Smart Home Technology

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December 23, 2016

A Look into Smart Home Technology

As a home renovation business that invests in software and technology, we are constantly following and interested in advances in technology specifically for the home or what is better known as “Smart Home Automation/Technology”.  In this post, we will give you a brief introduction on what Smart Home Technology is, some examples and how you may decide to include these in your next home renovation.

What is Smart Home Technology?

These days with almost every household having high-speed internet, wi-fi and smartphones, iPads, tablets, etc; these devices can now be used to control or automate various home devices such as thermostats, smoke detectors, lighting, key locks and security cameras. By being able to control all these from a single device allows for improved convenience, security/peace-of-mind, comfort, energy efficiency and in most cases, simplicity.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors tend to be one of the smart home technology more people nowadays are aware of. The ‘Nest Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector’ is the most popular detector on the market and the most common smart smoke detector we have installed. Essentially the way it works is that you download the free Nest app and this pairs with the smoke detector and the internet in your home. Once paired, it is then installed in place of a regular smoke detector. It notifies your phone whenever it detects smoke or carbon monoxide (provided your phone is connected to the internet). So if you are outside, at work or travelling, it gives you the peace of mind that you will be aware and immediately notified if there is a fire in your home. Another advantage of the Nest Detector is that it comes in a hard-wired or a battery powered option. Battery powered smart detectors come in handy if you do not wish to rewire your home just to add an additional unit.

Thermostats

Smart thermostats are the other most popular and common smart technology people are aware of. Two of the most commonly installed makes of smart thermostats are:

Smart thermostats work by creating an individualized heating/cooling schedule for your home after the first few days you have used the thermostat, as it “learns” the temperatures you like at different times of the day. It will also turn itself off when you are away from the home. In addition to saving energy (and money) by turning itself off when you are not home, it also offers you advice on how to save energy and gives you a regular report on how much energy you are using on heating/cooling. Furthermore, you are able to control the thermostat from your phone, for example, if you are out playing in the snow and you want your home to be cozy when you get back.

An advantage of the Ecobee3 over the Nest Thermostat is that it comes with remote sensors that you can place in different rooms in your home. These sensors can detect which room you are in and adjust the temperature in that room specifically while saving energy by not having to adjust the temperature in all the rooms in your home.

One thing to note is that the biggest benefit is achieved if all the thermostats in your home are swapped over at the same time, but bearing in mind the Nest retails for $249 each so depending on the home this can quickly add up.

Lighting

In regards to smart lighting, there are many companies who are providing smart lighting and dimmers. The 2 examples I will talk about are the Belkin WeMo Light Switch and the Phillips Hue. The WeMo Light Switches allow you to turn on/off your home lighting via the internet by using the WeMO app on your phone/tablet. In addition to the convenience of controlling your lights from a single device, another great feature about the WeMo light switches are that you can program your light to turn on and off at certain times of the day (e.g. sunrise and sunset). As well as this, the WeMo range contains many smart home technology products such as power outlets, security cameras, heaters and humidifiers; all of which can be controlled via the WeMo app. The installation process is very simple. This is one of the relatively less expensive ways to introduce you and your home to smart home technology. One thing to note is the WeMO light switches do not work with 3-way switches as they require a neutral wire. So, in other words, this would not be an option for a typical stairway light where you usually have one switch at the bottom of the stairs and another at the top.

They are smart light bulbs (rather than switches) whereby you can turn lights on/off through your phone as well as change (depending on the bulbs you purchase) the following:

  • Brightness (dimmers)
  • Shades of whiteness
  • Colours of your lights (mood lighting or pair with music/movies)

The installation for the Phillips Hue involves changing the bulbs in your light fixtures to the Phillips Hue bulbs and then setting up a hub/bridge (by connecting to your router) and then the installed Phillips Hue light bulbs can be controlled through your phone via the Phillips Hue app.

Benefits of Smart Lighting

  • Convenience (controlling lights from one place)
  • Energy-efficiency
  • Increase security/peace of mind (i.e. seems like your home when you are on vacation by controlling lights remotely) … pair this with a camera over the front entry or one that monitors the doorbell and you can even remotely turn on a light when the doorbell rings to make it look more like you are home in the evening.  Unfortunately, wise burglars are in some cases watching for regular patterns with lighting when they suspect a home is vacant which is typical of the old style timer switch.

Key Locks

Smart locks have been increasingly common in Whistler and Squamish, especially with regard to rental properties (no more remembering who you gave a set of keys to or figuring out how to meet up with your Air BnB guest to let them in when you would rather be on the ski slopes or bike trails).  Also for us, it was simply a case of not having to figure out where to put a set of keys in a pair of bike shorts when heading out for a ride.  Nowadays having a keypad lock allows homeowners not to have to carry and worry about their keys when they are out and about.  Some manufacturers have made key locks even “smarter” by allowing people to use their phone to open the lock. We tend to recommend Schlage locks as they have a good reputation in the lock industry anyway, easy installation and Grade 1 security rating (the highest rating) on all their smart locks.

With the Schlage Sense Lock, you are able to open the lock by using Bluetooth or  Siri (iPhone) on your phone (Android capability likely coming soon). Some other impressive features with the Schalge smart locks are that you are able to administer the lock remotely and there are built-in alarm features in case of tampering. Also, don’t worry if you don’t carry a phone with you at all times, there is still a hole for one of those key things just in case. It should be noted that some the Schlage smart locks (like Schlage Connect) will require additional hardware (which is not included when you purchase the lock) to activate it using your phone.

Security Cameras

Break and enters are becoming more common these days (part of a “developing” community, unfortunately) and the case for security cameras is becoming greater to prevent this from happening to your home. The most popular smart security camera at present seems to be the ‘Nest Indoor Cam‘ as it allows you to:

  • Live stream the high-definition 1080p camera (when not at home)
  • Talk and listen … so you can pretend you just got out of the shower … although at 3 pm that may seem a little odd, but anyway … improvise ;-),
  • Store the recordings on a cloud service
  • View the camera at night (Camera has night-vision)

In addition, it provides motion and sound notifications to your phone when you are not a home allowing for greater peace of mind when you’re away.  There is also a ‘Nest Outdoor Cam’ which is great to put outside your home to view activity in the changing weather conditions. Just bear in mind where you install it otherwise you may get more notifications of cute kitty videos than an average YouTuber. A couple of things to note with the Nest Cam is there is a monthly fee to store recordings and notifications are only provided once every 30 minutes … so that’s kind of like getting a message saying, oops you already got burgled!  Better late than never though, maybe?!

An alternative to the Nest Cam is the Icontrol Networks Piper NV which provides very similar features to the Nest as well as 180-degree view, siren and provides updates via notifications, emails, texts and phone calls.  It also allows you to pan, tilt and zoom the camera through the mobile app (for when you are not at home) and has 5 different sensors (motion, temperature, humidity, light and sound).  This one provides LIVE notifications which we consider to be the big advantage over the Nest solution.

We hope this information gives you more of an insight into smart home technology and as always if you wish to discuss any home renovation plans then please contact us via our ‘Contact Us’ page.