Q: We are building an addition to our home to serve as a "great room" to entertain friends and family. We're putting a lot of effort into it and want it to be perfect.
We recently received an Amazon Dot as a gift, and a few people have suggested we use it to integrate home automation into the room, but we find this a bit intimidating. The electrician will be wiring things soon, so we need to make a decision. Any pointers?
A: You don't have to jump in with both feet if you want to try home automation, and you don't need to get an electrician involved, at least not yet. It is easy to get started with a few basic pieces that plug into a wall socket and are controlled over your wireless network by using your smartphone or Amazon Dot.
I suggest starting with some Wi-Fi plug-in switches to control a lamp, Just plug the switch into the wall socket, plug the lamp into the switch and follow the directions to set it up. Then you can use the Dot's Alexa voice assistant or the switch's smartphone app to turn the lamp off and on. Just be sure the lamp switch is on when you plug it in to the wireless switch. You can also use Philips Hue lamps, which offer color control as well. Everyone I know who uses the Hue system is very pleased with it, and I will be featuring it in a future column.
Once you get your feet wet with plug-ins, you can move on to hard-wired light switches and dimmers, thermostats, garage door openers, window shades — you name it. The automated equipment is almost always the same size as standardized electrical hardware, so an electrician can swap it very easily and inexpensively when you are ready to take it to the next level.
One of the most appealing systems I have tried is from Skylink (also referred to as SkylinkNet), because of its ability to affordably create a comprehensive, subscription-free alarm system along with home automation. Skylink offers a variety of starter kits from $99 to $199 that include a hub with keypad and a variety of wireless security sensors. Connect the hub to your wireless modem, download the app and follow the instructions for easy setup of the hub and sensors.
Once Skylink is configured, you can purchase the exact pieces you want to customize the system for your needs. The system can integrate up to 100 sensors, including security cameras you can monitor from your smartphone ($59) and motion sensors ($39). All of them can be controlled by a phone app, voice command or a handheld remote. Not only can you build a system that is perfect for you and expand on it as desired, but you are not saddled with monthly fees.
A full range of home automation hardware can be integrated into the system, and like the security starter kit, it is high-quality and reasonably priced. A Skylink plug-in switch is only $22.95 (skylinkhome.com), noticeably less than what other companies are charging.
Send questions to Don Lindich at email@example.com. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.