Jul 19, 2023

Smart Homes and the Smart Devices That Make Them Work

Smart Homes and the Smart Devices That Make Them Work

How Smart Homes Work

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The smart home—like the smartphone—is here to stay. With over 80 million smart home devices delivered worldwide just a decade ago, that number of smart home gadgets is expected to hit 1.23 billion by 2027. The new world of smart home technology is an exciting one, and the possibilities and combinations are becoming endless. As the smart home industry continues to grow, so will the offerings available and ways in which they will impact our daily lives.

What exactly is a smart home?

A smart home is a residence that uses internet-connected devices to enable the remote monitoring and management of appliances and systems, such as your lighting and heating. Smart home technology, also often referred to as home automation, provides homeowners security, comfort, convenience and energy efficiency by allowing them to control smart devices, often by a smart home app on their smartphone or other networked device.

What are the benefits of having a smart home?

Many Americans are looking into smart home ideas, how smart homes work, or specific task automation for benefits like these: smart homes allow you to have greater control of your energy use, all while automating things like adjusting temperature, turning on and off lights, opening and closing window treatments, and adjusting irrigation based on the weather (never again will your plants perish while you're away!). With a smart home system, you can quickly control compatible smart home devices that can enhance convenience, comfort, efficiency, and security in your home. Here are some key advantages of using smart home devices:

Convenience and Control:

A smart home system allows you to control various aspects of your home with ease and convenience. You can remotely control devices such as lights, thermostats, locks, alarms, and appliances using smartphone apps or voice commands. This level of control enables you to adjust settings, turn devices on or off, and automate routines to match your preferences and schedule. For example, if you want the oven to heat up before you get in, you can have it start right from your smartphone and you can pop that cake in a minute after you mix it.

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Energy Efficiency:

Smart home devices can contribute to energy savings and improved efficiency. For example, smart thermostats can learn your heating and cooling patterns, automatically adjust temperature settings based on occupancy or time of day and optimize energy usage. Smart lighting systems enable you to schedule or dim lights, reducing unnecessary energy consumption. These features can help lower your utility bills and reduce your environmental footprint. Plus, you'll never come home to a house that's too hot or too cold again.

Home Security:

Smart home security devices provide enhanced protection and peace of mind. With features like remote monitoring, motion detection, and real-time alerts, you can keep an eye on your home and receive notifications on your smartphone in case of any suspicious activity. Smart door locks offer keyless entry, allowing you to lock and unlock doors remotely or provide temporary access to guests.

Safety and Monitoring:

Smart home devices offer safety and monitoring capabilities. Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and water leak sensors can send alerts to your smartphone in case of emergencies, allowing you to act immediately. Smart cameras and doorbell cameras provide visual monitoring and recording capabilities, helping to deter potential intruders or provide evidence in case of incidents. They're also great for when you run out of Halloween candy and don't want to open the door to more kids!

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Integration and Automation:

Smart devices allow for seamless integration and automation between different devices. Integration platforms and voice assistants enable you to control multiple smart devices from different manufacturers through a unified interface or voice commands. This integration allows for more sophisticated automation, where actions from one smart device can trigger actions in others. For example, you can set up routines where the lights automatically turn on when you unlock the front door or have your coffee machine start brewing (thank goodness) as soon as you wake up.

Accessibility and Aging in Place:

Smart home devices can improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities or those who want to age in place. Voice-controlled assistants, automated lighting, and smart home monitoring systems can make it easier for people with mobility challenges to control their environment independently and ensure their safety. These systems also make it easier for the loved ones of such individuals to check on them throughout the day without having to actually be there. That kind of peace of mind is priceless.

Peace of Mind and Lifestyle Enhancement:

And speaking of peace of mind... With a smart, home automation system, daily tasks are simplified, freeing up time and reducing stress. By automating repetitive actions or remotely managing devices, you can focus on other important aspects of your life. Smart entertainment systems can also offer personalized audio and video experiences, enhancing your home entertainment options. It's like having your own personal entertainment concierge.

