Design Your Smart Home With Guests In Mind

Tod Caflisch
6 min readMay 2, 2023

May 2, 2023

As Debbie and I move through the design process of our home I’m also integrating smart home technology into it. One of the things I’ve learned since we started our smart home journey 7 years ago is it works flawlessly for the person who designs it. But it can also be a pain for others living under the same roof.

When I started our smart home our first step was with smart bulbs. This is a typical entry drug into smart home as smart bulbs tend to be inexpensive and an easy initial technology to deploy. For someone with an engineering brain, smart bulbs are perfect as they are usually organized logically by light type, room or location and function — or any combination of those or more. Imagine turning on the ceiling fan light in the Master Bedroom by asking Alexa to turn on ‘Master Bedroom ceiling fan light.’

That doesn’t seem like such a daunting task but what about the nightstand lights? Right? Left? East? West? And then include a percentage of light — 50%? As you can see it can get pretty complicated.

Now multiply that by every room — North bedroom, south bedroom, kitchen, dining room, great room, bathrooms and so on.

For the engineer designer it’s probably a piece of cake (or at least a daily personal challenge to remember all the details) but what about the others who live there. And what about guests who don’t understand smart home or more specifically your design scheme?

While working through our home design this dawned on me as I saw Debbie struggle at times to remember the light names (and other devices as we’ve integrated more smart home devices). As part of our home design, we’re accounting for spaces for having guests and entertaining. As I’ve done in the past working in pro sports and applying technologies at stadiums and arenas that impact the fan experience at events (WiFi, point of sale, etc.), I put my ‘guest’ shoes on and stepped through our floorplan.

I discovered that my old way of doing things was just not practical. If we expected family and friends to visit us more than once I’d need to figure out how to make turning the bathroom light on or off as easy as they’re used to. So I’m moving away from smart bulbs in key locations in favor of smart switches. But that’s just one of the aspects of our smart home that I’m rethinking. As the design engineer I’ll still be able to ask Alexa to turn on the ‘Master Bedroom ceiling fan light’ but I’ll be taking the KISS Principle approach to solutioning everything — Keep It Short and Simple.

With that in mind, here are some things to keep in mind when installing smart home technology in your home for guest use.

The first thing to keep in mind when installing smart home technology in a guest space is that it needs to be approachable by people who aren’t technically savvy. A common use for a guest bedroom is for family and friends to visit as I mentioned above. Touch screens for lighting and climate control may be the user interface of choice for the usual home occupants but they can be very intimidating for non-technical visitors.

Simple keypads for lighting control and a smart thermostat that still uses buttons to raise and lower the heating/cooling system set point are simple for anyone to use.

Also, be careful to exclude guest areas from certain lighting scenes, such as a good night scene that turns off all the interior lights in the home. Guests may have different sleeping patterns and stay up later than the homeowners. Having the lights go out before they are in bed could lead to a fall as the guests are left stumbling in an unfamiliar dark room trying to locate a light switch.

Some sort of night lighting is also important so a guest can safely travel to a bathroom in the dark. Night lights can be easily installed and triggered by motion sensors for their convenience. Alternatively, existing lights in pathways can be turned on to a very dim level at night when guests are present in the home.

As I described above, smart bulbs can be very problematic for guests. When a guest encounters a smart light bulb in a lamp their first attempt to turn on the lamp will be to twist the small knob on the lamp socket holding the bulb. This cuts off power to the smart bulb, eliminating any hope of turning on the lamp.

Smart bulbs installed in ceiling fixtures are similarly confusing for guests. The first thing a guest will do is to try to turn the smart bulbs on by flipping a wall switch. If the original, ‘dumb’ wall switch is still in place and the homeowners control the lights using voice commands or their smart phone, then the guest has just cut power to the bulbs and has no chance of turning them on.

For these reasons, smart switches are a much more guest friendly solution compared to smart bulbs. Guests can easily operate a smart wall switch that turns on a light in a room.

An Amazon Alexa smart speaker can be a great resource in a guest room as they’ve become pretty commonplace. Guests can use them for music, as an alarm clock and much more. It can also be a way to provide guests with information about your home and the surrounding area through Alexa Skill Blueprints.

Alexa Skill Blueprints allow you to create your own Alexa skills without any programming. Amazon has created a number of different Skill Blueprints for different situations. There is a Custom Q&A Skill Blueprint and a Houseguest Skill Blueprint you can set up in your home.

The Q&A Skill Blueprint allows your guest to ask questions like:

The Houseguest Skill Blueprint allows guests to find out more about living in your smart home. A guest can ask Alexa what they can control in the house or in a specific room.

A small, printed sheet of paper next to the Alexa speaker in the guest bedroom can help guests use the two Blueprint skills that you’ve created. Another visual helper can be a QR code generated by your WiFi router to help guests more easily connect to your WiFi guest network. You can get more information on setting up guest WiFi networks here.

It’s our goal to make our smart home not intimidating for guests. So, making our guests feel welcome and comfortable in our smart home is pushing us to do a lot of up front planning. As a smart home owner what other kinds of technology design would you include to make your guests experience frictionless? How would you address things like lighting, safety, AV controls or smart locks? As a guest, what would your anticipation be spending a weekend in the smart home of family or friends? Would you expect it to be as easy and simple as your own home?

Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’

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Tod Caflisch

Smart Home technology thought leader with passion for out of the box solutions for smart home integrations, focusing on efficiency, safety and sustainability.