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Dining room setting with couches, chairs and a textured rug.
One of the fastest growing and most useful trends in technology is the smart home assistant. What started as a device you could ask questions about the weather has turned into a means of controlling our appliances, lighting and even our watering systems. All corners of the home can be modified to be smart. Here's what you need to know.

What it is

A smart home assistant is a tool that makes your smart home ‘smarter', bringing all your high-tech gadgets together and making them easier and more intuitive to control. This might be a single app, like Grid Connect, that brings all the devices under one-touch control, or a voice assistant that obeys your every vocal command.

These, like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, are accessed through a smart home hub (such as Google Nest or Amazon Echo), a little device that sits on the kitchen bench or in the living room – or one in every room – waiting to be ‘woken' and called to work. “When humans first designed computers, the end goal was to be able to speak to them and hear an intelligent response,” says Megan Smith, PR manager for devices and Alexa at Amazon. “Technologies like Alexa are getting us closer to making this a reality.”

What it does

Smart home hubs come in all shapes and sizes. Small speakers from Google or Amazon can listen and respond, while others feature displays that can listen, respond and even show content.

A smart display, for example, allows you to adjust requests from “What is the weather today?” to “Show me the weather forecast for this week”. The displays can also be used to show you things such as who is at the front door, walk you through a cooking recipe and play videos.

How does it work?

Setting up a smart home hub is easy and usually all managed through an app on your smartphone. Once you've followed the set-up process of your smart home assistant, begin your experience with basic questions, things you might normally type into Google when you have a debate with friends.

Build the habit of talking to your smart hub instead of looking at your phone or computer to find an answer. You'll be surprised how much faster it is. A smart assistant can also use the speakers to play your favourite music through Spotify, Apple Music, listen to podcasts or stream radio stations from anywhere in the world.

Remote operation

Smart plugs can be used on power points to help control the power to that device. Using your voice or smartphone anywhere in the world, you can check on the home remotely and even turn off that forgotten iron! Security cameras and doorbells can also integrate with your smart home. When someone rings the doorbell they will appear on your Google or Amazon display and your smartphone.

This is handy when you're not at home and a courier or an unexpected visitor arrives – you could have a two-way conversation with them via your smartphone or smart assistant. Indoor cameras work the same way, for example allowing you to see the kids arrive home. Sensors can also be added. A motion sensor could trigger a light to turn on, while a contact sensor could advise you when you've left a window or door ajar.

Set the scene

By playing with settings, you can set up your home to activate a ‘scene', triggered by a tap on your smartphone (through Grid Connect) or with a single voice command (to Google Assistant or Alexa). A “good morning” greeting might prompt lights to switch on, blinds to rise, the kettle to boil and your voice assistant to advise the latest headlines.

Or use your smart assistant to ‘look after' your home while you're away – tap your smartphone as you leave to have appliances and lights switched off and the security system armed. With a minimum of set up, your home can take multiple tasks off your daily to-do list.

Look at lighting

Having mastered the basics, you can use your smart assistant to control many of the practical functions around your home, such as your lighting. Smart bulbs can plug into your existing lights and can connect to your voice assistant via wi-fi or with a compatible hub. Amazon's Echo, for example, can work with Philips Hue, Sengled Smart wi-fi LED and LIFX Color, among others.

Voice commands are especially handy when you have your hands full, or if you've just arrived home at night and need the lights on quickly.

Appliances of science

The newest appliances – fridges, ovens, washing machines, vacuum cleaners – are smart home compatible. While you finish cooking, you could ask your voice assistant to send the vacuum to clean the kitchen floors, and the vacuum will get to work. These aren't future products, these are available today. Further into 2020 and beyond, our entire kitchen will start to connect to the smart home.

The fridge will know what is inside, will recommend recipes and even command the oven to start preheating. Your washing machine will detect the fabrics, the weight and dispense its own detergent based on those factors, then it will notify your smartphone when it's finished. By starting with the smart home today, you'll be well prepared to integrate your white goods when the time comes.

Want to know more?

If you'd like to purchase a smart home hub, read here to help arm yourself with the right knowledge

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

When following our advice in our D.I.Y. videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member.