After moving into my new home I had to figure out how to start managing our home security. Monthly subscription plans for home security systems didn’t seem very appealing and I wanted to find a solution I could build and manage myself.
In this article I will go through the exercise of what should be expected when you want to build your first ever smart home system.
1. Choosing the service provider
First thing to consider when starting to build a smart home system is which service provider you want to use. As far as I found out, there are essentially the three big players to choose from: Apple Home, Google Nest, Amazon Alexa. It is possible to mix up your setup between the providers but it is good to try to keep things as simple as possible and that is why you should pick the provider before buying any accessories or equipment.
I decided to go with Apple since most of our household smart devices such as phones, laptops and tablets were Apple devices. Apple has a built-in Apple Home service for building your smart home around.
2. Purchasing the first accessories
My main reason for building a smart home system in the first place was to have a good self-made security system. This is why the first accessories I was looking to buy were security system products such as smoke alarm and security camera. I was looking at Apple HomeKit compatible products, but couldn’t find any good ones around my local tech stores so I had to go back to drawing board and think about whether I should be choosing Apple as my service provider.
After some digging around the internet for smart home setups I found out that there is an open source project called Homebridge which could essentially expand the native HomeKit system with third-party products. This would however require an external web server running 24/7 somewhere in my home to act as a bridge between third-party products and the HomeKit system. Luckily I happened to have a Raspberry Pi 3 lying around useless in my tech drawer. I swapped the dust of off my useless Pi and experimented with it for some time to see how it would act as a bridge for HomeKit. Everything seemed fine so I proceeded with my choice for Apple now with even more options to choose from when it came to smart home products.
Only after all this investigation was it time to make the leap of faith for the first purchase, which was the new Apple HomePod Mini. HomePod mini acts as the main point of control as a hub for the whole smart home system. This kind of hub is necessary to connect different vendor products to talk to each other. Apple has HomePod, Amazon has Alexa Echo and Google has Google Nest. I could have also used an iPad or an Apple TV as a hub but I wanted to get my hand on the new HomePod regardless.
After all the research and investigation I decided to use these items to build my first ever smart home system.
So I order the HomePod mini and setup my Raspberry Pi and went back to my local tech store to get some products I really liked. I choose to go with Google Nest Protect to take care of the most vulnerable places around my home for any fire related incidents since it has a built in smoke-, fire- and co-detectors as well as motion detection and it was wireless. It was also supported by Homebridge so I could control it through HomeKit.
I picked up Google Nest Cam basically since it was one of the only indoor cams that was available in my local store and since it was in my budget to experiment with my first ever smart home camera. It also had a Homebridge support as well.
So the Google Nest Protect and Google Nest Cam would give me a good intro into the security system setup for smart home world but I also wanted to get some smart bulbs. For bulbs I chose to go with Philips Hue for which I bought 4x bulbs and a bridge for controlling the bulbs as well.
So now I had everything I would need for a basic smart home starter pack as a total noob who has never touched a single smart home device ever. Here is a complete list of things I needed for the setup:
- Apple iPhone 12 Mini for controlling my smart home.
- Apple HomePod Mini to control the smart home devices.
- Raspberry Pi to act as a bridge between unsupported accessories and the HomeKit.
- Google Nest Protect to detect smoke, fire, co2.
- Google Nest Cam security camera for our main living room.
- Philips Hue Bridge to control Philips smart bulbs.
- Philips Hue smart lights for smart lighting.
Not to forget to mention that a good solid WiFi is also essential for setting up a smart home system.
3. Setting everything up
After having all the equipment it was just about configuration and setup for all the pieces in the puzzle. For my setup I basically needed 3 different iOS applications: Home iOS app for controlling the whole thing through my smart devices, Google Nest iOS app for registering Google Nest products, plus Philips Hue iOS app for registering Hue products.
Raspberry Pi which I use for running Homebridge needs to be available 24/7 and connected to my main router. Same goes for Philips Hue Bridge. Setup still WIP..
Setting up the link between HomeKit and Homebridge was a little bit cumbersome but I managed to get it working in a matter of hours. After registering the Google Nest and Philips Hue products through their own native iOS applications, I also had to link those to the Homebridge.
It definitely took some time to get this basic system up and running but now that I have it all setup it is very nice to play with it. All purchased items are very easy to setup except the whole Raspberry Pi thingy, which is also quite manageable.
I placed Google Nest Protect to our kitchen which was considered the most probable place of a fire incident.
Google Nest Cam Indoor was placed to our main dining room which has two of all three entrances to our home.
My final working smart home system is easily controllable through the Home app. I can record videos through Nest Cam, get alerts if fire is detected, can control my lights, can send messages to HomePod and much more.
If you are new to the whole smart home world and are looking to dip your toes into building your first system then make sure to do some research and ground work before going into buying your first smart home products. This makes it easier to control and setup all the pieces your buy down the road even though it is possible to build an interconnected system across vendors.
I also work in tech so my industry knowledge could benefit me when setting up my first smart home system but I do encourage anyone who finds it interesting to just go for it.