Control light switches and washing machine via app, be sure that all windows are closed. Retrofitting your home into a smart home is easy and even cheap. Bonus: Seven tips for your smart home project.
By Sonja Angerer
The intelligent house is only for professionals? That hasn't been true for a long time. Because useful smart home systems can often be easily retrofitted.
Plan your smart home
In new buildings, smart home centers, such as Magenta SmartHome or Homeatic IP , can be planned at the same time. The solutions can be adapted for existing apartments and houses. In a single-family home, changes to existing installations are no problem for a smart home solution. If you want to control your condominium or rented apartment via smartphone, you should have permanent installations approved in advance by the community of owners or the landlord.
This can complicate things in apartment buildings, for example, if you want to retrofit the underfloor heating, locking system or roller shutter control to a smart home. When installing door and window contacts, you must not damage any frames. Fortunately, there are many other options for your smart home project, such as smart thermostats.
The most important smart home systems – and how they work
Smart home products can be controlled via the manufacturer's app with any current Android or iOS smartphone. There are also overarching smart home ecosystems that connect devices from different manufacturers.
The best known of these smart home systems are
Nest speakers act as a smart home hub, controlling your connected devices. Image:
- Google Home / Nest
- Samsung SmartThings
- Amazon Echo
All systems bring voice assistants with them. So you can ask Google, Siri, Bixby or Alexa to control compatible devices.
Ikea also has a wide range of smart home elements under the product name Trådfri. You can operate them via the Ikea Smart Home App, or integrate them into the smart home systems from Amazon, Apple or Google.
Smart home control centers are required for the integrated smart home solutions from Google, Apple Samsung and Amazon. For Samsung SmartThings and Google Nest, these are “hubs”, small boxes that you connect to the WiFi router. At Amazon, current Echo speakers do this job, Apple uses the Homepod Mini or Apple TV as a control center.
Smart home devices for retrofitting have to be connected to each other, the control center and often also to the Internet. This is usually done using WiFi or Bluetooth. LAN cables are sometimes also laid in new buildings. There are other radio standards for smart home solutions, such as Zigbee or Z-Wave. The Thread Group is currently trying to establish an overarching standard that covers all ecosystems and connection options.
Retrofitting my first smart home project
With Philips Hue, you can easily get started with smart lighting. Image: © Philips 2016
For a first project, it is best to choose something simple. Smart lighting is a good idea, because here you can achieve a lot with little effort. WLAN lightbulbs are available for less than ten euros. They look like normal LED lamps and can be screwed into E27 or E14 lamp sockets. They are available in white or with color effects. The Wi-Fi light bulb is connected to the network via the associated free app. For example, your spiced up living room lamp can already be controlled via smartphone.
You don't need to swap the light switch on the wall, you can continue to use it as usual to switch it on and off. Alternatively, there are also smart light switches for retrofitting. You can use these to dim or change the light color, just like in the settings in the smartphone app.
If you want to delve deeper into the topic and integrate other systems, it is worth relying on brand manufacturers such as Philips Hue from the very first light. These offer a large selection of lamps and lights, as well as networked motion detectors and sockets. Hue lights can also be controlled with the voice assistants Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.
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More simple smart home applications
FritzDECT 301: Smart radiator thermostat. Image: © AVM GmbH 2021
Networked thermometers and weather stations, for example from the Eve Systems range, are also fairly simple but effective smart home applications. With an indoor camera, such as the Google Nest Cam, you can use your smartphone to see what the cat is up to at home while you sweat in meetings.
Smart thermostats help save heating costs. The installation is easy to do yourself with a little manual skill. Because you can exchange old for networked with a few simple steps. However, retrofitting thermostats in a smart home only makes sense if there is not already a central heating control system.
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Program the smart home
Home automation is when the various smart home devices interact with each other. Then, for example, the underfloor heating retrofitted for the Smart Home turns up when the smart weather station expects cool nights. Or the vacuum robot only starts cleaning when the last family member has left the apartment in the morning.
Such routines can be put together from ready-made modules in Apple Home, for example. You don't have to be a techie to do this. But it helps if you have some simple basic knowledge of programming.
Which smart home system is worth retrofitting?
Netatmo radiator thermostat detects open windows Image: © Netatmo 2020
Smart home devices for the mass market have hardly been around for more than a decade. The industry is correspondingly turbulent. Even well-known players such as Innogy Smart Home / Livisi sometimes get caught up in rough water. This is annoying and expensive for the user. Because without up-to-date software and server services, the smart home cannot function reliably.
This is why retrofit smart home solutions are so popular. Because you can replace them without too much cost. As with all technical devices, the same applies to the smart home: the best solution is always the one that fits into your own life. Whether it's just a single WiFi bulb or a fully automated apartment.
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7 tips for smart home projects without stress
- Set a goal: With simple applications you will quickly achieve success.
- Obtain approval: Landlords or homeowners' associations should be informed in the case of permanent installations.
- Deciding on a system: The more smart home apps you use side by side, the more complicated it gets.
- Smart shopping: Starter packages with a suitable hub are often cheaper.
- Prefer established providers: They offer current software updates so that your smart home works for a long time.
- Think of the roommates: not everyone likes cameras in the hallway and robots in the kitchen.
- Learn to program: With home automation, your house will take care of you as if by magic.