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Each time I write about a new smart home product, I can count on a few commenters to question the need to add smart functionality to a product they’ve used for years. “What’s wrong with a washing machine that doesn’t talk to me,” “I can do a better job than any robot vacuum,” or “Hope you enjoy being spied on through your smart air purifier!” There’s nothing inherently wrong with the “dumb” products we learned to use—they’re not dumb at all, they just require more work on our part. The promise of smart products is vast. Sure, they save time, because they work without your input. And they save money because you can program them using intelligence—both yours (experience) and theirs (AI). And they’re fun. I’ll never get over the joy of voicing a request into the air and having lights turn on, doors lock, the dryer spin, or a robot mop. But the best reason—the reason you really can’t refute—is that smart home products make the world accessible. We will all be using them in a few short years; but for now, there are important considerations to make before leaping in. 

You need strong and consistent wifi

Smart home devices need internet. You can eventually run them on local signals like Bluetooth, Z-wave, and Zigbee, but that’s not standard. Setup is almost always going to require wifi, and usage is often also dependent on the internet. It’s not just that you want strong wifi, you want consistent wifi throughout the areas you’ll use smart products. That’s not always easy to achieve if the space is large or you have barriers like metal in your walls or large appliances in the way. The solution is often engaging mesh routers, which do a better job distributing your wifi signal across a space. 

Some smart home tech won’t move with you to the next home

Some smart products are easier to hit the road with than others. You can pick up Tiles and go anywhere, and I’ve found it pretty easy to relocate floor bots and smart plugs. But if you want to move your voice assistant speakers or your hub, that’s a big pain. The same goes for lightbulbs and smart appliances. As people begin to choose smart switches over smart hubs, you have to consider whether you’re investing in products you’re not likely to uninstall and bring to the next home. Your robot pool cleaner might come with you, but the smart garage opener won’t; consider the longevity of your choices. 

There will be smart home tech privacy breaches

We should be able to have smart products and expect privacy at the same time. But we know that companies are fallible, networks are hackable, and security breaches happen. I’m not saying we should just accept the privacy breaches that now seem standard, but I stand by the unpopular opinion you need to be aware it’s likely to happen and not let it make you anxious. The reality is that many people struggled with the security of entering your credit card online or using your social security number as identification. Ultimately, younger generations accepted that online transactions were simply how things were done now, and the occasional risk was the price of doing business, and fraud protections evolved from the banks to deal with it. 

You’ll need to choose one main hub

There are now many multiple system hubs out there, and the ecosystem is always growing. While you can run multiple systems in your home (HomeKit and Alexa, Alexa and Google Home, SmartThings and Home Assistant, etc.) the reality is that you want to choose one voice assistant (Siri, Google, or Alexa) and really try to stick with one hub. Consolidation will make it easier to manage your products through automation and the hub’s app, and it’ll help you choose between smart speakers and displays. The best way to choose is to consider the most important products to you, and also what kind of tinkerer you are. If you are an Apple fan, HomeKit makes sense—but a lot of products don’t work with HomeKit. Alexa has the strongest ecosystem, in my opinion, but if you like absolute control, Home Assistant might be for you. New hubs like Hubitat and Brilliant offer varying levels of control and product integration. 

Start adding smart home tech in layers

Don’t go hog wild on smart products. Choose a hub, and then choose one layer of utilities: Lights, HVAC, or cleaning. If you choose lights, choose between smart switches, fixtures, or lightbulbs (or all three), but try to stick with as few brands as possible, and go slowly. Experiment with automations along the way, voice control, and what to do when you lose connection. Slowly add on more layers as you get more comfortable with the technology. 

A byproduct of smart home life that no one loves is the additional apps and physical hubs you end up with. Locate the hubs in one spot and label them so its clear from the front what they control. Keep a doc or spreadsheet somewhere with all the apps on your phone and what they control. This is my favorite hack, because so many of these apps don’t have the name of the company in them, and all look and sound very familiar (My SmartLife, Smart Home, Homelife, etc.). 

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