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Wall-mounted Thermostat in House Ken Gutmaker

What is a smart home, anyway? It’s a home that’s filled with smart devices. A smart device is one you can control remotely, either by voice command or through your smart phone, tablet, or computer.

For example, you might use a phone app to turn the lights on at home as you leave work. A second kind of smart device is one you don’t have to control, other than setting it up and letting it do its thing, such as a smart lawn mower.

Control Systems

The first home automation devices were setback thermostats, which would turn the heat or AC up or down at set times of the day so they weren’t running when no one was home, thus saving energy. Perhaps even before that were timers you’d plug into an outlet to control a light and make it look like someone was home when in fact they were away .

Both of those items required direct input to the device.

Then came smart phones and home wi-fi. Wi-fi lets you control devices throughout the home via a voice-activated hub. The devices have to be compatible with the hub. In some cases, that’s a simple matter of using a matching smart-plug that receives a wireless signal and turns on or off. Other devices are designed to be controlled via a smart phone, and again, these devices have to be compatible with a specific app.

If you have a number of smart devices, you can end up with a lot of apps on your phone.

However, several of the popular voice activated hubs will also integrate with smart phones, going so far as to manage multiple apps so that all your disparate smart devices can be controlled from one screen.

Smart Temperature Control

Of course, it’s nice to have your thermostat turn the heat and AC up and down to conform to your work schedule. It saves energy and money and improves comfort. But what about when you’re away from home for a week? If you’ve ever come home after several days and the heat’s been down or the AC’s been off, you know just how unpleasant it can be. App-controlled systems let you adjust your home’s temperature before you board the plane so that you walk into a comfortable house.

If you have a second home in a cold climate, one concern can be keeping the heat on when you aren’t there so that pipes don’t freeze. A smart thermostat can take the worry out of that by alerting you if the inside temperature drops below a certain point, or if the power has gone out.

Some smart HVAC controls actually learn from your behavior. Say you have a habit of raising the temperature a few degrees when the outside temperature plummets. Do this a few times, and a smart thermostat will begin to beat you to the punch so that you never even notice the drop in outside temperature.

Smart Security Systems

Not long ago, a home alarm system required wiring running through the walls. No more. Many professionally installed systems are now wireless and can integrate perimeter security with smoke alarms. You can also get DIY systems that are similar.

Some systems include cameras that can be controlled through your phone. For example, you might get an alert of motion by your front door, and a quick glance at your phone will tell you whether it’s a delivery or something to be concerned about. The same applies when your doorbell rings and you’re at home. You don’t even have to get out of your chair to see who’s there if you have your phone with you.

Want to get into your house quickly? There are locks you can operate automatically through your smart phone.

Smart Lights

We’ve had dimmable lighting for decades. At first, you turned a little dial to control a rheostat on the wall. The next generation of dimmer switches used solid state electronics that were controlled by sliding a bar up and down. Eventually, that led to dimmers that could be controlled with a remote.

Now, you can dim the lights with a phone app or a word to your hub. Some systems offer even more— the ability to adjust the color of the lights. In some cases, you can change from a romantic, amber glow to a full-on rave of multi-colored lights with a couple of touches on your screen.

Entertainment

The first remote controls in homes were probably for TVs. (Who wants to get up to change the channel?) Then came remotes for stereo systems, and now we have phones that not only control the music we listen to, but source it as well.

With the right apps, that phone can also control the TV and speakers throughout the house. Once you get home from work, it’s possible you’ll never need to get up from your couch.

Convenience

Want to smoke a shoulder for a delicious batch of pulled pork? Six or eight hours is a long time to keep an eye on that smoker grill. Well, some grills have an app for that, one that maintains the temperature exactly where it needs to be.

You don’t need to worry about losing the remote for your garage door, or its batteries dying in the cold. Today, many openers can be controlled with an app.

Tired of vacuuming the floor? Several companies make robot vacuums that will even dock in their chargers when they finish. Even robot mops are available, as well as robot pool vacuums.

Perhaps best of all, when it comes to convenience, are robot lawn mowers. Imagine sitting on your deck on a beautiful May day, beverage in hand, and watching a robot cut your grass. What a time to be alive!