Smart homes are getting more and more complicated, and trying to get devices that work well together is a bit of a minefield.
Some devices support Alexa.
Some are Apple Home.
Some are Google Assistant or Alexa Only.
Some don't support anything and use their own apps.
But I’ve come across a way to solve this problem with what I think are the best smart home gadgets that have genuinely impacted my quality of life.
In this blog, I show you what they are, how they work, how to solve the challenge of everything working differently, and also…how they all get the ‘Wife Approval’ seal…
1. iRobot Vacuum
The first one has been such a good purchase that we have 2! One for upstairs and one for Downstairs.
The iRobot vacuum cleaner has hugely outperformed and outlived even the most expensive Dysons we’ve used.
But with the added benefit, you don’t need to be there when it’s cleaning!
This thing uses built-in cameras and sensors to literally map each room and floor of your house so that it can navigate around it effortlessly.
Those cameras and sensors also mean you don’t have to worry about leaving things on the floor. The Vacuum avoids these and will even snap photos for you to respond to in the app as to whether it’s a temporary obstacle or something more permanent that you want to avoid in future.
Once it learns your house, you can even tell it to go and clean specific rooms and avoid certain areas.
The only drawback is you still need a handheld for the inevitable mess of crumbs on sofas left by the kids or cat hair on cushions.
2. RoboMow Robot Lawnmower
In other ‘things that save you time’. This RoboMow Robot Lawnmower is the outside equivalent of the Robot Vacuum.
It’s not as intelligent, though. It doesn't learn or map your garden out.
But instead, you lay a wire along the boundaries of your garden, and the robot lawn mower will drive in a straight line until it reaches the wire, then turn around and go in a straight line, and again and again - cutting your lawn in random directions until it gets an overall even cut.
This is supposed to be great for your lawn because rather than collecting the grass cuttings, it feeds it back into the lawn.
But we’ve just come out of winter here in the UK, and just before Winter, I decided to try doing some moss treatment to the grass myself and, well - I basically just killed it all.
Before my treatment, it looked lovely! Perhaps they could invent one that also does all of the grass treatments for you.
But that aside, this sits here most days in its charging station and then goes out for a few hours daily to keep everything level.
The only thing I’ve had to do is lay the wire around the edge and remember to bring the mower in if the temperature drops below 0 degrees over Winter.
Otherwise, it’s been yet again another hassle-free smart home product that saves me a job each week.
Plus, if you hold out - these things can normally be found discounted on Amazon or even on Amazon Marketplace.
3. Meross Garage Door & Connexis L1 for Keyless
The next smart tech is actually a combination. It’s been a few years now since I carried around any form of keys with me.
My car uses my phone, so I don’t need a car key.
For my Garage, I fitted a pretty cheap garage door opener which is actually Apple HomeKit compatible, I think it was about $40 or so. And this wires into any traditional garage door system - and I can access this from my Android Phone - but more on how that works in a moment.
So I don’t need to carry around a car key or a garage door clicker.
For my front door, the UK has some pretty strict regulations, which means most smart locks aren’t possible. But one that is is Yale Smart lock which uses either your phone via Bluetooth, or NFC tags, kinda like you would get for your alarm or to get into the offices at work.
You can also create and send guest keys to people if, for any reason, you need someone to be able to get in without you there. Maybe a cleaner or family or friend.
But with a combination of these 3, the Car, the Garage Door and the Front Door - I no longer carry around a set of keys on me. I literally just carry around a phone, which can do everything.
It does mean that if my phone dies then I have a problem. But I’m currently using the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, which is an absolute king at Battery life and lasts about 2 days - so as long as I charge this every day there’s little to zero chance I’ll run out of battery by the end of each day.
4. Smart Plugs - Monitor Energy
The next one is an energy-saving one, and that’s smart plugs.
Now I have a few different makes and types around the house, but these smart plugs allow me to monitor and control devices across the home.
For example, my home theatre system uses a tonne of electricity, even on standby. So by using a smart plug I can make sure it’s switched off at the plug when it’s not in use.
I also use these to switch off devices around the house when nobody is home to save even more energy.
And I can use them to monitor to see which devices are the biggest consumers as we try to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce our energy costs at a time when energy and inflation are at an all-time high.
5. Tado Heating - Money-Saving Smart Thermostat
Another money-saving one here. Heating. I compared a couple of different smart heating systems last year, but if you haven’t seen that, a Tado smart heating system is a must-have.
Most houses are built with a single central thermostat control that’s typically in the hallway, and then your whole house heats up until that hall area hits whatever temperature you’ve set.
But with a smart heating system, I can change the temperature in each separate room in my house, which means I can be more efficient with moving heat around.
If you don’t use a room for a few hours a day, then there’s no need to heat that room. Or overnight, you can just heat the bedrooms.
You can even use the predicted weather to control what your boiler does. There’s no need for the boiler to warm your house up if the sun is going to do the same thing, so using smart tech can save you money on your heating bills.
