How to Smarten up Your Dumb House


“Alexa, play The Matrix movie, turn on my fireplace and put bedroom fan at 30%.” 

I’m spoiled. Alexa is my virtual assistant (read digital sweat shop worker) and between her and my other “robots”, almost everything in my house is turned on, off or moderated by my voice. If you’re new to smart homes, smart water or smart phones, this article is for you. Follow along and I’ll help you pimp out your house. First thing, get rid of the smart water. It’s not really that smart. 

The links below are all affiliate links of products that I’ve used and recommend.

ECHO DOT- Let’s start with the nucleus of your system and a great introduction to the year 2020. I love Alexa. She runs my house and is available to fulfill any whim within her power. If you’re worried about Big Brother listening in on you, your life is probably more interesting than mine and this may not be for you. If not, there’s several different virtual assistants out there, but Alexa is my favorite. She has jokes, sets timers and alarms, controls my gadgets, knows the answers to all my questions and is the supervisor who tells my hubs what to do. Amazon makes several options with different sized speakers and video screens. I have an echo dot in every room I spend any time in. All the units play well together so you can have one turn off an alarm in another room for example and whichever one is closest to you will be your liaison.

SAMSUNG SMART THINGS– this is the best hub out there. What is a hub exactly? Your hub is sort of a supervisor to tell less smart objects what to do and coordinate everything that Alexa tells it to do. Samsung integrates with most smart devices that Alexa can’t communicate with directly. You can get by without this hub for some devices, but i recommend it if you are connecting several things.

FIRE CUBE– What happens when you combine Alexa with FireTV? You get the FireCube. Lose your TV remote? No problem. Not sure what you feel like watching? Fire Cube is a 4 inch tall computer that smartens up even dumb TVs and replaces your remotes with voice command capability. You can stream music and download any TV apps like Netflix, Hulu, Prime, etc. Having an Amazon Prime account allows you unlimited music on all your Amazon  devices plus access to Prime movies and preferred shipping with the shopping app. You can pick titles, fast forward, pause, control volume, switch apps and everything else just from the sound of your voice.

AUGUST DOOR LOCK– tired of carrying your house keys around or too lazy to unlock the door for a visitor? The August door lock allows you to unlock your door from anywhere in the world if you have the app, the lock and the WiFi bridge. You can give permission to others to be able to unlock your door if they’re outside. Best of all you can set the permission to be anytime, specific hours or days or completely block someone from access. It’s a great option to resetting codes or changing locks and works great for maid access or Airbnb guests. The app notifies you and identifies the visitor when your door is unlocked and even shows you if the door is left open. It integrates with Alexa so that she can lock, unlock or check the state of the lock by voice. To keep unauthorized visitors from getting inside by voice command, a 4 digit command code is required to unlock the door. The difference between the pro and the regular version is the ability to communicate with Apple Homekit, Z-wave capabilities and remote access.

NEST HELLO– Doorbell cams are great for security, avoiding unwanted guests and checking on package deliveries. The Nest is smart enough to tell the difference between a human coming to your door or a headlight beam, so you’re not bothered every time someone drives by. When your doorbell rings, you can see your guest in your phone app and communicate with them from anywhere in the world. Combined with an August lock, you can talk to your visitor and unlock the door for them if they need to enter your home. 

NEST CAMERAS– I’ve tried lots of cameras but Nest is my fave. The setup is smooth and the app is sexy and cool. Nest keeps track of any motion in your home or outside perimeters. There’s a microphone and speaker in each unit so you can communicate with the person on camera as well as dropping in to make sure that your kids aren’t blaring music too loud or have caught your house on fire. Every entrance to your home should ideally have a camera for security purposes. 

NEST THERMOSTAT– Maybe it seems lazy to have a smart thermostat, but I’ve found it to be a much more awesome solution for setting my heater or ac than the old school versions that you have to set by hand. Nest thermostats learn your habits and adjust the temperature to your needs as well as letting you view and set it from anywhere in the world. Nest works with Echo,so if you’re too hot, all you have to do is say “Alexa, set the temperature to 70 degrees”. The Nest app will show you your thermostat and views from all your cameras on one screen. It’s absolutely amazing. Nest also makes smart smoke alarms for a modern solution to those annoying beeping disks that always seem to need batteries. The alarm will notify you of something is wrong on your phone app no matter where you are.

SMART LIGHTS– there’s several options for turning lights on and off, so let’s start with the best. A smart dimmer switch is the most reliable method since it works as a switch with or without Alexa. The dimmer option allows you to pick any percentage between 0 and 100 to determine the level of brightness. That’s quite an upgrade over a switch with 4 settings. They’re available for ceiling fans too so you can ask Alexa to adjust your fan without getting out of bed. The Lutron shown below is one of the best options for that. You’ll need a hub to connect to the Alexa interface, but the kit below includes it.

The next option is smart bulbs. These are LED lights that are dimmable and can be controlled  using a proprietary hub (such as Hue) or your SmartThings hub. These bulbs can be white or change colors. There’s lots of choices from $5-50. If you’re upgrading slowly, you can use your existing bulbs. Being able to change your kitchen to all blue or pink lights is always an option with the multi-colored light option.

You can also control lamps with a smart plug. Smart plugs don’t allow you to dim the bulb, so if that’s a feature you’re looking for, one of the other options might be better. 

WASHLET (JAPANESE STYLE BIDET)–  With the Covid-19 virus scare creating a paranoid toilet paper shortage, bidets never looked so good. Why this amazing Japanese appliance hasn’t taken root as an American must-have is a mystery. I have one in each of my downstairs bathrooms and they’re my most talked-about appliances. A heated seat, dryer and front and back wash with temperature control… what’s not to love?  There’s various options including self opening features and music, but that might be a little too much until this catch on in the USA.

Garage door opener- The good news is that you don’t have to replace your garage door opener. It just needs to be able to connect with Alexa.

Everything can be controlled on your phone through various apps. You’ll need to start with the Amazon Alexa app. You’ll have to add each device in the app as well as updating Alexa’s skills. Most devices will have their own apps and integrate pretty seamlessly with your Echo.

Leave a reply