Smart home technology has become somewhat ubiquitous. More and more families across the world are adopting smart technology into their homes and daily routines. If you are just being introduced or are curious about smart tech, it can be somewhat overwhelming as there are many companies and products in the space.
A smart home has many advantages and few disadvantages. A smart home is a home outfitted with technology that enables communication between smart devices and more control of your home. Advantages include energy efficiency, customization and ease of use while disadvantages include cost and internet reliance.
Technology moves fast and keeping up with the latest and greatest can be a struggle. Each technology company is eager to earn our business and they do that by putting out quality and useful products.
|Hands-free convenience||Internet Reliance|
|Enhanced Security||Setup and Configuration|
|Save Time with Automated Tasks||More Technical Security Threats|
|Customization||Different Protocols (Z-Wave, Zigbee etc.)|
These smart devices, in my opinion, add a lot of value to my daily routine and really help me be more efficient. For that reason, I do believe smart home technology is worth it. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
In just a short amount of time we have seen a decent amount of innovation in the space. Our homes are operating a lot different then they were 5 years ago and the next 5 years will bring a lot more change.
Smart technology and devices will bring value to your home as well. At some point it will be almost expected. If you are planning to sell your house anytime soon, those permanent smart fixtures will definitely attract more buyers.
At the heart of most smart systems is the voice assistant. Google Home, Alexa and Apple Homekit are the main contenders in the ring and Microsoft Cortana is a distant fourth. Alexa has the most compatibility at the moment but that could change in a short span of time.
I am currently running everything in my home with Alexa but have used Google Home and they are both great. Most smart homes are built around a certain ecosystem so keep that in mind when first starting out.
You can find some of our favorite smart home products here. If you are just dipping starting out, check out smart plugs, smart bulbs and smart thermostats. The bulbs and plugs don’t require installation but the thermostats will.
Smart Home Hubs
Some devices will have come with hubs, like Phillips Hue. Some devices will
A hub will keep your smart home components in constant communication, no matter the protocol your devices are using. A hub is essentially the smart homes middle man, keeping all devices connected to each other and to the internet.
Hubs have both advantages and disadvantages.
|Manage Multiple Devices||Cost|
|Efficient Connection Sharing||Setup and Configuration|
|Control Multiple Devices – 1 Platform||Additional Wires and Plugs|
|Variety of devices (Ex: door sensors)||Additional Device on WiFi|
An advantage is it helps enable routines in your home if everything is not compatible. It also helps with wi-fi speeds. When you have multiple devices connecting and pulling from the same internet connection, speeds can go down. A hub allows all devices to be connected to the internet with only one device (the hub) actually pulling from the wi-fi.
A disadvantage is hubs are an extra cost. They may not be crazy expensive, but they are still an extra cost.
The good thing is voice assistants are moving towards playing the hub roll too. AS of now, Amazon Echo Plus and Show both offer Zigbee hubs. Hopefully they move into the other protocols as well.
Smart home devices are connected to the internet, either directly or through a hub. What this is means is you can access those devices from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
So what devices allow for remote control and why is this a benefit to you? Well, every smart device allows for some sort of remote control. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to call them smart.
This benefits you as your home will now be able to be controlled directly from your phone or tablet, whether you are home or not. Here are some examples:
- You just got to work but forgot to turn off a few lights around the house. Turn them off with your smart bulb or light switch app.
- Someone is at your door but you are not home. Get a notification on your phone where you can see and speak with your visitor through two-way audio.
- You normally lower the heat when you go to work but forgot today. Smart thermostats allow you to control the temperature in your home from anywhere and learning thermostats take it one step further and actually “learn” your habits and adjust automatically.
These are some simple examples and could probably fill a book with all the other use cases out there. This gives you an idea of the possibilities when it comes to remotely controlling your smart home and how it might benefit you.
Energy Monitoring and Conservation
There are some smart devices that have features that help you conserve energy around your home. From energy monitoring to lowering the temperature of your home while you are away. Smart home devices keep you connected to your home but also allow you to stay connected to the amount of energy consumed by certain devices.