This system also detects when we leave the house to switch the system off and when we are getting closer to the house so it starts to warm up again.
It’s one of those systems that you buy and set and then forget because it just does what it’s meant to do. But it’s still one of the first things I’d do when moving into any house.
6. Apple TV + Ring Security
The next one is a fairly recent addition - and that’s the Apple TV. Before this, I used Amazon’s Fire TV, but being mostly in the Apple Ecosystem until very recently, this has been really good.
It’s fast, which is the main thing that annoyed me with the Amazon Firesticks after a while, they’d just slow down. But the Integrations with Apple Homekit have been great.
I’ve set this up with my Ring Doorbell and some other Ring cameras I have around the house to pop up on the TV when the doorbell rings or when there’s motion at certain places around the house.
It pops up a video feed on the TV, so lets you see who it is, and it saves us from having to pull our phones from our pockets to see or just get up to answer it.
This is great for home security, but as a handy tip for those of you with young kids, we also have a camera on the upstairs landing area so if they get out of bed at night, it also comes up on the TV.
That’s been really handy for when they outgrow needing a baby monitor, but you still want to make sure they’re actually going to sleep at night!
7. Motion Sensors + Smart Light Switches + Smart Bulbs
This next one can be as simple or as complicated as you can make it.
But it starts with just 2 parts. A Motion Sensor, and a Light Switch.
There are a tonne of options you have here, from the likes of which everyone knows, like Philips Hue, to more left-field options. But essentially, I have these set up around the house so when you walk in the room, the lights turn on.
If there’s no movement in that room for a set period, the lights also switch off. Another handy tip for saving energy.
We’ve also used this with the kids. They’re about the age where they wake up far too early in the morning but can now help themselves to breakfast and watch some TV before the rest of the house wakes up - so being able to trigger the lights to turn on automatically when someone walks down the stairs at night saves them disturbing us in the early hours.
8. Mobile Integration
All of these smart home devices are made possible in a number of ways.
Firstly, lots of these services have their own apps and integrations for smartphone compatibility.
They’ll integrate pretty well with both iPhone and Android devices.
With iPhone, I have a few set shortcuts and a few widgets to get to some of these things, and I can also use voice to trigger certain things.
And on Android, I like being able to have some of these in the pull-down shortcuts so I can quickly open doors or trigger lights.
9. Home Assistant
The one thing that holds all of this together, keeps the wife happy with being able to control everything around the house, and also the way that I can have all of this tech in my house but still use Siri or Google Home, and it’s totally free!
So with Home Assistant, once it’s installed - you can hook up pretty much any smart device, And once it’s hooked up, you can do pretty much anything - stuff that goes far beyond Apple’s own Homekit or Google Home, and it’s why I’ve never really bothered using those apps. Because both of those apps keep you enclosed with their own devices.
You can install it on pretty much anything. There’s a version that runs on a tiny raspberry pi computer, I actually have mine running on my Synology NAS, and it’s been pretty flawless.
It did take me a bit to get my head around some of the integrations - but there are a tonne of forums and guides online to help you with that, but now I can have a whole dashboard that shows me what’s going on around the house.
And because it talks to everything - I can do things like, when the alarm is armed, because we’re not at home, then switch off all of the plugs around the home and turn off the lights, and maybe even send us a message if any windows are left open.
10. Solar + Battery + Octopus Energy - Automate Cheap Electricity
The one thing I’ve done recently has been something that has been a personal victory for me recently, what with Inflation and rising energy costs.
A few years ago, I had a 6Kw Solar system fitted, along with a Tesla Powerwall battery backup, and whilst that’s done a great job at reducing my energy bills, it’s not the only thing.
Using Home Assistant, I can detect when my electricity supplier is offering me cheaper electricity - because I’m on a smart tariff, and when there’s a cheap slot, I can switch on a tonne of devices around the house.
The main thing is being able to charge my home battery on electricity, that’s a quarter of the cost cheaper than charging in peak hours, but I can also create a domino effect around the house.
Turn on the washing machine or tumble dryer, or send notifications to our phones, even switch on air conditioning units around the house to soak up the cheap energy instead of either paying for expensive electricity or, when I’m full, exporting that energy back to the grid.
This is admittedly a big upfront investment for the Solar and Battery, but many houses are being fitted with Solar and Battery storage as standard now, and so automation such as this can have a dramatic impact on our monthly energy cost.
It’s going to be different from house to house as to how quickly this will pay for itself, but with prices just going up as they are, that payback time is getting faster.
Smart Home Devices + Gadgets 2023
I’m interested to see what Apple and Google can bring to the Home Automation piece that seems to be slowly getting there.
As far as I’m concerned, unless you want to be tied to a specific brand and stuck paying premium prices for their ‘approved’ products, then Home Assistant (on Apple or Android) provides a great option for you to buy what devices you want and still have them working together.
Watch the 10 Underrated Smart Home Gadgets That Changed My Life! video on YouTube.
Until next time.