I’ve been too lazy to figure out how to build a simple smart home setup using my Amazon echo dot. A smart home setup sounds complex and intimidating. I’ve had Alexa in my home for almost 3 years now and what it does is just switches the lamp on and off. Then a friend offered me a google home mini. So now I have 2 smart speakers just to control 1 living room lamp! Don’t get me started with my frustrations with Google Home being deaf. This is obviously not the smart home I have imagined. I’ve always wanted to build a simple smart home but wanted to avoid anything that may involve a little bit of construction or fiddling of my home electricity setup.
2 months ago I visited my officemate’s apartment, and as he opened the door, he said “Hey google, I’m home”, then the lights turned on, the air conditioning turned on and music started playing on the TV. I was amazed. That’s the smart home setup I’d like to have!
Today I’d like to share with you how to build your own simple smart home setup for under $100. A smart home is defined as having your home devices such as lights and various home appliances to be wirelessly controllable through the internet via a mobile phone and or a smart speaker.
Components of a Simple Smart Home Setup
There are 3 components to building a simple smart home setup –
- Appliances and Devices that you want to control remotely
- Smart Controllers that can control the appliances and devices wirelessly
- Smart speakers that can control the smart controllers through voice or app. Note that the smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home can also act as orchestrators. As orchestrators, they can execute a series of commands to control multiple smart controllers in a single routine.
Things you need to help you start a simple smart home setup for under $100
1. Amazon Alexa or Google Home. I find Alexa to be more reliable than Google Home. Google Home is deaf and I’m still hoping for the day when a software update might cure it. The smart speaker will not only allow you to use voice commands for your smart home but it will also be your routine orchestrator. I’ll talk a little bit more on routines later.
2. Smart Plug. Smart plugs have the ability to control – turn on and off a device, schedule or time when the appliances go on/off and monitor electricity consumption of your devices. This is what I use to control my living room lamp. I recommend the TP link smart plug as it is compact in size and does not take the space of the entire plug.
3. Universal Remote Controller. This is the only device that I added that made my home “smarter”. It allows you to control home appliances controllable by your standard IR (infrared) remote controls. TVs, cable boxes, audio receivers, air conditioners among other things. As long as it has a standard IR remote control, then the universal remote controller can control it. There are several options you can buy. I’m currently using the Broadlink Universal Remote.
Google Home vs Amazon Alexa
I use both Alexa and Google Home in my apartment. Alexa is inside the home office while Google Home is in the living room. What I like about Alexa is the reliability and consistency of its microphone. It can always hear and execute my commands even when I am outside of the home office with the door open. I shout at it and it executes. Google Home on the other hand is a bit frustrating to deal with. While I am already inside the living room, it has difficulty understanding my commands. I have to shout at it while I’m standing next to it. It can drive you crazy.
I am still waiting and hoping for a software update from Google to improve the reliability of its microphone. What I like about Google Home is its ability to search information using Google Search, search and play videos from YouTube and control my Chromecast.
Alexa has proven to be more reliable and consistent, but its execution of routines are limiting. Google’s routines are more advanced and more customisable.
Build your Simple Smart Home Routines using Alexa and Google Home
Routines are setup by identifying trigger words or a command and then indicate the smart controller actions that need to be executed. Saying the trigger words or command will then result to the execution of the routine which are a series of actions. The routines can also be executed using the mobile apps of the smart speakers. This can be convenient as you don’t need to be near the speaker to trigger routines.
Let’s setup a simple routine to watch TV in my living room. To do that, the following actions need to be done:
- Turn on the AVR (auto voltage regulator) that provides electricity to my audio receiver
- Turn on the living room TV
- Turn on the living room cable
- Turn on the audio receiver
- Turn on the living room lamp
Using the Google Home app or Alexa app, these actions can be done in sequence using the routines function (see below images from the apps).
Google Home Routines
Let’s setup a routine with a command – “Let’s watch TV” in google home. For me to watch TV in the living room, I typically need 5 devices to be on – lamp, auto voltage regulator (AVR), TV, cable and speakers.
Instead of turning on all 5 devices manually, let’s set up Google Home to execute these actions when I say “Hey Google, let’s watch TV.” Tada!
Google home will execute commands in sequence, one after the other. This is great as it lets you control which devices will turn on/off first.
The best thing with Google Home routines is its flexibility. You can literally type your commands and it will do it as is as long as the device is recognised by Google Home.
A good example is how I can turn off my AC (air-conditioning). Due to the configuration of my AC remote, I setup my broad link remote control to turn it off using the mute button. So to turn it off, the command should be “mute living room AC”. With Google Home, I just type in the command as is and it works.
Let’s try to do the exact same routine with Alexa. With Alexa, I feel the routines are more boxed in, the options are limited to the built-in controls within the Alexa app.
Alexa, unlike Google Home, executes the commands all at once which can be annoying. In this image, you will see I have added a timer as I need to turn off speakers first BEFORE the AVR turns off. And the minimum duration is 1 minute which can get annoying!
With Alexa, I can not turn off my AC using the mute command that works with Google Home. This is because, there are only 2 options to control smart devices in Alexa – power on or power off. This is a big letdown. If only I can combine the reliability of the microphone of Alexa with the power of Google Home routines to have the perfect smart home speaker. I’m still waiting for the day when Google provides a software update that will magically cure its deafness.
The convenience of a Simple Smart Home
When I get home and say “Welcome Party,” the lamp, the TV, audio receiver and AC all turn ON. How cool is that!
The lamp is controlled via a smart plug. The TV, audio receiver and AC are all controlled via a universal remote. All of these are being orchestrated by smart speaker routines and all for less than $100.
One can argue that this is not really smart, but automating routine menial tasks is not only convenient but it’s awesome with a wow factor.
When I say “Hey Google, I’m leaving”, everything turns off – lamp, TV, audio receiver, AC. Then google says – “Have a great day!”