Smart plugs have an energy monitoring feature. Get reports on the amount of energy consumed to see how much each device is using. Some smart plugs will even have controls that will shut the plug off when a certain amount of energy has been reached.
Smart Thermostats can learn your schedule and heating and cooling preferences. They are set up to adjust automatically and keeping your home running as efficient as possible. For example:
- If it is hot outside, the thermostat will not run the A/C unless it needs to while you are gone and will cool the house to your preferred temperature by the time you get home.
- If it is cold outside, the thermostat will not run the heat unless it needs to while you are gone but will warm the house to your preferred temperature by the time you return.
Smart thermostats tie into your phone and have built-in sensors to learn your routine. Your preferred temperatures are input when installing the units.
You can find some of our favorite smart thermostats here!
You also have smart window shades that work on a schedule to keep you home cool at just the right time.
Check out this quick video that goes into smart thermostats, smart shades and light bulbs.
Smart homes can be as complex or simple as you choose. There really is no one size fit all solutions here. Whether you want to take advantage of one device or twenty, that is all up to you and all completely acceptable.
Home automation needs vary based on a number of factors including:
- If you rent an apartment or own a house
- Whether or not you want to add smart self-monitoring security cameras
- How much of your home do you want to automate
- Budget (this one is touched on more below in the disadvantage section)
There are obviously a lot more factors but this is a high-level summary. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of devices. You can automate almost every aspect of your home. Or you can automate the areas that fit into your own needs. Devices include:
- Light bulbs and switches
- Garage door openers
- Kitchen appliances and gadgets
- Outlets and plugs
- Security cameras
- Video doorbells
- and more…
Pick one, pick two pick them all. You have options in each category and they are all all useful in their own way.
Home automation comes in many sizes. Big or small devices, they all add some sort of convenience to your life.
You can always be home to greet your visitors with a smart video doorbell. You can have your door unlock for you when you arrive. You can use your voice to turn on lights in your home or start a pot of coffee.
It all adds up and allows your home to run more efficiently and work better for you. It is up to you to find those devices that will improve your life and add value to your home.
There is an added level of safety that comes with smart devices. If you plan on adding smart security like cameras or door and window sensors, you will be able to check in on your home from anywhere. Or even better, get notifications when movement is sensed and a live stream to your home to check it out.
You also have smart smoke detectors. These work similarly to there ‘dumb’ predecessors but the biggest difference is they notify you when anything is detected. There is CO2 sensors as well.
Smart smoke detectors like Nest will even tell you exactly where the problem is through built-in speakers.
Video doorbells also add a layer of protection. They allow you to see who is at your front door without having to actually open it. They also help safeguard those Amazon deliveries that occasionally build up at your front door.
Video doorbells record when movement is sensed. If a package was to go missing, you would have a clear video of the perpetrator. Just having the camera can be a good deterrent.
One of the benefits of smart home technology is your ability to set routines. A routine is an action that sets off other actions within your connected home.
You can set up routines to trigger through a certain phrase, at a certain time of the day or designated days. These routines can include turning smart devices on and off or getting news briefs or weather.
My morning routine is triggered by the phrase “Alexa, good morning.” That command turns on my lights, tells me the weather, goes through the news brief and starts a pot of coffee.
Check out this video of a completely automated home with routines and all. It is pretty extensive how his lights are all set up, but pretty cool nonetheless.
There are constraints with Google Home and Alexa routines. Most of these constraints are overcome when you use IFTTT to set up your smart home routines.
Ease of Use
With any technology, or any digital device at that, simplicity is a must. We, as users, expect a highly intuitive and efficient design from our smart home technology. These companies know this and spend a good amount of resources to ensure there product adequately addresses our issues.
We all have some exposure to technology in our lives. we know what looks good and what works. Most of the companion apps that come with smart devices are aesthetically pleasing. It always helps when stuff looks good.
Once a new device is installed, operating that device from your phone or tablet will be a breeze.
It is Not Limited to Your Home
Yes, that’s right. Smart technology has stepped outside of the home as well. There are smart plugs designed for outdoor use great for christmas lights, fountains, outdoor lights and other patio electronics you may have.
