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Smart Home

4 things to consider before making your home smart

The smart home dream is more attainable than ever. But there are some things you should know before diving in.

Josh Miller

A home full of automations and smart devices in every room sounds about as futuristic it gets. A voice-controlled oven, a TV that doubles as art or an indoor garden that practically manages itself -- it all sounds amazing. There are some things you should consider, however, before diving into a smart home of your own. Here are four of the most important.

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You'll need to decide on a 'brain' first

Without a doubt, the biggest concern is fragmentation. It's certainly gotten better over the last few years, especially with the growing popularity of smart speakers like Google Home and Alexa, and services like IFTTT that help fix the language barrier between different devices and services.

But if you're not careful when choosing the smart products to install in your home, you'll find yourself with a home full of devices only using half of their potential.

The best way to go about it is to pick a "brain" for your smart home -- be it Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, Apple's HomeKit or Samsung's SmartThings -- and only buy smart bulbs, locks, cameras and other accessories or appliances that are compatible with it.

Can your devices 'talk' to each other?

Ease of use is another point of consideration. You're not building a smart home to make your life more difficult, and turning on any given light or appliance shouldn't be more complicated than its dumb counterpart. 

A smart home product needs great support from third-party services, like Amazon's Alexa or Apple's HomeKit. The more products that the devices you buy can pair or communicate with, the more you can do with your smart home. Cross-compatibility will let you build routines, automations or simple commands that make controlling your home easier and faster.

Another thing to keep in mind: more is not always better. There is such a thing as too many smart speakers in a single house.

Cost

Smart home gadgets are generally more expensive than their dumb counterparts -- and rightly so. A light switch that can be controlled with your voice (like the Lutron Caseta) and can be scheduled or controlled from anywhere in the world should cost more than a standard light switch. But outfitting an entire house with those smart switches will cost significantly more.

And that's just for lighting. When it comes to refrigerators, coffee makers, toaster ovens or just about any other smart product, that cost difference is only compounded.

And don't be so quick to believe the purported energy savings. The cost savings will depend on what technology you're upgrading from. And even the products that do use less energy than their dumb alternatives will likely take several years to make up for the difference in the initial cost.

Wi-Fi and product security 

Finally, you should be concerned with security. Leave it to shows like Mr. Robot to feed us smart home nightmare fuel. While you can DIY a smart security system easily for less money than a standard security system would have cost you just a few years ago, like anything with a wireless connection, it's also susceptible to exploits and other security flaws.

Your patchwork smart home security system is only as strong as your Wi-Fi password. And the same general security tip is still valid here -- give everything its own, unique password.