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What is a smart home? How to setup and run your perfect connected home

What exactly is a smart home, how do you set up a smart home in your own house, and what advantages does it offer? Here's our complete guide to connecting and controlling your home tech using your mobile phone or tablet.

From robot butlers to voice activated tech, the smart home of the future might not be what the people of the 1950s expected, but it’s well and truly arrived.

Sure our home robots aren’t quite as awesome as Rocky Balboa's, but the real-world smart home is all about voice controlled and Wi-Fi connected devices that make life easier than ever. While they sound advanced, plenty of options like the Amazon Echo listening speaker, Nest smart thermostat or Philips Hue smart bulbs are already in loads of homes and are thankfully affordable enough for most home owners.

Linking all that kit together and controlling it from your phone - or even fully automating your home tech - is what this guide is all about. Read on to see how you can build the smart home of the future, right now.

Read next: What is O2 Home? Everything you need to know about O2's smart home service

How to setup and run your smart home: IFTTT

While the first step to building your own smart home is buying that smart connected hardware, we’re going to begin by showing you what it can actually do. The key is an online service called IFTTT, or, If This Then That.

The idea is that you create “recipes”, where one action leads to another, to automate things around your home. So, for example, you could set your smart light to turn on when your smart thermostat or camera recognises that you’ve arrived home. Clever, right? But that’s just the start as you can tie together anything your imagination allows.

We love the idea of going to bed at night and speaking to your Amazon Echo to say “Alexa, bed time” or something similar, to create a chain of events that turn off your lights and music while locking smart locks, activating cameras and generally getting the house ready for the night. Then you can reverse it all in the morning - and of course, make sure the coffee gets brewing when everything powers up too.

For more info, check out our guide to IFTTT.

So what kit can you get that’ll make your home smart?

How to setup and run your smart home: Smart lights

One of the first smart connected gadgets to hit homes was the smart light. This, quite ingeniously, connects to the home Wi-Fi network and can be controlled via your phone. That means you can control your lights from anywhere on the planet. Some are Bluetooth connected, but then you’re limited to in-room controls.

Gone on holiday and forgot to set a timer? Pop into the app and stick a light or two on when it’s night time. Having a party and want to set the mood? Plenty of smart lights have various colours, flashing modes and some even have built-in speakers. The Philips Hue was one of the first smart bulbs and is still one of the best out there now with LED strip light options and more all working with most other apps.

You can even link up your lights so they turn on and off as you come and go, or all go out at night using IFTTT.

How to setup and run your smart home: Smart thermostats

Another early entry into the world of smart connected gadgets was the thermostat, namely the Nest. This Google backed slice of elegance makes controlling your heating (and cooling if you have AC) as easy as twisting a dial with a display. In fact it’s easier as this will learn and end up doing even that for you.

Smart thermostats like Nest and Tado use movement sensors and even your phone’s location to learn your movements which are coupled with your controls of the thermostat day to day. Eventually it should learn when you like it a certain temperature and make sure the boiler kicks in early enough so it’s at that level when you want it. So when your feet slip out of bed it won’t be into the icy cold, ideally.

How to setup and run your smart home: Smart security

Not too long ago, the only way to actively secure your home with cameras was to shell out a serious wedge of cash for a security system and pay regularly for a subscription. These still arguably offer the best security when connected directly to the police but when you can get a one-off payment version that means you call the police instead, smart security starts to seem very attractive.

There are plenty of smart cameras out there like the Netatmo, Logi Circle and Nest all of which detect sound and movement. These are connected via Wi-Fi so you can be alerted on your app wherever you are. Some like the Netatmo are even smart enough to recognise faces so you’ll know if a family member has stepped out or if a new person is in your home. Some like the Logi Circle even auto edit videos so you can see a quick one minute video of everything that happened in your house that day.

The movement and noise detection in these cameras are ideal for IFTTT as they can be used to set off a chain of events on your arrival home.

How to setup and run your smart home: Smart speaker systems

When you hear the name Sonos you probably immediately think of wireless smart home speaker systems. While it was one of the first names to make this a reality there are now plenty of other alternatives out there. These fall into the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connected categories each using their connections to offer multi-room audio.

That means you can have a song on all over the house, various songs in various areas or rooms, or just have a song follow you as you move about. Since these are app controlled some can even be coupled with smart lights for ambient effects and party lighting, or be activated when you’re home and switch off at night, for example.

How to setup and run your smart home: Smart plugs

Smart plugs are a great way of upgrading your current electronics to make them smartphone controlled, on a basic level at least.

These plugs connect to your home Wi-Fi network and can be switched on and off from your smartphone. That means anything plugged into them can be set on a timer or controlled from anywhere in the world. These are great for updating lamp lighting, home stereo systems, televisions, coffee makers and anything else you can think of that uses a plug for power.

How to setup and run your smart home: Smart gardening

The smart home revolution doesn’t stop at the door, now even the garden can get an connected upgrade. Parrot has created a smart monitor that sits in the soil and allows you to monitor your plants’ soil via your phone. From moisture to light levels, you’ll get plenty of data so there’s no excuses for wilting flowers or poor crop yields anymore. There also a pot version for use inside the home too.

Watering is a hassle that can be partially avoided with a timer but when that timer is smart you can take it to the next level. The Hozelock smart watering system lets you control the timer and water on/off from your phone but it goes further. This system is independently intelligent as it can monitor the weather actively - including checking online - so if rain is due when the water is set to come on it’ll skip that watering saving you on water bills and avoiding waterlogging the garden.

How to setup and run your smart home: Amazon Alexa

Amazon created a speaker called Echo which comes with a 7-microphone array for listening to commands. It has proved to be a surprise hit and now lots of smart connected gadgets are getting involved.

Using the Amazon Alexa voice assistant software the Echo, Dot and Tap devices can be accessed using voice commands to control the smart home. Simply say the Alexa name then a command and it will be carried out, from turning off lights and music to ordering food and calling people. Alexa also works like a smartphone voice assistant so if you’re mucky-hands cooking in the kitchen and want to work out what a cup is in grams you can simply ask, hands-free.

How to setup and run your smart home: Cook smart

Now even the kitchen is smart connected. From weighing scales to ovens and washing machines, plenty of your home chores can now be done via an app.

Smart ovens mean you can head out leaving grub in the oven then either use the app to turn it on or set up a system where the oven kicks in when you’re a certain distance from home. There are even smart scales, like Drop, that let you put recipes together while it fires up the oven so it’s preheated exactly when your recipe is ready to go in.

Fridges like LG’s come with screens so you can order food right there after closing the door and washing machines can notify you when your clothes are ready. Putting your feet up and letting the robots do the heavy lifting has never been easier.

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