Sunday, May 22, 2022

Smart home systems vs. home security systems: How to choose the right DIY platform

Before you start to build out a smart home, the first decision you need to make is whether convenience is more valuable than security. Many of the systems you’ll see when you go shopping will emphasize one or the other, even if they offer elements of both.

If you’re more interested in the fun and convenience of a modern home technology—having lights turn on and off with voice commands, for example, or having a sprinkler system that operates in concert with the local weather—you’ll want a smart home system.

But if you’re more concerned about being alerted to a break-in, or a disaster such as a fire or a burst water pipe, you’ll be happier with a home security system—perhaps one with a service that can dispatch first responders on your behalf.

Samsung SmartThings primary SmartThings

Samsung SmartThings is our current favorite DIY smart home system. The company announced a new model in August, 2018, but hasn’t yet made it available for review.

We’ve produced two stories that will help you understand the fundamentals of each type of system, so you can decide which is right for you. This one focuses on smart home systems. If you’re more interested in a home security system, we encourage you to read this other story.

The basics of a smart home system

While security-focused hubs have a ruthless devotion to protecting your homestead, smart home hubs, such as Samsung SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2, are jacks of all trades. They serve as intermediaries between smart home devices and your home network (and by extension, you and your smartphone), helping to coordinate automation, scheduling, and device interaction.

You can buy a smart home hub on its own and acquire the components above a la carte, or in some cases, you can buy a starter kit consisting of the hub and a handful of devices. Starter kits are easy, because you don’t need to put a lot of thought into what you’ll need. On the other hand, a kit might stick you with a product or two that you don’t necessarily want. That might be one reason some vendors—including Samsung SmartThings—are moving away from pre-packaged kits.

philips hue white color ambiance 4 pack starter kit box with product Philips

Philips Hue smart bulbs communicate using ZigBee radios and therefore require a bridge to join your home network.

The list of smart home devices these hubs can control is exhaustive—and ever growing—but these are the essentials:

  • Smart bulbs: In many smart home environments, lighting is the killer app that starts things off. These will invariably be of the LED variety and are available in both white and color changing, both of which will be dimmable.
  • Smart plugs: Insert these into your in-wall receptacles and you’ll be able to control lamps (turning them on and off and dimming them) and small appliances (fans and space heaters, for example).
  • Door, window, and motion sensors that can trigger smart lights to light your way, as well set off an alarm in smart home systems that also have security features.
  • Smart thermostats: These can quickly pay for themselves with the energy savings gained from heating and cooling your home only when you’re there to benefit from it.
  • Smart speakers and digital assistants: You typically won’t get an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or other smart speaker as part of a DIY bundle, but these digital assistants are so useful that we consider them to be an essential component of the smart home.
starter kit on wall Noon Home

Noon Home offers the most sophsticated home lighting control system we’ve tested. 

Beyond the smart home basics

The list above provides a good starting point, but once you’ve lived in a smart home for a while, you’ll be craving some of these expansion smart products that will render it even more comfortable.


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