Over the past few months and years, you’ve surely seen the leaps in smarthome technology. What was once relegated to our hopes and wishes (and the odd issue of Popular Science magazine) is finally reality. With a few simple products and applications, we can take ownership of our home in new ways we only dreamed were possible a few years ago. Whether a keyless entry system, automated light switches without those annoying timers or just a better way to have coffee ready and waiting for us as we roll out of bed, smarthome technology has made the impossible possible (and fun to boot).
Smarthome technology is becoming more and more affordable with every passing day, but it’s really tough to determine where the right place is to get started. Over the past couple years, I’ve been adding little things to my home to make it “smarter” and I’ve never regretted the decision for one second. Where do you want to start making your home smart?
Here are a few things to consider while making your decision.
Need help? Geek Squad can help you get started free of charge
First and foremost, Best Buy Geek Squad is here to help if you’re not sure where to start. For absolutely no cost, a Geek Squad agent can come visit you at home and make recommendations. They can take you through some proposed scenarios and help you come up with a plan that suits you. They’ll even test your WiFi network to make sure everything is good to go and can draft an installation plan and written quote. This is a great option if you’re looking to get everything done at once, or even if you’re going through some home renovations and want to add smarthome automation to the project. You may also feel uncomfortable tending to some of the upgrades yourself (I won’t touch anything that involves wiring) and Geek Squad can help you with that too.
If you’re more of a Do It Yourself-er or know you’ve got what it takes to handle the job yourself, let’s ask and answer some questions to help you decide where to get started. Recommendations based on my experience are at the bottom of this blog.
Where do you want your home to start working for you?
The first and most important question to answer is where you want your smart home to begin. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your smart home doesn’t have to be either. Think about a function in your house that you’d like to have more access to and branch yourself out from there. Is it just lighting? Do you want keyless entry in and out of your home? Most importantly, who’s going to be using these features the most and what conveniences do they need?
Personally, I started in the garage. I got a Chamberlain MyQ Garage Door opener (review here) and it’s been my longest standing and favourite smarthome device. The app is so easy to use that all it literally requires is a tap open and closed.
It even fell off the mount I had for it once (my fault since I wasn’t using the bracket included with the package) and I accidentally ran it over while parking. A couple of scratches aside, it still works perfectly!
Taking the slow approach is good to help you identify your own needs too. If you decide to start with, say, lighting automation in the living room (like Philips Hue products) you may find that that’s what you want to do for every room in your house. Then again you may find that one room is enough, and you crave a thermostat or keyless entry next.
Can you be brand loyal?
One of the things you’ll have to consider is whether the products you’re looking for require pre-requisite hardware, or only work on a single brand’s network. For example, I love my Insteon Water Sensor. I’ve got it set up in a nightmare junction of my house (the laundry room which houses my water tank, washing machine and entry pipe from the outside) and it has a very sensitive setup that will prompt me if a leak occurs and that I need to go deal with it. However, you need the Insteon Starter Hub to use the sensors, and most of their products in general. If you’re somebody that can be brand loyal and don’t mind committing a lot of time and effort to one company (and app!) you may find your decisions about what smarthome products to get for your home are streamlined: just get those available from that one company. If you are fine with getting products from multiple companies, you will often also have to install more than one app to control them.
Do you want your product choices to network with each other?
This is the absolute neatest part of Smarthome technology in my opinion. A lot of companies (including Insteon) out there are working with each other to create the biggest supportive framework imaginable. Take the “Works with NEST” program for example. What started out as a small idea between interconnecting a couple devices to a thermostat has turned into a huge juggernaut for smarthome enthusiasts. So many devices are supported, in fact, that Best Buy’s search engine preview images will tell you straight away if a product works with NEST.
Start with that NEST Learning Thermostat, and you’ll have access to the entire program. Products from Logitech, Chamberlain, Jawbone, and even Mercedes Benz are onboard already, with many more to come!
Do you want to start traditionally?
I’d say that the two most “traditional” pieces of home security are alarms and security systems. Smarthome technology makes both easy and affordable. Take the iSmartAlarm for instance. This was a crowdfunded idea that became a successful reality. The iSmartAlarm brings the benefits of an alarm system to your fingertips (and your smartphone) with minimal setup. In fact, you can get the whole thing set up in around a half hour. The starter Cube connects to your WiFi system and supports everything from window and motion sensors to its own proprietary security cameras. Since it requires no hard wired installation, not only can you take it with you when you move, but it’s great option for people like renters who can’t have the opportunity to get regular alarm systems installed.