These are just a few of the many benefits of having a smart home. The specific advantages will vary based on the devices you choose and how you integrate them into your lifestyle and home environment.

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Examples of smart home devices

Today, there are numerous smart home appliances and devices that can be controlled by a smartphone. Below are some common examples and further down this page you'll find information on what it costs to set up a smart home system whether you do it yourself or hire a pro. Remember though: you can start with one element at a time. As you read the examples that follow, consider which one or two you'd like to do first. You don't have to do the whole house all at once.

Examples:

1.    Smart Lights:

Smart lighting devices like Philips Hue, LIFX, or other smart bulbs and switches can be controlled using smartphone apps. To set them up, you typically need to install the bulbs or switches, connect them to a hub or Wi-Fi network, and then download the respective app to your smartphone. The app will guide you through the setup process, including connecting the smart devices to your home network.

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2.    Smart Thermostats:

Brands like Nest, Ecobee, and Honeywell offer smart thermostats that allow you to control your home's heating and cooling remotely. To set them up, you usually need to install the smart thermostat first, connect it to your home's HVAC system, and download the accompanying app. The app will provide instructions for connecting the smart thermostat up to your Wi-Fi network and configuring its settings. A smart thermostat can learn your habits and automatically adjust the temperature based on your unique schedule.

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3.    Smart Security Systems:

Smart home security devices such as Ring, Nest Secure, or SimpliSafe enable remote monitoring and control of your home security. Setting up these various alarm systems usually involves installing the security devices (e.g., a smart doorbell/window sensors, security camera, alarm panels), connecting them to a central hub or base station, and then configuring the alarm system through the associated smartphone app. The app will guide you through the entire house setup process, including connecting the devices to your home network. It takes some doing, but with smart home security, you can check on your kids or grandkids from anywhere!

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4.    Smart Locks:

Brands like August, Schlage, or Yale produce smart locks that allow you to lock or unlock your doors using a smartphone. To set them up, you typically need to remove your existing lock and install the smart lock in its place. This may involve replacing the entire lock or retrofitting an existing deadbolt. You'll also need to download the lock's companion app and follow its instructions to connect the lock to your home's Wi-Fi network and configure access permissions.

5.    Smart Appliances:

Some appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines, and ovens, offer smart features and smartphone control. Each brand and model may have a different setup process. Generally, you'll need to connect the appliance to your home network, either through Wi-Fi or a hub, and then download the corresponding app. The app will provide instructions for connecting the appliance to your network and setting up any additional features.

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6.    Smart Speakers:

Devices like Amazon Echo or Google Nest (Google Home app) are voice-activated smart speakers that can control various smart devices. To set them up, you typically need to plug in the speaker, download the respective app to your smartphone, and follow the app's instructions for connecting the voice assistant or smart speaker to your Wi-Fi network. Once connected, you can use voice commands to control compatible smart devices.

These are just a few examples, and the specific setup process for each device may vary. It's essential to read the instructions provided for each smart device by the manufacturer and follow the steps outlined in the accompanying app to ensure a successful setup and integration with your smartphone.

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Setting up a smart home for an older adult

Setting up a smart home system for older people can be made easier by following these steps:

Start with a specific goal:

Determine the primary reason for setting up a smart home system. Whether it's for enhanced security, convenience, energy efficiency, or any other purpose, having a clear objective will help you focus on the essential components and avoid feeling overwhelmed. (Again, you don't have to do the whole house. Start with what's most important to you or your loved one.)

Research user-friendly options:

Look for smart home devices and systems that are known for their user-friendly interfaces and intuitive setup processes. Read product reviews, compare features, and consider consulting with knowledgeable friends, family members, or store associates who can provide guidance based on their experiences.

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Seek professional assistance:

If you find the setup process daunting or have difficulty understanding the technology, consider seeking professional help. Many companies offer smart home installation services, where experts will come to your home and set up the devices for you. They can also provide guidance on how to use the system effectively.

Choose devices with simple interfaces

Opt for smart home devices that have straightforward interfaces and minimal controls. Look for large buttons, clear labels, and intuitive navigation. Avoid overly complex systems that might be difficult to operate or configure.