You also can add Alexa to your car. That’s right, you can have Alexa riding shotgun from now on. My favorite feature of the Amazon Echo Auto is the ability to ask Alexa for directions to a specific location. Alexa will pull up your map app of choice, even Waze, and input those directions for you.
Voice control in the car is the next big wave of smart tech. All the big names are battling out for premium space in your cars infotainment systems.
Away mode, or vacation mode, is another form of security for your home when you are away. It basically simulates someone being home even when they are not by turning lights on and off in a random pattern.
Smart plugs, smart light switches and smart bulbs can all come with away mode as a feature. The random pattern is meant to act as another bad guy deterrent and scare those would be burglars away.
Smart thermometers also have a vacation mode feature. It basically keeps your home at an efficient temperature while you are away. Why heat or cool your home if you are not there to enjoy it. The thermometers do keep an eye on the home temperature and don’t let it get to hot or to cold. You are in control of those highs and lows.
Self Monitoring Security
There are two forms of home security: Monitored and self-monitored systems. Monitored systems come with a team that is responsible for keeping an eye on your security cameras and will alert you if something does happen, along with the police or fire if necessary. These systems do usually come with a hefty price tag and decent sized monthly bill.
A self-monitoring security system is monitored by the owner. You are responsible for keeping an eye on things. The cost of these cameras can vary, ranging from $25 to $250 plus.
The Wyze cam is the $25 option and it is a pretty nice little camera that won’t break the bank.
Smart cameras are built for indoor and outdoor usage. You will want to be sure the cameras you do out outside are designed for outdoor use. They will need to be rugged and weatherproof.
These cameras come in wired and battery options. You can monitor them through your phone and get alerts when motion is detected. If you are ever unfortunate enough to have a burglar stop by, it is up to you to call the police. The good thing is you will have a recording of them in your home as evidence.
These cameras will vary on the types of storage options offered. Some will come with a free rolling storage period, where it stores footage over a two week period while others will charge a small fee for storage.
We wrote about 12 DIY smart security systems with no monthly fee here.
You can also install window and door sensors. These little gadgets alert you when a door or window is opened or broke. Just another layer of home security to keep your family safe,
Geofencing and Location Based
Geofencing is interesting. It will basically track your phone’s location and set off different events in your smart home. When your phone enters certain zones or is in a certain proximity to a device, different actions can happen.
There are a lot of ways you can integrate geofencing into your home automation routine but the big four are:
- Garage door openers. As your phone enters zones previously set up, the smart garage door opener is activated. When you arrive home the door will be up and ready for you. The same is true when you are leaving home. You still have manual control, but automating this is way cooler!
- Door locks. These will unlock when you are within a certain range of the door. No more fumbling for your keys when you have a weeks worth of groceries dangling from your arms (It is always my goal to bring all the groceries into the house in one trip no matter how big the load is. ALWAYS!) It will also lock the door behind you when you leave.
- Thermostats. Smart thermostats use your location and sensors to learn your routine. When your phone is away from the home, it will know you are more than likely gone and adjust your home’s temperature accordingly.
- Cameras. When you are home you probably don’t want your cameras to be recording. Your cameras will use your location to turn the motion sensed recording on and off. You won’t have to worry about the cameras recording you in your PJs watching tv as it will know it’s you and disable recording.
Nexx was one of our top smart garage door openers. This video explains how it works pretty well.
Peace of Mind With Maintenance Updates
If you are looking to add some major appliances to your smart home you can expect them to have some internal maintenance monitor. The smart appliance will keep you updated when it needs maintenance and, at times, be able to tell you exactly what’s wrong.
Ovens, stovetops, washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and more. Imagine if all of these devices told you when something was wrong instead of the other way around.
Smart appliances usually come with a bigger price tag so knowing when maintenance is needed is a huge plus. Just a side note, if you do plan on adding a smart appliance to your home, be sure to get the extended warranty. Repairs aren’t much more expensive but that extra warranty will be appreciated if anything ever does go wrong.
