It feels like only yesterday I was adding smart lights to my backyard to liven up the mood while entertaining over the summer. Now that winter is officially here though, I’ve started thinking more about how I can use the best smart home devices to make my house feel a bit cozier to help me make it through these colder months.
While most people will likely be looking for a new comforter or maybe some snug sleep products, for me personally, I feel the most comfortable when I’m surrounded by tech. Odd I know but you have to love what you do, right? Over the years, I’ve tested dozens of smart home gadgets and though there’s nothing quite like unboxing and setting up a new device, sometimes though, it’s even more fun to figure out a whole new way to use the tech you already have.
Whether you picked up some new smart home devices yourself during Black Friday or you just want a reason to dust off that old smart speaker, here are three ways I’m using my own smart home devices to stay cozy this winter.
The sound of a fireplace in every room
From listening to music to making calls to setting up an intercom system throughout your home, there’s quite a lot you can do with one of the best smart speakers. Although I originally picked up my first Google Home Mini to control my Philips Hue lights, I’ve found the ambient sounds this little smart speaker can make to be quite useful when I want to relax.
For years now, I’ve used its ocean and rain sounds to help me fall asleep. However, I recently discovered the best Google Home speakers can also replicate the sounds of a roaring fire. I do have a fireplace but I just can’t be bothered with cleaning it and making sure I have a fully stocked woodpile. Plus, you can’t just leave your fireplace going unattended, especially as I now have a toddler running around my home. With fireplace sounds emitting from my smart speakers though, I can ask Google Assistant to turn them off or do so using my phone.
I may have started out building my DIY smart home using Google’s devices but I quickly realized that when it comes to the best smart lights, Alexa does a better job of controlling them. This is why I now have a mix of Google devices and Alexa speakers throughout my home. Fortunately though, Alexa can play fireplace sounds too. They normally stop after an hour but you can tell Amazon’s virtual assistant to “turn on Loop Mode” if you want them to keep playing for longer than that.
For those times when you want to watch a fire crack and pop as you listen to it, one of the best smart displays is what you’re after. On the Nest Hub Max and Google’s smart displays, you can just pull up a YouTube video of a fireplace. Meanwhile, on Amazon’s Echo Show devices you can find plenty of Alexa skills like Ambient Visions which you can use to bring up a fire on your smart display.
Sure, nothing beats actually sitting in front of a fire. However, having the crackling sounds of a fire playing on your smart speaker or watching one on a smart display is an easy way to feel cozy this winter with less hassle.
Christmas trees I don’t have to unplug
A few years ago, I decided to use a few of the best smart plugs to remotely control all of my holiday decorations and it’s been a game changer to say the least. As my wife’s birthday is on Christmas, we have a tree in every room of our house and having to manually unplug each one every night used to be a real hassle. That’s not the case anymore though, as I can turn them on or off using an app on my phone or with my voice using Google Assistant or Alexa.
While there are plenty of great and affordable smart plugs, I’ve been using Kasa’s smart plugs for years now after investing in TP-Link’s home security cameras. I really like how I can control all of my Christmas trees and even my outdoor decorations from the same app I use to check in on my toddler and my dog.
Besides naming each of my smart plugs, I can also take a picture of the Christmas trees they control and see an image of each one in the app instead of just a generic icon. The Kasa app allows me to schedule my Christmas trees to turn on or off at a certain time but since the app also shows their runtime, I can get a better idea of how much energy they use. This way, I can see how having a fully decked out house for the holidays will affect my energy bill.
Although there are now smart Christmas lights for your trees like the Philips Hue Festavia and the Nanoleaf Matter Smart Holiday String Lights, they both cost a lot more than using traditional Christmas lights and a smart plug. In fact, you can pick up a four pack of Kasa’s mini smart plugs ($22, Amazon) at a discount even right now if you also want to remotely control or automate your own holiday lights.
Smart heating on a per room basis
I already have a smart thermostat in my home but since I live in a larger house, heating up all of the rooms to a toasty temperature can get expensive fast. This is why this year, I decided to invest in several of the best space heaters so that I can heat a single room at a time instead. While we already have two small space heaters for the bedrooms of our home, I decided to pick up a larger, smart space heater for the bigger rooms in my home.
Since I’m already invested in the Govee ecosystem thanks to the company’s inexpensive outdoor string lights, I picked up the Govee Smart Space Heater ($70, Amazon) during Black Friday. It’s actually on sale right now and thanks to a $30 coupon, you can get one for $10 less than I paid for mine just last month.
The Govee app does take some getting used to but once you figure it out, there’s a whole lot you can do. For instance, I can control the temperature of my smart space heater, its power and can have it oscillate or stay in one place. While there is a slightly cheaper version, I went all out and got the one with RGB underglow since I am a big fan of smart lights after all. In the app, I can pick from several different preset colors or use the color wheel but just like with Govee’s other smart lights, there are also a number of scenes to pick from including a fire and even a rainbow. I can even set a timer so it turns off automatically or ask Alexa or Google Assistant to turn my smart space heater off or on.
If using an app or your voice isn’t for you, there are also manual controls at the top which could come in handy if you have relatives who aren’t tech savvy coming to visit you for the holidays. While my new smart space heater continues to impress me, there are plenty of things you should never put near a space heater for your own safety.
The gift that keeps on giving
Building out your own smart home to stay cozy this winter can get expensive if you rush into it. However, if you shop smartly, look for the best smart home deals and don’t buy all of the gadgets you’ll need at once, you can actually put together a smart home without breaking the bank.
Once you’ve built your own smart home, you’re going to want to make sure you keep all of your smart home devices updated. This will help keep them secure but you’ll also get access to new features and functionality as Amazon and Google are constantly updating their devices.
Besides this, you’re also going to want to experiment and try new things with your smart speakers, smart plugs and smart lights. From setting up new Alexa routines to coming up with new use cases like how I used an Echo Dot to cool down my garage, smart home devices are really a gift that keeps on giving. You just need a bit of time and some curiosity to truly unlock their potential.
I for one plan to spend the rest of these cold winter months cozying up in my own smart home while trying to come up with new ideas on how these connected gadgets can do even more.
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Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.