[tech noob talks] how to smart home like a pro.

Want to turn your new home smart and save on your power bill? Is all that tech jargon giving you a headache? Don’t get outsmarted by a smart home and read this instead.

I am by no means a technologically-inclined individual. I use a Blackberry phone because it has buttons, write my online login details in a notebook, and tingle with excitement at the thought of living in a deserted sans technology. As long as there was food, beer and satisfactory toileting facilities, of course. I am basically a boomer masquerading as a millennial.

But, as fate would have it, I married a guy who’s the complete opposite.

So when my husband (let’s call him Mr. M) and I got our new house, he naturally wanted to turn our home… smart. Reluctant at first, I was convinced when he whispered those 5 magical words every Singaporean loves to hear – “it can save us money”.

If you’re curious about smart homes, you’re probably wondering if it will really help you save on energy and costs. Also, how on earth do you go about doing it? So let me save you the trouble of combing through complex tech jargon, and share some tips on how we went about doing it. In my words, of course.

so it all began with a smart speaker.    

Ok Google, write this article for me. | Image credits: wccftech

It started with a Google Home speaker that Mr. M received as a house-warming gift from his boss. After connecting it to the Wi-Fi and linking it to his Google account, I spent a great deal of time interrogating it with questions like, “what is the meaning of life?” and “what sound does a whale make?”. Satisfied with its often times sarcastic responses, I concluded that it wasn’t so bad after all.   

You see, these days, speakers aren’t just things you play music on. Smart speakers, such as the Google Home or Nest series, Amazon’s Alexa can do different things like controlling your lights, letting you know if it’s going to rain today, or even where your nearest ban mian shop is. They also play music.

But how do they work? The key is in the voice recognition technology. The speaker listens, and the voice recognition tech tries to understand what you’re saying. It then offers a reply/action. The more you use certain words or speech patterns, the better able it is to provide you with a more accurate response. Yah, pretty scary.

But remember, the other gadgets you decide to link to your smart speaker should be compatible with whichever brand you choose. For some good smart speaker choices, check this out!

then we moved on to smart lighting.

Because everyone needs bright ideas.

During my usual late-night ‘browsing’ sessions on Lazada and Shoppee, I realised there were loads of appliances and gadgets labelled as “smart”. From smart fridges, locks, toothbrushes, to even smart dustbins! Sensing my excitement, Mr M. reminded me to unlink his credit card from my online shopping accounts. Then, he told me that we should first focus on smart lights. 

Smart bulbs are convenient and are frankly, pretty darn cool. Most let you change their hue and colour. Others come with motion detection tech that gets the lights to turn on or off when you leave or enter a room.

Now, it’s true that smart bulbs draw energy even when they’re turned off. However, tests such as this prove that the amount of energy it draws when it’s not in use, isn’t as much as you think. More often than not, smart lights consume less energy than standard lights because of their special features.

For instance, a smart bulb with motion detection tech turns off when you leave the room to get a drink outside. This is obviously less that a regular one that remains on while you do the same. Unless of course you’re diligent enough to remember to turn it off yourself.

In fact, it’s been found that bulbs such as these can save you more than 35% of your energy usage and reduce costs. Some smart lights also have apps that can also tell you more about usage. That way, you’re less likely to do a double take at your monthly power bill.

after that, we kept things cool with air-conditioning.

Image credits: Tom’s Guide

Air-conditioning accounts for up to 40% of the electricity bill for the average Singaporean household. It’s no surprise considering aircons use a huge amount of energy.

Step in smart aircon controllers and thermostats. While choosing the right air-con type based on BTU rating or other special features can help you reduce energy usage, smart aircon controllers and thermostats take it a step further. 

For instance, air-con controllers from Sensibo have features like Climate React which lets you program how your aircon responds to certain conditions. For example, when it “feels like” 21 degrees Celsius, the aircon can be set to turn off automatically. Similarly, when it reaches a much higher temperature, it can start cooling at the highest setting.

later, we got smart about plugs.

Image credits: Pocket Lint

After we were done, we started looking for more appliances for our home. Unfortunately, I came to the sad realisation that some smart products just weren’t that great looking or didn’t match the aesthetics of our home. That’s when Mr M. introduced me to smart plugs.   

These magical plugs turn regular appliances smart. They can then be controlled by an app or voice assistant. They’re pretty easy to use too. Connect your non-smart appliance into the smart plug and hook it up to the wall socket. Then, simply link your smart plug’s app to your speaker.

In most cases, smart plugs will let you turn an appliance on or off, but may have limitations on actually controlling specific settings. For instance, you’d then be able to have it turn on your coffee maker. But you wouldn’t be able to get your coffee going at a specific temperature.

It was a trade-off that worked for me, and I placed an order for that sleek non-smart coffee maker I’d been eyeing for weeks.    

It’s also true that smart plugs draw a small amount of current when in standby mode. But again, it’s only a very small amount of energy of about 1 watt. What’s more, some smart plugs can tell you details of how much energy an appliance is using, alerting you of any appliances which consume ‘phantom loads’.

lastly, don’t forget to keep things secure.

Please don’t do this.

Once you’re done with the basics, you’re pretty much all set! All that’s left is to continue adding on compatible gadgets or appliances. Of course, there are some very important things to remember. All your gadgets will likely be connected via your Wi-Fi network, so it’s important to have a good wireless router that reaches all corners of your home.

Also, Mr. M always says that we should “think of our router as a door into your home”. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to secure your Wi-Fi network. One way you can do this is by changing the SSID (Service Set Identifier) on your router (which is basically the name of your Wi-Fi network). Most routers come set with model-specific SSIDs that hackers can easily identify. Also, be sure to use a strong password. For more tips, check out this useful article.       

Now that you’ve nailed the basics, you’re well on your way to creating that smart home of your dreams!

Enjoyed the first story in our Tech-Noob series? Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, you may want to check out the latest tech in the automotive world here!

brintha loganathan

Apart from being futr Singapore's editor, Brin also churns out copy for Strada Visual Lab. Hobbies include mothering, "reality TV" and good beer. Mmm.

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