Home Automation, Remote, Wireless – You know the feeling. You’re on your way to work or the airport, and you can’t remember whether you turned off the lights and turned on the security system or locked the door. Do you go back home? Continue on your way and hope for the best? Or do you simply pull out your smart phone, open an app or two, and make sure everything is OK? Convenience, control, and peace of mind are the powerful combination that the newest smart products are selling.
With mainstream corporations such as Amazon, AT&T, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Staples, and Verizon introducing smart products and services that let you run your home from your phone (and other devices), this might actually be the year that home automation catches on in a big way-or at least becomes difficult to ignore, given those companies’ fat advertising budgets. Home Automation, Remote, Wireless
Product selection is growing, with 37 billion smart products expected on the market by the year 2020, says network- hardware maker Cisco. Already there: Ranges and ovens from Dacor and GE can be set to preheat during your drive home, so you can get dinner on the table faster. A side-by-side refrigerator from Whirlpool texts you if a door is ajar, helping you save energy and prevent food from spoiling. Certain dryers can tell you if your dryer exhaust duct is clogged, which prolongs drying time, wastes energy, and is a fire hazard. Appliances from Kenmore and LG can self-diagnose problems via your smart phone, potentially saving on repair costs or time waiting for the service technician.
The public is definitely intrigued. Almost 20 percent of Consumer Reports subscribers already use their phone or tablet to remotely control some of their home, and almost 70 percent of those who don’t voiced interest in doing so in the future, according to our latest survey. Thermostats, security systems, blinds, lighting, and door locks are the home items readers most want to manage remotely. Another growing area is remote speakers. Already, there are companies out there who have begun to see the direction wireless technology is going in and specialize in installing home automation audio devices. You can search online for home audio installation near me and find a company who can install wireless and automatic speakers that you can activate from your smart phone.
Picks and pans from consumer report tests
According to Consumer Reports, they put their experts in the labs and their investigative reporters to work to see which products can make your life easier, which fail at their basic function, and which may leave you vulnerable. Our picks and pans are based on months of testing, and analysis of benefits, payback time, up-front and ongoing costs, and other concerns. Here are our findings:
Your Wi-Fi network is vulnerable. Even if the security settings on your home’s router limit access to devices you’ve authorized, you need to be just as careful about the security settings of each device you add to the network, whether it’s a whole-house suite of products controlling lighting, security, and smoke/CO alarms, or just an Internet-enabled fork. Otherwise the device could allow hackers-and whomever they sell your data to-access to other connected products in your home, such as the computers on your home network. In one cyber attack, about 100,000 products, such as routers, TVs, and at least one connected refrigerator, sent out more than 750,000 phishing e-mails over two weeks, according to security consulting firm Proofpoint. The blame: weaknesses in their basic protections or setup. Proofpoint would not disclose the model of refrigerator, suspecting the user hadn’t changed the default password, but not every smart device is even designed for high security.
Privacy can be a problem. An unconnected “dumb” gadget shares no information that you might prefer to keep to yourself, such as when your home is empty. But a smart thermostat might be less discreet, alerting hackers when it’s in vacation mode. Or the history log of a smart-lock app might let thieves learn when you usually get home from work without having to stake out your house. Home Automation, Remote, Wireless
You could bet on the wrong horse. Connectivity is still in its infancy, with no clear winner among competing technologies. So you can control a product via its app on your phone, but you’ll need multiple apps to control your household, which isn’t all that convenient. The alternative, a suite of products from a single brand or that run on the same wireless standard, such as ZigBee or Z-Wave, leaves you vulnerable to potentially buying into the Betamax of smart products. And based on our testing, some product designs need refinement, unless you like being an unpaid beta tester.
Though certain connected products deliver, so far the promise of an easy, centrally controlled smart home has yet to catch up with reality. Home Automation, Remote, Wireless
What’s available now
The possibilities seem endless, judging from what’s available and the increased bundling by top-name companies of multiple products with one controller-and, of course, monthly fees. Home size and construction, plus the distance between devices, make a difference. Drywall and plywood should do fine, but nonporous materials such as plaster, brick, and stone could slow down or block signals.
1. Burglar alarm. Major providers offer multidevice systems that you can monitor from afar.
2. Generator. Lets you know whether the generator is working and can e-mail or text you and a service technician if there’s a problem.
3. Thermostat. Senses patterns in human presence and controls equipment accordingly.
4. Lighting. Lets you control lights from an app and set vacation schedules.
5. Smoke/CO detector. Can notify you and prompt the same-brand thermostat to shut off fuel-burning appliances.
6. Refrigerator. Alerts you if power is out and even if a door is left ajar.
7. Range. Lets you preheat the oven, set the timer, and check cooking status without being in the room.
8. Electronic door locks. Let you remotely lock or unlock and change who’s authorized to enter.
9. Water alarm or shutoff. Can text you when water is spilling from a pipe or an appliance; shutoffs can cut off your water main to minimize flooding.
10. Washer and dryer. Lets you start cycles and monitor progress, and alerts youif your dryer duct is clogged.
Smart product or dumb choice?
Internet-enabled products often cost more than their low-tech siblings. To tell whether they’re worth it, we test their “life improving” claims and their primary function. We also determine how easy these smart features are to set up and use. Here are several products, most of which we’ve tested, and whether we’d pay for them.