As major companies continue to heavily invest in developing better, smarter home automation systems, buyers have more options than ever. If you're thinking about upgrading to a smart home system, the number of available gadgets and platforms can seem confusing. Also keep in mind that smart home solutions are not one-size-fits-all. Your habits, lifestyle, and preferences will all dictate what you actually need from your system.

With the right information, however, choosing the best smart home gadgets is not as difficult as it may sound. Learning some basics about what's out there can help you figure out which options will work best for you. From the most common smart home products to niche gadgets, there is something for every type of home, lifestyle, and budget.

Keep reading to learn more!

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Smart-speaker-on-kitchen-counter-with-man-chopping-vegetables-in-backgroundHow Home Automation Systems Work

Most smart home systems work in a similar way. In the simplest terms, your smart components—lights or door locks, for example—receive commands from a smartphone app or another central data hub, process those commands, and take appropriate action.

If you have a smart garage door opener, for instance, you can use your smartphone to check whether your teenager remembered to close the garage door when he left for school. If he didn’t, a tap of a button from your app will close the garage door (and restore your peace of mind).

You’ll find that home automation products are typically equipped with Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth technology.

Pro tip: Stay ahead of the game by opting for products that accommodate Wi-Fi 6. Tech experts predict an increase in the use of Wi-Fi 6 to address issues with lack of bandwidth and insufficient speed, which can impair device functionality.

Most gadgets connect to a hub, which you can communicate with via a smartphone app or voice command. Today, most manufacturers design their home automation products to be compatible with one another and with most types of hubs. Devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo can also function as hubs for many types of systems.

If the idea of talking to your phone or a smart speaker isn’t particularly appealing to you, set schedules for your smart devices instead. For example, smart outlets, light bulbs, and appliances give you the ability to have your coffeemaker and your kitchen lights turn on just before you come downstairs each morning to start your day. Certain smart devices can also gradually learn your preferences based on adjustments and changes you make to the device settings.

Hands-installing-a-security-camera-under-the-eaves-of-a-houseCommon Types of Smart Home Gadgets

Lighting

Your home's lighting is an area where automation can make practical sense. Smart solutions address the common problem of forgetting to turn off lights or of fumbling to turn on a switch in a dark room. Some advantages of automating your lights include electricity savings and added convenience.

With many systems, the smart technology is built into the light bulbs themselves, so there’s no need to replace your fixtures. This means you don't even have to own your home to benefit from this innovation, as it does not require you to make any modifications a landlord would object to.

Smart lighting is about more than being able to regulate your lights without pressing a switch. You’ll see savings in energy costs, and you might even discover that a smart light bulb set to your wake-up schedule makes a far gentler alarm clock than a blaring tone.

Climate control

Smart thermostats are so popular (and available in a wide range of price points) that they’re on the verge of becoming the norm. Use a smart thermostat to fine-tune your HVAC system’s optimal, most energy-efficient heating and cooling settings. This ensures that you’ll be able to maintain the right temperature indoors regardless of the time of day.

Because smart thermostats help reduce energy consumption (and therefore cause less strain on the power grid), many electric companies and local governments offer rebates or other incentives for purchase and installation. Be sure to check with your local electrician or HVAC technician to get all the details.

Home security

Smart security systems may include a variety of components, including glass-break sensors, motion detectors, and cameras. Everyone’s home security needs are different, so your best bet is to opt for a system that is highly customizable and flexible, should you choose to add components in the future.

Check out our overview of the most popular smart security system components:

Smart doorbells. A popular smart security system product is the smart doorbell camera. Smart doorbell cameras activate when someone approaches the door or rings the bell. You receive an alert on your phone and can view the camera. Some video doorbell products on the market also allow you to speak to the person at your door and hear their responses.

Smart security cameras. Incorporating cameras into your smart security system adds another layer of safety to your home. Smart security cameras can be placed in strategic spots on the exterior (or interior) of your home. Most cameras can be controlled via smartphone app and automatically upload footage to cloud storage.

Smart door locks. While you shouldn’t toss your keys in the trash just yet, smart locks do offer convenience and security. You’ll find a wide range of options on the market, from keyless entry lock sets that require a code to unlock to locks that respond to commands via a smartphone app.

Smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke (and carbon monoxide, if you have any gas appliances) detectors are a must-have for every home, and smart versions of these devices are a great way to give yourself additional peace of mind. If the device senses smoke or carbon monoxide, it sounds a loud alarm and sends an alert to your smartphone.

Cooking

From a fridge that monitors its contents and reminds you to stock up to an egg tray that counts your eggs, the kitchen is full of appliances and devices that work well with automation. Like other smart devices, you communicate with your smart kitchen tools via an app on your smartphone. You can also use voice control, which is great for when you have your hands full.

Because there are so many options, it is important to plan your smart kitchen well. Give careful consideration to your budget, how much time you actually spend cooking, and what you hope to accomplish with a smart kitchen device.

Entertainment

Smart entertainment systems integrate streaming services, television, music, and gaming. You control everything with one device, typically a phone or tablet running an app. As with other smart systems, you can also use voice commands for certain functions. And because entertainment systems are only as good as their speakers, talk to your home theater consultant about surround-sound or built-in speakers.

Lawn care

Whether you aim for a pristine lawn or a record-breaking vegetable garden, automation can improve your results. Smart solutions for automating functions such as irrigation and fertilization can optimize quantities and adjust for the weather. Automation lets you control sprinklers and other systems remotely. You can also purchase sensors that send you data about soil composition and other factors affecting your plants' growth.

Close-up-view-of-round-smart-thermostatChoosing and Installing Home Automation Products

If you're ready to begin your upgrade to a smart system in your home, working with the right professionals is important. Smart gadgets make your life easier, but they need to work properly. Common issues can include connectivity, compatibility with other devices, and problems that arise when you decide to expand the system.

Qualified experts can help you choose products that will function well in your home. They can also advise you of the various options for the specific goals you have in mind. If your primary goal is to save on energy, for example, you may need a different product than someone trying to accommodate mobility issues.

Even if you just want to buy one gadget to get your feet wet with home automation, this type of device is not typically something you just unpack and plug in. Connecting the right sensors and hubs can be complicated. Many people also need help setting up their products for optimal functioning. Working with professionals can help you avoid months of trial and error (and expert help often comes with a solid warranty and other types of support after installation).

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