Google Home is Google’s smart home ecosystem, where you can control all your compatible smart home devices — such as smart lighting, smart cameras, smart locks, and more. The easiest way to do this is with Google’s smart home Routines. These are multi-action shortcuts that control one or more devices and / or trigger one or more actions to happen automatically based on another single action.
For example, you can set a Routine that turns your lights off and your cameras on at 10PM each night. Or you can set one up that adjusts the brightness of your lights when the TV turns on and one that turns the bathroom light on when a motion sensor detects movement. Routines can be tailored by time as well, so if your doorbell rings after sunset, you can have the porch lights turn on to welcome your visitor.
Google Home has two types of Routines: Household Routines and Personal Routines. The main difference is that Household Routines can be edited and created by any member of your household, and they can’t contain personal information such as calendar events — those only work in Personal Routines. The steps for both Household and Personal Routines are pretty similar.
As part of Household Routines, Google includes a preset “Home” Routine and an “Away” Routine that you can customize. These use sensors and other location data to determine when everyone is away or when someone returns home and starts a Routine based on that. For more on Home and Away Routines, you can check out this Google article.
Here, I’ll show you how to set up a Google Home Household Routine from scratch so you can get your smart home doing the hard work for you.
Create a Household Routine in Google Home
To set up a Google Home Household Routine, you need the Google Home app. Once your Routine is ready, you can also use Google Nest smart speakers and displays to start it.
- Open the Google Home app on your phone or tablet.
- Tap the Routines icon (a purple circle with a sun in it).
- On the next screen, tap the plus button in the bottom right.
- Then choose Household.
- Name your Routine. This will be what you can say to Google to start the Routine, i.e., “Hey, Google — start Movie Time.”
- Add at least one “starter.” This is what will start or trigger your Routine. You can choose to use a voice command, a specific time and / or day of the week, sunrise or sunset, or when a device does something. You can choose more than one starter, so you can, say, have a Routine start only on Wednesdays after sunset when your doorbell rings. (I’ll go into more detail on starters next.)
- Add at least one “action.” Actions include turning on or off smart home devices such as lights, adjusting the thermostat, or starting your robot vacuum; getting information such as weather; sending an announcement through your Google Nest speakers; adjusting the volume on a Google Nest speaker; or playing music or other media. I’ll cover more about actions in a bit.
- You can add multiple actions to a Routine. For example, a Movie Time Routine could turn on the living room TV, send an announcement to all your Nest speakers and displays that it’s movie time, dim the living room lights, lock the front door, and adjust the thermostat.
- If your Routine involves audio — such as playing music or a podcast or announcing something — select which Nest speaker or display you want it to play from. If you choose no device, any messages will be sent to your phone as a notification.
- Tap Save.
Once your Routine is set up, you can trigger it by voice at any time by telling Google Assistant “Hey Google, start [Routine name]” or by tapping the play icon next to the Routine in the app. You can also edit a Routine in the app, turn it off, or delete it.
How to choose starters for a Google Home Routine
Google recently launched new starters for its Household Routines that make them much more useful. Now, you can have Routines start when another smart device in your home does something — such as a light turning on, a door locking, or a TV turning off. You can also combine some starters and add conditions to others that will limit the Routine to only starting after a certain time or on a certain day or between two times.
There are several actions you can use to start a Google Home Household Routine. These include:
- Saying “Hey Google, start [Routine name]”
- Specifying a specific time and / or day
- Basing it around sunrise and sunset — you can choose to offset by up to four hours
You can also set a Routine to start when a device does something:
- Turns on or off (such as a switch, plug, light, camera, oven, or TV)
- Starts or stops (such as a robot vacuum, dishwasher, oven, washing machine, shades, or sprinkler system)
- When a motion sensor detects motion (only motion sensors, not contact sensors or water or smoke detectors)
- When a thermostat mode changes
- When you lock a smart lock (but not when you unlock it)
- When you arm a security system (but not when you disarm it)
- When someone presses your doorbell
- When you play, pause, or stop media
- When you change media volume
- When you change media input selection
How to choose actions for a Google Home Routine
There are five main categories of actions you can add to a Routine, and you can add multiple actions. You can also create your own actions by typing in the command you want to run. These are the categories and a few examples from each:
Adjust Home devices
You can have a Routine turn devices on or off, start or stop them, or adjust them (such as the brightness of a light or the set point of a thermostat). For example, you can have it turn all your cameras on at 11PM or turn your lights on full brightness at 8AM. Annoyingly, Google doesn’t group your devices together, so when you select actions, you’ll have to select each smart light, smart plug, or smart camera you have separately.
You can also have a Routine adjust the volume of a Nest smart speaker or display (this is useful when you don’t want to wake the whole house up with your early morning workout). It can also turn on a TV and set its volume, lock a door, or arm a security system. There are no options for unlocking doors or disarming security systems.
Get info and reminders
A Routine can include information from Google Assistant, such as weather forecasts and recent news.
Communicate and announce
Set a Routine to announce anything you like to one or more Nest speakers in your home. I use “get out of bed, you sleepy heads” as part of my weekday Good Morning Routine.
Adjust assistant volume
This sets the volume at which Google Assistant will speak to you. I set it nice and loud for the morning Routine but quieter in the evenings.
Play and control media
This makes your Routine play music, read the news (you can select your sources), play the radio, or play a podcast or audiobook (no Audible option, sadly). It can also play from a selection of Sleep Sounds, handy for a Good Night Routine.
Once you have your actions in your Routine, you can arrange the order they occur by tapping and holding the two lines next to each action and moving them around. Any media selected always plays last by default. Unfortunately, there’s no option to add a pause between actions, so everything will happen nearly simultaneously.
Look for improvements
Google is playing catch-up with its Routines. Apple’s Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Samsung's SmartThings smart home platforms have had similar options for “starting” these types of automations for a long time. All three platforms also have more ways to trigger Routines and more freedom in the actions you can run in them. (Why can’t I have a Routine run when I unlock my door, Google?)
But with these new Routine starters, Google Home is now a more viable option for running your smart home. And with a new app on the way, we’ll likely see more improvements sooner rather than later.