Smart Home Buyers Guide

Smart Home is an umbrella term used to cover an ever-growing array of connected devices. By connected we mean that they form part of your home network and therefore communication with these smart devices is via your router - whether connected physically by Ethernet cable or wirelessly. The concept of a smart home is to add convenience to life in general, either by providing automation for heating or lighting systems or to deliver additional functionality such as security when using cameras or alarms.

Although many smart devices are relatively simple to add to your home, there are many considerations to be made when choosing a system. This guide will take you through how a smart home works, the different groups of devices you can choose from and, most importantly, making sure your network is secure - meaning your data and privacy are protected as much as possible.

How Does a Smart Home Work?

The essence of a smart home is control - the ability to operate devices remotely when you’re not at home or to set routines to automate functions for convenience for security. In order to enable this capability devices must be able to see the device that will control them - in most cases a smart phone or tablet connected to the same network. Therefore, all smart devices must be connected to the router within the home.

This can be achieved in one of two ways - either directly via wireless or via a hub that connects by Ethernet cable to the router, and then creates its own wireless communication system using any one of a range of smart home protocols that differ from the wireless (or WI-Fi) signal your router uses. There are a number of common smart home communication protocols as highlighted below



Zigbee is a wireless protocol which creates a mesh network between compatible devices. It uses devices to relay signals to other devices, strengthening and expanding the network. Zigbee can be built in dimmers, door locks, thermostats, and more. It is used by WeMo and Philips Hue, for example.



Similar to Zigbee, Z-Wave is an open source mesh network protocol. Technically speaking, the main difference between the two is the data throughput — Z-wave is roughly 6 times slower than Zigbee. It does, however, require less energy to cover the same range as Zigbee. SmartThings and Lowes Iris use Z-Wave.



Thread is a wireless protocol developed by a group of companies including Nest, Samsung, Qualcomm and Osram. It is designed to allow the devices in its protocol to communicate even when the WiFi network goes down.



Bluetooth is a short-range (around 10m) wireless protocol often used on phones, headphones, speakers and smart blinds. Its adaptive frequency hopping system detects existing signals, such as WiFi, negotiating a channel map for the Bluetooth devices in order to minimise interference.



Infrared is one of the simplest and most reliable protocols, normally offering one-way communication. It’s the number one choice for remote control systems such as Harmony, using Infrared to communicate with TVs and amplifiers, but using Wi-Fi to allow smart phone control.

In general, these communication technologies are not directly compatible, but interoperability can be achieved using a digital assistant such as Amazon Alexa, as this will allow voice control of multiple technologies by using naming systems to control lights like ‘Alexa - lounge lights on’ or by commanding a function such as ‘Alexa - tell Harmony to turn on TV’. If this type of voice control appeals to you when creating smart home capabilities, then it is advisable to check what compatibility your chosen devices have with digital assistants from the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple.

It is also worth mentioning that the more functions you add to your home that require a hub to communicate with the router, the more Ethernet ports you will need. To ease simple future expansion it may be wise to consider an additional Ethernet switch to deliver more ports - you can learn more about choosing the most appropriate switch to complement your router in our home switches buyers guide .

What are my Smart Home options?

A smart home offers many benefits of convenience and functionality - smart bulbs can be used to create lighting effects or to set on/off schedules and smart blinds can add to the lighting effects for security. Cameras can monitor pets indoors or vehicles outdoors - both offering images sent to your smartphone should the cameras be triggered by movement. Furthermore, as devices are connected via your router, you can control devices while away - turning heating on before you get home, or advising a delivery person where to leave a parcel through a smart video door bell.

As there's a huge choice of smart devices on the market we've broken down this buyer’s guide into types of device - based on three distinctions - Assistants & Appliances, Lighting & Heating and Security.

Smart Assistants & Appliances

These type of smart devices bring convenience to entertainment in the home controlling TV functions, music streaming to smart speakers and the automatic control of appliances such as fridges and coffee machines. Digital assistants, tie the smart living room together by offering voice control of many AV functions and other tasks such as reminders, shopping and scheduling.

