What is Smart Home Technology?
Smart Home Technology is a broad term for home electronics that can be controlled remotely, can almost always be automated, and are usually capable of communicating with each other. This can include electronics and devices from almost every category like lighting, thermostats & HVAC, home security, appliances, TVs, etc. Even though I would describe the industry as still being in its infancy, the technology is highly desirable, and it might be a good way to help your home stand out with potential buyers. Implementing a few of these products won’t bring you big increases in the value of your home, but even with a few inexpensive solutions, you might increase your home’s appeal as it will show as more state-of-the art.
Often when you start to look into smart home technology, you will first want to decide on a voice assistant. A voice assistant is a device that sits in one or more areas of your home which you can just “talk with” to control your devices, ask questions of, order products/services—the options are endless! With the appropriate smart devices installed, you can ask it to turn on/off/dim lights, change your thermostat, check food inventory, order more of whatever is needed, etc. You can also ask it about almost anything, and it can answer all kinds of questions ranging from what the weather will be tonight, what is on your calendar tomorrow, what are the hours of your closest hardware store, and even trivia questions like who won the 1907 World Series (Chicago Cubs), or what movie won Best Picture in 1973? (That would be The Godfather of course!)
The two main choices right now for voice assistants are the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. It’s worth noting, however, Apple is bringing their device to market in December of 2017 named the Apple Homepod. In typical Apple fashion, there aren’t a lot of firm details about it now, but the Amazon Echo and the Google Home are both well established, and both are equally capable of handling voice controls for the variety of things needed in your smart home.
There are several models of Amazon’s Echo available. The largest is named simply Echo, and it’s the best choice if you also want to use your device to listen to music (as it has a surprisingly good quality of sound). However, if you want to be able to showcase your home as a full smart home, you’ll want to have a few Voice Assistants scattered throughout the house. Buying a number of the full-size Echos can be a little pricey, so if you want to strategically place a number of them through your house, and you want something a little more economical, the smaller Echo Dots are available at a fraction of the cost. Last, if you want a more portable battery powered solution, the Tap is your best bet. It can be carried with you, and its battery can support as much as 9 hours of continuous use.
The Google Home has the same core functions but doesn’t have the other device options like smaller, cheaper, or the same portability. The biggest advantage to it, however, is it’s built on the same powerful search technology we’ve all come to love from Google.com. If you ask a more complex question such as what ingredients are needed for a recipe, or if it’s a question covered by Google’s Search Knowledge Graph, you might find it responds with a very verbose reply. It also can automatically launch apps on your TV if it there is a Chromecast connected, and it supports multiple users by recognizing the sound of your voice so you don’t have to switch accounts if you want it to access something personal.
As the market for smart home becomes more accessible and affordable, the options and saturation of choices can also be a problem. Depending on your choice of Echo or Home, you want to make sure whatever lights are purchased are compatible with it. A popular choice that works with either is Philips Smart Home Bulbs. The bulbs themselves communicate directly with a hub that is connected to your home’s wifi. When you go to purchase your bulbs, you will choose from either white or colored. Colored bulbs are more expensive, but they can display a full spectrum of colors for all kinds of mood lighting options. It’s worth mentioning a full spectrum of color includes a full range of white options for a more traditional look, and all of these can be dimmed or brightened as you see fit.
There are also light strips which can add a dramatic effect when properly placed. Several options include installing them underneath kitchen cabinets to brighten the counters, behind the cabinets crown molding for ambient lighting, or even in entertainment centers to help bring a more “movie room” feel.
Even your doorbell can be made ‘smart’ by manufacturers integrating cameras and motion detection! One such doorbell really gaining traction is the Ring Video Doorbell. Not only does it notify you on your smartphone if someone rings it, it can also be set to send you notifications triggered by motion. The motion detection technology it uses is based on heat signatures, and while it may occasionally pick up a car driving by, it will always display the live video of people who walk up to your door. What makes this such a compelling product though is being able to not only see but also communicate with, anyone in front of the camera. And all this functionality is available to you even when you are away from your home!
While Smart Locks aren’t quite the panacea yet, they are still worth looking at. The basic solution is, after installing an app on your phone, when you approach your front door your phone will communicate (via Bluetooth or NFC) with your smart lock and unlock the door without you having to pull out a key. Usually, you will have to touch the lock to activate it, which is a great feature so you don’t accidentally lock/unlock when you didn’t intend it. Most smart locks require installation, but the smart lock from August can go over most existing locks. This way there isn’t the cumbersome process of changing out locks and you don’t have to worry about acquiring new keys. The one downside to this technology in the home is most residential front doors aren’t made with the precision commercial doors are. They are extremely susceptible to heat/cold fluctuations, and this causes your door locks to not always 100% align with the door jam holes. Since these locks are battery powered, there isn’t a lot of torque available, so you may find you have to slightly pull or push on your door at certain times of the year.
Garage Door Openers
Smart Garage Door Openers allow you to monitor and control your garage door from anywhere using an app on your smartphone. Most of them can also be configured to alert you whenever someone opens or closes your door. Imagine pairing this with your Video Doorbell mentioned above, so when someone is dropping off a package, you can open your door so they can set it safely inside, and close it when they are leaving. The two main choices are Nexx Garage or Chamberlain.
The thermostat was one of the first smart devices to go mainstream, and while there are several vendors to choose from, the Nest is the clear front runner. Sporting a very retro look, the Nest thermostat is not only Echo and Home compatible, but you can control from your phone even when you are away. It also can save on energy as it learns your routine over time, building a profile of when you are home and when you are away (via motion detection), and it adjusts itself appropriately. This helps save energy, and therefore money, and doesn’t require you to remember to adjust it. As it learns your routine it will even start cooling the home before you get home, so when you walk in it is exactly as you like.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. You can always just dip your toe in the water and purchase incrementally, even just a couple lights and a voice assistant would be a great way to start. Either way, when it comes time to sell, making your home ‘smarter’ and a little more high-tech, will only help to increase your home’s appeal.