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Beginner’s Guide to Setting Up a Smart Home

The beginner’s guide to setting up a smart home in 6 steps and how to pull it off for under $500.

I’m the least techie blogger on the planet. There, I said it. My solution to every problem is “turn it off and turn it back on again”, and if that doesn’t fix it, I know zilch.

If Google didn’t exist so that I could ask it a million elementary tech questions, this blog definitely wouldn’t exist either.

The beginner's guide to setting up a smart home in 6 steps and how to pull it off for under $500.

But for a while now, I’ve really been wanting to set up a smart home, especially before this baby bean arrives in the fall. Because I remember so many times snuggling and rocking sleeping Olivia as a baby and thinking, “If only I had a magic wand to turn lights off and play lullaby music and change the channel and turn up the a/c so I don’t have to risk life and limb by getting up and disturbing this snoozing time bomb.”

Enter our new magic wands. Yaaaay!

6 components for setting up a smart home

We officially have a smart home, and I’m telling you I had absolutely nothing to be worried about in the technologically-challenged department.

Because I set up all 6 components BY MYSELF in one afternoon and the entire setup was less than $460 at Walmart. And it has saved us money in other ways since we’re now able to ditch our $134/month cable bill, decrease our energy usage, and decrease our security system cost.

If you’ve been intimidated about setting up a smart home or thought it was too expensive, here’s a full beginner’s guide to make the process easier.

Components Used:

Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi

Wi-fi booster essential for setting up a smart home

Our existing Wi-Fi has to travel through a lot of thick walls in this old house, so to help give it a boost to reach some of the spots that get a poor signal, I installed this Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi 2 pack that extends the reach to 3,000 square feet, and you can add more nodes (that little white box on our nightstand) for the more square footage you have to get a strong Wi-Fi signal in every room.

Set-Up: Just plug one node into your modem and plug in the second node in a room in your house where you need an extra Wi-Fi boost. Download and launch the Linksys app on your smart phone and you’re done.

  • Boosts weak Wi-Fi to prevent dead zones and buffering
  • Allows you to schedule your kids’ internet time and set up parental controls on all devices from the app

Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini set up for smart home

Once you’ve set up the Wi-Fi, you can connect the Google Home Mini, which acts as the central hub to control all of the other smart devices in your house. We placed ours in our kitchen where we spend a lot of our time and it’s the very center of our home (and also where I usually need hands-free capability the most while cooking).

Set-Up: Plug it in, download the Google Home app, and the on-screen steps will help you finish set up.

  • Ask Google questions like, “What’s the weather for today?”
  • Organize your day like setting alarms, reminders, get info about your commute, get the news, add items to your to-do list, and plan your grocery shopping list.
  • Place calls to friends and family hands-free using just your voice.
  • Play music or start a TV show via voice command.
  • Control your home with your voice with compatible smart lights, thermostats, security systems, doorbells, appliances, etc.

Kitchen corner for hiding Google Home Mini

Ever since we installed it, we have loved dancing around to music each evening while cooking dinner in the kitchen. Olivia asks it trivia questions every chance she gets.

Merkury Innovations Smart Bulbs

Smart bulbs for turning on lights using voice command via smart home

Our house is quirky with light switches on a bunch of different walls, and none of our lights are ever grouped together for one room, so these light bulbs have been great solving that issue for us. We started out with 4 bulbs for now to use in our living room and foyer, but we’re planning to add more now that we’ve seen how much we like them.

Smart light bulbs to turn on lights just with your voice

Set up: Just download the Geeni app in Google Home, screw in a light bulb, add the bulb in the app to be recognized, connect it to the Wi-Fi, and you’re done.

  • Set your schedule by turning your lights on or off automatically (great for if you’re out of town and want to make it look like you’re home).
  • Group them by room so you can turn on all of the lights in the room at once with one command, “Hey Google, turn the living room lights on.”
  • Bulbs make any lamp/light dimmable and can replace regular 60W bulbs.

How to set up smart light bulbs for a smart home

Nest Thermostat E

How to install a Nest thermostat by yourself to set up a smart home

I was so ecstatic that I managed to install this thermostat all by myself. I kid you not, I’ve never even installed a light fixture in my life (that’s always Robert’s job), but I did it and feel like I can rewire a whole house now (I promise, I won’t… I know my limits). But so far, we’re really happy with how it’s helping us save energy costs on air conditioning in the blazing heat of summer.

Set up: This video helped me a lot. Switch off the power to your thermostat on your breaker box. Remove the cover of your old thermostat, take a picture of the wires, label your wires with provided stickers, disconnect and remove base, screw in the Nest base to the wall, connect the wires, attach the display, switch power back on, and finish setting up through the Nest app.

