Wednesday , November 14 2018

Going Smart at Home: Which Devices Are Essential?

The smart home of your dreams is finally within reach. In most cases, you can control everything right from the smartphone you’re reading from right now.

Smart home technology transforms how we live, offers increased security and peace of mind, and can even help you reduce your energy consumption. But this new home technology really shines because it’s finally giving us access to the kind of convenience and control that was once considered futuristic. Whether you’re a tech-savvy consumer or an involuntary Luddite, you can enrich your life with a few key smart home upgrades. Read on for everything you need to know, including which smart home products we recommend.

What Is a Smart Home?

Smart homes, also referred to as connected homes, are residences featuring devices that are connected to the internet and some time to each other.[1] Smart home devices offer a convenient, comprehensive way to control the appliances or other Wi-FI connected devices in your home.  An almost staggering assortment of smart home devices is available today—and it might seem difficult to separate the essential from the gimmicky and cumbersome.

Smart home products come in a range of prices, serving a variety of purposes, but many are aimed at making your life easier overall.  Two of our favorite categories here at Just Energy are those smart products that help you use less energy or make your home more secure. Save yourself time, money, and sanity with products that automate heating, cooling, lighting, and home security. Some of these can even detect the tone of your voice to detect how you feel to better serve you.[1]

Types of Smart Home Technology

Smart home technology offers endless efficiencies and includes voice-activated or app-controlled window blinds, cooking appliances, coffee makers, security cameras, lighting, televisions, assistants, robot vacuums, thermometers, voice and video telecommunications, home entertainment, speakers, and more. [2] Imagine waking up to your morning coffee freshly made; lights brightening in tandem with the sunset; never feeling too hot or too cold in your home, and returning at the end of a long day to a warm meal in your slow cooker. These are just some of the possibilities smart device manufacturers can offer. Innovations in smart home technology are just getting started, so expect to see a lot more in the coming years.

Does Smart Home Technology Make Your Life Easier?

You can save time—while gaining peace of mind—by adopting smart home technology. From cooking a meal while you’re at work to checking the security cameras at home from your phone, having complete control of your home from the push of a button brings smart home devotees the kind of convenience people once needed house staff to maintain.

How Smart Homes Can Reduce Energy Use

Reduce your energy consumption and your bills by taking advantage of efficient automation. Thermostat system controls can ensure you heat and cool at maximum efficiency while making your home the most comfortable it’s ever been.[2] This is ideal for those who have varied temperature preferences, such as enjoying cool temperatures while sleeping and warmer temperatures during the day.

Smart meters and energy display devices can help you track your energy use and reduce consumption.[1] Knowing when and how you use your energy gives you greater control of your energy usage. This way, you can pinpoint exactly where your energy use peaks and you can make an informed choice to try to lower your consumption. With the right functionality, smart meters and energy displays can also make it easy for you to shut off your hot water when it’s not in use.[3] Studies concluded real-time feedback can result in 4% to 9% reductions in residential electricity consumption.[4]

Forgot to turn a light off? Do it remotely with lighting controls from your smartphone. This can also function as a security feature by making it appear as if you are home while you’re away or on vacation, deterring potential break-ins.

If your home has solar panels, you can turn on the immersion heater in your home to store excess photovoltaic generation for later. By automatically storing locally generated energy, you can get the most out of your solar panels and ensure those sunny days don’t go to waste.

It’s important to note, smart homes devices use energy to function so they only reduce your energy consumption if they allow you to save more electricity or gas than they consume to run.[3]

Choose Your Smart Assistant

Amazon Alexa

Alexa is Amazon’s digital assistant, available through an expansive offering of Amazon products such as Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Connect, and Echo Buttons. [5] As far as smart home technology goes, Amazon Alexa is recommended first and foremost because it is relatively affordable, quick and easy to set up, and offers a range of capabilities and connection to a variety of devices.[5] Most American households also already have Amazon accounts.

Amazon Echo

The original Amazon Echo can connect all your other Echo devices by creating an account and downloading ‘skills’ for each function you want to access.[5] These ‘skills’ include playing music or games, reading news, answering questions, setting alarms, making phone calls, and more.

