It’s funny; just a couple years ago I was looking around the house and thinking that things were getting a bit old. We had appliances in need of upgrade, little things in need of modernization, and some new furniture was needed too. A couple years down the road, a lot of blogs here at Best Buy and a few purchases later, things are definitely different. Thanks to a lot of savvy smarthome and modernization upgrades, home is truly a comfortable place to be again. I’ve got some things to recommend here to help you start anew and kickstart your way to a smart home for 2015.
Before you get started on your smart home upgrade, I’d like you to think about what you want out of your smart home. Do you crave ease of use and ease of installation? Maybe you want to group all of the same brand of products together so you only have to use a single app? Maybe you don’t care and you just want the best out there? There are a lot of products and brand names out there, and as you read on, you’ll already see that many of them work well with each other.
Prepare your home
Setting up a smart home is really quite simple. You first need internet access; most of us have that already. You should check with your service provider to ensure that you don’t exceed your allowed data usage: with tablets streaming video and many smart products streaming data you want to be sure that your service is adequate. The next thing is to ensure you have a fast enough router. There are some great ones on the market, from many manufacturers. One of the best is this one from Linksys. Brad Moon’s excellent review of that Tri-band router clearly illustrates why a top of the line router like this one will make your home smarter.
Beat the Heat
One of the most expensive things you’ll experience every winter is mounting heating bills. Whether you live on the West Coast and are just afraid of the cold, or you’re facing a barrage of snow from November-March, that’s a lot of time that you need heat, and inevitably, a lot of opportunities for you to forget to turn the heat down when you leave home or go to sleep. Thankfully, a large line of Smart Thermosats are now available. Using your smartphone, you can do a wide range of things like set schedules, create away settings and custom heating settings, let alone operating your thermostat in realtime from anywhere in the world. The ease of use of these thermostats will definitely help you save a few bucks in heating bills (and a few late night trips downstairs in your pajamas when you realize the heat is still running.)
I just caution you to do a bit of research about whether or not your thermometer choice will work with your furnace system, and even what additional networking they do (like the works with NEST program with the NEST thermostat.) Some thermostats have pre-requisites, like the need for a 24 volt 3 wire system. However, some (like the Honeywell Lyric) are battery powered, so they can work on a 2 wire heat-only furnace. Regardless, I think this would be the best Smart Home piece to start with this time of year.
Secure your home
In order to beat those Winter Blues, a lot of people travel to warmer climates for a few days, weeks or even months (lucky snowbirds!) One of the ways you can kickstart your home upgrade is beefing up the security around your home. Home Security has never been as affordable and accessible as some of the Smart Home gadgets you see now. Thanks to clever intuition, we now have things like the iSmartAlarm and things like the Dropcam Pro and Chamberlain’s MyQ Garage Door opener. With the latter, you do get the ease of opening your garage door through your smartphone (which was great when I left house keys and garage door opener with the mechanic when I was having my car repaired and they dropped me home) but you also can be pushed alerts when the garage is opened or closed. A lot of similar Smart Home security systems do the same, with the ability to alert you to open windows and doors. The Dropcam Pro, for example, can detect any activity nearby and has the ability to start automatically recording it as it happens, then backup the video to cloud storage.
Home security doesn’t just stop at surveillance. Lighting and the illusion of a full home can work wonders too. Gone are the days of those giant analog dial timers, and in are smart switches. Now, you can turn on and time all the lamps in your home from anywhere in the world with the help of things like the Belkin WeMo switch. You can even work the light fixtures themselves with the WeMo Light Switch.
The Light Switch was endlessly helpful in my early life as a dad having to do diaper changes in the middle of the night. When you’re carrying a newborn with both hands in pitch black looking for the change table, light switches aren’t your friend. I used to keep my smartphone at my bedside to turn the light on in the baby’s room and carry her from the bassinet for a diaper change and back. Your uses may not be as specific as that, but you can use the WeMo app to your advantage any way you see fit. When combined with IFTTT (If This Then That), you can create recipes (easily entered lists of commands) to make your WeMo products work even better for you.
Jump into a network where everything in your home works together
One of the best things about the constant growth of the Smart Home market is many different manufacturers are cooperating with each other. If you look at the Works with Nest program, for example, they’re constantly adding new partners to the network, and with that little Nest thermostat mounted on your wall, you open up a huge network of possibilities thanks to some powerful allies, like Phillips and their Hue lights, Insteon’s products, and the Weiser Kevo locks. These last two were just announced at this year’s CES. Even Logitech has a Harmony remote that works with Nest.
This is one of the best things about a cooperative smarthome interface: you can cut down the number of apps you need to make everything just work together. Things are changing really fast, for the better. Only a few months ago you needed multiple apps to control products from different companies. The new era of cooperation means you the consumer are better served by all of the manufacturers.