What's the Buzz About "Smart Homes"

Intro to Smart Home

These days you may see a lot of Real Estate Agents advertising their listings as "Smart Homes".

The concept of "Smart Home" means something different to everyone but for the purpose of this exercise let's focus think of the connected home exploring the Internet of Things for home automation. or more specifically:

"a home equipped with lighting, heating, and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer"

Thanks to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities and the decreasing costs of installing these products this is becoming both easier. Which is why I am writing this post - to help explain it to you my loyal readers!

I've heard some comments that all of our talk about "Smart Homes" is just a new name for old fashioned "Home Automation". And to some extent I have to agree.

Twenty years ago, a porch light timer might have been considered smart home technology. Today, as demand surges for thermostats that "learn" your desired temperature throughout the day and refrigerators that tell you when you need more milk, the definition of "smart" is coming under scrutiny. That is because sellers and their agents are using the term to boost sales and prices.

There's definitely a perception that if you have a smart home it will sell faster, particularly with the number of millennial tech savvy buyers in the market.

So there really should be some sort of standard about what a smart home is and what it means. How about this:

"The home must have a smart security feature or a smart temperature feature in addition to a reliable internet connection. It then must include at least two features from a list of smart options, including appliances, entertainment, lighting, outdoor sensors, and safety detectors."

Sounds good, tight. Problem is that from smart lighting products to Wi-Fi enabled kitchen appliances, the sheer quantity of what’s available can be overwhelming. And it's not always simple to make it all work together in a seamless way.

Additionally, as with all things "tech" there's a whole lot of jargon and even the nerds among us may find some of the new terminology confusing.

So, if terms like Z-Wave and ZigBee are new to you, you’re not alone. Getting educated on the basics of home automation can start with a quick jaunt to YouTube or Google. (Z-Wave and Zigbee, by the way, are two technologies that allow you to control multiple devices; think of them as two "languages" your products use to speak to each other. That being said, newer devices connect through Wi-Fi.) "

As usual with new technology, it is a confusing marketplace out there, and there’s not a clear frontrunner. Understanding the many variables involved in setting up your home will help you determine the best suite of products for your specific lifestyle.

With the vast selection of gadgets out there, it can be tempting to try to do it all, but just because you can automate something doesn’t mean you should.

Tip - the biggest mistake in automating your home is not understanding what you’re trying to accomplish, getting confused, and either over-engineering to the max or abandoning your smart home out of frustration.

Start with one or two objectives, whether it be lowering your energy bill or building out an entertainment system and then build out to the definition above.

Ironically,  87% of Americans acknowledge the value of smart home technology, but only 1 in 4 has this technology in their homes according to CNET.

Today, you can create a comprehensive smart home with a lot of affordable products.

Understand that these systems are modular, allowing you to add over time. If you have an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or an Apple TV, for example, you already have a foundation for an intelligent environment. Consult friends or neighbors for advice about their chosen solutions, what they would recommend, and what their pain points are. Visit hardware and retail stores to get acquainted with the products in person.

If you’re uncertain about where to start, consider the smart lighting category, which is simple to integrate, has an immediate impact on your home, and contributes to several goal, from safety and security, to energy consumption, to mood and ambiance.

Thanks to the democratization of the smart home category, there are lots of startup and crowdfunded solutions on the market. While these can pose some of the most exciting and innovative options out there, there are some associated hazards.

Many individuals have incredible ideas that fizzle out before becoming true solutions for real customers. We call this "vaporware",  great notions that never quite make it to fruition for one reason or another despite meeting a clear consumer need.

That’s not to say that you can’t invest in these devices, just don’t go all in.