Smart home systems vs home security systems: how to choose the right DIY platform

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Before you start building a smart home, the first decision you need to make is whether convenience is more valuable than security. Most of the systems you’ll see when shopping will emphasize one or the other, even though they offer elements of both.

If you’re more interested in the fun and convenience of modern home technology – turning lights on and off with voice commands, for example, or having a sprinkler system that works in concert with the local weather – you’ll need of a home system.

But if you’re more worried about being alerted to a burglary or disaster such as a fire or water line break, you’ll be more satisfied with a home security system, perhaps with service. who can send first responders on your behalf.

Samsung Primary SmartThings SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings is our favorite DIY smart home system. The company announced a new model in August 2018, but has yet to make it available for review.

We’ve produced two stories that will help you understand the fundamentals of each type of system, so you can decide which one is right for you. This one focuses on smart home systems. If you are more interested in a home security system, we encourage you to read this other story.

The basics of a smart home system

While security-focused hubs have a ruthless dedication to protecting your property, smart home hubs, such as Samsung SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2, are jacks of all trades. They serve as intermediaries between smart home devices and your home network (and by extension, you and your smartphone), helping to coordinate automation, scheduling, and device interaction.

You can buy a smart home hub on its own and acquire the above components à la carte, or in some cases you can purchase a starter kit consisting of the hub and a handful of devices. Starter kits are easy because you don’t have to think much about what you’ll need. On the other hand, a kit can stick one or two products on you that you don’t necessarily want. This may be one of the reasons why some vendors, including Samsung SmartThings, are moving away from prepackaged kits.

philips hue color white ambiance 4 pack starter kit box with product Philips

Philips Hue smart bulbs communicate using ZigBee radios and therefore require a bridge to reach your home network.

The list of smart home devices these hubs can control is extensive – and keeps growing – but here’s the gist:

  • Smart Bulbs: In many smart home environments, lighting is the app that gets things started. These will invariably be of the LED variety and are available in white and color changing, both of which will be dimmable.
  • Smart sockets: Plug these into your wall sockets and you can control lamps (turn them on, off and dim them) and small appliances (fans and heaters, for example).
  • Door, window and motion sensors that can trigger smart lights to light your way, as well as an alarm in smart home systems that also have security features.
  • Smart Thermostats: They can quickly pay for themselves with energy savings from heating and cooling your home only when you’re there to enjoy it.
  • Smart speakers and digital assistants: You usually won’t get Amazon Echo, Google Home, or other smart speakers as part of a DIY set, but these digital assistants are so useful that we consider it an essential part of the smart home. .
wall starter kit Midday Home

Noon Home offers the most sophisticated home lighting control system we have tested.

Beyond the basics of the smart home

The list above provides a good place to start, but once you’ve lived in a smart home for a while, you’ll want some of these smart expansion products that will make it even more comfortable.

  • Smart locks can notify you of their status, be locked and unlocked remotely, and don’t require keys – just press your PIN on the keypad or present your smartphone.
  • Wall switches: Smart bulbs are great, at least until you turn off the switch that powers them. Then no matter what commands your smart home hub sends to them, they will stay off because their radios are not receiving any power.
  • Wall Fan Controllers: While some newer ceiling fans can be controlled with Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands, it’s much cheaper to change the switch that controls them than to buy and install a brand new fan.
  • AC Wall Outlets: Smart outlets will do the trick, but their wall-mounted designs aren’t the most attractive things to have in your living spaces.
  • A smart garage door opener can be closed remotely and it can notify your smart home system of its current status at any time.
  • Smoke and / or Carbon Monoxide Detectors: If a fire breaks out when no one is home, what is a standard siren for? Smart models can also often be hooked up to your HVAC system, so smoke doesn’t circulate in all rooms and cool air will if carbon monoxide is detected.
  • Security cameras that let you see what’s going on in and around your home, and can capture forensic evidence in the event of a break-in.
  • Water Leak Sensors: Leaky faucets, overflowing toilets, and failing water heaters can silently inflict thousands of dollars in damage to your home. Place these sensors in vulnerable areas and you will receive instant alerts of the presence of water where there shouldn’t be. Some can even be connected to smart valves that automatically shut off the water.
  • Motorized shades can darken your home theater for movie time or block out the morning or afternoon sun that warms your home and runs your air conditioning on overtime.
  • A smart sprinkler controller will take into account hyperlocal weather conditions and soil moisture content, so it doesn’t irrigate your green spaces unnecessarily.
sense of schlage Schlage

We recommend that you place a smart deadbolt, such as the Schlage Sense pictured here, at the top of your smart home expansion list.

While you can set up a smart home without a hub, you’ll get a lot more out of your system if you install one. Why? Because the real power of a smart home is that all of these products work together. For example, you can use your smart home hub to:

  • Control all the lighting in your home even when you’re away on vacation.
  • Program bedroom lights to flash and turn off your HVAC system when smoke is detected.
  • Close your main water faucet if a significant water leak is detected.
  • Automatically lower the blinds if the living room gets too hot.
  • Gradually turn on the lights and put on some music when you get up in the morning.
  • Deactivate the alarm system when an authorized user enters the correct PIN code on a smart lock.

The sky is the limit, and offering automations and interactions like these is half the fun of living in a smart home. Plus, tools like IFTTT (If This Then That) extend these ideas even further, allowing you to easily create “applets” that allow disparate devices to work together, even if your hub doesn’t officially support them. (An example would be changing the color of your smart bulb to red if the number of pollens outside rises to a level that could trigger a serious allergic reaction.)

Iris Safety Pack Lowe’s

If you don’t care about Samsung SmartThings, Lowe’s has worked hard to improve their Iris by Lowe smart home system, which offers solid third-party support and relatively inexpensive security monitoring.

Getting the best of both worlds

If you want a smart home system that can too be used for home security, choose one that supports door, window and motion sensors at a minimum; which has a siren in its hub (or allows you to add one); and which offers personal or professional follow-up.

Whatever type of system you settle on today, know that you will not be locked away forever, as long as it is based on the most common types of radios: Wi-Fi and Z-Wave or ZigBee. No single vendor controls all of these standards, and many hubs in the market today use all three.

While it can be a bit of a hassle to re-pair dozens or dozens of sensors and other devices with a new hub if you like something better in a few years, it won’t be impossible.

Have you decided

If, after digesting all of this information, you’ve decided to invest in a smart home system, you can read more about our top picks in both categories and see all of our current reviews here. If you want to learn more about home security systems first, you’ll find an equally in-depth story about them here.

Note: When you buy something after clicking the links in our items, we may earn a small commission. Read our Affiliate Links Policy for more details.


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