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What is a Smart Home? How to Get One and Why You May Not Want To

Written by Joe Roberts

Published on September 9, 2022


What is a Smart Home? How to Get One and Why You May Not Want To

Smart homes are all the rage these days, but are they all they’re cracked up to be? Read our analysis to decide if home automation is right for you.

To provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information, we consult a number of sources when producing each article, including licensed contractors and industry experts.

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A smart home is any house where the appliances are interconnected through a network – called an Internet of Things (IoT) – that allows the homeowner to monitor and control them. Beyond this definition, though, there isn’t a strict boundary around what a smart home can be. 

Dozens of your home’s appliances and devices can be replaced with smart home technology, and there are a lot of different hubs and protocols you can use to connect and operate them all. This means you can fully customize your smart home to meet your desires and needs. Depending on what you install, smart home devices can make your home safer, more energy efficient, more entertaining, and more convenient. 

In short, your smart home can be whatever you want. Be warned, though, that the perks smart homes provide come with a few downsides: the tech can be hard to master, it’s fairly expensive, and it even presents some unique security risks. Before you make your home smart, read our guide to the benefits, drawbacks, and costs of smart home technology.

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How do smart homes work?

In a smart home, all the smart appliances and devices connect to a central hub through a wireless network—like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth—or a hardwired network. The hub works as a command center for your IoT.

If your smart home network is wireless, the hub can give you control via your smartphone, an AI assistant like Apple’s “Siri,” your computer, or even your gaming console. This allows you to monitor and command all the connected devices from any room.

Protocols: explained

All the devices you install have to work together, though, which means they must use the same “protocol”. Think of the protocol as the language the devices use when speaking to each other. Installing a device that uses a different protocol from the rest of your home’s system is like placing someone in an office where all of their coworkers speak a different language.

There are many types of protocols, so here’s a quick list of some popular ones you can choose from:

Smart home protocols

Wireless protocols

Hardwired protocols

Hybrid (wired and wireless) protocols









Not all protocols are created equal, and the right one for you will depend on your priorities. 

Hardwired protocols are more reliable since they can’t pick up interference from unconnected devices, and they’re more secure from hackers. However, they’re also more expensive to install and they have to be controlled from a console on your central hub. This means you can’t remote control a hardwired IoT from your smartphone. 

Wireless protocols, on the other hand, are much easier to install, they’re cheaper, and they can be controlled through an app from just about any internet-connected device. And while these networks are more vulnerable to hackers because they can be accessed wirelessly, protocols like ZigBee come with excellent encryption to minimize the hacking risk.

The last thing to consider when choosing a protocol is which hub and AI assistant you want to use in your home. They aren’t all compatible with each other. For example, the Google Nest can only use specific Wi-Fi protocols, while Amazon’s Alexa is compatible with several different protocols, including Z-Wave and Zigbee

Once you’ve picked a protocol, you’re basically locked into whatever ecosystem of devices that protocol works with, so choose wisely. 

Are smart homes a good idea?

It’s hard to argue with the convenience smart home technology offers, and it can even make your home more secure against traditional intruders like burglars. At the same time, though, it can leave you vulnerable to a different type of intruder: hackers. 

Did you know that hackers can use your smart TV to spy on you? And a skilled hacker can exploit any connected device in your IoT as a gateway to access your router and steal all the data transferred from your phone or laptop.

With all of this in mind, turning your house into a smart home is only a good idea if you do it the smart way. On top of picking a network protocol with secure encryption, like Zigbee, you should also follow these security tips:

  • Change every device’s default password.
  • Make passwords long. 
  • Don’t give mobile apps permissions they don’t need. 
  • Use a different network for your laptop and your IoT.
  • Keep all of your devices up-to-date, and turn on automatic updates if possible. 

If you follow these safety tips, then yes, making your home smarter is a great idea – especially if you can already think of a few things around the house that you’d like to automate. 

The pros and cons of smart homes

  • + More convenient than traditional homes
  • + Customizable to your needs
  • + More accessible for seniors and people with disabilities
  • + Greater energy efficiency
  • + More secure against intruders
  • + Potentially greater resale value
  • - Vulnerable to hackers
  • - Occasionally buggy technology
  • - Hard to get used to
  • - Fairly high installation costs

How much does home automation cost?

Smart home devices are fairly expensive, so fully automating your home can cost a pretty penny. Average costs range from $2,000 to $7,000 depending on the size of your home and which smart gadgets you get. In extreme cases, automating a whole house can cost tens of thousands of dollars. 

Luckily, you can slowly build your IoT over a few years to make the price manageable instead of paying for it all at once. 

Why are smart homes more energy efficient?

When implemented correctly, smart home products can net you a ton of energy savings. Using home appliances like smart plugs, smart lighting systems, and a smart thermostat can help you track and manage your energy consumption more effectively. 

However, this does take some work on your part. Even the smartest home automation system needs to be given clear and effective instructions. Because of this, you should expect it to take a little time and experimentation before your smart home saves you money on your utilities. 

It’s also worth mentioning that some smart home systems learn your routine over time. The longer you have a system like this, the better it will become at meeting your needs without running your air conditioner or living room lights unnecessarily. 

How to make your home smarter

As we said, your smart home can be whatever you want it to be, and you can use smart home technology to accomplish a ton of different tasks around the house. Below are a few of the ways you can tailor your system to your needs. 

Making your smart home more convenient

A smart vacuum cleaner can run automatically at set times, keeping your floors clean without requiring anything from you—just watch where you step! Image source: Samsung

Convenience is one of the most common applications of smart home technology. For just about every chore around your house, someone has made a gadget that will do it for you. 

Sick of cleaning your floors the old-fashioned way? Devices like smart vacuums and robotic mops can take these time-consuming tasks off of your hands and keep your floors squeaky clean at all times. 

Need to feed your cat or dog while you’re at work all day? Get a smart pet feeder and program it to pour the exact portions your furry friend needs at scheduled times. Even on days that you’re home, this handy little appliance can take care of this menial task for you. 

And, of course, voice-controlled AI assistants like an Amazon Echo or a Google Home can streamline your IoT. They allow you to switch lights off, preheat your oven, and change the temperature of your home with simple voice commands. Don’t like the idea of a listening robot in your house? Conveniently control your appliances with an app on your mobile device instead.

These are just a few examples of how your smart home can make your life easier, and developers are finding more ways to automate household drudgery all the time. 

Safeguarding your house with smart home security

You can also use your IoT to fortify your home against intrusion, burglary, and other types of disasters. In fact, the menu of smart devices developed for home security is one of the largest. 

Want to monitor your perimeter at all times? Install a few security cameras around the property. These can send you push notifications, activate alarm systems, or alert the police department of intruders. If you install smart lights, you can turn them on remotely to make it seem like someone’s home when you’re out. This can deter trespassers. 

And with a smart lock and a video doorbell, you can unlock your front door remotely to permit welcome guests, even if you aren’t home. A smart garage door can be used the same way. 

Lastly, if you’re scared of fire or CO2 buildup in your home, then smart smoke and CO2 detectors can notify you when something’s amiss. They can even ring up the fire department on your behalf. 

Is there some other way you want to batten down the hatches of your home? There’s probably a device that can do it for you. Like the list of convenient smart home tech, the list of ways your smart home can be automated to protect itself and your family is always growing. 

Using your smart home to entertain

A smart TV with a good sound system can connect directly to all your favorite streaming services and serve as an entertainment hub for your whole home. Image source: Walmart

We’ve talked at length about all the practical applications of smart technology, so let’s talk about something fun: entertainment. If you want your home to be a lively space for hosting friends and associates, then you can outfit your smart home for that as well. 

With a smart speaker or sound system, you can instantly play music from popular streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. And, with a smart TV and home theater, your home can be your crew’s go-to spot for viewing parties, late-night gaming sessions, and sports nights. Dimmable smart lights can also enhance any vibe. 

Whether you’re looking to host raucous house parties, professional work functions, elegant cocktail parties, or just casual gatherings with intimate friends, your smart home can help make it happen.

Increasing your smart home’s energy efficiency

A smart thermostat, like this Nest thermostat, can help you conserve energy without compromising on comfort. Image source: Google Store

Energy efficiency is the last major application of smart home technology. It bears repeating that the upfront cost of automating your home is pretty high, but home automation can actually pay for itself and even save you money in the long run by bringing down your monthly utility bills. 

With traditional appliances and fixtures, energy and water conservation typically involve a lot of guesswork and careful tracking. But with home automation technology that passively conserves for you and precisely monitors usage, you can bid farewell to much of the tedious effort conservation requires. 

Many smart washing machines, dishwashers, and clothes dryers come equipped with sensors that shut them off when their jobs are done instead of running for a set amount of time, even after the dishes are clean or the clothes are dry. 

Similarly, smart refrigerators can be programmed to regulate their power consumption and only chill your food to desired temperatures. Not only will this help you save energy and money, but it also means you won’t have to worry about food catching frostbite ever again. 

And with a smart thermostat, your conditioner and furnace can run more efficiently by only heating or cooling your home when necessary. These thermostats can also learn your routine and only summon warm or cool air when you’re home instead of throughout the day. 

Last but not least, motion sensors that activate smart light bulbs can ensure your lights are only on when you actually need them. When you leave a room, they’ll automatically shut off so you don’t have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to ensure you turned them off. 

The best part is that smart devices can give you precise usage data so you’ll know exactly which appliances are using how much energy and when. That way, you can adjust your consumption in an informed way instead of simply guessing like you often had to in olden times. 

Is a smart home right for you?

These days, just about everything from your toilet to your coffee maker can be replaced with a smart device to add convenience and security to your life. And while home automation does come with a large price tag and its fair share of risks, the technology is getting better, more affordable, and more secure all the time. 

And don’t worry, you don’t have to go all in on home automation immediately. You can dip your toes into the water slowly by getting a few security cameras or a robotic vacuum without committing to gadgets you might be wary of, such as an AI assistant or a smart TV.

Not only will this keep costs manageable, but it will also help you learn the tricky ropes of home automation gradually. And, if you ultimately decide that smart tech isn’t for you, you can return to a more traditional home life without having invested too much money into technology you aren’t a fan of.

That said, if you’ve got the cash and you’re ready to go the whole hog on convenience, security, and energy savings, that’s also a valid option.

Turn your home into a smart home today

Written by

Joe Roberts Content Specialist

Joe is a home improvement expert and content specialist for Fixr.com. He’s been writing home services content for over eight years, leveraging his research and composition skills to produce consumer-minded articles that demystify everything from moving to remodeling. His work has been sourced by various news sources and business journals, including Nasdaq.com and USA Today. When he isn’t writing about home improvement or climate issues, Joe can be found in bookstores and record shops.