My husband is a tech aficionado. When we moved into our first home earlier this year, we were fully wired up before we’d even finished painting! While you may not be as keen on having the home of the future as my husband is - I won’t lie, we get a lot of Big Brother jokes! - smart tech can offer a lot of peace of mind and help you manage your household more easily. Here are some things you should think about before you start 'smartening up' your home.
Decide which features you really want
Before you even start researching products and companies, sit down and make a list of the problems you’d like your smart home technology to solve. Do you get nervous about safety when you go away or when your older kids are at home alone? Would you like to manage your heating and electricity bills a bit better? Do you need tighter control over screen time or internet use?
These don’t have to be big problems - “I want to be able to listen to music anywhere in the house” is just fine! - but smart home technology can be expensive and sometimes a little tricky to set up, so it’s important to make sure you have a real use for it.
When my husband and I were talking about what kinds of things we would like in our new house, security was a big priority for me. We used to live in a rental apartment and I appreciated the extra layer of safety which came with a buzzer system and security cameras. My husband’s top priority was lighting; we both suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and want to manage our electricity bill, so having total control over the lights (both brightness and color) was important to him.
Research, research, research
Once you know what problems you’d like solved, it’s time to start delving into research! Start by figuring out what options are on the market which can do what you need them to do. Read a ton of reviews, try to find videos of each device and associated app in action, and look into the pros and cons of each product.
There were a ton of options when we started looking into home security - live-streaming security cameras, smart locks, intercoms, motion-detecting outdoor lights and more. In the end, we decided to go for a Ring video doorbell (ring.com). The Ring doorbell detects motion at the front door, which starts up a live video feed so you can see who’s outside. You can speak through the doorbell’s two-way intercom using the app, and when someone rings the doorbell, a notification will pop up on your phone. For a small monthly fee, Ring will record and save the video footage every time someone is at your door - it’s an awesome deterrent against mail theft and has given me a lot of peace of mind.
We also took the opportunity to install the Schlage Encode (schlage.com), which is a fantastic smart lock for the front door. It functions like a regular keypad lock, but you can unlock it (or lock it!) remotely from the app and provide every member of your family with a unique entry code. There’s even an option to create codes for entry which only work for a certain period of time or during set days and hours. When someone unlocks your door, you’ll get a notification telling you that your door is unlocked and whose code was used to open it. For added peace of mind, you can even set your door to lock automatically after a certain number of minutes have passed.
Our final piece of home safety technology was the First Alert OneLink, which is an all-in-one smoke detector, fire alarm, carbon monoxide detector, nightlight, speaker and Amazon Alexa device. If the OneLink detects smoke or carbon monoxide, it will alert you via phone notification, alarm and voice to tell you what’s going on and where the problem was detected.
Believe it or not, smart lighting is a huge market! Depending on how much control and flexibility you want over your lighting, we found there were a couple of choices available - the first is a smart switch system such as Lutron’s Caséta system which works with your existing bulbs. You can turn your lights on and off, dim or brighten them from the app or via remote control or wall switch. You can set lighting schedules for each room from the app - great if you’d like to gradually dim the lights towards bedtime, brighten them in the morning or set a “lights out” time in your kids’ bedrooms.
We were looking for something slightly more customizable, so we settled on the Hue system. Hue bulbs talk to each other using their own wireless mesh network - not Wi-fi! - so you never have to worry about losing your lights when the internet goes out. In addition to the features that the Caséta system provides, each and every Hue bulb can be set to its own color, light temperature and brightness. Do you want a bright white light? No problem. A dim, flickering candle-like effect? Done. A slowly shifting rainbow light? Sure!
Hue also makes awesome lighting strips for indoor and outdoor use which can be used as security lights, patio decoration or as under-lighting for bars, kitchen cabinets or stairwells - we love ours and have lots of plans to light up our front steps in festive colors for Christmas this year! Hue also makes motion sensors which can be used to trigger any Hue bulb you like inside or outside the home, making it a perfect system for security lighting.
Make sure it works together and for everyone
Something which is easy to overlook - but essential! - is making sure your new device is compatible with any other smart home tech you’ve bought or are planning to buy. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant don’t play nicely together, so make sure the device you’re planning to buy is compatible with what you already have. A good setup can be totally ruined if one device won’t speak to another, so make sure you know exactly what you’re buying!
The other thing you’ll want to think about is how tech savvy you and everyone else in your house is. Will everyone know how to turn on the lights using your new integrated smart lighting system? What about opening the front door? If something stops working properly, do you know how to figure out what needs to be done to fix it? Some products are easier to set up than others - make sure you read reviews carefully and decide how much time and energy you’re willing to put into your smart home setup.
The real fun of a smart home is when all the pieces start to work together. Let’s say I’m having friends over for dinner but we’re running late. Now I can see when they arrive, apologize for being late, and let them in - all from my phone. Hue’s integration with Alexa means that I can ask her to turn off our basement lights, dim the lights in the kitchen or set the bedroom lights to nightlight mode without even needing to roll over in bed.
Allison is the assistant publisher of Calgary’s Child Magazine.
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