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Consider voice control:

Voice-controlled smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo with Alexa or Google Nest with Google Assistant, can simplify the operation of various smart devices. Older people can use voice commands to control lights, thermostats, locks, and more, without needing to interact with complex apps or interfaces.

Start with a few devices:

As we've said, it's not necessary to set up an entire smart home system at once. Begin with a few devices that align with your specific needs and gradually expand the system as you become more comfortable and confident with the technology.

Follow setup instructions carefully:

When setting up smart home devices, carefully read the manufacturer's instructions and follow the step-by-step setup process outlined in the accompanying app or manual. Many devices have dedicated smartphone apps that guide you through the configuration process, making it easier to connect the devices to your Wi-Fi network and customize their settings.

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Seek assistance from family or friends:

If you have family members or friends who are familiar with smart home technology, don't hesitate to seek their assistance. They can provide hands-on help, explain concepts, and troubleshoot any issues that may arise during the setup process.

Take advantage of tutorials and resources:

Many smart home device manufacturers provide online tutorials, video guides, and comprehensive documentation to assist users with the setup and operation of their products. Take advantage of these resources to enhance your understanding and navigate the process smoothly.

Remember, patience is key when setting up a smart home system. Take your time, ask for help when needed, and gradually familiarize yourself with the technology. Once everything is set up, you'll be able to enjoy the benefits of a smarter, more convenient home environment.

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About smart home systems and data

Smart home devices typically consume varying amounts of data, depending on the specific device and how it's used. Here are some considerations regarding data usage:

Local Control:

Many smart home devices operate locally within your own home or network and don't require an internet connection for regular functionality. For example, smart lights or smart thermostats can be controlled directly through your home's Wi-Fi network without needing to access the internet. In these cases, data usage is minimal or non-existent.

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Cloud Connectivity:

Some smart home devices, particularly those with advanced features or remote access capabilities (like being able to monitor your grandkids while you're at the store), rely on cloud connectivity. This means they communicate with servers over the internet to provide enhanced functionality or allow remote control. Examples include security cameras that enable remote viewing or smart locks that can be unlocked from anywhere. Such devices may use data to transmit video feeds, notifications, or device status updates.

Data-intensive Features:

Certain smart home activities, such as streaming video from security cameras or using voice commands with voice-controlled smart speakers, can consume more data. Streaming high-definition video continuously or using voice commands frequently may result in increased data usage.

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Data Caps and Bandwidth:

It's essential to consider your internet service plan and any data caps or restrictions that may apply. If your plan has limited data or imposes additional charges for exceeding data limits, be mindful of the data consumed by your various smart home appliances and devices. Monitoring data usage through your ISP's tools or apps can help you keep track of consumption enabling you to dial it back before you get hit with a big, surprise, bill.

Device-specific Considerations:

Each smart home device may have its own data usage characteristics. Consult the device's documentation or contact the manufacturer to understand its specific data requirements. They can provide insights into typical data consumption and suggest strategies for optimizing usage.

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Wi-Fi Network Efficiency:

Ensure that your home Wi-Fi network is properly configured for optimal performance. A well-functioning network can reduce data usage by minimizing connection issues and efficiently managing data transfers between devices.

To minimize data usage:

  • Use local control whenever possible, avoiding unnecessary cloud-dependent features.

  • Adjust video streaming settings to optimize quality and reduce bandwidth consumption.

  • Regularly review and disable features or notifications that you don't need or use frequently.

  • Consider upgrading to an internet plan with higher data allowances if your smart home usage requires it.

Overall, while smart home devices can consume data, proper usage management and awareness of your data limits can help ensure efficient and responsible data consumption.

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When things go awry... troubleshooting your smart home system

Things happen. Maybe the power goes out and when it returns, nothing works quite like it should. Or your nephew gets into your phone and reconfigures a few things. When troubleshooting your smart home system, here are some steps you can take to identify and resolve common issues:

Identify the Problem:

Determine which specific aspect of your smart home system is experiencing trouble. Is it a specific device, the network connection, or the associated smartphone app? Understanding the scope of the issue will help you focus your troubleshooting efforts.

Restart Devices:

Try restarting the problematic device(s) by unplugging them from the power source, waiting for a few seconds, and plugging them back in. This simple step can resolve many temporary glitches.

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Check Power and Connections:

Ensure that the devices are receiving power and that all cables and connections are secure. Loose cables or power interruptions can disrupt the functionality of smart home devices.

Verify Network Connectivity:

Make sure your home Wi-Fi network is functioning correctly. Check if other devices can connect to the network and access the internet. Restart your router and modem if necessary.

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Test Device Placement:

In some cases, the positioning of smart home devices can affect their connectivity. If a device is having trouble connecting to the network or communicating with other devices, try moving it closer to the router or to a location with better signal strength.

Update Firmware and Apps:

Ensure that your smart home devices have the latest firmware or software updates installed. Outdated firmware or apps can cause compatibility issues and instability. Check the manufacturer's website or the app store for updates.

Reset and Reconfigure:

If the issues persist, you may need to reset the problematic device to its factory settings and reconfigure it from scratch. Consult the device's documentation or the manufacturer's support resources for specific instructions on how to reset and set up the device again.

Check App Settings:

Review the settings in the associated smartphone app for the device or system. Ensure that the app is configured correctly and that any required permissions are granted. Double-check that you're using the most up-to-date version of the app.

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Consult Manufacturer Resources:

Visit the manufacturer's website or consult their customer support resources for troubleshooting guides, FAQs, or community forums. Often, you'll find valuable information specific to your device or system, along with tips for resolving common issues.

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Contact Customer Support:

It may sound old fashioned but sometimes it's best to reach out to the manufacturer's customer support. They can provide more in-depth assistance and troubleshooting guidance tailored to your specific smart home devices.

Remember to document any error messages, symptoms, or steps you've taken during the troubleshooting process. This information can be helpful when seeking support from the manufacturer or discussing the issue with a knowledgeable technician.

If all else fails, call a professional or maybe one of your teenage grandchildren. Just don't call your nephew. He's probably the cause of the problem!

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So, what does it cost to set up a smart home system?

The cost of a smart home system can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the scope of the system, the specific devices and features chosen, and the level of integration desired. Here are some cost considerations to keep in mind:

Device Costs: The cost of individual smart home devices can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on the brand, features, and functionality. For example, smart lights may cost between $10 to $50 per bulb, while a smart thermostat can range from $100 to $300. Prices for devices like smart locks, cameras, and speakers can also vary widely.

Hub or Bridge: Some smart home systems require a central hub or bridge to connect and control the devices. The cost of a hub can range from $50 to $200, depending on the brand and capabilities. However, not all smart home systems require a hub, as some devices connect directly to your home's Wi-Fi network.

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Installation and Professional Services: If you prefer professional installation or setup assistance, additional costs may be involved. Some companies offer smart home installation services for a fee. The cost will depend on the complexity of the system and the number of devices to be installed.

Subscription Fees: Some smart home systems, especially those with advanced security features or cloud storage for cameras, may require a subscription plan for enhanced functionality or additional services. These plans can range from a few dollars per month to a few hundred dollars a month, depending on the service provider and the features included.

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Integration and Automation: For a more comprehensive and integrated smart home experience, you might consider automation platforms like Samsung SmartThings, Apple HomeKit, or Google Home. These platforms allow you to control and manage multiple smart devices from different manufacturers. The cost of these platforms can vary, but some are free to use, while others may require purchasing a compatible hub or device.

It's important to note that the cost of a smart home system is flexible, and you can start with a few devices and gradually expand over time. Consider your budget, prioritize your needs and goals, and choose devices and features that align with your requirements.

Additionally, keep in mind that ongoing operational costs, such as electricity usage or internet data consumption, may be associated with smart home devices. Be mindful of these factors when budgeting for a smart home system.

Overall, the cost of a smart home system can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on your preferences and the complexity of the system. It's best to research and compare prices from different brands and retailers to find the right combination of devices and features within your budget.

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Posted 8 months ago