Smart Digital Assistants

A digital assistant is a voice activated device that can help you by either carrying out tasks or delivering information to you. Most versions of these began as smartphone or PC software such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Assistant, however these have been integrated into compact interactive devices designed to sit in the home and act as a central smart hub to carry out many tasks. Most have a barrel shaped design, although some are very compact and some higher end smart assistants have video screens too.

Not only do they have the ability to retrieve information by voice much like your smart phone - ‘Hey Siri, what’s the weather like today?’ or ‘OK Google, how far is it to London?’, they also have ability to control other smart home systems as demonstrated above with TV control, lighting and heating to name a few. Amazon Alexa goes further still in that any general Amazon functions can be linked to it such as tracking deliveries - ‘Alexa, where’s my stuff?’ or online ordering - ‘Alexa, order more kitchen roll’, using your shopping history and payment details stored online. It is this ability that makes a digital assistant often the first purchase within a smart home set-up, as so much more functionality is then available afterwards.

Be Aware

As stated previously, any digital assistant will record searches, track usage and record audio almost constantly, so there are privacy trade-offs that have to be acknowledged if you purchase one. Additionally, it is also worth noting that linking functions such as Amazon one-click shopping to Alexa, can lead to purchases by mistake - children often want to shout tasks at the assistant without thought of the consequences, so making sure permissions or safeguards are enabled is key. It is also worth mentioning that although all these assistant device contain a speaker to deliver the electronic voice information, if you are wanting good music playback, you would be wise to consider an assistant enabled smart speaker, as covered below.

Smart Digital Assistants

Smart speakers are wirelessly connected speakers that enable playback of music from streaming sources such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music and Deezer amongst others. They are linked to your system within the app on smartphone or tablet and can then be used to play different music in different rooms, build playlists or create multi-room listening throughout the home. There are many manufacturers of smart speakers including Sonos, B&W, Bose, Sony to name just a few. Being from audio or speaker manufacturers, sound quality will be much better than a standard digital assistant.

Many of the smaller smart speakers come with an option of a digital assistant built in, so you don’t need to buy say, an Amazon Alexa device and a separate Sonos speaker. It is also worth noting that these brands have several models and sizes to suit different rooms including sound bars and sub woofers to create wirelessly connected surround cinema experiences too.

Be Aware

Although different branded speakers will offer a similar music streaming experience the final sound quality (and cost) will depend on the quality of the components - speaker drivers and the like - contained within. If you are a dedicated audiophile with high quality speakers already, these can also be made smart using devices like Sonos Amp or Connect, though remember once you choose a brand the best experience will be given by sticking with that brand as you add speakers within a room or to a new room - having music all round your home is nice, but costs can mount up quite quickly.


Smart AV Control

Although remote control of your audio-video (AV) devices such as TV, DVD player, Sky box or amplifier is nothing new, unifying the control of many separate remote controls into a single flexible tablet screen is very satisfying. Systems such as Harmony from Logitech provide a hub to deliver the infrared (IR) signal to your devices whilst connecting to you router to enable smart devices to become your central control screen. Each device has a unique code inputted into the Harmony app enabling it to control almost any device on the market - including some like smart bulbs too.

This type of system also allows for creation of macro functions - a command like ‘Watch a movie’ can turn on your TV, turn on a DVD player, change HDMI inputs and dim your lights - all with a single button. Additionally, as we’ve mentioned, Harmony and similar systems have the ability to integrate with digital assistant devices to offer voice control of your AV components.

Be Aware

It is worth mentioning that setting up a system like Harmony can be time consuming. From finding the codes for your exact device models in their manufacturer database, to adding specific buttons that may not be included in a standard image, like a harder to find settings menu. It is however worth this time, as being thorough does negate ever needing the standard supplied remote controls again or having to change the batteries in them. Let’s be honest a tablet is much harder to lose down the back of the sofa too.

Smart Appliances

By appliances we mean those that are usually those found in a kitchen environment but with the added ability to communicate remotely through a wired or wireless connection and an app. They include coffee machines, fridge freezers, washing machines, microwaves and ovens as well as kettles, taps and even weighing scales. The range of smart capability does vary wildly - from a kettle or coffee machines with simple on/off function albeit with voice control too if you have Amazon Alexa; to a camera inside the smart oven to view your cooking food. There are fridge freezers that have TV functions, can manage your groceries and stream music - there’s also a camera so you can see the contents.