Echo Plus

The newer Echo Plus can act as the hub for all your other Echo devices more easily. Simply say “Alexa, find new devices” and control compatible devices such as lighting, locks, and more.

Echo Spot

This small, round alarm clock features a 2.5-inch screen displaying the time and weather.[5] It also has a camera that can be used for video calls.

Echo Connect

The Echo Connect is an ultra-affordable add-on that makes your home safer.[5] It can turn any Echo speaker into a phone that can be voice-activated from across the room. If you ever need to call 911 but can’t reach a telephone, this technology can be a life-saver.

Echo Buttons

At $20 for a two-pack, these buttons can be used for interactive games, lighting up, blinking, or vibrating in response to actions within over 90 different games. Their potential depends on what more 3rd-party developers create for them.[5]

Google Home

Alternatively, the 6.6-inch Google Home or the more diminutive Google Home Mini is another option for your smart assistant. Similar to the Amazon Echo, Google Home is a Wi-Fi enabled speaker that shares some functionalities with Alexa. Simply say okay, Google” and to request your favorite music, news updates, traffic reports, or weather forecast.[6] You can even order an Uber, ask questions, set timers, ask for solutions to simple math problems, and connect to other smart devices such as smart thermostats, lighting systems, and other devices.[6]

Apple HomePod

Offering a slightly better sound quality for a much higher price, the Apple HomePod may be worth it for discerning music lovers.[7] Less than 7 inches in size and available in space gray and white, Apple Music can be accessed through voice commands, but if you want to use Spotify, you’ll have to access it through your phone or with another assistant.[7] With Apple HomePod, your virtual assistant can be accessed by waking it up with the prompt “Hey, Siri”, followed by your question or command.

What About Appliances?

Some smart appliances may leave you scratching your head. A smart toaster? Really? But others can be useful necessities for tech-savvy people and even life-changing for busy people looking to save time.

Think of your most dreaded chores. If there isn’t a smart device that’ll do it for you yet, just wait. Here are a few of the most popular smart home appliances.

Robot Vacuums

Ranging in price from under $200 to over $800, all robot vacuums complete the same simple task of making dust disappear and collecting debris to clean your floors, but some do a better job than others. Select the robot vacuum that best suits your home and habits based on whether you have carpeted floors, hardwood, pets, or children. Choose between various models by Roomba, EcoVacs, Eufy, Samsung, and others.[8]

Robot Mops

Some smart technology isn’t quite there yet for smart mops. Ranging in price from about $170 to over $550, smart mops might accidentally mop your rugs or carpets since you have to set off-limits zones. Similar to robot vacuums, robot mops come in various models by Roomba, EcoVacs, iRobot Braava, iLife, and more. Some versions can be scheduled, remote controlled, or phone controlled.[9]

Smart Refrigerators

Smart fridges offer W-Fi connectivity, allowing select models to adapt to your schedule and readjust when it recognizes frequent use, such as during a party or when cooking an elaborate meal.[10] Enjoy completely customizable control that you can set based on what food you’re storing and for how long [10]. There are several smart fridge manufacturers to choose from, including Samsung, GE, Frigidaire, Kenmore (connects with Amazon Alexa), Whirlpool, and more.

Smart Ovens

Imagine preheating your oven from your phone when you’re on your way home to cook a meal. Save time on cooking with a smart range or individual ovens and stovetops. The Jenn-Air model, for example, can connect with Alexa and offers the Remote Start feature.[11]

Smart Home Security

If security is what you’re looking for, there are many smart options that will provide the peace of mind you desire. Features can include facial recognition technology, motion-activated video, two-way audio, as well as locking and unlocking doors. With smartphone alerts, you can view your packages being delivered, see your kids arriving home from school, and monitor any suspicious behavior the cameras may catch.[12]

Smart Locks and Doorbells

We’ve all been there. You leave your home and can’t remember if you locked up. Whether you did or didn’t, the worrying can disrupt your peace of mind or make you late because to turn around to check. With smart locks, you’ll never have to wonder if you locked the door or not again. Smart home security systems can include security cameras and even a doorbell that alert you when someone rings your doorbell or stands on your threshold, giving you the option to respond, unlock, or ignore.[12]

Vivint

We recommend Vivint’s smart home security products because their system is customizable to your home’s unique needs and they handle the installation for free. Explore their customizable suite of products and—even better— receive push notifications to keep you updated while you’re on the go. [13]

