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What is a smart home?
Smart home technology uses sensors and wireless communication to make your house safer, more secure and more environmentally friendly — all while adding convenience to your life and saving you money.
Today, it’s never been easier to make your house a smart home. And with major tech companies like Apple, Google and Amazon all investing heavily in creating the perfect smart home ecosystem, it’s also never been more affordable.
Smart home technology can be as varied and customized as your home itself.
What can I do with a smart home?
For many people, the ultimate dream of the smart home is complete automation. This concept allows your home to intelligently react to a given situation that it’s faced with — from turning on the heat in your home while you’re at work to automatically turning on the coffee pot when you shut off your alarm in the morning.
Voice control — in the form of Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant — makes home automation possible, allowing you to speak voice commands that your smart home devices can understand and activate.
But while voice control is an incredible development, the real allure of a smart home setup is that it enables your house to get things done without you needing to even think about it. For example, the Nest smart thermostat can analyze your preferences and learn to automatically adjust the temperature to save energy — and money — while you’re not home. Some security cameras that detect motion can start recording automatically, sending live video feeds to your phone.
The smart home ecosystem is rapidly growing and will continue to expand to support pretty much any device with a WiFi connection. And with 5G connectivity launching in 2020, the range of connected devices is destined to balloon even further.
What are the components of a smart home?
In order to get started with a smart home setup, you’ll need to upgrade some of your current devices and appliances, then invest in some new equipment. Here are some of the smart home devices that are now available:
Hubs & smart speakers
Hubs are the brains of the smart home. Traditionally, hubs operate as a complete mini computer, capable of connecting to lots of different devices at once and sending commands from a centralized location in your home. More recently, there has been a shift to enable connected communication devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home to act as hubs, using the Internet to control the many connected devices around your home.
Smart lighting is a mainstay of the smart home. A full lighting setup will allow you to control the lights in your house from your phone — whether you’re home or away.
When connected to a compatible voice control system like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant, smart lighting will also allow you to use voice commands to adjust the lights. Some systems can be hooked up to multi-colored LEDs to create a dynamic atmosphere, perfect for parties or events.
Smart locks automatically unlock the door when you arrive home, because they’re capable of detecting your phone’s proximity. You can also remotely open smart locks via secure codes controlled through an app, so you can let friends or relatives inside without giving them a key.
And they can even be programmed to automatically lock the property when you leave, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting. Extra perks include pin codes or fingerprint scanners for additional security.
Intelligent kitchen appliances are still relatively new, but the market is quickly expanding — from smart ovens that you can turn on remotely to preheat for when you get home, to a fridge that keeps tabs on what’s inside, sending you reminders to pick up milk. Smart slow cookers can automatically adjust their temperature based on cook times within a recipe, and smart coffee machines with IFTTT (If This Then That) service automatically turn on when your alarm goes off in the morning.
Intelligent cameras and motion detectors are readily available. These can be easily programmed to send you a notification whenever movement is detected in or around your home. Pair your smart camera with sensors that detect when a window or door has been opened, and you have a comprehensive security suite to help protect your home from burglary.
Intelligent thermostats monitor usage, as well as where and when people are at home, in order to maintain appropriate temperatures at all times. These thermostats can switch off your air conditioning when no one is home and turn on fans at regular intervals to circulate air around the house.
Robot vacuums integrate easily into a smart home environment. Roomba and Samsung robot vacuums can respond to Amazon Alexa commands, in addition to their own comprehensive control apps.
As the technology expands, we can expect even more in this space, from intelligent lawnmowers to dedicated window-cleaning robots.
While many of today’s smart home hubs incorporate the ability to control your home, there’s a whole market of other products that extend on this feature. After all, using voice control to manage an entire home is inefficient if you can only do it from one room in your house. There are smaller, supplementary control products like mini microphones for voice control and comprehensive universal remotes that combine Bluetooth, infrared and WiFi to manage everything in your home with the press of a button.
Why would I want a smart home?
Smart home technology is designed to make your life easier. The goal is a self-sustaining home that caters to your every need without requiring you to fiddle around with difficult settings or complex code.
By integrating intelligent platforms into your home, you can save money on things like energy by only using it when needed, while a smart home security system can reduce your insurance premiums with some providers as well.
Having a connected smart home can also provide peace of mind, allowing you to monitor your pets while you’re away from home, or keep tabs on the kids while they wait for you to get home from work. With the right setup, you can receive notifications when your kids get home. And with a smart home, you never need to worry about whether you left the stove on, doors unlocked, garage open or lights on.
Pros and cons
- Nearly limitless possibilities. There are so many devices that can connect to a smart home now that the only limit is your imagination — and perhaps your wallet.
- Save money in the long run. Intelligent systems can save on utility bills by reducing electricity consumption.
- Better security. Connect your home to a smart security system and rest easy that your home is safe.
- Save time and effort. Set up rules that make menial tasks happen for you automatically, so you can get on with your life.
- Different protocols from different providers. There are competing platforms, and not all products work with all platforms.
- High upfront cost. Buying all the necessary components can be pricey.
- Potential hacking. Connecting your front door to an Internet connection opens up the possibility of hacking.
- Reliance on Internet. If the Internet goes down — or your power fails — your smart home system will be out of commission, unless you have a backup power source.
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