Your smart home questions answered
There can be lots of things to think about when you are setting up your smart home. From safety and compatibility to whether you need any installation - we've put together answers to some frequently asked questions to help you create the perfect smart home for you!
What is a smart home?
It's a home with smart devices for things like lighting, security, heating and entertainment that are connected to the internet. You control these connected devices using an app or by talking to a smart speakers, like Google Nest speakers with Home Assistant or Amazon Echo with Alexa.
The idea of a smart home is to use technology to improve home security, safety, efficiency, comfort and convenience.
Smart home technology allows you to set up routines and automate tasks you would normally do manually. For example, your bedtime routine might be to turn off the lights, lock the front door and turn down the heating when you go to bed.
In a smart home, you just say the command and the routine happens automatically. "Hey Google, it's bedtime".
I’m not technical, how do I install smart devices?
It depends on the device, but they're designed to be easy to install and operate. For many devices, if you can install an app on your phone, then you're more than qualified!
Of course, not all smart products are quite so simple. For some, like smart heating and smart cameras you might prefer professional installation. But we'll always let you know if you need a professional to install a product when you buy.
Do I need the internet to create a smart home?
While you can set up some smart devices without internet access, the choice and experience will be seriously limited.
For example, smart speakers rely on the internet to function. So, without internet access, smart speakers and displays won't be much use.
Also, without internet, you'll miss out on key smart home features like remote smart camera access or receiving alerts when you're not at home.
Smart devices also need periodic software updates including security patches and feature upgrades. With internet access, these happen automatically, keeping your smart home devices secure and operating at their best.
Why do I need a smart speaker/voice assistant?
Smart speakers and displays all have a voice assistant built in. They are the interactive part of the smart speaker, and they're easy to use straight out the box — you just talk to them!
Voice assistants, like Google Nest speakers, Amazon Echo and Apple's Siri, give you hands-free control over your smart home devices. You can give commands when your hands are full, "Alexa, switch on the lights" or ask questions when they're covered in cake mix, "Hey Google, what's the baking time for lemon drizzle cake?".
Just asking for something by talking is more natural than typing or tapping, and much more convenient. And hearing the response is easier than reading it.
Is it expensive to have a smart home?
It doesn't have to be. A great thing about smart home technology is you can start with just one or two devices and add more when you want to. So, it's really down to your budget and what you want to achieve.
For lots of people smart plugs or smart lightbulbs are an ideal entry point. They're relatively inexpensive and simple to use. When you just have a couple of devices you don't really need a controller like a smart speaker, you can use the devices' app and control them with your smartphone.
Can I take my smart home devices with me when I move?
Yes. Smart devices aren't permanently linked to one property. They can be removed and reconfigured.
Others, like smart door locks or smart thermostats, are physically installed so will take some effort to remove. They will also need something functional left in their place. On the other hand, they could be a good selling point when you are moving.
If you do decide to leave some devices behind, make sure you understand how to disconnect them from your own accounts or transfer access to a new owner. This is particularly important for smart security products like smart door locks and smart cameras.
Could a smart home reduce my energy bills?
Smart technology has the potential to make homes more energy efficient.
Smart thermostats help run your heating and hot water more efficiently than traditional systems. Simply being able to turn down your heating while you're out saves money. But some, like the Google Nest learning thermostat , can do even more. They programme themselves, intelligently adjusting for conditions like the weather and your own schedule, optimising your home's energy efficiency.
Smart lighting and smart plugs can be switched off remotely, by sensor or be programmed, helping you use your lighting and appliances more efficiently. For example, lights that turn themselves off when you leave a room.
Plus, all smart bulbs are low-energy LED, which is more efficient that traditional bulbs too.
Will smart home apps work with my smartphone?
There are two things to consider here: Voice assistant apps that control your smart home, like Google Nest speakers with Google Assistant and Amazon Echo with Alexa, and apps used to control individual devices.
Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa apps are available for Android and iOS (iPhone), so should work with most up to date smartphones.
