We’ve all been there: dragging ourselves out of bed at two a.m. to turn down the thermostat, or experiencing that heart-in-the-throat moment when we’re unsure if we had locked the front door before leaving for a long weekend.
‘Smart home’ automation solves these mini life crises.
In the 1960s, the Jetsons teased us with machine-controlled environments. Although most of us don’t have a Rosie to brew us a cup of coffee in the morning—yet—the good news is that those push-button conveniences are here for real, and they’re more attainable for common folk than ever before.
Today, controlling your lights, television, thermostat, and locks is as easy as pushing a few buttons on your smartphone, no matter whether you’re sitting on the couch or on a boat 6,000 miles away in the French Riviera.
Smart homes rely on networking, programming, and automation to connect all the devices and appliances in your home so they can communicate with each other and with you. With a wired house, you can control just about any element of daily living.
The Custom Electrical Design and Installation Association says that prices for automation keep falling because tech innovations like the iPad and iPhone are making systems more affordable. For less than $500, not including the cost of your phone or tablet, you can control some lights, a thermostat, and your TV system. At that level of investment, these systems can pay for themselves in a few short years thanks to the energy savings they offer.
Belkin’s WeMo, which launches in summer 2012, is a do-it-yourself home-automation system that’s completely modular, allowing you to control as much or as little of your home as you like. Turn on a light in another room, or turn it off from across town.
It consists of two initial products: the WeMo Home Control Switch ($49) and the WeMo Motion Sensor ($99). They work in conjunction with the home’s existing electrical system and require only a Wi-Fi network and free smartphone app to set up and control. Buy as many switches and sensors as you need to automate various gadgets around your home.
Automate Your world
‘Big box’ home-improvement store Lowe’s will launch a cloud-based home management system, Iris, in summer 2012 that lets homeowners monitor and control their home through a smartphone or computer.
The system uses components from U.K.-based company AlertMe that will monitor and control thermostats, smart plugs, lighting, door locks, motion sensors, and energy sources. It supports both wireless ZigBee and Z-Wave-based products (see sidebar story), and the system’s components will sell around $77 each. A cool feature is AlertMe’s online data service, which shows you your home’s energy use while recommending how to reduce consumption.
Vivint offers another affordable home-automation solution. The professionally installed package carries a base price of $199, and monthly service fees range between $50 and $70, including security monitoring. With Vivint, you can control temperature, wireless door locks, and home video surveillance from your smartphone or tablet.
ADT’s professionally installed Pulse system gets you the standard features of an alarm system, plus the ability to control a home’s lights, thermostats, surveillance cameras, and other devices via any web-based controller. The base package, which focuses on security and remote arm/disarm, starts at around $400 for installation and around $46 for monthly monitoring.
The energy package, which includes a thermostat, light switches, and a wireless module in which lamps can be plugged, costs around $800 for installation and $50 a month for monitoring.