A “smart” home used to mean that connectivity was hard-wired into your home during construction — and you had to be home to access the smart features through a control panel. Now, smart is wireless, allowing you to control your home’s switches, bulbs, plugs, appliances, doorbell and security systems remotely with your mobile phone or other smart device.
For many people, this technology can feel overwhelming. After all, the first iPhone came out in 2007, only a little more than a decade ago. Yet now we expect so much from our smartphones and the apps on them. If you want to explore adding smart features to your home, here are a couple of thoughts:
The easiest way to ease into using smart features is to purchase simple Wi-Fi-enabled plugs, power strips or light bulbs. At a plug-and-play level, you can remotely turn devices on and off, or create a schedule for them from your phone.
The benefits are in performing simple tasks. For example, if you want to control your children’s TV or video game usage — even if you are not home — consider a smart plug for one device or a smart power strip for the entire entertainment center. The TV could be turned on remotely after homework is completed or limited to a certain timeframe — all from your phone.
You can geo-sync a group of smart lights to automatically turn on as you pull into the driveway, so you’re not entering a dark house. You can also turn off lights remotely if someone accidentally leaves them on. You can even set up a randomized scheduling to make the lights rotate on and off, a particularly valuable feature to make your home look occupied when you are on vacation.
Smart plugs have another advantage to consider. Using smart plugs, appliances with mechanical on/off switches can truly turn off to stop energy flow instead of having the appliance in standby mode — preventing “vampire” energy use. Some plugs can also monitor an appliance’s energy usage and possibly help you save money on utility bills.
The device or appliance that plugs into the smart plug should match the plug’s wattage and function limitations. Also, be aware that smart plugs are not standard sizes or shapes. Some are not as streamlined as others, so it may limit use of the remaining outlet. Or the plug may only have two prongs, to prevent use of a more power-hungry three-prong device. Others are not weather- or waterproof for outdoor use.
Some products may require opening an online account, downloading an app to your phone, or need a hub. Think of the hub as the conductor for an orchestra of lights, switches, outlets, appliances and other electronic devices playing for you over your internet connection. Unfortunately, this also means the different products you buy have to be compatible with the hub and that could keep you within similar product lines. The alternative could mean accessing multiple apps to control different smart components — and remembering which app does what.
If you want voice-activated commands, the products will need to be compatible with your preferred digital product — Alexa, Siri, Google, etc.
Whatever product you decide on, research the online reviews — positives and negatives — so you have a better idea of what to look for in the product specifications and know the questions to ask at a brick-and-mortar store.
Smart products are good for tenants as well. If you pay your own electricity, the energy efficiency and monitoring capabilities can help you save on utility costs. Plus, the smart features can be portable, and it may be easy to move the physical products from home to home. However, don’t forget you have to put the home back into the same condition it was when you initially rented it.
A word of caution for homeowners: When you decide to sell the property, determine BEFORE you put the home on the market whether you will take your smart components or sell the home with the enhanced features. If you are taking them, remove the items before the property is on the market. A buyer can’t want something that they don’t see. Once you have an offer on the property, buyers will anticipate that anything attached or affixed will be staying unless otherwise noted as your personal property.
Consider these factors when deciding to take or leave the smart products: 1. Will the same products fit in the new location? 2. Do you want to upgrade to newer products? 3. What is the cost to remove the products, and restore the home to prior functionality, if applicable? 4. Will leaving the products help to sell the home over other competing properties, or for possibly more money? Some smart items like washers, dryers, thermostats and security systems can be great marketing tool and selling features when a buyer is considering purchasing your home.
Finally, wireless smart technology for the home is inevitable. You just have to decide if you are going to take baby steps or jump right in. If you get stuck, you can always ask the children or grandchildren for help.