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Creating your smart home over time: 5 common mistakes that are easy to avoid

Inside of a house in 3D

Most North American consumers equip their homes with smart devices over time. A smart thermostat here, a smart outlet there. This way of doing things makes it difficult to have an overview of the final ecosystem from the first purchase. 

Indeed, unless the homeowners choose all the smart devices when they build their new home, the integration of home automation is usually done in stages.

There are many reasons behind this way of doing things. Sometimes, only specific rooms are targeted as part of a renovation project. On other occasions, users are more focused on a specific aspect of the house, such as upgrading the heating or improving the lighting, all rooms combined. Budget restrictions can also be behind segmenting a smart home project into stages.

Regardless of the reason for the phased integration of smart devices into a home, the first (un)avoidable mistake is:

1 - The (in)famous ‘’tech pizza’’

A tech pizza is this heterogeneous amalgamation of devices and technologies within the same location. It is the arrangement of devices that do not look and function in harmony.

Here, the pizza analogy represents this “all-dressed” house in which smart devices – all technologies combined – are piled up like toppings according to cravings and available promotions with the sole objective of remote control.

Using Wi-Fi and Zigbee devices in the same environment can pose challenges since both communication protocols operate differently. (Even so, both of these protocols have advantages of their own.)

Also, not all Zigbee or Wi-Fi devices are compatible with one another. For example, two Zigbee devices designed by different manufacturers will have the ability to be compatible, provided that the features of one have been developed on the platform of the other or vice versa.

In addition, each manufacturer has its visual signature. Thus, some products are recognizable by their rounded shapes, others for their satin finish or the shades of white used for the plastics.

Thus, you must first think and plan to avoid having a variety of disparate devices that work differently and having to download as many applications on your phone as you have smart devices.

Our Ultimate Smart Home Buying Guide outlines the five easy steps for a smart buy.

2 - Make sure your wiring is right

Thermostats that control low-voltage, central heating or HVAC systems require a common wire, also known as a C-wire.

Why do they need it?

In short, smart thermostats require more power to connect to the router or communicate with a hub than programmable and non-programmable thermostats.

An exception to the rule: smart thermostats for electric heating. Those don’t require a common wire since they use a standard and widely used technology called power stealing which uses the current to the electric baseboard to feed itself.

Several alternatives are available if your home does not have the common wire required to install your smart thermostat. The simplest is to call a professional electrician to add the necessary wire to your installation.

This tech blogger who regularly tests smart thermostats explains in detail the reason behind the presence of the common wire and the role it plays in powering smart thermostats.

The situation is similar for light switches, which require a neutral wire, which is also used to power the smart features of the product.

Although some models do not require it, most of the best models require the presence of a neutral wire.

To avoid the surprise of having additional costs related to adding a neutral wire or a common wire (C-wire) in your walls, check the wiring of your switches and existing thermostats first.

SW2500ZB smart light switch - back view with wires

3 - Test the range of your network

Another common mistake is forgetting to test your signal strength and range before selecting a smart device type.

To receive the commands you send from your smartphone, your devices must receive a communication signal.

The router will emit this signal to each of your devices individually if your connected gadgets use the Wi-Fi communication protocol. The strength of your Wi-Fi signal will depend on the router you are using. The presence of interfering objects and certain building materials used in your home may also impact the quality of the communication signal transmitted to smart devices.

If you instead use a mesh communication protocol such as Zigbee, the signal will be transmitted by the hub to the nearest device, which, in turn, will repeat the signal to the next device. At each device, the signal recharges and recovers all its strength, which allows for an extended, stable and reliable communication signal. Zigbee devices can be separated by a maximum distance of 60 ft.

Users often mistakenly think of saving money by buying Wi-Fi devices that avoid them having to buy a hub. However, in some cases, a signal repeater that may be more expensive than a gateway will be required to transmit the Wi-Fi signal to smart devices properly.

In conclusion, it pays to test the strength of the communication signal before selecting a type of device (Wi-Fi or Zigbee).

4 - An app to rule them all

When smart home devices are bought over time, it is common not to pay attention to compatible management interfaces since consumers often shop for the product and not its app.

Thus, ending up with as many apps as smart devices is easy. Isn’t this contradictory, as smart devices should simplify interactions through centralized control?

Using a voice assistant may provide a smoother experience since they allow voice control of devices connected to separate applications.

Otherwise, consider giving as much importance to shopping for the app as to the product, especially since the daily interaction will be as much with one as with the other. Selecting a single app that lets you control your devices might be smart.

Neviweb App dashboard

5 - How are software updates handled?

The beauty of connected devices also lies in their ability to receive new or enhanced features over time, as is the case for your smartphone, which regularly offers new options.

The same applies to connected objects that can receive live updates, commonly called “over-the-air updates” (OTA). For a smart device dedicated to home use, expecting an operation that scales over several years, even decades, is desirable, although technologies are evolving. If this is also your desire, find out how these software updates are managed, if they improve the user experience or if they lead to the obsolescence of the device used.

One of the best ways to learn about it is to read blogs and news sites about connected objects.

The conclusion

Equipping your home over time with smart devices is the strategy we see most often among connected object users. This makes it possible to spread out the expenses related to the purchase of appliances and to respect the stages of the renovation projects carried out by the owner. This approach presents pitfalls which, once known, can easily be avoided to create a smart home that fits one’s lifestyle.

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