A smart home beginner's guide

A smart home beginner's guide

By: Shell Energy

13 Jul 2021

57% of UK homes have at least one smart device. Are you one of them?

The number of smart homes in Britain is growing, as is the number of smart devices available on the market. But if you’re a smart tech newbie, it can all be a bit confusing to get your head around.

That’s why we're on hand to explain what smart tech devices are available, and how to go about upgrading your home to a smart home.

What is a smart home?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘smart technology’ before. These nifty devices connect to the internet to make our lives a little bit easier. They make everyday tasks - such as turning on your heating and hot water, switching off the lights, setting a timer or streaming music or a movie - more convenient for you. But what do we mean when we talk about smart homes?

Simply put, a smart home is a home with one or more smart devices.

A smart home has interconnected devices that can ‘speak’ to each other through a broadband connection, giving you more control over the appliances in your home, either through an app on your smartphone or tablet, or through voice-control depending on the type of smart device you’re using. Just picture this - hands-free control over areas in your home such as lighting, heating, security, and entertainment. Sounds great, right?

Smart devices can also help you see who's at the door without leaving your sofa, put the heating on when you're on your way home, and wake up to your favourite song.

So, what types of smart devices are available, and which ones are best suited for your needs? While smart home devices have multiple functions, they’re often categorised into the following: smart home assistants, smart lighting, smart heating and smart home security and smart streaming devices.

Smart home assistants

A smart home assistant – also known as a virtual assistant – is your virtual best friend, and a great starting point for those wanting to dip their toe into the world of smart home technology.

A smart assistant is a type of software installed in a smart device (such as a smart speaker or tablet) that can perform tasks to make your life easier and save you time, answer your questions, save you money on energy bills by controlling other smart devices around your home, and even help make your home more secure.

You’re probably already familiar with popular smart assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, which you may already use on your smartphone or smartwatch.

In order to communicate with your smart assistant, you'll need a smart device for it to 'live' inside of, such as the Nest Hub which features Google Assistant. Introducing a Nest Hub into your home has many benefits:

  • Nest Hub provides help at a glance in any room at home. Just say “Hey Google, open Netflix[1]” to use your voice to stream your favourite shows[2].
  • With a 7” touchscreen display and full range speakers, you can watch what you want, and control your Nest Hub[3] and multiple compatible devices hands-free with Google Assistant.
  • You can relive your best memories with Google Photos - your Nest Hub will automatically show you your best and latest pictures.
  • You can control your connected home - view and control compatible connected devices in your home from a single dashboard.
  • Play videos and songs from YouTube and other compatible services [3]
  • Get hands-free help from Google Assistant. See your schedule, commute, reminders, more with Voice Match[1]. Plus, get visual answers from Google.
  • With Ambient EQ, Nest Hub will automatically match the lighting and colours in any room, so it seamlessly blends in with your home.

Smart lighting

Smart lighting gives you the freedom to control the ambience and colour of your home’s lighting from your smartphone or tablet, either via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, so you’ll never have to get out of your cosy bed to switch off the lights at the wall ever again.

With a smart lighting set-up such as the Philips Hue Mini Starter Kit in your home, you’ll be able to:

  • Set the mood with over 50,000 shades of warm to cool light. You can start your day off right with cool, energising bright white light, especially if you’re working from home, and then settle down for a relaxed evening with golden tones.
  • Set the scene for any occasion with 16 million colours to choose from.
  • Feel secure by turning on the lights remotely, whether you’re home or away, using the app to ensure your home is always lit the way you want it to be.
  • Sync your lights to your media so the lighting reflects your entertainment - turn on your film, music or game, and then watch your lights mirror the colours and rhythm.
What’s more, switching to smart lighting can help you save energy at home and reduce your bills too. Smart lighting incorporates LED bulbs which are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs. Lighting makes up 15% of the average UK household's electricity consumption, so switching from incandescent to LED bulbs can save you between £2 and £7 per bulb per year.

Smart doorbells

With a smart doorbell, you don't need to get up to answer the door to see who's there, in fact you don’t even have to be at home. When the bell rings, simply check the app to see who's outside. And you can even speak to them using a two-way intercom.

Easy to use and extra secure, smart doorbells such as the Ring Video Doorbell let you:

  • Easily see what's happening at home. You can see, hear, and speak to whoever's outside - even when you're not at home.
  • Stay connected to your home. You’ll receive instant notifications when someone rings your bell or triggers the motion sensors in real-time, whether you’re on the sofa, at the gym or out doing your weekly grocery shop.
  • Enjoy complete control from the Ring app - connect to all your Ring devices to see what’s happening at home from anywhere and control everything from the app.

Home security starts at the front door, so having a smart doorbell isn't just great for time-saving and ease, it'll give you peace of mind knowing you can see what’s going on at your property at all times.

Smart heating

On a chilly day, there's few things better than coming back to a home that's pre-warmed to your ideal temperature. Smart heating devices such as smart thermostats, programmers and radiator valves let you do that by controlling your heating and hot water from anywhere, at any time, so it can go on and off when needed.

You can save money on your heating bills by installing and using your controls efficiently, and also choose areas of your home to heat and the required temperature for each room, rather than heating the whole house at the same temperature. This can not only reduce the amount of energy you use, and pay for, but it’ll also reduce your home’s carbon emissions.

Smart thermostats, such as Nest Learning Thermostat, will:

  • Programming itself to set the heating based on your usual routine. With Auto-Schedule, the Nest Learning Thermostat learns from you and programs itself.
  • Automatically saving energy when you're away from home. Home/Away Assist adjusts the temperature after you leave so you won’t have to pay for heating an empty house when you’re not there.
  • Using the Nest app on your phone to control your heating remotely, from anywhere.
  • Check your energy history to see how much energy you’ve used, and why.
  • Identify temperatures that save you energy - the Nest Leaf will appear to let you know when you’re using your energy efficiently.

According to independent studies, UK customers saved between 8.4% and 16.5% on heating using Nest.


Want more smart home smart advice?

Check out our guide to smart home devices and smart home security to discover more reasons why smart home technology is a smart choice.

Plus, read about smart homes of the future and how a smart home can save you money.


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[1] When using Voice Match, keep in mind that a voice similar to yours, or a recording of your voice, could result in Google incorrectly recognising someone else as you.
[2] Netflix streaming membership required. Additional terms may apply
[3] Nest Hub requires a Wi-Fi network, a nearby electrical socket and a compatible (Android, iOS) mobile device. A Google Account is required for full access to features. View minimum OS requirements.
[4] Subscriptions may be required to access certain music and video content. Google Nest Hub is optimised for selected music and video services only.