For individual smart devices, in most cases apps are available for Android and iOS, but it varies from device to device, so always check before you buy.
If in doubt, all our smart devices have information about compatibility.
Are all smart devices compatible with all smart speakers?
No. When choosing smart devices, compatibility is key. To help choose devices that work with your Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa we’ve labelled our products so you always know what works with what.
But don’t forget, even if a device you're interested in doesn't work directly with your smart speaker you could still control it separately using an app on your smartphone.
Are smart homes secure?
Anything linked to the internet is open to attack, and you need to consider how to keep it all secure. In the same way you close the windows and lock the doors when you go out, there are precautions you can take to keep your smart home safe.
Be password smart. Set strong passwords, change them periodically and have a different password for every account. Always change any default password that came with a device.
- Set up devices securely. Don't just rely on default settings. Check what privacy and security controls are available. Disable any device features you don't need.
- Install all updates. App and device updates contain the latest security patches as well as enhancements and new features.
- Have a separate Guest Wi-Fi. That way if you need to share your Wi-Fi password with a visitor, they won't be accessing the network with your smart devices.
I’ve seen a device I like but it says, "Works with Alexa" and I have Google Home. What can I do?
You can download the Alexa app and control the device separately by using your smartphone. However, the device wouldn't be fully integrated into your Google smart home system.
The world of smart home is growing day by day and if a device doesn't work with your setup now, it’s possible compatibility will be added with future updates.
Do smart home apps cost anything to download?
Many of the apps that control smart home devices are free. Apps for music and video streaming services might have a monthly fee. Apps for some devices might have related services, like security cameras which require cloud storage or monitoring fees, so you should check before you buy.
What happens to a smart device if the Wi-Fi goes down?
It depends on the device. Some devices might continue to work but lose smart functionality. Others may rely completely on Wi-Fi.
For example, smart alarms would continue to work like a normal alarm, but lose functions, like remote monitoring. Similarly, a smart door lock can still be opened like a normal lock, but not remotely.
Security cameras might carry on working but not be able to store video online. Others might have a local backup option. It really depends on the product, so it's wise to check before you buy.
Can one smart speaker or display control my whole home?
Yes. If all your devices and smart speaker or display are compatible, then you can control everything from one place.
Although, one place does mean just that. If you want to use voice control away from your smart speaker, you'll need others around the home to hear you. There are different types, so for example you could have a smart speaker with high quality sound in the lounge for music and TV, and mini speakers in the kitchen and bedrooms just to pick up instructions.
Will my smart speaker or display always be listening to my conversations?
No. But it is listening for a command, also called a wake word, like "Hey Google..". Only when it hears its particular prompt, will it spring in to life.
What a smart speaker may record are your interactions with it. That's how it learns and adapts to your voice and preferences.
If you are concerned, smart speakers usually have a mute button, so you can control when the microphone is active. And you can always access and delete your voice history from Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri.
Can I have two different smart speakers at home?
Yes. As usual, it depends what you want to achieve. Different smart speakers respond to different wake words and are compatible with different products. So, you'd have two separate systems, which could get confusing, but there is no reason why you couldn't have both!
What’s the difference between a standard thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) and a smart one?
Standard thermostats let you limit the temperature in a room. They have one setting and are not digital or programmable.
Smart thermostats are different You can control and programme them from an app, smart speaker or display. You can set different times and temperatures for different rooms, control them remotely and even adjust the temperature in a room using your smart speaker.
The Google Nest learning thermostat learns as you use it, to ensure you get the best efficiency.
Smart thermostats do require batteries, but they are also smart enough to tell you when they need replacing!
Can different brands of smart device work together?
Yes. The key thing is that they share a common language. For example, devices from different brands that are compatible with Google Assistant can work together. And devices that use a protocol like Zigbee to communicate, like Philips Hue lighting, can work together.
However, even if a device isn't directly compatible with your system, you may be able to link it with a bridge or by using a service like IFTTT.
Google, Amazon and Apple are constantly updating the devices they support, so the possibilities are increasing all the time.