Home Automation Guide for Beginners

The majority of households in the U.S. now own at least one smart home product at 69%.1  Even though home automation has become mainstream, there’s still a lot of confusion and apprehension surrounding the technology, including what is the difference between home automation and a smart home?

We’ll define a smart home, explain how to choose the right smart products for your lifestyle, and suggest five smart devices perfect for home automation beginners. Rest assured, achieving a smart home is easier than you think!

What Is a Smart Home?

There’s no tried-and-true definition of a smart home, but in general terms, it’s a home that’s equipped with smart devices to automate and control household systems such as thermostats, lighting, security cameras, and more. The benefits of a smart home include everything from saving energy and money to increasing security and convenience.
Smart home devices can be managed remotely through an app on your smartphone or computer, with many also responding to voice commands using digital assistants like Siri and Alexa. Smart devices often communicate with one another through protocols like Z-Wave and ZigBee to create a home automation network. Take our room-by-room guide to see what today’s automated home looks like.

How Do I Get Started with Home Automation?

Many people want to enjoy the benefits of smart home automation, but they’re not sure which products to buy. That’s understandable considering the dizzying number of smart devices on the market, and each one claims to be the best.

We developed this four-step process to help you choose smart devices that are a good fit for your lifestyle.

Step 1: Determine Your Tech Level

Become familiar with how home automation works, then realize that some smart devices require much more technical proficiency than others. If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, stick to basic smart devices that are intuitive and easy to use, such as the products featured below.

Step 2: Decide How Much You Want to Spend

Smart devices are found at all price points from affordable to quite expensive, so before you go any further, decide how much you feel comfortable spending.

Step 3: Match Your Home Automation Device to Your Unique Needs

Remember, everyone is different, so the smart gadget your neighbor swears by might not be helpful to you. When selecting a smart device, consider your lifestyle. For instance, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, you might want the extra security of a smart doorbell.

Step 4: Research Products Thoroughly before Buying

Once you have an idea of what home automation tools are the best fit for your tech level, budget, and lifestyle, do your research. Before purchasing a smart device, read customer opinions, buyers guides, and independent reviews.

Which Smart Devices Are Best for Home Automation Beginners?

Getting started with home automation doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. All of these SafeWise-recommended smart gadgets are user friendly, and some cost less than $100.

Smart Lighting

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to start automating your home is with smart lightbulbs, and Philips Hue is one of the best brands. This bulb offers a soft, white, dimmable light that reviewers rave over and it works with Alexa once connected to the Phillips Hue Bridge hub.

Review our Smart Lightbulbs Buyers Guide for more information about smart lighting and to find out what other brands SafeWise recommends.

Smart Thermostats

Nest Learning Thermostat connects to Wi-Fi, allowing you to control it right from your smartphone, tablet, or computer. It also works with Alexa and Google Home. One of the most popular features of this beloved home automation device is that it learns your preferred temperature settings and programs itself in about one week. Nest also turns itself down when no one is home, helping you cut back on energy costs.

Nest is one of our top six smart thermostats of 2017. Consult our Smart Thermostats Buyers Guide to read an in-depth review of Nest and other high-performers.

Smart Video Doorbells

Smart doorbells allow you to see who’s at your door without opening it, which not only adds convenience to your life but also helps keep you safe. Among SafeWise-recommended smart doorbells, Ring is at the top of the list with features like two-way audio, motion sensing, and night vision.

Smart doorbells are one of the most popular smart devices for the home, according to a study from the NPD Group.3 If you’re ready to get on board with the trend, read our Smart Doorbells Buyers Guide to learn how the best brands compare.

Smart Outlets

Budget-friendly and incredibly easy to use, smart plugs like Belkin WeMo allow you to turn virtually any appliance or electronic into a smart device. Through an app, you can set timers for your appliances, schedule lights to turn on or off, and more. We also appreciate that the Belkin WeMo Switch has an “away mode” which makes your home appear occupied when it’s not.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a smart outlet or smart plug, consult our Smart Outlet Buyers Guide first to become familiar with common features.

Smart Locks

kwikset kevo lock
Kwikset Kevo Smartlock
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A smart lock is an excellent investment in your family’s safety and security. The Kevo Smart Lock allows you to do things like unlock your door from your smartphone, see who has locked or unlocked your door, and send guest ekeys. For additional protection, consider using a smart lock in tandem with a SafeWise-approved home security system.

There are several different types of electronic door locks. Our Smart Locks Buyers Guide explains how each type works and offers a variety of SafeWise-recommended locks.

There are so many ways to automate your home, so it’s easy to get carried away and potentially buy smart devices you don’t need. We advise starting slow. Purchase one or two of our feature smart devices, and as you get comfortable with home automation technology, consider buying other smart products. Before you know it, you’ll be living in a twenty-first century smart home.

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Alexia Chianis
Written by
Alexia Chianis
Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics.