Creating a Smart House: Start Simple


The term “smart house” gets thrown around a lot these days, with technology companies across the nation trying to convince homeowners they need to automate everything from security systems to coffeemakers. While going smart offers significant benefits, it can also come with large costs.

4 Simple Ways to Start Your Smart House

Starting simple is often your best bet — so here are four ways to get your home on the path from standard to smart.

1. Programmable Thermostats

Every house has a thermostat, allowing you to manually control heat or cold as needed. If you install a new air conditioning unit or furnace, however, you’ll often be given the choice to upgrade your thermostat to a programmable type.

This lets you set not only the immediate temperature, but also create a day-by-day program which runs without any need for human intervention. For example, you can set up a program that turns down the heat at night, increases it again when you wake up in the morning and then lets the house cool off while you’re at work. Set the heat to come on again in late afternoon and your home is toasty warm when you arrive. Most programmable thermostats let you set programs for each day of the week, meaning you can change the schedule for weekends.

Newer models also feature touch-screen technology, and can be purchased for around $100. It’s a good idea to call in an electrician to do the install work, especially if you have central air conditioning along with a furnace. In addition, smart house products, like the Nest thermostat, are starting to make inroads. This Wi-Fi enabled thermostat not only lets you program settings, but learns your patterns on its own and then adjusts temperature as needed throughout the day. The product also comes with a mobile app that lets you change the temperature even when you’re not at home.

2. Smart House Lighting

Smart lighting starts with motion-sensitive lights, which activate when you walk into a room, but has also evolved to include lights on timers and the ability to control every light in your home from a central control panel or your mobile phone. You can also purchase smart light bulbs such as Lighting Science’s “Awake and Alert” or “Good Night” bulbs, which adjust the level of blue light they emit to help you stay awake or go to sleep. Both cost around $70.

You can also spend a little more for the Rhythm Downlight, which learns about your schedule using a mobile app and then adjusts its lighting properties to help you wake up or rest.

3. Auto Alarms and Locked Doors

Of course, security systems are often considered ideal candidates for smart house automation. Many companies have now developed wireless systems which rely on your home’s router or a company server to communicate with a mobile application. So long as you have the proper access permissions and key code you can lock your doors, turn on the alarm system or activate a distress signal.

Expect to pay at least twice as much for a wireless system, especially if it also lets you control lights, outside motion detectors or comes with a live video feed. Also, make sure your security provider has taken steps to limit the possibility of a network breach — if an intruder breaks into your wireless network, they could potentially hijack the entire system.

4. Smart House: Getting Wired

If you’re committed to going the distance with smart house technology, you need to decide how your systems will be wired. The most widely used option relies on power line connections, which run through your home’s electrical outlets. X-10, which has over 10 million devices on the U.S. market, is a power line technology.

The problem? If your power is cut or interrupted, the system can fail. Radio signal technologies like Zigbee and Z-Wave are also possible, and use the same kind of wireless signals as your television remote. This doesn’t require any tie-in to your power line, but with the right radio frequency almost anyone can affect the systems in your home. Phone lines are another option — ADSL Internet technologies already rely on high-end phone line frequencies — but there are relatively few products on the market which use these lines. All three of these systems can be retrofitted in your home, but provide differing levels of reliability and ease-of-use.

The last option is structured wiring, which acts as an essential component of your home. Installing this kind of smart home technology is really only possible if you’re building a new house or tackling a large renovation project, but gives you total control over what’s installed and how it will work.

Smart technology is evolving to affect all electrical, heating, and security systems in your home. Start simple — with a programmable thermostat, smart lighting or security system — and work your way up from there.

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