When consider smart devices for you home, bulbs, sensors, cameras and even speakers can easily be upgraded should you choose to, with appliances that may even be built in this is not so easy. They will also be considerably more expensive than the non-smart equivalent and as mentioned some of the functions are questionable - for example a TV, smart speaker and fridge freezer will probably cost less than the equivalent smart appliance and any one can be changed or upgraded individually. Similarly, when you turn a smart lamp or close a smart blind that task is complete - however when you start your smart coffee machine, you still need to get up and get the cup of coffee. As with all smart devices, but perhaps these most of all you should always consider whether the benefit outweighs the cost.

Smart Lighting & Heating

These type of smart devices bring convenience and automation to the essentials of lighting & heating your home. Options start with a lamp and a smart plug and scale to multi-room lighting solutions and individual radiator control. Room lighting can also be altered using curtains and blinds for security when not at home or dimming a room to watch a movie.

Smart Plugs

When it comes to making devices in your home smart connected the simplest way without replacing elements or buying new is to use smart plugs. These are essentially pass-through plug sockets that allow a standard appliance such as a lamp or TV to be remotely controlled. Control is usually provided by an app on your smartphone or tablet, and allows on/off functionality and the ability to set timers for automated use. The app is connected to the plug via your router.

Although a basic way to introduce smart technology into your home, smart plugs are often used to generate power savings by switching off devices overnight, or to offer an element of security by switching on lamps when you aren’t at home - either on timers or remotely via the app. Smart power strips are also available for controlling several devices too.

Be Aware

It is worth noting that with a power strip, all the devices must be on or off - individual control is not available, so some individual plugs may still be required if you have several devices you wish to control. Also, in order to use a smart plug, the switch must be left in the ‘on’ position so should a power cut occur, devices turned off by the app will switch on when power is restored - worth remembering should you see that all your lamps appear to be on when they weren’t scheduled to be.


Smart Lighting

Smart lighting can be either in the form of replacing bulbs in your existing light fittings with ones with built-in connectivity in the form of Zigbee, Z-Wave or another protocol or adding devices such as light strips which contain this technology too. Adding smart lighting to your home offers you the chance to create effects - most bulbs will either offer shades of white (warm to bright) or multicolours. Light strips will also offer a wide range of colour options, allowing for ambience and moods to be created. The lights are controlled within an app, and most will offer on/off, dimming, timer operation and automation too. As we’ve mentioned timers can be created to turn lights on or off when you are not at home, create a specific ambience for you to come home to, or be set to when you go to sleep or wake up. Additionally, pairing with compatible movement sensors will allow you to have auto on/off in landings and hallways if required.

As you can image a single room may have several individual bulbs within it - either in a single light fitting or separate ones - these can easily be controlled all together or each on their own, and naming them in the app allows you to use these assigned names with a voice controlled digital assistant to control them too. Systems such as Phillips Hue, Hive, Osram, Lifx all scale to around 50 lights that can be controlled within the app, so it is not surprising that lighting solutions require a hub to be connected to the router via Ethernet. The bulbs or strips communicate with the hub via one or other of the smart home wireless protocols we covered earlier.

Be Aware

Due to the different protocols in use many of the lighting systems are not cross compatible, so it’s worth researching what different ranges include to ensure you can get all the lights you require, whether these be indoor or outdoor, bulbs or lights strips. There are however several third-party Hue-compatible or Osram-compatible bulbs on the market that will help keep costs down, and they will usually be cheaper than the manufacturer’s own. Again, check what compatibility is available before you choose a system. Finally, much like smart plugs, lighting must also be left in the ‘on’ position, so a power cut will result in all your smart lights coming on when power returns - obviously they can then by switched off remotely in the app, but worth being aware of.


Smart Blinds and Curtains

As mentioned earlier, the obvious companion of automated lights is automated blinds or curtains, to create that ‘at home’ feeling when away, or just to be lazy by creating timers for each room of the house. Smart blind or curtain systems vary enormously in complexity and cost, fully fitted electric blinds or curtains will be expensive - but better integrated into your overall environment. Battery, mains or solar powered motors for vertical or Venetian blinds can be cost effective yet still practical, although they will require more manual input to synchronise with say, automated light routines.

