November 1, 2016

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends smart homes use programmable thermostats to save up to 30% on heating and cooling bills.

Simple, affordable wireless is making the long-predicted smart home a must-have.

PC Magazine calls 2016 “The Year of the Smart Home” – designated as such due to the proliferation of new wireless devices designed to make home life easier, healthier, safer and, yes, more fun. Research certainly bolsters this view: a Coldwell Banker survey conducted earlier this year finds that nearly half of homeowners either already own or are planning to buy smart home technology, and IT forecaster Gartner Inc. foresees 500 connected devices in the average home by 2022.

This growth is thanks mostly to affordable wireless technology. Smart home tech devices now cost a fraction of what they did a decade ago, and most offer a simple smart phone or tablet control interface.

Today’s devices offer tangible lifestyle benefits. For instance, whole-house automation systems such as those from HomeControl manage lighting, security, temperature and energy consumption — all from a single app. Low-cost, entry-level alarm systems like those from SimpliSafe start with basic security and are easily expanded as budgets permit.

Automation systems like these are designed to be consumer-friendly, but professional builders often work with technology integrators to install and configure them so everything is ready to use on move-in day.

Rather than a system, some people prefer to choose from the growing array of stand-alone wireless devices. Many start with home security, such as a wireless shade that automatically closes at night, a camera that can be checked from a phone, or an expandable security kit that costs just a few hundred dollars.

Technology is key to the future of smart home security.

The fastest-growing security device category is probably the electronic lock, and there are many from which to choose. Examples include the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt, which allows homeowners to remotely set temporary entry codes — for instance, so the cleaner can only get in the house at a certain hour — and the popular Ring™ Video Doorbell, which lets you use your phone to see who is at the door. The Ring can be connected to a motion detector that alerts you of suspicious activity on the property. Those who worry about whether or not they remembered to shut the garage door will appreciate apps such as LiftMaster’s that can remotely confirm the door is closed and also alert if/when someone else opens it.

Environmental alarms like Delta’s Leak Detector can alert you if there’s a leaky faucet or water main, while the Halo smoke detector knows the difference between fire and smoke and will call your phone (rather than chirping) when it needs a new battery. More complex systems will automatically turn the water off if there’s a leak, or kill the HVAC fan to slow the spread of a detected fire. (These systems require an integrator but still cost just a fraction of what they did 10 years ago.)

Smart HVAC controls are also proliferating. For instance, the Nest thermostat learns and automatically meets your temperature preferences and can even talk to your phone’s location services to sense when you’re coming home so it can turn up the heat. And Febreze makes an air freshener that works with Nest’s Home/Away Assist to evenly disperse a scent through the HVAC system.

Let’s not forget entertainment and convenience. An example of the cutting-edge here is Amazon’s wireless Echo speaker, which recognizes voice commands and will stream whatever audio you request from a variety of Internet sources. Can’t remember if you need milk? With the Smarter Fridge Cam, you can use your phone from the grocery store to take a look.
Although people may worry about getting all these devices to work together, an electronics integrator – working in conjunction with a professional builder — can configure a tablet to control the TV, the heating and cooling, the lighting and everything else.

This is just a small sampling of what home technology can do now, let alone what it will be able to do in the near future. And if the benefits of smart home technology don’t capture your imagination, consider resale value. If the people at Gartner are correct — and the ever-growing number of smart home gadgets indicates that they are — then it won’t be long before buyers discount the lack of smart devices the same way they now discount the lack of a cable TV connection.

In other words, a small investment today could really pay off tomorrow.

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