July 22, 2024

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Home is a place where we can be happy

From brilliant to basic, here are our smart home setups

From brilliant to basic, here are our smart home setups

Even if we don’t all have a carefully planned “smart home,” most of us have some kind of smart home tech sitting around and possibly even being used — whether it’s a speaker / smart assistant, a security camera, a robovac, or a couple of lights that dim when the sun goes down. For most of us, smart homes don’t suddenly pop into being — they tend to slowly grow, device by device. 

We asked the staff of The Verge what kind of smart tech they used in their homes, and it turns out that some of us had one or two plugs and speakers added almost by accident, and others had an entire planned-out network of smart devices. Here are some of the smart home setups that our editors and writers live with.

A couple of bulbs and a smart plug

I think it says a lot that even many Verge staffers lead a scattered “smart” home life. 

I have a couple of LIFX bulbs, an Eve HomeKit smart plug, and… Echo Dots and Nest Minis I haven’t touched in years.

White plug in wall socket

$40

Smart plug that is Matter-enabled.

Bulbs, switches, and an auto-emptying litter box

Antonio Di Benedetto, commerce writer

We have many Philips Hue bulbs, along with smart switches that we’ve stuck to the walls to control them more normally in a bunch of rooms (otherwise, some rooms require multiple switches to turn on all their lights). But aside from that and our Nest smoke detectors, Nest Wifi Pro mesh routers, a midrange Roomba j7 Plus, some Ikea Sonos speakers, and a Petkit auto-emptying litter box, that’s it. I don’t really fret how much this stuff talks to each other or coordinates automatically since my wife and I don’t really use any voice assistants or smart speakers. A friend gave me an original Google Home, and I mothballed it like a week later. I’m much more inclined to pull out my phone and control something directly than bark out awkward commands.

Automatic cat litter box with multiple sensors to keep things neat and odor-free.

Simplest possible setup

William Poor, lead producer, development

I intentionally have the simplest possible smart home lighting: Phillips Hue bulbs paired with light switches. It’s a super easy way to circumvent weird wiring and light switch setups in an old house without having to use voice or phones to control lights, all of which I can do without.

Alexa, prepare my shower

Jess Weatherbed, news writer

I inadvertently became an Amazon shill because of how affordable Echo devices are to snap up during Prime Day sales. I have three fifth-generation Echo Dots and an Echo Show dotted around my home, paired with a buttload of Alexa-compatible energy-monitoring smart plugs and lights. Eventually, we’re planning to get a Tado thermostat installed, but for now, we’re mostly just running gadgets with voice commands and automations.

I tell Alexa that I’m going for a shower, and it’ll turn on the towel heater and set a 20-minute reminder to turn off the hot water. During the winter, it would turn on a room heater and electric blanket at 11PM every night (after yelling at me to go to bed), and we’re now in the process of switching these over for cooling fans as the weather improves. Heck, even just setting timers for cooking has made my life a bit easier.

Why get off my own ass when I can yell at a robot to do it for me? This is the future WALL-E promised me.

An Echo Dot with Clock on a counter

The fifth-gen Echo Dot touts a temperature sensor, better sound, and faster response time than the prior model. It can also act as an extender for your Eero Wi-Fi system.

Smart speakers and Nest Cams

Richard Lawler, senior news editor

We have a few smart speakers, Nest Cams to keep an eye on the cats, the air purifiers are connected, and smart plugs for the bedroom lights.

Smart A/C

Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

We haven’t much bothered to smarten up our home, short of a Google Nest Wifi router, a couple of several-year-old Google speakers, and a Chromecast (“Hey Google, start playing Mrs. Davis on the Living Room TV”). However, at the beginning of last summer, our old living room air conditioner finally stopped working completely, and we hastily purchased an LG A/C. It’s not exactly the latest thing in smart home technology — it doesn’t work with anything outside its own app. But the ability to easily turn it on a half hour before we get home from a trip so that we’re not walking into an oven, or have it automatically turn on in the morning, is admittedly very — excuse the expression — cool. Maybe we’ll have to rethink this whole smart home thing.

A mishmash of devices

Sean Hollister, senior editor

My Home Assistant dashboard reflects minimum effort. (I should redo the entire thing.)
Screenshot: Sean Hollister

I started my smart home quest for sanity’s sake — a way to turn on lights and control my TV without waking the baby. Now, it’s grown into a gigantic mess — and yet we still use my Frankenstein’s monster of slapped-together components on a daily basis. 

Under my desk is a tiny brick of a computer (an Intel NUC) running Home Assistant, which serves up a pane of buttons and widgets to each family member’s phone. There are buttons to control every Hue light bulb and Kasa dimmer, buttons for the myQ garage door, and buttons for each B-hyve sprinkler system zone so we can spray the stray cats when they inevitably begin pooping in our yard. Buttons for TP-Link smart plugs attached to our humidifier and my workbench and the fan. Buttons for the heat pump AC and heating systems in five rooms to control their temperature, speed, and vane direction. Buttons to activate the Ring Alarm system we never use because we no longer leave the house. 