Smart Garage Door

Never worry you forgot to close the garage door again with a smart Wi-Fi enabled garage door you can control remotely from your smartphone. Some even offer video technology so you can monitor inside and outside your garage for increased safety and peace of mind.[14]

Endless Possibilities

From translating languages to tuning instruments, we are only just beginning to see the capabilities of smart home technology. The main attraction of these devices is that many are hands-free. By completing tasks using our voice instead of our hands, multitasking becomes easier. Check the weather while you’re getting dressed by just asking your smart assistant. Set your vacuum while you’re on your home to host unexpected guests. Unlock the door when your dog sitter arrives while you’re a thousand miles away on vacation.

Sources

  1. “The Connected Home: Designing and Building Technology Into Today’s New Homes.” Housinglin, Cutland Consulting Limited, Jan. 2016, www.housinglin.org.uk/_assets/Resources/Housing/OtherOrganisation/Connected_Home.pdf.
  2. Firth-Godbehere, Rich. “Silicon Valley Thinks Everyone Feels the Same Six Emotions.” Quartz, Quartz, 17 Sept. 2018, qz.com/1392130/silicon-valley-thinks-everyone-feels-the-same-six-emotions/.
  3. Ryan, Paul, and Murray Pavia. “Home Automation.” YourHome, Australian Government, 29 July 2013, yourhome.gov.au/energy/home-automation.
  4. A. Zipperer, A. Alouise-Young, S. Suryanarayanan, D. Zimmerle, R. Roche, L. Earle, D. Christensen, P. Bauleo. “Electric Energy Management in the Smart Home: Perspectives on Enabling Technologies and Consumer Behaviours” National Renewable Energy Laboratory, August 2013,  https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy13osti/57586.pdf
  5. Wroclawski, Daniel. “Amazon Unveils Several Alexa Devices, Including New Versions of Echo.” Product Reviews and Ratings – Consumer Reports, 27 Sept. 2017, www.consumerreports.org/wireless-speakers/amazon-unveils-several-alexa-devices-including-new-versions-of-echo/.
  6. Gikas, Mike. “Hands-On With the Google Home Speaker.” Product Reviews and Ratings – Consumer Reports, 3 Nov. 2016, www.consumerreports.org/wireless-speakers/hands-on-with-google-home-speaker-review/.
  7. St. John, Allen. “The Apple HomePod Sounds Good, but Other Smart Speakers Sound Better.” Consumer Reports, 21 June 2018, www.consumerreports.org/smart-speakers/apple-homepod-early-test-results/.
  8. Rae, Haniya. “Best Robotic Vacuums From Consumer Reports’ Tests.” Consumer Reports, 12 July 2018, www.consumerreports.org/robotic-vacuums/best-robotic-vacuums-consumer-reports-tests/.
  9. Song, Victoria. “The Best Robot Mops of 2018.” PCMAG, 29 Mar. 2018, www.pcmag.com/roundup/360156/the-best-robot-mops.
  10. Hyde, Patrick. “The 7 Best Smart Fridges to Buy in 2018.” Lifewire, Lifewire, 18 Sept. 2018, www.lifewire.com/best-smart-fridges-4159454.
  11. Wroclawski, Daniel. “Which Smart Appliances Work With Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and More.” Consumer Reports, 2 Mar. 2018, www.consumerreports.org/appliances/smart-appliances-that-work-with-amazon-alexa-google-home-and-more/.
  12. “Home Security Camera Buying Guide.” Consumer Reports, Mar. 2018, www.consumerreports.org/cro/home-security-cameras/buying-guide/index.htm.
  13. Wroclawski, Daniel. “Want to Install Your Own Home Security System? Here Are the Options You’ll See Soon.” Product Reviews and Ratings – Consumer Reports, 11 Jan. 2018, www.consumerreports.org/home-security/lots-of-new-home-security-products-are-coming-for-the-diy-installer/.
  14. “Top 9 Smart Garage Door Openers of 2018 | Video Review.” Top 9 Smart Garage Door Openers, Ezvid, Inc., wiki.ezvid.com/best-smart-garage-door-openers#top_picks.

 

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