat. We know from experience that that combination can dramatically shrink energy bills.

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We’ve also designed everything inside the home to run on electricity instead of natural gas. And I’m particularly looking forward to cooking on an induction range instead of using a blue flame.

The home is pre-wired for solar and we’ll probably install those panels as well as a backup battery like Tesla’s PowerWall 3 shortly after we move in, especially given that there are incentives from the local energy company and tax credits from the US government that should cover roughly half the cost.

Of course, we’ll include an EV charger in the garage, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to a bare minimum.

4. Home security

Back before the turn of this century, installing a home security system was a cumbersome process, with wired sensors on doors and windows connecting to dedicated phone lines that communicated to a central monitoring facility. Today’s alternatives are mostly wireless and easy to add, especially when building a home from the foundation up.

Also: Everything you need for smart home security

We’ll have a simple Alarm.com home security system with the basics: motion sensors and a smart video doorbell, but no additional cameras, at least for now. The most important feature of all, though, is a way to definitively relieve an anxiety that every homeowner knows only too well: “Did I remember to close the garage door?” Open the app, check the status indicator, and tap the Close Garage Door button, if necessary.

5. The hub

These days there are only two real options for tying all the pieces of a smart home together. We’ve standardized on Google Home, but if we were in the Amazon Alexa ecosystem that would work just as well. (Apple Home is an option for some things, but it doesn’t have the same level of integration as those two.)

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On my Android phone, I have a half-dozen apps in my Smart Home folder, but I rarely open those apps except when configuring a new device or adjusting an existing integration. For day-to-day tasks, we do almost everything by talking to a Google Home device. I’ve trained the Google Assistant to turn on the lights in the front of the house when I come in the front door and say “I’m home.”

When we want to watch a movie on the big screen in the living room, all I have to say is, “Hey Google, it’s time to watch TV.” That phrase kicks off a saved Automation that dims a few strategic lights and turns off all the others to create the perfect viewing environment.

If someone’s sleeping and talking to one of those little voice hubs isn’t an option, I can swipe down on my phone, tap the Device Control button, and adjust the lights or temperature without saying a word.

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It all works surprisingly well. The only downside comes when we travel and realize that we can’t crawl into bed and turn off all the lights by saying “Hey Google, it’s bedtime!”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pack a few more boxes before the movers get here.


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