How Does Alexa Use Smart Home Commands?
If you’ve started building out a connected home and you want to streamline control fully, Alexa is the obvious solution.
Alexa, as if you didn’t already know, is Amazon’s digital assistant and comes built into Amazon Echo smart speakers and smart displays.
You can also download the Alexa app and the virtual assistant is increasingly appearing baked into a number of third-party devices from TVs and thermostats through to fridges and lighting.
When you bark out the wakeword “Alexa”, you’ll not only be able to play your favorite music through your smart speaker but also make your life easier by searching online, organizing your day with reminders or calling up traffic reports and also, crucially, control other devices in your smart home.
Since smart speakers are, though, often very poor speakers, it’s not surprising that many home automation enthusiasts purchase an Alexa-enabled device with more in mind than streaming music with mediocre audio. Today, we’ll look at exactly how you can remotely control other appliances and devices using nothing but voice commands.
Why Use Alexa In Your Smart Home?
While using Alexa for basic search and streaming music is all well and good, the power of voice control really starts to make sense when you use it for home automation.
Alexa is a great way to get your smart home tech working together without too much fiddling about. After all, one of the core purposes of home automation is making your life easier and Alexa does that in spades.
Whether you simply want to switch your lights on and off or you have much more ambitious desires and you want to control whole groups of devices with single commands, the first thing you’ll need to do is invest in some Alexa-compatible devices…
Before You Get Started… You’ll Need Some Alexa Compatible Devices
You’ll need an Alexa-enabled device before anything else.
Whether you choose an Amazon Echo smart speaker or smart display, or you prefer the idea of investing in a third-party device packing the digital assistant, you’ve got the first part of the puzzle in place.
After this, you’ll need to look for Alexa-compatible smart home devices which are far too numerous to mention. Instead, we’ll just list out those we’ll briefly glimpse at today:
• Haiku Home
• Hive Heating
• iRobot Roomba
• Logitech Harmony
• Philips Hue
• Samsung SmartThings
This really just scratched the surface of Alexa-compatible smart devices. It would probably be easier to list those that don’t come with voice control capability.
We should add here that many of these smart home devices will require a hub if you want to use voice control. This can get messy if you have a selection of different and incompatible devices. There’s an easy way around this if you want to use Alexa, though…
Why not invest in Echo Plus? This might not be the sleekest of smart speakers but it comes with an inbuilt advantage… There’s a Zigbee hub onboard eliminating the need for multiple third-party gateways if you want to use voice commands to control your Zigbee-compatible smart home kit.
So, with all your gear in place, it’s time to set up your smart home devices and add them to Alexa if you want to get going with voice control in your connected home.
How Does Alexa Use Smart Home Commands?
Unfortunately, it’s not possible here to come up with a detailed how-to guide because set-up is device-specific.
The good news, though, is that the principle is super-simple…
Install the smart home device and hub, if needed. Go through the installation process in-app and in the ecosystem and then you’re all set to add devices to Alexa.
You’ll need to install Alexa skills for any devices you want to be discovered. In effect, Alexa is a cloud-based and it’s the skills that do all the heavy lifting for you in terms of smart home commands.
To install skills, you’ll need the log-in details for the smart home ecosystems you’re working with. A skill then links your Amazon account to the service you’ll be using, whether that’s Nest, Hive, whatever.
There are two methods of connecting your devices to Echo:
1. Say, “Alexa, discover my devices.”
2. Go to the Alexa app then head to the Smart Home segment and click + which is at the top-right.
Either way, Alexa scans your network and uses the skills you’ve installed already in order to locate the devices. How you name devices in-app is how they’ll come across into the Alexa app.
If you multiple devices with the same default name from different manufacturers, this can create a conflict . In the same Smart Home tab in the Alexa app, tap the device you want to rename then Edit name.
With all this in place, you’re ready to control those smart home devices using voice commands appropriate to the device.
How about if you want to cluster several devices together in order to streamline voice control further?
Luckily, you can easily set up smart home groups to achieve this goal and make your life even easier.
Smart Home Groups With Alexa
In that same Smart Home area of the Alexa app, it’s a very easy process:
• Click +
• Add group
• Select Smart Home Group then name this accordingly (for example upstairs lights)
• Tap devices you want to add from within the populated list
With these smart home groups set up, you’ll be able to use a single command to take charge of multiple devices.
An extra touch is the ability to import third-party Scenes you’ve created in the native apps. This will be done automatically during the network scan stage of set-up, and once they’re imported and registered in the Alexa app, you can trigger these Scenes with the requisite voice command.