Plus, sensors to see whether the garage door is really closed, how much solar power we’re generating (normalized against weather and sun position), how much energy we’re consuming (too much!), and how much CO2 is filling up our bedroom. The problem is that Home Assistant is the only thing powerful enough to control this mishmash, but both device manufacturers and Home Assistant updates break compatibility on the regular. I haven’t even bothered to attach my Roborock S5 vacuum yet; the most reliable command in my whole house is asking Siri to vacuum the floor, and I’m not sure I want to jinx it.

Roborock S5 Max robot vacuum

$550

A robo-vacuum with customizable mopping and serious cleaning power.

Home Assistant home improvement

Christopher Grant, group publisher, The Verge and Polygon

As The Verge’s resident Home Assistant combo home improvement sicko, this is squarely in my wheelhouse. I really like the idea of homes as technology, and I really dislike the idea of proprietary technology powering my home, so I’ve tried to strike a balance by using Home Assistant and keeping everything as local as possible. I have a Home Assistant Yellow with a Raspberry Pi CM4 brain running the works. 

It integrates HomeKit-only devices like our Velux skylight with Z-Wave switches and, elsewhere, Zigbee bulbs, courtesy of Ikea. For things that aren’t as easy to integrate, there’s always HACS, wherein users can create their own Home Assistant integrations. I use this one for my Fujitsu mini-split and this one for my GE GeoSpring hot water heater. It monitors my solar panels, bypasses the shitty myQ garage door cloud solution, controls my fireplace with a secret book lever on the bookshelf, opens and closes the Ikea blackout shades in the kids room, and even has local voice control now using a small $13 ESP32-based doohickey. Using ESPHome, I’ve hacked ESP boards into other things and integrated them into my smart home, like this Ikea Vindriktning air quality sensor

Perhaps my favorite feature has been activating double- and triple-clicks on the light switches

Perhaps my favorite feature has been activating double- and triple-clicks on the light switches: single-click up in the living room turns on the sconces, which aren’t very bright, but double-click up turns on the sconces along with the lamp on the mantle and a lamp on a side table. Triple-click down in the vestibule triggers the “goodbye” automation, which, right now, simply turns off all the lights, but even as I type that, I’m realizing… it’s incredible! Every house should have this. 

Here is where I will admit: this is not a turnkey solution, but I’m not looking for a turnkey solution. I want privacy, and I want permanence. I don’t want to rely on Big Tech staying focused long enough when a 30-year home loan is longer than most of these companies have been in existence. And I don’t want to throw out perfectly good equipment because one bad quarter means some tech brand isn’t going to update their app anymore. Maybe Matter solves all of this, but even then, Home Assistant works with Matter, too.  

Two small white boxes.

$14

This programmable smart speaker is based on the M5ATOM design and can be programmed to access AWS, Baidu, and other cloud platforms, using the built-in microphone and speaker for voice interaction.

iPhones vs. Google Home

Nathan Edwards, senior reviews editor

While I’m an aspiring home automation sicko with a couple dozen smart devices in the house, I don’t actually have much in the way of clever automations going on. The most practical stuff is basic: smart plugs that turn a few lamps on at sunset and off at sunrise, a doorbell camera so we don’t leave packages lying around, and a keypad smart lock on the side door. Got that one the week after I locked myself out of the house. 

In many parts of the world, houses are designed with some consideration of the local climate and terrain. Not in suburban Texas! My house has several independent HVAC systems, and the thermostat for the upstairs bedrooms is in a room that gets a lot of air from downstairs. It’s a totally different microclimate. I replaced the OEM thermostat with a Honeywell T9 and stuck a remote sensor in each bedroom. Now I can target a specific temperature range in the bedrooms, which is a big improvement. 

A lot of our older devices only integrate with Google Home, which makes controlling them from our iPhones obnoxious

My favorite thing I’ve done so far is putting Hue bulbs in the bathroom I share with my spouse, along with a double rocker switch on the wall. Top left puts the bulbs into full daylight mode at 100 percent, top right is a warm white setting, and bottom right is even warmer and dimmer to help us wind down at night. I have Hue bulbs in my older kids’ bedside lamps, too; they come on gradually, starting a little before wake-up time, shut off once we leave for school, and default to gentle, warm light at bedtime. 

My spouse and I both used Android phones until recently, and we have a Nest Hub Max, so a lot of our older devices only integrate with Google Home, which makes controlling them from our iPhones obnoxious. Controlling them from the Nest Hub Max is also obnoxious but for different reasons. I set up Homebridge on a Raspberry Pi to try to get our Nest cams and TP-Link smart switches to show up in Apple Home, but in my hubris, I’ve put all our smart home devices on a separate VLAN in my UniFi network, and I haven’t yet figured out a way around my own firewall settings. The next step, obviously, is to get even further over my head and set up Home Assistant. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

A smart thermostat that can be adjusted with your mobile device, and works with sensors to adjust varying temperatures in different rooms.