Home automation used to be the kind of thing you saw in sci-fi movies. The villain would walk into his lair and turn on the lights with a wave of his hands, then open the pit of laser-wielding sharks with a press of a button. But in this age when technology moves faster than we do, science fiction is quickly becoming fact. Now you can open the pit with laser sharks from your smart phone. The question is, should you?
Upsides to Home Automation
There are considerable benefits to home automation. The sky isn’t exactly the limit, but with the right appliances, almost anything in your home can be controlled from your phone. Some of these might be obvious. Others might surprise you.
You can automate your door locks and alarm. Disable the alarm and unlock the door to let in the pet sitter. You could also use this system to know if your kids left the house and forgot to close the front door, or allow you to close the garage door. You can even get smart-enabled doors that you can open and close remotely. These doors are intended to be handicap-friendly doors, and they’re likely to be very expensive and potentially difficult to smart-link – but it’s possible.
Your thermostat can be smart, too. In fact, this is probably the easiest to do. Tell your electricity provider that you would like a smart thermostat, and they might jump at the chance. Then you just download an app and program your thermostat. This is great if you’re already lying in bed and decide the room is too hot. Just open the app and change the temperature without getting up. Smart thermostats can save you money in a big way, too. Set the temperature higher when everyone is gone during the day, and cool it off at night.
Light switches and outlets are a great place for home automation. Set lights on timers. See at a glance if your husband left the light on in the kitchen. Turn on the light in your teenager’s room to get him out of bed in the morning. Even better? Turn off the outlet where the Xbox is plugged in if that same teenager hasn’t finish his homework.
Cameras aren’t a new development, exactly – but no longer will they feed to a half-awake security guard watching a bunch of grainy televisions. The cameras can record comings and goings. They can also alert you when they’re activated by motion. Want to know what your dog is doing while you’re away? Turn on the camera in the living room and watch him sleep on the couch. Then turn on the stereo and scare him off the couch. Your dog shouldn’t be on the couch. Company sits there.
One thing I wish we had before is smart smoke detectors. We had a house fire while I was at work. Thankfully my wife was home, but the fire was upstairs and she didn’t know about it until it was really going. A smart smoke detector could have told us about the fire and called 911 before we lost the top floor of the home. (Don’t worry, nobody was hurt.)
If you really want to go all-in, you can also buy larger appliances that are smart. You know that feeling when you’re not sure if you turned off the stove? With a smart oven, you can check. You can also set your smart oven to preheat on the way home so you can slide dinner right in when you get home. You can also get smart washers and dryers.
Downsides to Home Automation
Home automation can be powerful and exceptionally convenient, but it’s not all roses. There are decisions and trade-offs you need to make before you make your home smart.
The most important concern is security. It’s ironic that the system you put in place to make your home safe can actually do the opposite. Hackers can access your system through any of the smart devices or just your home Wi-Fi. Not that a hacker wants to break into your home – but they could sell that info to someone who does. A burglar who knows what time the lights come on doesn’t even need to case your home. If you decide to automate your home, make sure to make strong passwords and do your homework about which manufacturers have the best network security.
Another worry might be that your connectivity solution is short-lived and quickly outdated. If the company that provides your access goes out of business, it could be wildly expensive to update to another provider. And I’m not talking about your internet service provider. The app that controls your refrigerator, for instance, might be incompatible with a new release of OS on your phone. Not only that, but there’s virtually no chance that all your devices will work from a single app. You may need one for your fridge, one for the stove, one for the thermostat and one for the lights.
You may also need to consider the absence of a human brain. Yes, I know that’s the point of smart homes. But say your automated sprinkler system blows a gasket while you’re on vacation. Now every time you run the sprinklers, smiling smugly to yourself as you water your lawn from Cote D’Azure, it shoots a ten-foot geyser all over the neighbor’s roof. You get back from vacation and your neighbor is suing you and you have a $2,000 water bill. Paying a kid twenty bucks to turn on the sprinklers would have saved you a mint.
Cost may be the most important factor in deciding whether you should automate your home. All those devices and appliances may be available, but they’re not all especially affordable. Monitoring all those devices may require a third-party, and those aren’t free. Of course, you don’t have to do everything at once. A smart thermostat may even be provided by the electric company for free, and you could buy the other pieces as you can afford them.
These are potential downsides to home automation. They are not an argument against automating. The idea is still sound, but you need to consider ramification and plan for them. Do your homework. For instance, if you had a camera pointing at the lawn, you would have spotted that geyser. Good passwords can help a lot with keeping everything secure, and using trusted providers can reduce worries about future compatibility.
Making the Decision
When you are deciding whether you should implement some home automation, consider the pros and cons we’ve listed here. Sit down and decide if the gain is worth the expense. If you’ve always got someone at home, a smart thermostat and smoke detectors might be all you need. On the other hand, if you travel a lot and your home tends to be empty for days at a time, a full suite of home automation might be great for security and even save you money.
Whatever you decide, it’s important that you do the research to make sure you get the system you need. If you think of any other factors that can help you decide to automate, let us know in the comments!