It can seem like every appliance these days is preceded by the word ‘smart’: smart TVs, smart thermostats, smart lighting, smart entertainment system…the list goes on. Though we use a smartphone throughout the day, and a growing number of homes now have voice assistants, many of us who don’t fall into the “early adopter” category aren’t quite sure what a fully-integrated “smart home” could mean for our households. Others among us are skeptical about security surrounding these devices, and many of us only have a basic understanding of how this technology works. Some homeowners who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon are hesitant to really consider a smart home system because they worry about how hard they are to set up.
Let’s explore the potential that smart home technology can help you become more energy-efficient and other home automation benefits, what exactly is involved if you are considering turning your house into a smart home, whether smart home security concerns are justified and what the house of the future might be like.
Smart Home Energy Savings
As you probably already know, a smart home is a network, or hub, of technologies connected to the internet that can be controlled remotely via a mobile device, like a smartphone or tablet—or even a speaker—to make your life a little easier and more convenient.
Although convenience is one of the biggest benefits of having a smart home, improved energy efficiency over time can help overcome initial concerns about the upfront investment in money and time that comes with installing a new system. While a programmable thermostat can be set to turn on and off during your usual work hours, what if you have an unexpected meeting that delays your return home by an hour? What if you work from home one day a week? How about those days when you have to pick up your child home because he is sick at home?
Smart home systems have the ability to turn lights off when rooms are empty and can heat or cool rooms when we leave or arrive. When the unexpected happens, you can control these systems from the palm of your hand, so your home is always the temperature you want it, even when life throws you a curveball. These smart home energy savings can be beneficial for both the environment and your wallet in the form of more precise temperature management.
Smart home systems are thinking about your energy use even when you aren’t. The Nest, for example, makes slight adjustments that can add up over time. After a few days of tracking your thermostat habits, the device creates a personalized schedule for you and your home that balances comfort and cost. Adjusting your home’s temperature by 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours a day can help you save up to 10% on your monthly utility bills, which can add up to significant savings.
More efficient energy use isn’t the only reason homeowners elect to invest in a smart home system.
Another application of smart home systems is to heighten security in your home. Whether you’re at home or away, the house will alert you to any unexpected changes in your home. For example, in the case of a fire, not only will the alarm sound, but the smart system will also unlock the doors, call the fire department and light a path to the exits. Many systems include cameras, motion sensors, and are capable of dialing the local police in case of an emergency. Some even offer key cards or finger identification in lieu of a traditional lock and key system.
Smart homes also offer greater accessibility for homeowners, especially those in their old age. Voice commands can help elderly homeowners control lights, lock doors and operate a telephone without requiring much movement on their part. Since we can speak faster than we can type, voice texting and other hands-free applications have gained popularity, whether you are asking your device to set a timer while you are chopping onions so you know when your soup is done or if you are lost and need help with turn-by-turn navigation. The appeal of starting the coffee maker before we even get out of bed from our phone is undeniable.
Have you ever been away from home and wondered if you turned off the oven? Some systems provide peace of mind and safety so you can turn off your daughter’s curling iron or other appliances that you may have inadvertently left running. Doorbells that are equipped with smart technology can show you who is at the door from your phone and even allow you to speak to the person through a speaker, whether you have just gotten out of the shower or if you are on vacation and don’t want strangers to think you aren’t at home.
A Beginner’s Guide: How To Make My House A Smart House
Are you convinced that there are a lot of advantages to these systems, but want to know more about what it actually takes to get them up and running?
Amazon’s Alexa is probably the most recognized voice-controlled assistant currently available. Simply by speaking to it, homeowners can command “her” to turn the lights off and on, play music and report the city’s weather. In case you are wondering if Alexa is just here today and gone tomorrow, tech experts are calling the device the “most broadly supported smart home hub,” according to a New York Times article. Because Amazon’s other popular product, the Amazon Echo, is easy to set up and plug in, installing Alexa and Echo at the same time is a good place to start your home automation system.
