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'Alexa, Automate My Life': Tips For Controlling Your Amazon Smart Home

From activating Alexa's Hunches to automating your Routines, here's how to make the most of your smart home.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

If you own an Amazon Echo smart speaker or Echo Show smart display, but aren't using it to control and automate your home, you're missing out on an incredibly useful tool. Not only are Alexa-powered smart speakers great for playing music and telling you about the day's weather, but they can lock doors, activate appliances, turn on lights, arm your home security system and much more.

Let's start with the basics of setting up your smart home devices, including lights, thermostats and home security systems. After that, I'll offer some creative tips for controlling these devices with Alexa -- and getting the most out of your smart home.

The first step: Connect your devices

Before anything else, you'll want to make sure that both your Echo and your smart devices are plugged in, connected to your home wireless network and (when necessary) linked to your smart home hub. This is a fairly straightforward process for your Echo, but the exact steps will vary for each gadget. Consult your user manual or the internet for more specific details on setting up your particular devices.

Next, it's time to connect your smart home devices to your Amazon Echo. Here's how:

  1. Open the Amazon Alexa app on your phone (which you should have downloaded in the previous step).
  2. From there, tap "Devices" and then the "More" button in the upper-right corner.
  3. When the menu slides up, tap on "Add Device," select your device and follow the instructions on the screen.
  4. Repeat this process for each smart device that you want to connect to your Echo.

From there, you can organize your devices into groups using the "Add Group" functionality. This is particularly helpful if you want to control all of the lights or devices in one room or area of your home with a single voice command. That way, you can say, "Alexa, turn off my upstairs lights," rather than switching off each li individually.

Finally, you can build Routines to orchestrate several commands at once. We'll explore some examples below, but to put it simply, you can use Routines to activate multiple smart devices simultaneously – either at a particular time or when you say a certain phrase. They can be added in the Alexa app under the "Routines" button.

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Plenty of smart lights work with Alexa, meaning you can illuminate the whole house -- or just one room -- with a single voice command.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Tips for automating and controlling your Alexa Smart Home

With the basics out of the way, let's dive into some practical tips for building an Alexa-enabled Smart Home.

Establish a daily wake-up routine

Waking up is tough, but you can make it a bit easier by setting up a morning routine with Alexa. For example, you can designate a time to set off an alarm, slowly turn on the lights, crank up the thermostat and pour a pot of coffee. Alternatively, you can trigger this setting when you say a specific phrase (for example, "Alexa, good morning"). To do this, all you'll need are smart lights or bulbs, a smart thermostat and a smart plug (in addition to your Echo).

Protect your home when you're out of town

Planning a trip away but don't want your neighbors (or potential intruders) to know? With Alexa Guard, your Echo can automatically turn lights on and off to make it look like you're home. For even more security, you can upgrade to Alexa Guard Plus, which can activate a siren or dog barking sound to prevent break-ins.

Come home to a tidy house

Maybe you forgot to vacuum or start the dishwasher before you left the house (we've all been there). With Alexa, you can return to a clean home -- without lifting a finger. All you need to do is create a command like, "Alexa, ask Roomba to start cleaning" or "Alexa, ask Whirlpool to start a cycle."

Unlock your home

Whether you forgot your house key or you need to let a guest into your home, you can use Alexa to open your front door or garage door. To do this, you'll need to install a smart lock or garage door opener and link it to Alexa.

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If you forget to lock your door before bed, just tell Alexa to do it for you. Better yet, set a routine so that when you say "Good night," Alexa locks the doors and turns on the porch lights, too.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Get some help in the kitchen

Need an extra set of hands while you're cooking? You can pair smart kitchen appliances with Alexa to turn on your oven, microwave or sink (just to name a few examples). Plus, you can use your voice to prompt Alexa to set a timer, add an item to your grocery list, find a recipe or even play an instructional cooking video on YouTube (using an Echo Show).

Welcome guests into your home

With Alexa, you can quickly transform your home into a comfortable and welcoming place for visitors – whether they're dropping by for an evening or staying for a while. For example, if you're having a dinner party, you can create an Alexa Routine to set mood lighting and turn on your favorite playlist -- again triggering all of these settings with a single command. Or, if you're hosting long-term guests, you can enable the Guest Connect feature to give them limited access to your Echo device.

Create a work-from-home routine

If you work from home, it can be tricky to create boundaries between your workday and home life. However, with Alexa, you can set up reminders that make it easier to transition from professional to personal life. For instance, you can ask Alexa to make an announcement when it's time to wrap up for the day or keep your pets occupied during an important meeting.

Listen to Alexa's Hunches

If automation is your ultimate goal, Hunches might be a good feature for you. Essentially, Alexa can give you a heads-up if it thinks you might want something, like your front door locked around bedtime. To be sure Hunches are turned on, go to the Alexa app, tap More > Settings > Hunches. Next, tap the Settings gear in the top right corner, and toggle Hunches on.

The bottom line

With so many compatible devices and gadgets, there are countless ways to automate your life with Alexa. For more Alexa tricks and tips, check out the following CNET coverage on the topic: