Sunday, May 29, 2022

Smart home systems: DIY vs. hiring a professional

As you consider how to build out your smart home, you’ll be faced with four early decisions: Do you want a simple or a sophisticated system? Do you want a system that focuses on convenience? Or do you want one that emphasizes home security? The articles linked in the previous three questions will help you answer them. In this story, we’ll answer a fourth important question, along with a related one: Do you want to do the work yourself, or hire a professional? And if you take the DIY approach and include security features, do you want a professional to monitor it?

Smart home equipment manufacturers have made it supremely easy to do the work yourself, even if you’re not an enthusiast. But there’s something to be said for hiring a pro. It’s no different than designing your own garden or hiring an expert landscaper, decorating your home on your own or consulting with an interior decorator.

Professional monitoring services can call first responders on your behalf in the event of a break-in, or with some systems, a fire emergency. They’re available with both DIY and professionally installed systems. We’ll examine the pros and cons of each approach and help you decide which is right for your environment, your comfort level, and your willingness to get your hands dirty.

Self-installation, self-monitoring

Smart home veterans are familiar with this option, because in the early days of smart home technology, it was the only one available. In a nutshell, this first approach involves purchasing smart home gear—either in the form of a kit, such as the iDevices Smart Home Essentials Starter Kit (which includes a variety of Wi-Fi-based indoor and outdoor power and lighting products), or buying a smart home hub, such as Samsung SmartThings, and adding compatible devices piece by piece.

Hue lily outdoor Philips Lighting

Support for Philips Hue lighting is nearly ubiquitous in smart home systems, and the company recently expanded its offerings with a series of outdoor luminaires (such as the Lily spotlights shown here). 

The advantage of the DIY approach is that you pay only for what you need. If you want smart lighting in a few places around the house, a Philips Hue starter kit will give you two to four light bulbs, either in color or white, and the bridge you need to control them. Philips also recently expanded the line to include a number of outdoor luminaires. And if you later decide you want to add more lights, or you want to extend your network to include smart plugs, door locks, or something else, you can easily do that by purchasing and installing more equipment.

Since you aren’t locked into a certain platform, you can shop around and mix and match various brands of equipment instead of having to go back to the original vendor and its walled garden every time. If you want to use a voice assistant like Google Home or Amazon Alexa to control your gear, most vendors let you do that, too.

That said, if you anticipate adding more than one smart home element—more than just smart light bulbs, for instance—you’d be wise to start with a well-rounded hub that supports lots of third-party smart home devices. While a hub isn’t absolutely necessary, it does provide the convenience of a single app to control everything—there’s just one user interface to master, versus one for each family of products you install.

samsung smartthings product group Samsung

Samsung SmartThings is one of our favorite DIY smart home hubs, but it’s missing one key feature: A cellular module for broadband backup.

Our current top picks, Samsung SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2, are stuffed with features, offer out-of-the-box support for hundreds of smart home devices from a wide variety of vendors, and they’re constantly expanding this support through push-delivered updates. Even if you just want a single security camera or a smart speaker, it still makes sense to incorporate a hub into your network. Once the smart home bug bites, you won’t want to start over with different hardware. And if you accumulate a lot of equipment before investing in a hub, you’ll find that retroactively incorporating the hub into the network is considerably more complex than adding it as you go.


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