It wasn’t that long ago that home automation was something that was almost exclusively limited to the luxury home market. The sheer expense of setting up a system that could control security, lighting, and temperature controls it out of reach of the average homeowner. Fast-forward to today and with the advent of wireless networked devices, you can upgrade your current home with the latest in smart home technology that will best anything offered even 5 years ago.
Home buyers are connected and are looking for a home that matches their connected lifestyle. Adding smarthome features to your house like a connected thermostat, connected lighting, even a video door bell may pay dividends when it comes time to sell your property but these are simple improvements that you can enjoy now. Here’s how to go about it.
First, think about your network
Unless you’re going to run Cat6 cable through every wall in your home, each smart home device will be connected to your home via your wireless network. The more systems that you add, the more it can slow down. Start first by upgrading your wireless router to something with the latest security and speed. Skimping here can not only open you up to a potential intrusion but can also lead to a sub-optimal experience. I recommend shopping for one that is Wireless-AC (wireless N at a bare minimum) and adding additional wifi range extenders as needed.
Next, think about the system you want to have?
The most popular home digital assistant on the market currently is Amazon’s Alexa. Google’s Home is also very good and gaining ground and by the time to read this, there may be another that rendered both obsolete. Thinking first about which digital assistant you want to run in your house will enable you to choose compatible products so that you can have the best smart home experience. Many items are common with both Alexa and Google Home but just to be safe, check the Google Home and Alexa site for compatible options.
I use the Amazon Alexa service in my house, which I find convenient and compatible with both my Apple and Android devices. Now that you’ve chosen a system, let’s add a few accessories to smarten your home up.
Smart thermostats are likely everyone’s first foray into the smarthome space. They offer the convenience of being controlled by an app from just about anywhere, are generally visually striking, and can even save a few dollars on your heating bill. Also, when connected to a service like Alexa, you can control the thermostat with your voice.
The most popular connected thermostat is the Nest, which runs around $245 without installation. While you can install it yourself, if you have an old heating and air system or are not very handy, I would recommend calling a HVAC tech to install it for you. The installation charge is a lot less expensive than replacing an entire air conditioner because you crossed wires by accident.
The Nest isn’t your only option. The Ecobee4 thermostat from Ecobee has Amazon’s Alexa service built in and is also app controlled and Honeywell has many options including their new Lyric line, which is designed to be compatible with smart home services. Prices range from $100-$250 without installation.
Security and Access Controls
I hate carrying keys. I have the propensity to lose keys (yes, Realtors lose keys too which is why I always have a spare copy made) so the option of installing a push-button lock on an exterior door on my house was an easy decision. Companies like Schlage, Kwikset, and August all make smart deadbolt and handle sets. What I love most about a push-button door lock is that you can give someone temporary access to your property, using their own code, which you can change at any time. If you purchase a push button smart lock, look for one that is compatible with your security system for an added level of protection.
For example, let’s say you have someone that comes and cleans up your house from time to time. Instead of giving them their own key, just give them their own code. When they stop working for you, just erase the code from your lock – done and done! This also works well for children, who can also lose house keys.
Door locks are one thing but you can smarten up your doorbell as well. If you’ve considered installing an exterior camera, products like the Ring Video Doorbell and Skybell combine an exterior camera with your doorbell in one smart package. I’ve had the Ring video door bell for about six months now and overall it’s something I would recommend. When someone rings my door bell, a chime sounds in the house and I’m notified on my phone that someone is at my door. I can see who they are and even talk back and forth (which is nice for avoiding door-to-door salesmen). What I like even more is the proximity feature, which turns the camera on automatically and captures video whenever someone approaches my house.
Depending on where your front door is located, the proximity feature could lead to a few (or many) false alarms but I personally don’t mind. I’d rather get alerted by a vehicle zooming past than not alerted if someone walks off with a package on the front stoop. The battery lasts around 2-3 months but uninstalling, recharging and installing again isn’t a difficult process.
Ring also makes stand-alone cameras that can be placed around your property in addition to the doorbell camera. Thankfully, the standalone cameras can be powered by an additional solar panel, so that should make recharging much easier.
To that end, garage door motor maker Genie makes a line of garage door openers compatible with their Aladdin service, which can enable you to control your door wirelessly through an app on your smartphone. If you have a newer garage door opener, the Garageio offers that same functionality to a wide range of openers using their add-on controller. The benefit: added security for your deliveries (the door can be opened remotely and closed again).
Smart lighting controls are about the easiest item to add to your home. They use your existing lamp and control it using a smart plug between the lamp and outlet. Others replace the entire bulb with a wireless-enabled LED bulb, which sounds expensive but when you consider the life expectancy of a standard LED bulb, you will likely move before having to replace any of them (some last as long as 20 years).
If you’re thinking a bit more advanced, Leviton also now has smart switches, which can be installed to control dimming levels via an app or even a smart assistant like Alexa. The process to install one is a bit more involved than plugging an adapter or installing a lightbulb but not impossible if you’re handy.
When I purchased my first home back in 2002, I had the builder run wiring for speakers in the living and deck for that surround experience. Soon after, I thought I should have added lines to the bedroom, bathrooms, and even kitchen. Adding speaker wires after the fact proved too expensive and so that’s why it’s common to see wires hidden behind crown molding and along baseboards. However, with Bluetooth technology and wireless networks being so much better, having a whole house audio system is really simple.
By now, you may be aware of companies like Sonos which make great wireless audio solutions. If you have an Amazon Echo or Tap, you can achieve similar results (although all the speakers can’t be linked to play the same audio – yet. Amazon: get on this!). However, if you have a Dot, you can connect it to any bluetooth-enabled speaker or sound system to bring music to any room like the bathroom or your back patio.
Homewerks makes a line of bathroom fans that also have a built-in bluetooth speaker. The sound from the Homewerks 7130-02-BT is impressive for a bathroom fan (the fan can used independent of the speaker) but what’s best is that it fits in the same opening as a standard fan.
One final improvement: considering replacing a few outlets in your home with USB charging outlets for phones and tablets. Most have two charging ports and two regular outlets, so you’re not sacrificing an outlet. One tip is to look for one with at least 4 amps of USB charging power so your devices will charge quickly.