The cheaper solutions operate using Bluetooth directly to the smartphone or tablet with the control app installed - open /close functionality is provided with the option to set automated routines based on time or daylight, using small discreet light sensors - often contained in a solar panel to keep the battery charged too, when there no mains supply is close by.

Be Aware

Much of the smart technology discussed in this guide is almost seamless in its nature - wireless prevents wires from being seen and control via smart phone or tablet, makes for clutter free living. Blinds and curtains are probably the hardest and most expensive to integrate due to the physical movement required to open or close them. Costs will especially mount up if looking at covering large areas such as conservatories, bi-fold or patio doors. The more hidden the motor system the more likely professional installation will be required

Smart Heating Systems

A smart heating system offers a number of benefits, from turning on your heating to warm your house before you arrive home or adjusting temperatures when you are away in the event of a cold snap. While most traditional heating systems offer a degree of timer-based control, smart solutions such as Hive or Nest allow much more granular control offering settings for multiple changes per day and different options per day of the week. The systems provides similar functionality for hot water too, offering flexible and outside-the-home control.

In addition to the master control via smart thermostat and smartphone or tablet, there is a further option to control each room individually by replacing radiator valves with smart wirelessly connected valves. This provides even greater flexibility within the app to control every element of your home’s temperature, and potentially save heating costs too.

Be Aware

Heating systems present a little more complexity than most of the technologies we’ve discussed so far, as several elements are required to make it work. Firstly, your heating control panel will need to be replaced, and the new wireless smart control and thermostat added where you’d like it. Additionally, there is often a cistern sensor required for hot water control and a hub to connect to the router to allow smartphone or tablet control - usually all this would be done by a professional - for example, in the case of Hive a British Gas engineer will perform the installation for you and ensure everything is working.


Smart Security Systems

These type of smart devices bring convenience and automation to securing your home. Options start with doorbells that can be used to communicate with people outside the door to locks and cameras, complete alarm systems and smoke alarms.

Smart Doorbells

Smart door bells provide the benefit of a video link and intercom facility to your front door - whether you are at home or not. When the bell is rung, a video image of who is there, is presented within the app, with the ability to converse with them too, via the smartphone or tablet being used. The ability to not miss a caller to your house, or delivery driver and be able to provide instruction where to leave a parcel may be very useful if you have a large house, large garden or are often away from home.

Be Aware

Out of all the technologies listed here, this may be the most contentious as Ring (owned by Amazon) has made the headlines for the data it keeps on who visits your home and what conversations you have with them. If privacy is important to you, this may not be a smart step you want to take. However, if advanced integration is your thing, then being part of Amazon ecosystem ensures complementary Alexa functionality in addition to smart phone control.


Smart Door Locks

Smart locks are keyless door locks that allow you to open your door without a physical key. They can be controlled remotely using a smartphone app, and many models feature a numeric keypad on the lock for entering a unique access code too - some even use fingerprint ID technology. A smart lock connects to your home router, which allows it to receive the code or smartphone command to lock or unlock. Smart locks may negate the need to have multiple sets of keys cut, as the door can be opened remotely for residents or guests, and many smart locks will send you notifications on your smartphone if you forgot to lock your door, so you can quickly lock it with the tap of a button.

Many door locks allow multiple access codes to be set so you can track who is coming and going from your home, and some offer camera functionality like the smart doorbell, so you can actually see who is at the door via an app. As with many other smart technologies, many locks have the ability to be integrated with a digital assistant for voice control too - ‘Hey Google, lock the front door.’

Be Aware

Depending on the lock you choose there are several things to ensure you consider - firstly and foremost there needs to be more than one way to unlock the door - an app is great but if your wireless fails then you could be locked out - keypad or fingerprint options should solve this. Also, always look for a battery element too, so the lock still functions in the event of a power cut. In most instances a smart lock will probably be installed as part of a wider smart alarm system where functions can be linked and integrated, such as arming an alarm when the door is locked - although there are many manufacturers of locks on the market it is wise to understand compatibles with other technologies prior to purchase to ensure get the present and future capabilities you require. We’ll cover full smart alarm systems later in this guide.


Smart Cameras

Smart security cameras offer further functionality for monitoring what is happening both inside and outside your home. They are an evolution of traditional CCTV technology in that rather than being a separate closed system, smart cameras operate on the same wireless standards as other smart devices allowing much greater integration and cross-functionality within the smart home. They can be used for a number of purposes - increasing home security, keeping an eye on a sleeping baby, monitoring your pets and making sure your family is home safely while you’re at work. Along with recording the activities around your property, you can receive alerts to your smartphone if loud noises or excessive movement is registered so you can check and deal with any issues as soon as they happen.

There are numerous types of cameras available and all have specific designs and features that may make them more suited to a particular use. A fixed camera refers to a device where it is positioned and then gives a view of a constant image - it cannot be moved side-to-side or up and down. A fixed camera is suited to either indoor or outdoor installation (outdoor versions will be weatherproof), and can be used to view a single room, or aspect of outside your home. Several could be used in conjunction to cover each side of your home or within multiple rooms. Audio capability is also an option that may be useful - especially if the camera is being used as a baby or pet monitor, as hearing a familiar voice may be handy. Infrared (IR) capability will offer better visibility in darkened room for at night outside. Budget models may offer images in only monochrome, where mid-range models will provide colour. High-end models will offer FullHD and 4K resolutions too.

Alternatively a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera has all functions and options of a fixed camera - colour, audio, IR, weatherproof, HD and 4K - but with the added advantage of being able to control the view the camera provides. Movement can be controlled from the app including side-to-side, up and down and zooming in or out. It is also possible to create movement alerts and have the camera track that movement automatically. Outdoor versions of PTZ cameras will often be within a dome to allow 360O movement yet keep the camera protected.

Depending on where the camera is to be mounted then there are numerous options for connectivity back to the router. It could be connected directly to the router or via a switch using Ethernet cabling - using power-over-Ethernet (PoE) if no power supply is readily available, or it could be wirelessly connected. Additionally, different cameras use different methods of storing footage – some have memory card slots for downloading straight to your PC, while others use cloud storage, so even if your camera is damaged or stolen the footage is still safe.

Be Aware

There are several considerations to be made when looking to install smart cameras inside or outside your home. Power is the first - PoE cameras may be the best option if installing high up outside as only a single cable is needed. Similarly, as cameras are not easily accessed you don’t want to use built-in SD as a recording format. Secondly, if you are wanting a high-resolution image then wired cameras may be the better option. If you have several cameras, the image and video file sizes could cause issues over wireless, especially when trying to view remotely. Finally, as previously stated, it is likely cameras will be part of a wider smart home deployment so it is best to ensure compatibility with door or alarm systems prior to purchase.



Smart Alarm Systems

A smart alarm system takes the elements of a traditional home alarm system and connects them into a single solution offering alerts. Door contacts, windows contacts, room sensors, cameras and visible outdoor alarm boxes combine to make a complete security solution. The app allows zones to be setup within the home, the alarm to be armed or disable remotely and if cameras are part of the system, images or video to be viewed on your smartphone.

A typical alarm system can be enhanced with smart door locks, additional outside cameras, smart lighting that can be activated in the event of an alert, and even be linked to smart smoke / carbon monoxide detectors. Most smart alarm systems will also feature keypad alternatives to smartphone access (should Wi-Fi fail), and offer battery back-up (should mains power fail).

Be Aware

A smart alarm system will come with various elements designed to work together, but you may want to add to this - extra door or windows contacts, cameras instead of basic sensors for some rooms, outdoor cameras etc. It is always best to check the compatibility of any additional components to ensure seamless control within your system. It is also worth mentioning that by its nature an alarm system may contain many elements being monitored or controlled through a single software application, so it is wise to read reviews regarding the functionality of the app and its update cycle. If the security of your home is at stake, you don’t want to rely on an out of date app, that may fail or simply not be compatible with a smartphone operating system upgrade.


Smart Smoke / Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Although we touched on smart smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in the smart alarm section, they can be installed as a standalone smart device too. A smart smoke detector will not only sense the fire or smoke, but tell you where it is (handy if you have multiple smoke detectors), and have the ability to turn on all your smart lighting too, if compatible, to light the way out of your home. Carbon monoxide detection is included in many models, but not all so it is best to check. There is even a smart battery available - a 9V cell that converts any smoke / carbon monoxide detector into a smart one, via an app on your smartphone.

