For some time now, experts have been touting the next great breakthrough in technology. No, it’s not a robot to do your dishes, walk the dog or drive you to work. Technology is getting less expensive, more advanced and finding its way into the home in many new ways. “Smart home” has been coined to describe homes in which technology is used to automate, enhance and improve life through technology. You might think of a smart home as out of the reach of us common folk, and reserved for the billionaires who design a lot of this stuff. However, the time has come where the average Joe can purchase and often self install these gadgets easily. In addition to the conveniences a smart home can offer, there is real monetary savings though energy efficiency.
Smart TV’s have been around for a while, although current models are leaps and bounds beyond the first generations. Smart TVs can connect to your home wireless network, and run applications such as Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and Internet Explorer. Some even allow you to download and install apps like your smart phone does. My TV has an app that turns my smartphone into a remote control, allowing me to change channels and volumes without having to reach for the coffee table. Smart TV’s can sense the light levels in a room, and adjust the display brightness accordingly. This saves energy costs and also enhances the picture.
Game consoles like Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Wii aren’t just for gaming. I use my Xbox to watch videos, surf the web or check the weather. The voice controls offer an additional level of convenience – and it actually works quite well. By simply saying “Xbox, sign in as Matt. Go to Netflix. Select one” I can start watching a movie or show while I wash the dishes. Better yet, I can use an app on my phone to see whether the kids are using the Xbox, and what games they are playing.
Appliances are getting smarter too, and allowing us to control and manage them at a whole different level. Want a text when the washer is done? Simple. Start the dishwasher from your couch? Easy. Use the last of the milk? Press a button on the door of the refrigerator to add that to your shopping list…..which you can access from the store on your smart phone.
Smart thermostats are available at most hardware stores now. These devices allow you to remotely control your temperature from your computer or phone, and learn your home heating or cooling habits over time. Forgot to turn the heat down when you left? No problem, sign on and adjust it down from anywhere. Programmable thermostats have been around for a while, and work well for specific schedules. But what about when your schedule changes and you’re home when the “away” program kicks on? Enter smart thermostats that actually detect your proximity to the home, and adjust the temperature accordingly. If you leave, it turns on the away program. When you are within 7 miles of your home, it kicks the thermostat on to warm or cool your house in preparation for your arrival.
Automated lighting is another smart home feature with real practicality. Smart light switches are used to control lighting through a smart phone, voice command or motion detection. With predictive capabilities, the system can automatically turn lights on based on your habits. For example, lights can be turned on in the bathroom when you enter a hallway. Want to dim the living room lights from the couch? Slide the dimmer down using the app on your tablet or smartphone. Select pre-sets for certain situations – “Welcome Home” to turn on outside and ground floor lights from the driveway, “House Out” to turn all lights out from bed. With the ability to customize programming for switches as well as outlets, the options are endless.
Door locks are one of my favorites. I hate dragging keys around, but I always have my smart phone. Using a Bluetooth connection, you can unlock your front door by simply being in proximity to it. Have a friend feeding your pets while you’re away? Give them a guest pass to unlock the door for a preset period of time. Want to know when your teenager got home? Take a look at when they last unlocked the side door by reviewing the logs.
Home security is important, and a smart home can provide peace of mind. Security cameras can be programmed to text a picture when motion is detected in an area. You can even connect to the camera from your PC, table or smart phone and view live video. Want to check if all the outside doors are shut, or alarm your security system? In just a few clicks or taps, you can easily do that. If you live in a rural area, it’s nice to be alerted when someone is coming up the driveway. With either a chime, or live video, you can be informed of visitors before they reach your door yard.
The future of the smart home is bright, and it’s only just begun. As it evolves, we can expect to see more intelligence and automation built into homes. Home builders will start integrating more smart home features into their designs, and technology experts will be working alongside electricians, finish carpenters and other trades. The smart home will welcome you, and that robot to walk the dog could someday be part of it!