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From refrigerators to locks, almost anything in your home can be upgraded with a smart home device.
What’s a smart home?
First things first. A smart home is a dwelling that uses internet-connected devices to do everyday tasks like locking the door, setting the thermostat, turning on lights and shutting the garage door. “Smart homes use technology to make your home safer, more convenient and more efficient,” says Mark Benson, head of SmartThings, Samsung’s home automation company. “And while ‘smart home’ is a concept that’s been around for a decade, new technology has made it more common,” he says. In the last five years or so, smart home devices have become easier to install and use and are more affordable. You can equip your home with a few basic smart home devices for less than $1,000, and in many cases, you can install the devices yourself. If you can set up an app, you can get the smart device running. “Consumers are reimagining their homes and thinking about them as places of relaxation, safety and now work,” Benson says. “People want more from their homes, and smart home technology and home automation are helping them make their homes better. That has led to a rapid adoption of smart home tech in just the last few years.” In addition to making your home more comfy and more convenient, smart home technology can also add to your home’s value. Homes that mention “smart appliances” in the listing can sell for 3% more, and homes with smart sprinklers can sell 5 to 7 days faster.
What is home automation?
Home automation is the electronic control of a couple of smart home devices from a single place. It’s usually a platform like an app that makes your smart thermostat, doorbell camera, smart lightbulbs, smart refrigerator and other devices operable from a smartphone, tablet or voice assistant. Most manufacturers offer a home automation app that will run all the smart home devices they make. “In my house, we have some automation through the SmartThings app that shuts the house down at night,” Benson says. “We call it ‘Good night.’ So, when we’re going to bed, we can just say, ‘Alexa, Good night,’ and the home automation turns off the lights and locks the door.”
Are you looking to wise up your home with this technology?
Here are a few smart home ideas, as well as some popular smart home devices that can be incorporated into a home automation system.
Smart thermostat:
Smart thermostats, like Nest or Ecobee, are one of the top-selling smart home devices in the U.S. Around 33 million households had one as of 2020. Smart thermostats allow you to create programmable temperature settings based on your schedule and needs. They’ll turn off the AC or heat while at work and turn it on an hour before you get home each day, so you aren’t wasting money heating and cooling an empty house. “Smart thermostats use sensors to detect when you’re home, and they only run the HVAC when you are there,” Benson says. “They can save you a lot of money on your energy bill.”
Security cameras:
You can get indoor or outdoor cameras that keep an eye on your house. Outdoor cameras, specifically video doorbells like Ring and Nest, have become extremely popular smart home ideas, Benson says. They can let you answer your door wherever you are, whether it’s the other side of the door or the other side of the country. Video doorbells have sensors that detect motion and turn on the camera when someone steps on your porch. The camera then streams live video to your phone, so you can see who is at the door and even speak to them through your phone. So you can talk to the FedEx guy while you are at work and tell him where to leave your package. And then you can keep an eye out for porch pirates who might steal your package once he leaves it. “Video doorbells add a lot of security and give you peace of mind,” Benson says.
Smart locks:
Smart door locks let you lock and unlock your house with the tap of a finger or voice command — no key needed. You can unlock the house for a guest or the housekeeper while you are at work. You can set up entry codes that work for only a certain timeframe, so you control who has access to your house. Some smart locks allow you to monitor who comes into your house, in real time, so you can see if your kids got home from school or if the dog walker showed up. They’re a smart home device that gives you more control over who comes and goes in your house.
Smart lights:
This includes smart lightbulbs and smart switches. You can control either remotely, via an app on your smartphone when you’re away from home or with a voice assistant when you are at home. This is one of the most popular entry-level smart home devices, Benson says. “Installing smart lighting is as easy as putting in a smart light bulb and downloading an app to run it,” he says. “You can get a lot of energy savings from turning off lights when no one is in the room,” Benson says. “You can also set the right mood for watching a movie without going around and hitting every light switch in the room.” You can use smart lights indoors or outdoors, so you can easily control lights on the porch, in the living room or in your bedroom by touching a screen or speaking to a voice assistant.
Smart appliances:
Even your appliances can now hook up to the internet and do amazing things. You can get smart refrigerators that send a notification to your phone when the use-by dates of your yogurt are near, or send a live video stream of the inside of the fridge while you’re at the grocery store, so you can see if you’re low on milk or lunchmeat. You can get washing machines and dryers that allow you to run a cycle remotely from your phone, so you can dry a load of clothes for 10 minutes longer without getting off the sofa. These are really next-level smart home devices.
How do I get started?
It’s easy to scale smart home technology. Buy one or two devices, then expand your smart home one device at a time. “Our statistics show that 74% of people with smart homes started with one device,” Benson says. “They didn’t start with a whole system.” He says Samsung’s research shows most people start with smart lights, then add a smart thermostat, then a smart lock and security cameras.
“Lights are extremely accessible,” he says. “As you add more devices to your smartphone over time, your smart home grows with you.” It’s helpful to have some idea of what line of products you favor because the home automation piece will be simpler. Your voice assistant may not be able to run a mix of, say, Google and Amazon devices. The smart home tech industry is working on an industry standard that will enable all devices to work together, Benson says, but it isn’t quite there yet. “Eventually, all devices will work in one ecosystem,” he says. “All the big players are in it, so you’ll see the new standard rolled out in the next year.” Don’t be intimidated by smart home technology. Dipping a toe into home automation can make your home more comfortable, safer and maybe even more valuable.