Be Aware

If you are looking to buy a smart detector then it is always advisable to read reviews on performance, independent testing and app quality, as it is not worth compromising on quality when it comes to such a critical function.

Data Security and Privacy Considerations

Throughout this smart home guide we have mentioned things to consider when looking to purchase and integrate any of these smart technologies into your home, there are a couple of universal considerations you must be aware of when it comes to data security and privacy. As all these smart devices are network connected one way or another they have inbuilt vulnerability to being compromised by hackers. Firstly, you need to ensure individual devices are secure. Some smart home devices are rushed to market and their security may not have been adequately addressed. In some cases, user manuals don't address privacy concerns or give you enough information to be sure the device is secure. For instance, baby monitors and security cameras have been hacked, giving criminals the ability to see inside a house. Many cybersecurity experts believe that with smart devices, you shouldn't be thinking about what happens 'if' they're hacked, but 'when' because many are easy to hack and offer little protection.

Secondly, your home network may not be secure, and any data held in that network could be accessible to an intruder. A criminal could track your usage patterns for various devices to see when you're away from home for instance. If your home network is controlled from your broadband account, it's not just data from your smart devices that could be at risk. Any vulnerability could compromise your private information, including emails, your social media accounts and even your bank accounts. Many users control their connected home through a smartphone, which makes it a very valuable database for anyone wanting to hack into your life. This creates a high risk if your phone is hacked, stolen or if someone manages to eavesdrop on your connection. To ensure your home network security isn't compromised by a single vulnerable smart device, follow these tips to provide the maximum security for your smart home network.

Secure your access devices

This might include your computer(s), your tablet(s) and your smartphone(s) and your router. These can be secured by purchasing comprehensive Android or iOS software packages from the likes of Norton, Kaspersky and many more. Your smartphone, if hacked or stolen, could compromise your entire home network and security system, so make securing it your top priority.

• Use the screen lock on your smartphone - ensure no one can access it in your absence.

• Ensure all your computers and smartphones are password protected - don't use passwords that are easy to guess (like your birthday or name).

• Change the default username and password on your router - changing the name will stop hackers being able to guess the device or network you're using. Use WPA authentication to create a secure network.

• Use firewalls on any computers and on your router - most routers have a firewall built into their hardware, but it must first be enabled by the user.

• Isolate your smart home network from your other networks. This is relatively easy to do by setting up guest networks for your smart home devices.

Secure each smart device

Once you've secured your networks to ensure that none of your smart devices can access your personal data or control the network, your next step is to secure the individual devices - change the default passwords - leaving a default password on a device enables anyone who owns the same device to gain access.

• If you have voice activated devices such as smart speakers, change the alert word from ‘OK Google’ or ‘Alexa’ to something only you and your family know.

• Before you buy a new device, make sure you have adequate information about its security protection - find out whether the manufacturer provides regular firmware updates

• Examine the privacy policy on a device before you buy it - how is the manufacturer going to make use of your personal data? What data does the device have access to? If you don't intend to use voice activation on a device, you may want to turn the microphone off so that other conversations are not picked up and transmitted.

• Remember to keep devices updated - either using automatic updates or doing so manually. Hackers are always coming up with new ways to compromise smart devices and security patches will protect you against those new threats.

• Turn off Universal Plug & Play (UPnP) - most smart devices have this feature, which enables them to find other smart devices and connect to them automatically. However, UPnP protocols are vulnerable to outside attack and will allow access to multiple devices once a single device has been hacked.

• Check the permissions for apps running on your devices - anything that asks for permission to edit your router's settings is a potential security threat.

Even if you have followed all these home security tips, you're still running a risk if you log on to public Wi-Fi with your laptop or phone. If you don't need authentication to get into a network, neither do hackers. If you regularly use public Wi-Fi, learn how to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect your privacy and your smart home.

Ready to buy?

We hope you’ve found this buyers guide useful in understanding all that makes up a smart home and how to keep it as secure as possible. You can see our range of smart devices by clicking on the links below.


Alternatively, if you have any further questions you’d like answering about smart home technologies and their deployment, don’t hesitate to call one of our friendly advisors on 01204 474747