  • The thermostat turns itself down when you’re out of the house and allows you to control it from anywhere.
  • Allows you to check your energy history to see how you save
  • Alerts you to when it’s time to change air filters
  • Allows you to control it from your phone, tablet, laptop, or via voice command

Merkury Innovations 720 Smart Camera

How to install a smart camera to keep an eye on your house when you're away via smart home

We’ve been wanting to get an indoor surveillance camera since our 10 month old Stella the wonder pup gets into quite a bit of mischief and we like to keep an eye on her. It’s a big bonus that it’s cheaper than our security system company offered.

Set up: Download the Geeni app in Google Home, plug in the camera, add the device in the app, connect it to the Wi-Fi and done!

  • Night vision provides security at night
  • Get alerts when there’s motion in your home
  • Listen and talk to your pets/family in live two-way conversations

smart security camera for smart home

I just placed the camera on our mantel next to a little plant to help it blend in so that we can get a clear vantage point of Stella during the day while we’re gone and see everything she’s up to (and chewing/destroying) from our phones. Her middle name is Mischief.

How to keep an eye on your pets while you're away via smart home

And Lola (our 7 year-old first-born) gets into a bit of mischief herself, but she tries to play it off with that fur angel face. Seriously, just look at her. She’s smirking.

How to keep an eye on your pets while you're away via smart home

Google Chromecast

How to set up Google Chromecast to cut the cord on your cable bill and save money using a smart home

We were able to cut the cord with cable and end our contract a year early thanks to this little guy now that we can stream shows, movies, and music through our smart TV. It is saving us $1,400 over the next 11 months because our satellite bill is gone.

Set up: Plug the Chromecast cable into the TV’s HDMI port, download Chromecast from the Google Home app, follow the in-app install, and start streaming channels/movies.

  • Stream HD video from the cloud through apps like Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Hulu, HBO GO, WatchESPN, Google Play, etc.
  • Your phone can be your remote or you can control your TV through voice command like, “OK Google, play Stranger Things from Netflix on my TV.”

How to install Google Chromecast to get inexpensive channels and movies streaming via smart home

Before installing Chromecast, we were using our Playstation 4 for streaming Netflix, but the picture always came out grainy and digitized. Chromecast has made our HDTV actual high-def now.

So now our TV, thermostat, music, security camera, and lights, all can be operated by voice command and work through Google Assistant. If wands can’t exist, this is close enough to magic!

You can snag all of the components we used at Walmart to set up your own smart home and make the process easier or check out all of the latest and greatest smart home devices here to customize it to your own needs on a budget.

At this point, our house is definitely smarter than I am now. If you need me, I’ll be over here reading Technology for Dummies for everything else. 😉

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    1. They’ll definitely come in handy when this biddy comes along and my hands will be too tied up with her. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Glad you were able to blend the electronics into your decor! My friend purchased “wraps” to go around the speakers in his house. It blends in nicely, and it’s the way to have the best of both worlds – modern technology without the stark “techy” look.

    1. Thanks, Tamara! Yes, we’ve used cord covers on our TV cords to blend them in to our wall. They do help a lot.

    1. Yes! You can get the HGTV Watch app and stream it to your TV through Chromecast. I had the same question. #priorities ๐Ÿ˜‰ Haha!

  2. Do you you use an iPhone or a google based phone? We use iPhones and I am wondering if the products you chose to install work best if you have a google based phone like a Samsung. Thoughts on iPhone compatibility?

    1. Nope! I have an iPhone and it works great! And my husband has an Android (Samsung), and it works well on his too. No app issues so far.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I have been wanting to try the Nest thermostat and wondered how the lighting thing worked. Since I’ll be the one installing it all, I’m glad to know it’s not too difficult (I was thinking I would have to hire an electrician). Great job — Lorree

    1. Glad it helped! I was so proud of myself because I never do anything electricity-wise myself other than screw in light bulbs. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The installation video helps a lot.

      1. This is a great list, thank you! I’m really interested in cutting our cable/satellite when our contract is over. Unfortunately the Nest system did not work in our house. Nest even paid for an electrician to come over as it kept shutting off and they couldn’t get it to work either! We ended up going with a bigger smart thermostat which works great.

        1. Oh no! Glad you were able to still get a smart one though. We went ahead and cancelled our satellite contract. We had to pay a penalty of $20/month for the remaining 12 months on our contract, but paying a $240 cancellation fee was still cheaper overall than paying the $1,400ish for a year of satellite service.