HomeSecurityGearLab – Informed Advice and Product Reviews

Smartening your home

4 Ways to Start Smarting Your Home

We are an Amazon Affiliate
Our site is supported by you, our readers! This page contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase - you will not pay any extra. More details here.

Tech can smarten up almost any gadget that you have lying around the home, even fridges, but four categories have emerged as the most popular places to start, and for very good reason: they're all useful, and they all offer something genuinely new when compared to their 'dumb' predecessors.

None should be seen as working in isolation, however; most have the ability to work together - a motion sensor from a security system might be linked to a lighting system, or even a thermostat.

And when it comes to the bigger brands (SmartThings, Hive and Nest), there is a degree of crossover in the products they create.


Since Star Trek popularised the famous talking computer, sci-fi fans around the world have longed to get their hands on similar futuristic technology.

Well, the good news is that such technology is no longer science fiction.

Over the past four years, tech giants like Amazon, Google and Apple have all developed voice-controlled 'smart speakers'.

These are fast becoming the central control hub for the smart home ecosystem, capable of answering questions, controlling lights, and security, setting reminders, playing music and even ordering you a cab.

And fierce competition between Amazon and Google has resulted in price wars that have actually made these devices affordable.

Find out more about all three, including Microsoft’s product, here.


The humble light bulb as developed by Swan & Edison didn't change a great deal for a century after their patents in 1878, though in the last few decades we've seen the arrival of compact fluorescents (CFL), halogen and finally LEDs - all designed to reduce the energy consumed by an order magnitude.

Some were not without issues – the light given off by CFLs doesn’t offer the wavelengths that feel natural, for example.

Smart lights (usually LEDs) are the culmination of that flurry; they are as energy efficient, but can also respond to your whims via phone app, voice assistant sensor or, at a push, wall switch.

Some can just be switched on and off, others can be dimmed, set to a different tone of white, or have their colour changed altogether.

What makes them such an appealing way to start adding smart tech into your life is that it can be as easy as, well, changing a light bulb.

I look at the alternatives here, but of course, one might also find oneself asking, 'How many geeks does it take to change a light bulb?'


Perhaps not the most exciting piece of technology in your home, and certainly not the thing that propels you to the department store when you have some money to burn, but the smart thermostat was actually one of the first pieces of internet-enabled home hardware to garner significant attention.

That device was the Nest Learning Thermostat, which first appeared back in 2011.

Although it has undergone a few hardware and software updates since then, the now-iconic design, in which the device itself is spun around the circular screen to make basic controls, is more or less unchanged.

Attractive design was probably a given - Nest's co-founder Tony Fadell had been Senior VP of the iPod division at Apple - but what really drew attention was the software and sensors.

Rather than just including a thermometer and timer so you could set your heating to reach a certain temperature for, say, four hours in the afternoon.

The Nest system also has movement sensors and uses the position of your phone to determine if you're at home (or near it), and goes so far as to learn your likely return times and responds accordingly.

All of this has the potential to save on your energy bills.

As the smart home sector has grown, Nest has expanded its product range and become part of Alphabet (Google).

It also offers smart cameras, alarms and doorbells, all of which can help detect motion to give the thermostat an even more reliable idea of whether it's worth heating (or cooling) your home.

Other firms have, of course, entered the space too, and innovations like additional temperature sensors, which can be prioritized at different times, are a real step forward (who cares what the temperature is in your corridor, anyway?).

Check out my hands-on review of the top 3 smart thermostats.


With plummeting police budgets and ever higher requirements from insurers, there's never been a better time to protect your home with a security system.

Smart tech makes that quite a different proposition to the one you might remember from a few years ago, with telephone-like wires running all around your home, connecting reed switches on doors and windows, and motion sensors to a keypad that requires you to type in a code before a siren screams.

The more sophisticated ones might even infuriate your local law enforcement by calling them for you.

Of course, those sensors are still available, but now the full benefits of wireless networking are brought into play, alongside sophisticated systems like artificial-intelligence-powered recognition cameras that can tell the difference between fluttering curtains and people.

Received a notification on your phone? Check the recent camera footage before you decide how to act.

Or perhaps it'd be better just to speak directly through the camera.

These days systems are also boosted by self-(de)activating systems using your GPS - the idea being that the less fuss there is turning alarms on and off, the more likely you are to use them.

On the same note, programming smart lights to come on and off (simulating presence while you're away) or connecting them to motion sensors so you can deter potential intruders before resorting to a loud siren, will make for happier neighbors and still give you more flexibility than old­ fashioned sensor lights.

In fact, your wider environment is increasingly something manufacturers want to address.

There are now sensors for air quality, carbon monoxide, smoke and other concerns.

The key before starting to build a system is to make sure there is a sensor for every feature you want, then you can add to it over time.

I look at each of these factors in turn, starting here.