I’ve been a technology nut since I was a little kid, and a smart home enthusiast ever since I saw what Bill Gates was doing with his home in the 90s.
There are a few things you should know about the idea of creating a Smart Home. I’m here to hopefully make your decision a lot easier.
Having a Smart Home doesn’t have to be expensive
At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, how much would you pay for the ability to control the lighting in your home through your smartphone while you’re on vacation to make it look lived in? How does less than $100 sound? Thanks to technology like Belkin’s WeMo Light Switches, you can power your lighting through your smartphone. NEST’s thermostat allows you to do some pretty significant things toward the heating and cooling of your home, and it’s less than $300.
If you’re doing major renovations to your home, this might be the time to scope a few hundred extra dollars into the project and add some of those luxuries we used to read about in magazines years ago.
You don’t have to be a Home Improvement Expert to have a Smart Home
One of the most daunting things to the inept handymen of the world is the task of having to screw things into walls, or do basic wiring or plumbing. While the more complex aspects of Home Automation (like thermostats and light switches) require you to get your hands dirty, a lot of other things don’t. Can you screw in a light bulb? Congratulations, you’ve got the skills to install most smart bulbs in your home. Can you plug something into the wall? That means you can use a lot of different timed sensors. Can you align a base and a sensor? Congratulations, you can install a Chamberlain MyQ (it does have a clasp for mounting the base to the ceiling of your garage, but I velcro’d it to my garage door opener instead.) Obviously, there are some things you may not feel comfortable doing. Most electricians and furnace technicians, for example, will now come and install smart thermostats for a fee.
Geek Squad can also come give you a hand with installation if you need it.
Research what you want before deciding
The best way for me to put this tip is – You can’t run Windows 8 on a 10 year old laptop. The specifications and needs have far surpassed what your Pentium MMX is capable of running. Before you decide what sort of device you want, you best research whether your home is capable of even supporting it. For example, many smart bulbs can only run on single circuit light fixtures. That means that if you can power your upstairs hallway light through switches on 2 floors, you can’t run the bulb in there. Other systems require a wireless connection, so if you don’t have a router, you’re out of luck too. The one I’m affected the most by is the smart thermostat. Nearly all smart thermostats require a 3 wire, 24v system to run, since one of the wires provides it its power source. Most 3 wire systems are dual hot/cold systems. I have a standard 2 wire furnace, for which I can’t support most thermostats. There are some smart thermostats that can support some 2 wire systems (the NEST, for example,) but they are few and far between.
Another major thing to look for are the devices which a specific product supports. The Weiser Kevo, for example, is one of my favourite smarthome inventions ever, providing you the option of touch deadbolt locking through an authenticity fob. The only trouble with it is that it only supports Apple products from iPhone 4 Gen and above. They are really hoping for Android integration in the future, but have been unable to make it stable with the Android software’s APIs yet. I know it’s definitely on their radar, however, having chatted briefly with them about it.
Here’s one of the growing things in the Smarthome industry – Companies are collaborating with each other to create a big network of devices that can work with each other, or work amongst each other so that you don’t have to download dozens of apps, one for each device. The Works with NEST program, for example, is perhaps the best example of the mass cooperation between device providers, and a growing exercise in how well we can play in the sandbox in this digital age.
In some cases, you may not even need that continued integration, as you may find most of what you need from a single provider. Insteon, for example, has a large range of products in its umbrella that may take care of all of your needs without the need to look elsewhere.
The “If This Then That” (IFTTT) platform is another way Smart Home enthusiasts have found ways to get the most out of their products. Using the “recipe” system there, supporting devices can be brought to their full potential to do things, for example, like run on virtual timers or send you followup alerts if somebody is tinkering with the device.
How “Smart” do you want your home to be?
There are lots of products out there, but before you dive head first into the amazing world of home automation, ask yourself what it is you want to do? Some of us just want to take a functional approach, but some of us crave a little bit more. There are things out there for all tastes and preferences. Think about the different rooms of your house, starting from the outside, and consider, at a brief high level, some of the different products out there you could implement
- Garage Door Openers
- Door Locks
- Miscellaneous gadgets (appliance timers, water leak sensors, Motion Sensors)
Here are some of the different types of products you can use to create your “Smart” home environment.
Getting in and out of the house
Why not start with access in and out of the house? I think about you families of 6 and 7, or traveling families with dogs and cats that need to be looked after. So many cut keys, or worries about who carries the garage door openers. Getting in and out of your home is much easier now with products that allow you to do so through your smartphone. Instead of having to carry around an extra key or garage door opener, you can simply synchronize the device itself with the applicable app, and do it all electronically. Certain products (like the Weiser Kevo, for example) will also let you create, and send electronic keys to that family member or dogsitter checking in your house, and then let you disable them as well from future use. Chamberlain’s MyQ is perhaps the easiest device to hook up to give you smartphone integration for your garage door opener.
Keeping your Home Secure
Home Security Systems were something previously reserved for the rich and famous. The sheer costs of a security system were prohibitive enough not to be a preventative measure. Nowadays, the costs are much less, and much more accessible. In fact, there are devices out there like the Dropcam Pro that can be set to start recording when it sees significant movement in the houses, or even continuously and upload to a Cloud storage environment for safekeeping. There are even devices that you can attach to your windows that send you text messages or phone alerts when the windows are opened. Home Safety doesn’t just stop there. One device that’s part of the Insteon family can be set near or around any source of water, and when it gets wet, it sends you a text notifying you of the start of an incident (as well as the end if it senses everything has been resolved.) With water damage being the major culprit of insurance claims in Canada nowadays, this is just another way your home can talk to you in time of need.
Comfort the way you want it
Call it an absolute “first world problem” but waking up to a cold house and standing in your bathrobe making coffee in the frigid kitchen isn’t a pleasant feeling. Nowadays, you can pamper yourself a bit better. Besides the thermostats I mentioned above that give you the ability to flick the heat on to your schedule, smart light switches can be set to flick on at your designated time, and you can buy devices that can power on appliances at your designated time too. Now you can rise to a warm house, a lighted kitchen and a fresh pot of coffee ready for you.
This is just one of the many ways you can turn your home into more of a personal comfort zone. It doesn’t always have to be about straight functionality. Sometimes we just have to spoil ourselves.
What you see today is just a small step in a smarter direction
Let’s face it. The idea of an affordable Smart Home is here, and it’s here to stay. What we see today is just the tip of the Iceberg. Apple is planning on making a splash into the Smarthome market through their HomeKit idea for iOS devices, especially from a collaboration perspective. Phillips have already teamed up with Apple, with more vendors to come.
Whatever you choose to do with your home, remember, you don’t have to jump in all at once, and above all, have fun doing it. The possibilities are plentiful and with so many manufacturers cooperating with each other making things better integrated, it’s easier than ever to bring your home into the 21st century.