Smart smoke detectors will also run their own tests to make sure they are operational. Most people do not check their smoke detectors often enough, so why not have your devices check themselves.
It’s Just Smart
Adding anything smart to your home really does add so much value to your home. These were just a few high-level points, the true value is up to you to decide.
Even if you start small with a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Home and a smart bulb, you will most likely love it.
With that being said, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows with smart home technology. There are some drawbacks and limiting factors involved. Let’s jump into those now.
No Global Protocol
Smart devices can talk to each other but sometimes they speak different languages. There is Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, wi-fi and more. This means your devices will need to be compatible to work well with each other.
If your devices are not compatible, you may need to log into mutliple apps to control your home. It isn’t the end of the world but does eat into the convenience of having a smart home.
As noted above, Amazon is adding Zigbee hubs into their higher end voice assistants like the Echo Plus and Echo Show. Moving forward, hopefully they decide to add more protocols to their network to clean up the smart home experience.
Until then, keep an eye on the smart devices you are bringing home. Know that if you are not taking advantage of a smart home hub like SmartThings, it might get a little messy.
The worst thing that can happen with your smart device is the company that made it goes out of business. It does happen from time to time and if they take their servers down you are pretty much done for.
If the device does not rely on a server and is controlled through another app like Alexa, SmartThings, Google Home or Homekit it might still work. You will not have any support or be able to buy any replacement parts.
For small devices, it is not that bad. If we are talking about a smart appliance, it will be a bit more painful.
Technology moves fast and some companies are just not built for the competition. Be sure to look for reputable and well branded smart home devices to keep this from happening to you.
Reliance on a Strong Internet Connection
Smart technology can get expensive. Prices have dropped since the inception of the smart homes, but outfitting an entire home with connected devices and appliances can get expensive.
Installing smart switches to every light switch in your home adds up. Even though you won’t have to switch out each of your outlets, replacing most of your outlets with smart outlets adds up.
Then you have those bigger ticket items like any of the kitchen appliances or washer and dryers. These appliances are already pretty expensive on there own. Depending on the brand and the features included, smart appliances can come with some pretty big price tags.
Whether the smart device, big or small, is worth its price tag will be up to you to decide.
Adapting Smart Tech into Your Daily Routine
With anything new, adapting can take some time and there may be some stumbling. This is normal and can almost be expected. I know I highlighted ease of use above but there is still a slight learning curve involved with smart home technology.
If you are more of a tech savvy person, you should catch on pretty quickly. If you aren’t so technically inclined, you will still be able to get it pretty quickly. Most devices come with an extremely easy installation and great tutorials.
One thing that was a little difficult for me was utilizing Alexa or Google Home voice commands. It was a bit unnatural talking to a device to turn off some lights or start the coffee maker.
It does get easier with time and practice. Once you form that habit, it’s hard to imagine life without it.
Anything connected to the internet will have some sort of security concern. There is always the chance you will be hacked. I have seen numerous videos where white hat hackers (and black hat) have taken over some unsuspecting homeowners video camera and started talking through it.
If this does ever happen to you, let’s hope they are white hat. IF you are unsure of what a white hat hacker is, they are the ethical hackers, if that makes sense.
Check out this post that lists out 11 ways to secure your smart home technology.
An excerpt from that article:
One vulnerable smart device can lead to bigger problems. If your smart plug connected to your toaster is comprismised, that’s not a big deal right? But what if your alarm system or security cameras are hacked? Hackers can potentially gain access to your home or video footage.
As long as you are putting in the work to make sure you are protected, the chances of being hacked or any other security concern is pretty low. It is up to you to make sure you are following the best practices,
This doesn’t happen as frequently as you might think and is sometimes tied to the reason some companies go out of business. If a company is poorly reviewed, people will lose hope and down it goes.
It does happen though and when it does there are really only a few ways to deal with it. You can reach out directly to the company to see if they can remedy the situation. Sometimes they will, other times you just won’t get a response.
If you ordered the product through Amazon, you can reach out directly to them. They are really good about taking care of their customers.