Now you’ve got everything set up and firing on all cylinders, we’ll walk you through a cross-section of smart devices that allow you to use Alexa for much more than asking for a weather report or a traffic update.
15 Best Skills in Alexa App For Smart Home
August has a robust selection of smart locks you can control using your smart phone but also with voice commands.
One option is to go for the Voice Controlled Smart Lock Starter Kit. With this package, you’ll get a second generation Echo Dot thrown in so you get everything the smart speaker has to offer in its own right as well as the ability to control your locks remotely with nothing but voice commands.
Kiss goodbye to getting out of bed as you’re just about to drop off and realize you’re not sure you remembered to lock up. All you need to do is ask, “Alexa, is the front door locked?” and you’ll save yourself an unnecessary trip.
This starter kit also gives you August Connect, a remote access WiFi allowing you to lock or unlock your smart lock from your cell phone. This also comes in handy when you’re not at home but want to allow someone access to your home.
The advantage of the included bridge is that you’ll be able to use your smart lock in combination with other devices in your connected home and take advantage of creating smart home groups as well as enjoying all the benefits of voice control with the August Smart Home Alexa skill.
If you want the less expensive Smart Lock Pro, you won’t get Echo Dot but you’ll still be able to use Alexa voice commands in-app
2) Haiku Home
Have you often wished you could use Alexa commands to control the fan in your smart home?
Well, you can with the Haiku Smart Wi-Fi Enabled Ceiling Fan which might not be cheap but allows you to control your fan with voice commands without needing to invest in smart switches, smart outlets or smart plugs. You will, however, need a compatible Alexa device for voice control.
Set-up of the fan could be improved, though. You’ll need to create Alexa groups if you want to take charge of separate device with voice control. Also, you might encounter snags with control or linking errors so you should be aware of these potential flashpoints before spending a considerable amount on the ceiling fan.
If you want the convenience of saying, “Alexa, turn on my fan”, though, think seriously about adding these Haiku ceiling fans to your automated home.
3) Hive Heating
The Hive Heating and Cooling Smart Thermostat allows you to use an Alexa skill to control the climate in your home with voice commands. Whether you want to turn the heating on or off or simply give it a boost, enable the Hive skill and you can press your favorite digital assistant into action.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the usual suspects of SmartThings or Wink, Insteon has plenty to offer besides their comprehensive starter kits if you want to use Alexa’s smart home commands.
The In-Wall Dimmer Kit, for example, is not only reasonably inexpensive, it comes with an Insteon Hub to act as a bridge to the second-generation Amazon Echo also included. You can customize the kit to incorporate plug-in dimmers instead of the in-wall dimmers.
After importing your Insteon devices with the Alexa app, you can then ask Alexa to dim the lights in the living room or activate the ceiling fan, or to trigger any other Insteon devices in your smart home.
Using smart home commands with Alexa gives you a lot more latitude than simply asking for a weather report or streaming your favorite music, although you can do that too with Echo thrown in.
If you prefer using your smart phone or tablet, you’ll still be able to control your lights and other devices without relying on Alexa so you’ll get a versatile Insteon experience at a price you’ll love.
iRobot’s enduringly popular Roomba range are a great alternative to an expensive weekly maid service and take the sting out of the housework for a reasonably modest investment.
Imagine taking automated cleaning to another level of convenience by instructing your vacuum to the dirty work with voice commands.
Well, grab the iRobot Home skill and you can do exactly that. You can even ask Alexa to ask Roomba what it’s doing if your vacuum starts playing up.
Check out our recent exploration of robotic vacuums if you’re still undecided about whether these nifty appliances would help keep your smart home spotless while taking automation to the next level.
To use Alexa, simply install the LIFX skill on your enabled device then you can use simple voice commands for everything from turning the lights on or off to changing the color of the lighting. Set up is straightforward and you’ll also be able to create Scenes with Alexa.
While these powerful bulb are not cheap, you save on buying a hub and you can put on a light show extravaganza in your smart home using nothing but Alexa and your voice.
7) Logitech Harmony
One of the issues in your home theater is the remote control overwhelm but Logitech Harmony meet this head-on with their universal remotes.
With the Harmony Elite, you’ll get a single, sleek remote control that looks more like a tall cellphone than the usual brick of plastic.
There’s a Harmony Hub included so you’ll be able to control your TV and DVD player with Alexa voice commands. As long as you have the Harmony skill installed, you can pause your movie even if you can’t find your remote.
The Harmony – Optimized For Smart Home skill does exactly what the name suggests. You’ll be able to use Alexa commands to control other Insteon and Hue devices in your connected home along with your smart locks and sensors.
