You wake up refreshed after a good night’s sleep. That’s because your mattress not only adjusts itself to your ideal sleeping temperature, but also has an alarm that wakes you at just the right moment of your sleep cycle. Your living room blinds automatically open, and the coffee maker has a fresh cup brewed and waiting. Leave for the office and your lights turn off; the alarm and security surveillance systems are enabled; the thermometer has already started lowering the home temperature, not raising it until 10 minutes before you return home in the evening.
These are just a few of the scenarios that can play out in a smart home. Smart home technology can provide automation of just about any household chore, from remotely firing up a slow cooker to alerting you to water leaks.
The smart home has arrived, but many of us remain confused about what one is. That’s because the devices and services that make a home “smart” will be different for every individual. In fact, whether you know it or not, chances are that you already have some type of smart home device. Ted at Plano Texas Handyman can design a system for you and your family, call him at 214-507-3415.
To help you make smarter decisions about this rapidly evolving category, we’ll answer some key questions: What are the elements that make up a smart home, and how do they connect? What are the security concerns and implications? And what does the roadmap of this much-hyped technology look like?
What Is a Smart Home?
We are way past the days of the Clapper. Simply put, a smart home is one that includes some gadget, system or appliance that is connected either to the Internet and/or to your smartphone. You can typically control and interact with these devices using an app.
Smart home products and services come in all shapes and sizes. Have a security system that taps into your Internet connection for monitoring? You have a smart home. Do you have LED light bulbs that you can dim or turn on using your smartphone? Guess what, you have a smart home. Do you own a webcam installed that monitors your windows or front door, or perhaps the baby’s room? You, my friend, have a smart home. Even if you only have a wireless router connected to the Internet with a laptop or a tablet or two connected via Wi-Fi — you have the foundations of a smart, connected home.
In the coming years, you will likely make your home even smarter. Gartner, a leading tech analyst firm, predicts that a typical abode (in a “mature affluent market”) could have more than 500 smart home devices by 2022. It’s a projection some tech-industry watchers question, but it’s one that Nick Jones, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, stands by.
“The Internet of Things will bring billions of connected Wi-Fi enabled devices to homes,” said Dana Knight, TP-Link’s director of marketing.
Still, the automated home is the exception and not the norm. Acuity Group’s 2014 study of the Internet of Things adoption (of which smart home tech is a subset) found that smart technology was in about 4 percent of all U.S. homes. What’s the biggest barrier to adoption the study discovered? Unfamiliarity with the concepts of the Internet of Things and smart tech.
Making a House Into a Smart Home
There are two ways to make your house smart: DIY gadgets that you install yourself, such as smart outlets, baby monitors and light sensors; or by subscribing to services such as ADT’s security systems or those of an ISPs, such as Time Warner Cable’s IntelligentHome Service.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the most popular options:
Nest and Smart Thermostats. No device exemplifies the DIY smart home as much as the Nest Learning thermostat ($249 on Amazon). This gadget, designed to be installed by a homeowner, learns your habits, and then adjusts the temperature based on your patterns. The more you use Nest, “the more accurate it gets,” said Mike Soucie, product partnership lead at Nest Labs.
But what really makes the Nest smart is that it can interact with a number of other devices in your home and perform a set of actions without you having to lift a finger. For example, if the thermostat is connected to the Nest Protect smoke detector, it can automatically shut off your HVAC system if smoke is detected.
Nest’s enormous success in the smart home space can be attributed to its focus on ease-of-use. “We really focus on the end-to-end consumer process,” Soucie said. The main goal for Nest is to create products that don’t require customers to program things, according to Soucie.
The hassle-free setup of the Nest thermostat and other products in the nest ecosystem have proved to be a winning formula — as is the energy cost savings Nest users are experiencing. As of January 2014, there were 40,000-50,000 Nest thermostats shipping per month. No wonder it was acquired by Google last year, for $3.2 billion. Nest is not the only smart thermostat on the market, however. Honeywell, which has been a leading name in the home heating industry for more than 125 years, has also jumped into the home automation arena with its Lyric Smart thermostats. A number of “green” tech startups, including Ecobee, also offer smart thermostats and are battling for market share.
To date, the most popular type of smart home device, as a category, has been security cameras, also known as IP cameras. iControl’s 2014 State of the Smart Home Report revealed that of 1,000 people surveyed, 90 percent said personal and family security is one of the most important reasons for using a smart home system. Revenue from the video surveillance market is expected to reach $42.81 billion by 2019.
A number of companies, including D-Link, TRENDnet, Linksys and Belkin, have developed Web cameras that integrate with their traditional products. For instance, the TRENDnet Wireless Cloud Camera TV-IP751WC ($39.95, Amazon) works with TRENDnet’s cloud service and routers to allow for easy remote viewing of the camera’s video stream. You might need to access your router settings to do this; if you’ve got a Belkin router, you may wish to check out this site – https://www.router-reset.com.
Now owned by Nest, Dropcam made a name for itself by making cameras that are easy to view and control from your smartphone. The $199 Dropcam Pro’s 3-megapixel, 130-degree field-of-vision camera provides home surveillance as well as video-recording to the cloud.
Baby Cams – An offshoot of security cameras, baby cams not only provide live feeds and motion detection, but also two-way audio and other features tailored to this segment. For example, the D-Link HD Pan & Tilt Wi-Fi Baby Camera (DCS-855L, $269.99, Amazon) monitors temperature fluctuations in a nursery and also plays lullabies. It’s almost like a micro-chipped Mary Poppins.
Lighting is also getting smarter. Smart LED bulbs can be controlled with an app and dimmed, turned on and off, and, in the case of the Philips Hue system (starting at $199.97 for starter kits), even change color to set a room’s mood. Other smart lights can do more than just brighten a room. For example, the Sengled Pulse ($179, Amazon) has a built-in wireless speaker.
Smart Plugs – Smart plugs sit between your electrical outlet and the appliances in your home (smart or not). The plugs then connect to an app on your phone, allowing you to remotely turn those appliances on and off, such as with the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch ($59.99). Some plugs, such as the MeterPlug ($49), will even monitor how much energy an appliance uses.
Smart Locks – Smart locks such as the Goji Smart Lock ($278) allow you to control when your home is locked or unlocked, great for scheduling access for babysitters and dog walkers. Goji also takes pictures of everyone who appears at your door in front of your lock — adding an extra layer of security.
When it comes to making appliances smarter, companies such as Whirlpool and GE are seeking to discover what people want to automate.
“Say you want to be one step ahead of dinner prep,” said Lou Lenzi, director of industrial design for GE Appliances. “Just tell your oven to ‘preheat 350 degrees’ from your mobile device while you’re heading home from the office. Or maybe check your refrigerator’s ice maker to see how much ice you have in the dispenser — and tell it to make more before those unexpected house guests arrive.”
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, smart appliances are a little pricier than their “dumb” non-connected counterparts. Whirlpool’s 30-inch Drop-In Electric Range with smart sensors to remotely manage oven temperature is priced at $1,699. You can typically find a crockpot (or slow-cooker) on Amazon, ranging from $30-$80, but Belkin’s Smart Crock-Pot, which lets you change the cooking time or adjust the temperature using your smartphone or tablet.