Google’s Assistant is another possible option. Despite its less expensive cost compared to Alexa, the Assistant is generally “smarter” than both Alexa and Siri, which simply means that homeowners can ask the device a broader range of questions.
Apple’s Siri is the other well-recognized smart technology program many of us are already familiar using. The greatest benefit is Siri is its safety. In designing the technology, Apple ensured the data transferred is “secure and encrypted”.
While these devices all have their pros and cons, they all require an additional piece of hardware to transform the technology into your home’s start controller. If you are an Apple user, that will probably mean devices such as iPhones, iPads and the Apple Watch. Google’s Assistant can be controlled via Google Home and Android smartphones, whereas Alexa, as we mentioned above, partners with the Echo Dot, Echo and Echo Show.
After you’ve decided on the technology and hub you’ll use to transform your home into a smart home, you can begin making the change. Start by going from room to room to consider what each space needs. Placing security cameras by the entryway, for example, makes the most sense; a product like Nest allows for 24-hour visibility in the area.
Other rooms to consider are spaces where you spend the most time, including the kitchen or living room. In the kitchen, smart speakers might be most useful, as they can turn on music, give you the morning news or allow you to add an item to your grocery list. You might use a voice assistant in the living room to dim the lights while watching TV or a movie, to turn on your ceiling fan or to close your blinds. In the bedroom, you could ask for the weather forecast or set an alarm.
For the entire house, consider installing technology that can monitor your thermostat to regulate your air and heat usage.
Aside from a few demonstrations and installations, the actual transformation to a smart home doesn’t take as long as you might expect. Many times, it’s simply a matter of connecting devices to Wifi or Bluetooth. Additionally, there isn’t much upkeep required in maintaining these products. The products occasionally losing connectivity or replacing batteries is about the extent of the work you’ll need to do.
Smart Home Security Concerns
The added comforts and ease of smart technology in your home can easily encourage homeowners to make the switch. But, just like all technologies, privacy and security concerns are part of the conversation.
Security through advanced technologies can sometimes lead to hackers. Tech savvy individuals familiar with your home’s programming could potentially find a way to access the network, giving them the opportunity to turn off alarm systems and leaving you unaware if a break-in occurs. Like an article in The Washington Post says, “the more things you connect to the Internet, the more entry points you create into your home.”
Some of these concerns can be addressed by creating strong passwords with the help of password generators. As with all of your other passwords, make sure to change them regularly to make yourself less vulnerable to any attacks. You can also select devices that require passwords to protect you from any potential problems. Smart routers can provide you with added security across your entire network, rather than having to worry about each device on its own. If privacy is a concern, you may consider using devices only in certain parts of the house and keeping them out of bathrooms or bedrooms.
Manufacturers are eager to address the concerns of homeowners about data breaches and other privacy considerations. Nest addresses common questions consumers have on its website, including whether user data is stored and shared. When you do your research about what product to purchase, see how the company handles security concerns in its marketing materials. Now that consumers are aware of potential risks, the smart home services industry is ramping up efforts to address security in next-generation devices and homeowners are learning more ways to protect their systems from vulnerabilities.
What Will The House Of The Future Be Like?
Now that we have discussed what you can do today with smart devices, you may be wondering: what does the future hold? While the options are almost limitless, industry experts predict that smart home systems can be precise enough to adjust to each individual’s needs and preferences by identifying you through a wearable device by detecting your heartbeat. Smart sprinklers can be more precise than your standard rain gauge in making adjustments to your watering schedule after it rains. A smart slow cooker can allow you to monitor the temperature of your dinner from the office while your smart vacuum is scheduled to clean your dining room floor.
For those of us watching our weight, a smart scale could track not only how many pounds you have to your goal but also your body fat and muscle mass. A dishwasher equipped with special technology could reduce water use and direct any leftover food to a compost. A refrigerator could order milk for us a day before we run out. The smart devices of tomorrow will be fully integrated so compatibility constraints are a distant memory.