My Smart Home Setup

My Smart Home Setup
Photo by Patrick Campanale / Unsplash

Be it gimmick or genuinely useful, more and more people are turning to "smart" home appliances. Here's my setup.

Let There Be Light

My smart home journey started around 2016 when I invested in a Philips Hue starter kit. That got me the Hue Bridge and three colour bulbs. I can't remember how much it was but it was north of £200. One bulb's glass smashed just weeks after getting it, but all bulbs are still going strong. As are the prices of Philips Hue...

Thankfully there have been a ton of people coming into the smart home space, particularly in the area of lighting, and one of the best — in terms of affordability, at least — has been Ikea with their Trådfri range of smart accessories. What makes it so amazing is that it integrates into Apple HomeKit seamlessly (some of you may know I'm a big Apple fanboy over here), so it works flawlessly alongside the Hue bulbs.

So as it stands I have three Philips Hue bulbs: one in the living room, and the other two in the children's and 'master' bedroom, then I have Ikea bulbs in:

  1. Living room lamp
  2. Dining area
  3. Kitchen
  4. Hallway
  5. Landing
  6. Office & office lamp
  7. Downstairs loo

The landing and downstairs toilet are both controlled by Ikea motion sensors. This allows them to activate only at night, and they switch off after a few minutes. Brilliant for if anybody needs the loo in the dark and there's no need for the kids to remember to switch them off (which they would routinely do).

Future me plans to replace them all with full-colour bulbs of the same brand so I can get equal brightness levels and colour reproduction/temperature. Ideally, I'd like to do away with the Ikea and Philips Hue bridges too; something that should be a possibility with the Matter. I could mostly do this now with the nanoleaf bulbs, but at this moment they only do E60/B27 (bayonet/screw) fittings and I need E14 (small screw) for my lamps. I'm also not entirely in love with the futuristic geodesic-like design of the bulbs themselves. I know we don't look at lightbulbs often (nor should we) but it's something that got my attention when looking at their website.

Bring The Heat

The 2nd part of my smart home is a smart thermostat. This is probably the one thing I would recommend that everybody gets. There is a massive marketing campaign at the moment to get everybody on them with the promise of saving hundreds of pounds a year on your energy.

As of this writing there is an energy crisis, and prices are through the roof. I have no idea if a smart-thermostat is saving me or anybody money, but I feel like it probably is.

However, this isn't the reason to buy one IMHO. For me, it's about having much more granular control over my heating schedule/temperature. My old setup was a standard thermostat in my living room and the boiler has a built-in timer. So whilst you could get granular time control (15-minute increments) the temperature was set to whatever the thermostat was set to — normally 20-21º unless I decided to change it.

Sounds fine, except maybe I want it cooler of a night, like a nice 15-16º. And a bit cooler during the day when I'm not home. It's pointless keeping it at a cool 16º if I'm not here so maybe 12-13º will do. But then the weekend arrives — I'm home all day and want things a little warmer... easy enough to do.

Suuuure I could set my old thermostat manually but — and this happened a lot — what if I forget to change it before bed? Guess who's going to bed when the house is still hot? This guy. And let me tell you, I cannot sleep when it's too hot.

A screen shot showing the heating schedule of my smart thermostat.
Smart thermostats allow you to get super-specific with the time and temperature.

I know there are probably some dumb programmable thermostats out there that would achieve the same outcome, but it's nice to have the extra integration with HomeKit so, as an example, when I leave home at the weekend (when the temp is set the highest), it will automatically knock it down to 15º so it's not burning gas (and thus, money) all day, or equally to turn it on when I am heading home so the house is warm when I arrive.

I ended up buying a Hive Mini because it was cheap and got good reviews. The finish of the thermostat is a bit plastic-y to the touch but thankfully you won't have to do that often since 99% of its functions are controlled by the app. But there are plenty of choices out there and they all pretty much do the same thing. It's just important you find one that works for you and, unless you're a dab-hand at wiring, budget in the cost of an install to go along with it.

Turn Up The Bass

Now this isn't strictly a smart home thing, but thanks to being in the Apple ecosystem, my HomePods form part of several HomeKit automations. So when I wake up in the morning they will start playing my Apple Music Chill Mix, and when I arrive home 'My Station' will start playing. This second one is just a mood booster so that I'm not coming home to a silent house... sad but true!

What's Next?

Well, as I say I want to build my bulbs out so they're all of the same brand and use Matter and get rid of the hubs. I also want to add some exterior lighting in the garden, but the best option for that is Hue it seems.

I'd like to start looking at smart blinds, but at the moment the only somewhat affordable option is, again, Ikea. Every other option is either extortionate (as I've come to learn blinds are very pricy anyway) or a hacky add-on to existing blinds.

Some smart plugs are probably next on the list. The Eve plugs look physically best and also monitor your energy usage (not a requirement but could be handy in the future). Again Ikea's offering is cheaper but they're bulky and unsightly compared to Eve. And then, as with so many things in this niche space, there are offerings from Philips too.

Future Smarts

Smart home stuff is really exploding in popularity. It's been a bit awkward to convince people of it so far because of the danger of being locked into a brand but I think as Matter becomes more prevalent, prices come down and manufacturers actually get on board (which they seem to be doing) we can have an interoperable smart home utopia for everybody.

Or we could just turn the switches on and off like normal people.