Build your smart home: A living room tech guide

The living room is the heart of your family home. Follow our guide to make it the brain of your smart home, from voice control to entertainment, light and warmth.

The smart home promises to make your life easier by putting control of your domestic devices in the palm of your hand wherever you are and giving you a virtual butler who will answer all your questions and obey your commands.

The heart of your daily life is probably the living room, so how do you turn your lounge into a command centre where lights, heating, security and entertainment can all be controlled from the comfort of your sofa?

[Read more: What is a smart home?]

Control your living room with your voice

Smart speakers have brought the smart home dream to life by allowing you to control devices with spoken commands, search for information online, and even do your shopping without lifting a finger.

The big names in smart speakers are Google Home and Amazon Echo. Units from both companies are available in a range of styles, from mini-speakers to touchscreens which show you information as well as talking to you.

A command word - “OK Google...” or “Alexa...” - wakes the speaker up. You can ask them if you'll need a coat or an umbrella outside today, turn on the lights, turn up the thermostat, or ask it to play your favourite song.

If you don’t want an extra device, the Google Assistant and Alexa are already built into home cinema soundbars for your TV, including the Bose Soundbar 500, Polk Command Bar and Sonos Beam.

[Read more: What are smart speakers?]

Match your lights to your mood

Whether you’re watching a movie, hosting a dinner party or building flat-pack furniture, the lighting for your living room has to match your many moods and activities.

Smart lighting lets you connect all the bulbs in your ceiling and standard lamps to your home network, and smart lightbulbs are not only dimmable, they can also be lit up in a range of colours. These LED bulbs are also even cheaper to run than energy-saving fluorescent lights.

All this means that you can create recipes of brightness, tone and colour for any occasion, from bright blue-whites to help you concentrate, to dusky romantic moods, or a dim red to help you sink into a good film.

The Philips Hue smart lighting range includes everything from standard bayonet and screw bulbs to spots, lamps and under-counter strip lights. LIFX Mini Wi-Fi bulbs are a cheaper option, but are still very flexible.

There’s more support for Philips Hue from other products, though. You can control them by voice with the Google Assistant or Alexa, and apps like Hue Disco (iOS, Android) can sync to music through your phone to bring your Christmas party to life.

Find all of your entertainment on one smart TV screen

The joy of a smart TV is that it brings all of the latest advances in home entertainment and smart home technology into one place: the TV hanging on the wall of your living room.

Smart TVs from B&O, Hyundai, Philips, Sharp and Sony include the Google Assistant, so they can either work with a Google Home smart speaker or act as smart speaker in their own right. Many new smart TVs can also be controlled by Amazon’s Alexa.

And if you have photos you want to share with the family on a big screen, most smart TVs let you beam your photo galleries to them from your phone, or you can put them on a USB stick.

[Read more: What is a Smart TV and what can it do for me?]

Control everything from one place

If you prefer to use a traditional remote control but like the idea of controlling your TV and all your other smart kit from one handset, consider a universal remote control.

The king here is Logitech’s Harmony Hub and Harmony Elite remote, which will control your TV, BT TV box, games console, Philips Hue lights and dozens of other smart home devices.

With a mini-LCD screen, backlit buttons and setup via your laptop or smartphone, the remote is easy and convenient. Both devices also works with Alexa - in fact you can connect to the Hub via Logitech’s smartphone app if you don’t have the remote to hand.

Breathe easy, sleep soundly

Smart living isn’t just about fun things like lights and TV, it’s also a way to make your home safer, with smart smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) sensors that raise the alarm wherever you are.

Nest Protect, from Google-owned Nest Labs, is a smoke and CO sensor that connects to your wi-fi. Its siren will alert you to fire or noxious gases at home and via your smartphone when you’re away.

If you don’t use gas for heating or cooking, Honeywell’s EVO Home range has a separate wireless smoke detector or CO detector. A single app lets you monitor several detectors and other devices in the EVO Home collection.

Make your dumb tech smarter

If you want to make the transition to a smart home but can't afford a complete overhaul of your domestic appliances or are happy with trusty older gadgets like electric heaters and table lamps, all is not lost - it’s very easy to upgrade using smart plugs.

Smart plugs - which sit between devices and the mains power like an extension socket or come integrated into mains power sockets - give you remote control of any mains-powered device from your smartphone via your wi-fi and broadband. You can set up timers or switch them on and off automtically when they sense you and your phone arriving home or going out.

Many smart plugs come with energy usage monitors, and connect to the Google Assistant or Alexa - there’s even an Amazon smart plug.

Confident DIY-ers can add smart power with elegant smart sockets and light switches that integrate the smart plug, like those from Lightwave RF.

Wake up to daylight

You can hold onto warmth in winter by closing the curtains and blinds when the sun goes down, and opening them when it starts to shine, but what if you’re not around or prefer to stay snuggled up in bed?

Smart blinds and curtain rails will bring daylight to your room whenever you want it, and shut it out if you need privacy and warmth at night, or just some shade on a hot summer day.

As with most smart products, you don’t need to be at home if you want to trigger them. Automatic timers will open and close your blinds when the sun rises and sets, as well as at specific pre-set times.

You can install smart blinds from firms like Lutron and Loxone, or upgrade your curtain rails with help from Somfy.

Stay cosy and save energy

Smart central heating has boomed as Brits face rising energy costs and look for home tech that can match flexible lifestyles, with the living room a key zone for comfort.

The basic smart heating system replaces your central heating timer and thermostat with a smart thermostat. This can be programmed to come on and off several times a day, with different schedules for weekends and holidays. Some can do the same for your hot water.

A smartphone app gives you a graphic interface that makes it easy to set up and lets you and your family control the heating or check the temperature wherever you are.  

That’s what you get with systems like Hive Active Heating, Tado and Honeywell EVO Home, but you can customise it by adding extra smart thermostats and radiator valves to control individual rooms.  

Nest, from Google’s Nest Labs, takes a different tack with a learning thermostat that monitors temperature changes and the motion of people around it. It creates a heating schedule that matches your lifestyle and reacts to your activity.

Smooth out electrical spikes and surges

We take electricity for granted, but electrical spikes and surges can cause computers to misbehave and even destroy TVs or home cinema sound systems in moments.

You can buy individual socket surge protectors like the Belkin SurgeCube, or multi-socket extension strips and towers with USB sockets, like the Masterplug SRGDU61PB2.

Some protectors come with a warranty for any connected equipment, but make sure it’s enough to cover your kit, and don’t rely on it to be better than your home contents insurance.

If lightning does strike your house or very close by, then no surge protector will stop the damage, and you’ll probably have other things to worry about.

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