The Workbench Life: Tech
Choosing a Smart Home System
By Jason Carpenter for The Workbench Life
Imagine hitting a button on your phone while driving home after a long, hot day at work and returning to an icy-cool abode complete with mood lighting and your favorite show just starting on the TV. With today’s smart home system technology, this scenario (plus countless others) is possible.
Just about any home can become smart, but the trick is to find the technology to retrofit “dumb” systems and hook them up to your internet-enabled gadget. The “smart” in smart home is really just your internet connection, which allows you to operate the devices from anywhere in the world. So, if you’re thinking about investing in technology for homes, expect to spend anywhere from $5,000 to over $200,000 for design and installation.
Home security systems are the granddaddy of smart home systems, and many of the large security companies allow you to “patch in” to your home system to view security camera feeds, turn the system on or off, or report an emergency through your smartphone, tablet or computer. This type of remote control may be free as part of your service, or could incur an extra charge.
However, installing your own “smart” security system is fairly easy. A system complete with Wi-Fi remote-controllable camera(s), LED lights and web-accessible monitoring software can start at just $100.
Lighting is another big player in the smart home game. You can buy relatively inexpensive gadgets (starting around $10) that allow you to turn lights on and off from your smartphone, and are as simple to install as plugging the device into an outlet. This adapter can also control other electrical devices, such as a radio.
Heating and cooling can be controlled remotely through many Wi-Fi–enabled gadgets. The trick is finding a professional who can bring them online through dedicated software. The price ranges from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on the complexity of the controls and software.
You can make just about anything in your home smart, including appliances. Numerous appliance manufacturers offer products that patch into your home network, allowing you to start the washing machine before coming home from work, or getting a reminder of your weekly shopping list. (But how “smart” is it to spend gobs of money on systems that remind you to buy milk?)
You probably already own the gadget you need to control your smart home system. A smartphone can handle most basic commands, but the screen is not really big enough to accommodate detailed video surveillance or complicated manipulation of the system. With a tablet, you can watch video from your home entertainment systems, monitor your home security camera, or even see what the babysitter is up to on the Nannycam.
Laptop and desktop computers are obviously the most versatile controls, allowing multiple video feeds on the same screen in high-definition detail. Your home systems are probably already linked to your computer, so with the right know-how, you can set up the software that lets your home system “talk” to your mobile devices at the same time.
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Jason Carpenter (yes,
that’s his real last name) loves to tackle DIY projects on weekends; his work
has appeared in This Old House, Men’s
Health, Consumer Reports and other publications that appreciate good
tips and tools. Jason is a frequent contributor to The Workbench Life.