The days of security camera systems costing thousands of dollars are gone too. With systems like this Lorex 2 Camera Wireless system, you can bring the peace of mind of surveillance to your home for a fraction of the original cost. There are larger systems for larger homes too, like thisSwann 8-Channel 1TB surveillance system . There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing a home surveillance system though, especially if you will be using it outdoors. Your availability options will differ based on what parts of the country you live in, since some cameras don’t work in extreme temperatures. Last month, I discussed some available options for those of you who live in colder and wetter climates in an installment of the Connected Home Series on Security and Surveillance. Please have a read if interested.
Keep an eye on things from afar
One of the newest comforts Smarthome technology brings you is the idea of viewing activities in your home remotely. Whether you want to access a view of your home anytime, or when prompted, there are some options for you to accomplish this.
Take the DropCam Pro, for example. While the DropCam will allow you to peer in on your home at anytime, the app also allows you to set prompts to trigger you to view under certain circumstances (ie. if unusual activity is picked up around in the living room.) The DropCam Pro also has paid cloud storage options, and can automatically begin recording through your prompt requests too.
If you don’t need permanent recording, but want to pick up a realtime security camera just to keep an eye on things, or even as a baby monitor, look toward something like Insteon’s Wireless Security Camera. You need to be a little more tech savvy to work this camera, but once it’s up, it works great, and it’s small stature means that it won’t take up a lot of room on a shelf.
Your home’s entry points are a good place to start
Whenever I have visitors over, the things I get asked the most questions about sit on my entry doors. In the door from my garage to the home, I have a Weiser Kevo system. I chose the garage as my go-to spot for this because it’s where I always leave in the morning and enter in the evening, the latter often with full arms. It’s not unusual for me to come home from work carrying groceries (or the night’s dinner) in one arm and my 1 year old in the other. I don’t have a free hand to search for my keys, but always have a free finger to tap the deadbolt and gain access through the Bluetooth eKey on my smartphone. The only caution I have for you is that if you’re in a household full of Android phone users, the compatibility for it is limited right now (mainly to newer Android devices capable of running the latest OS.)
On my front door, I have the Ok-I-Dokeys entry system. Not only can you install it without having to carry a new key, but you don’t even need your phone at all if you buy the deluxe set! The more comprehensive starter kit (benefits pictured at left) comes with a smart reader and devices like an access card and wristband. The Ok-I-Dokeys system also has much better Android support than the Kevo, and you can create guest entry for non-smartphone users too, meaning that your out of town guests using your ancient prepaid phone to make local calls can get in and out of the house without the worry of rotating house keys.
While both systems can be installed within about a half hour, I found the Kevo easier to install by far since I had trouble properly aligning my deadbolt with the Ok-I-Dokeys, and even had trouble sitting it flush to my front door. Everything works properly now, but it took a lot longer than I would have liked to get it up and running. Regardless, both devices have pretty lengthy battery life (around a year for each.) While I’ve yet to have to change batteries on my Ok-I-Dokeys (since it’s only been installed for a couple months,) I’m now just getting notifications that I should replace batteries on the Kevo which I installed last January.
My Personal recommendations
As somebody who now has some form of smart home gadget on every floor of the home, and in most rooms, my personal recommendation would be to consider your home’s Entry Points as the place to get started. We all know what surveillance cameras and alarm systems are capable of. Light switches are light switches. We’re heading into summer, so you may not need that smart thermostat yet. However, you will always be exiting and entering your home. On that morning dog walk or jog, do you really want to be carrying your keys around with you? Chances are you’ll have your smartphone with you, and with an enhanced entry device, that’s all you will need to get in and out of the house.
While I’ve mentioned how partial I am to the Chamberlain MyQ, the one product I think you should consider is the Ok-I-Dokeys system I’d mentioned above. It’s a bit noisier and harder to install than its competition (the Weiser Kevo,) however, the functionality and flexibility it provides is worth the trouble.
Hopefully this has helped you make a decision about where you want to get started with creating your smart home. Just remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated. A few simple changes can be surprisingly impactful to your peace of mind and convenience.