Alexa only supports one hub or device but you will be able to group devices. There’s also a degree of difficulty with set-up and you might find that some commands are unreliable. This is very much a work-in-progress toward a complete voice-controlled entertainment center and there are niggles when it comes to other smart devices mainly due to the Logitech software but it’s worth looking into if you’re a tech-lover who doesn’t mind a challenge.
8) Nest Learning Thermostat
Now into its third generation and still going strong, the ubiquitous Nest Learning Thermostat can be controlled using Alexa voice commands any time you need to change the temperature without getting up or fumbling for your smartphone.
You’ll need a dedicated Alexa device for voice control but, while you can tweak the temperature, you won’t be able to control Home and Away mode using voice commands. Remember to use precise phrasing including the room the thermostat is located in when you’re giving commands or you’ll run into problems with comprehension.
Alexa also struggles to locate devices and there are a few glitches beyond linking so this skill gets our approval but with reservations.
9) Philips Hue
If you want Philips Hue smart lighting rather than LIFX, you’ll need an Alexa device and also the Hue Hub to make use of your virtual butler.
Grab the skill and enable it to discover the Hue bulbs in your smart home. If you’ve named all your bulbs properly, you’ll be able to use voice control for specific lights or those in a particular room.
10) Samsung SmartThings
The OG of home automation, Samsung’s impressive SmartThings range can now be controlled using an Alexa-enabled device and the SmartThings skill.
Being able to control a whole ecosystem of devices using voice commands is super-simple thanks to arguably the most effective skill in the whole Alexa app.
If you’re fully committed to home automation and you don’t mind investing in the second or third generation SmartThings Hub, integration is pretty seamless.
You can build out Alexa routines and groups with ease helping you to use Alexa commands to control multiple smart devices. From your lights and dimmers to your thermostat and smart lock, you’ll even be able to control ceiling fans or heaters, too.
The only real drawback with this supple way to harness Alexa voice commands involves set-up where some devices are not immediately recognized.
If you like the idea of a smart garden but your fingers are not especially green, there’s a SmartPlant Alexa skill that offers a great solution if you’re looking to embrace Alexa beyond your smart home and into the yard.
Simply scan the barcode of the plant and your virtual assistant will serve up all the care information you need.
Pairing this with the SmartPlant skill allows you to flash up this advice using voice commands any time you’re stuck.
12) TP-Link Kasa
With the TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug, you’ll be able to control switches, lights, and dimmers using voice commands with no requirement for a hub as long as you have an Echo or another Alexa-enabled device.
You’ll also, of course, be able to use the Kasa app and your smartphone. You can easily set up Scenes and take care of scheduling in-app. On the downside, you’ll need to name every Kasa device and you might notice a few connectivity glitches but there’s a low barrier to entry and you’ll be able to put Alexa through her paces while enjoying hands-free control of a range of electrical appliances and devices.
If you’re a savvier smart home user, Vivint.SmartHome Complete is a complete ecosystem covering everything from home security, lights, door locks and thermostats through to your garage doors outside.
If you’re looking for a comprehensive voice-controlled smart home and you don’t mind the idea of a third-party skill and lengthy installation, you’ll enjoy fantastic voice control that works brilliantly with Alexa. This is not a solution for beginners but well worth exploration if you’re an advanced smart home practitioner.
14) Wink Connected Hub
The Wink Connected Hub is a very slightly cheaper alternative to Samsung SmartThings and, despite initial hassle setting things up, once you’re up and running you’ll be able to control all your smart home devices with Alexa commands with this rebooted iteration.
You’ll get superb connectivity using 2.4GHz or 5GHz WiFi, enormous protocol support and compatibility with over 400 devices. You can control everything in-app or using voice control as long as you have the devices correctly set up.
To round out our study of how Alexa uses smart home commands, the Yonomi Alexa skill can help tie all your smart devices together neatly from Belkin Wemo and Honeywell through to Philips Hue and LIFX.
You can easily routines within this skill and then use a single command such as “Alexa, turn everything off” to power down all the smart devices downstairs so you can head off up to bed without lifting a finger.
As you can see, Alexa is a highly efficient digital assistant with a great deal more to offer in your smart home than playing music through a smart speaker without needing a remote.
Start out with some basic commands and set up groups of devices and in no time at all, you’ll be using voice control far more often than messing around with your smartphone for a broad spread of control in your connected home.
Come back soon as our home automation blog is packed with useful information along with some unbiased pointers toward the very best smart home devices in 2019.