How to Set Up a Smart Home

Written by Brianne Sandorf
Mar 3, 2020
Difficulty level:
Intermediate
Steps:
6
Pieces of equipment needed:
2+
Difficulty level: Intermediate
Steps: 6
Pieces of equipment needed: 2+

The Internet of Things is invading our homes. But not in a bad way—in, like, a helpful way. You can now lock your doors, turn out your lights, and play your favorite music with just a few swipes or a single voice command.

The only downside is that, to enjoy a smart home, you have to set it up. Sound intimidating? Don’t worry. We’re here to walk you through it.

1. Get the best internet you can find.

Your smart home connectivity is gonna lean heavily on your Wi-Fi network. To keep everything running smoothly, you need fast and reliable internet service. Luckily, at Reviews.org, we offer internet recommendations. So if you’re not sure if your current service will cut it, pop over to our best internet service providers page and find something right now. We can wait.

Info Box icon
Internet and location
One tip for selecting internet services: the cost and effectiveness are going to depend on your location. Not just your state or city; sometimes, the exact street can affect how well an internet service works. It may be useful to check with your neighbors and see what providers they use. You can also try our ZIP tool below.

Find the best Internet Providers in your area.

Our internet expert, Catherine McNally, recommends 100 Mbps for a small family with average smart home use, 300–500 Mbps for a medium-to-large family with average smart home use, and 940–1,000 Mbps for smart home power users. For more specific help, you can check out our Mbps guide.

Okay, ready? Let’s move on to step two.

2. Pick a smart hub.

We feel like hubs are a hang-up for a lot of new smart home users, maybe because some content about smart hubs is confusing and unclear.

Let’s break it down. A smart home hub acts as a conduit to connect all your devices to one source. Your garden-variety smart hubs usually won’t have many extra features. Classic examples of this: the Wink hub or Samsung SmartThings hub. Wink and SmartThings don’t have built-in voice control, but they’re compatible with a variety of gadgets.

Then there are hubs like Amazon Echo or Google Home. These are smart speakers with hubs built into them. They tend to be fancier than the average smart hub. You can give them voice commands or do things that don’t involve other hardware, like asking about the weather or ordering groceries.

To throw another wrinkle in things, while most hubs are physical devices, you can also use a protocol like IFTTT. The If This Then That software lets you set up cause-and-effect chains on your phone without connecting hardware.

We recommend choosing your hub first.

Matching yourself with the right smart hub depends on what features you want and the products you use. We recommend choosing your hub first and selecting products you know are compatible. But if you already have smart devices in waiting, you can pick a hub that works with them. There’s just no guarantee you’ll find something that will connect with everything you already have.

If you need help to make a decision, check out our rankings for the best smart hubs.

Once you have a smart hub, you’ll need to add it to your network to get started. Follow the instructions provided with the product to complete setup. If your smart hub has a voice assistant, it’s best to try out a few commands before installing any other equipment.

Heads Up icon
Adding smart devices to your system
A smart device that’s compatible with your hub will often arrive with specific connection instructions or walk you through the setup. If it doesn’t, you should be able to find an internet support page to help.

3. Get smart plugs.

We think a smart plug is the first device you should set up with your system. Why? Plugs work with lamps, slow cookers, curling irons, fans, space heaters—you name it. A few plugs let you automate all these things. They’re also easy to set up.

The plug’s app should guide you in connecting to the Wi-Fi. If you have a smart speaker, you can further connect the plug to the speaker for voice control: “Alexa, turn off smart plug!”

Just an FYI: smart outlets are a little different than plugs, but you set them up similarly. You don’t have to hardwire a smart outlet into your home; most of them plug over an existing outlet.

4. Get smart lights.

Next up, lights. Lights are a dazzling addition to any smart home, and they’re usually the next-easiest thing to set up. Screw them in, hook them to the Wi-Fi, sync them to the hub, and you should be good to go.

Man screwing in a lightbulb

If you’re wondering how to connect a light to a Wi-Fi connection, it’s relatively painless (considering that light bulbs have no screens to guide you). In many cases, your light will be an option under the Wi-Fi list. You’ll select it, then open the light’s brand app to link it to the Wi-Fi.

Once your lights are in, you can have a lot of fun. Turn them on and off from another room or even another state. Some lights also change colors or flicker in time to music.

Light Bulb icon
Light safety tip
Light activity is an excellent way to fool burglars into thinking you’re home when you’re not. No matter how far away you are, you can switch your lights on and off to make it look like someone’s moving from room to room. You might also be able to use IFTTT to set lights to go on and off at certain times of the day.

5. Get safe.

One of the benefits of a smart home: you can set up a DIY security system that works in tandem with other devices. Like other smart home devices, this requires a solid internet connection. Your system should come with directions to create an account and connect the security base to the internet.

A lot of DIY systems, like SimpliSafe, Abode, and Ring, have peel-and-stick equipment. You’ll never have to use a hammer or screws, and if you’re renting or selling your place, you can remove the equipment without damaging the walls. But there’s still a lot of home security equipment that needs to be mounted or drilled into place. If you’re not handy, you might want to reach out to a friend or contract an expert.

When it comes to installing security equipment, you may opt for a few security cameras, or you might choose to get a full security system. You could even just get a door lock, a motion detector, or open/close sensors. Whatever you need, go ahead and add it to your smart home suite.

If you don’t want to hunt everything down separately, lots of security brands offer starter kits. Check out Ring or SimpliSafe for a good starter kit example.

6. Go crazy.

Once you have a smart home system, there’s almost no limit to what you can do. Lifewire did a write-up on weird smart home devices like forks, toilets, egg trays, toothbrushes, and frying pans.¹ You can also try a smart fridge or a smart aquarium.

Other home appliances and items you can smarten up include the following:

  • Mattresses
  • Blankets
  • Pillows
  • Garage doors
  • Flower pots
  • Canisters/jars
  • Dishwashers
  • Ovens
  • Toasters
  • Smoke detectors
  • CO detectors
  • Thermostats
  • Washers
  • Dryers
  • Vacuums
  • Sweepers
  • Mops
  • Pet feeders
  • Showerheads

So what smart devices do you absolutely need? First, if you have any special needs or disabilities, cater to those first. For instance, if you’re bound to the ground floor but have family members on the top floor, invest in smart speakers that can be used as intercoms. Or if you’ve got latchkey kids, get smart door locks and garage door openers that they can control from their phones.

But apart from that, after plugs, lights, and security, we’d prioritize comfort and convenience. Get that voice-controlled smart thermostat! Buy a video doorbell so you can see who’s there without walking downstairs, or invest in a robot vacuum. We think new tech should be both useful and fun, so invest in the smart home gadgets that appeal to you.

If you’re still not sure where to start, pick one room to trick out with smart home technology. Then go through the rest of the house by room.

Recap

To sum it all up, here’s the Reviews.org recommended order to set up a smart home:

  • Internet
  • Smart hub
  • Plugs
  • Lights
  • Security
  • Everything else

If the thought of doing this all on your own overwhelms you, you can start with the internet and then jump to Vivint, our number one smart home and security recommendation. Vivint will professionally install an entire smart home for you. The only downside is that you’ll be limited to Vivint-approved equipment and have to pay a monthly fee.

Smart home FAQ

How do I keep my smart home from being hacked?

Some smart home systems let you create temporary guest passcodes.

From Ring to SimpliSafe, smart tech breaches have been pushed into the spotlight. The best way to keep your system safe is to use a unique password. Don’t share it with anyone, and change it regularly. If visitors or repair people need to get into your home, some systems let you create temporary guest passcodes.

Should I use Google Home or Alexa?

Checking email with Alexa

Tricky question. There are pros and cons to both smart speaker hubs. We’re partial to Alexa, especially through the Amazon Echo Plus. The speaker on this is fantastic. Also, Alexa’s compatible with Zigbee protocol, which means it can connect to tons of other brands. But if you like Nest’s smart home devices, then Google Home’s the way to go.

How do I set up a smart home with Alexa?

Installing an Amazon Echo is super easy. The companion app walks you through it. Once you’ve set up your hub, you can incorporate other devices by adding their “skills” to the Amazon Alexa app.