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What is a Smart Home, Anyway?

Control your home from your phone!

The term "smart home" is getting more common, but not everyone knows exactly what it is. Smart home tech used to be a feature hardwired into upscale mansions, but today, any space can be made "smart" with Wi-Fi and the right equipment. In fact, costs for smart home technology are dropping, so you may be wondering if a smart home is right for you.

A smart home is a setup where appliances and systems can be controlled remotely from your devices using Wi-Fi. One of the most common smart appliances is the smart light bulb. The bulb connects to an app on a smartphone or tablet, so it's easy to create a routine where your lights turn on and off at your chosen times. Often, these bulbs can be controlled from anywhere, so if you're on vacation and want to turn on the lights so it looks like you're home, you don't need to rely on an outlet timer. Other smart devices include fridges that can order your groceries, robotic vacuum cleaners, and thermostats.

Don't worry... HAL 9000 was never a real smart home technology, Dave.

The easiest way to control a smart home is through a central app that manages all your smart devices and appliances. The most common are Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit. Many smart home users incorporate a smart speaker so they can control their appliances and systems with their voice. A Google Nest Hub, Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod can act both as Bluetooth speakers and your smart home's hub.

Why do people choose smart home technology? A main reason is cost savings. By automating your thermostat, lights and other energy-using appliances, you can match time-of-use energy windows and save money. Another reason is convenience: you can schedule tasks for your appliances that you would normally do manually. Finally, home security in the form of smart doorbells and smart cameras allows people to monitor their premises from anywhere, saving the monthly cost of a home security company.

If the Wi-Fi goes out, you can still use your physical key in your smartlock.

Are there reasons why people choose not to turn their dwelling into a smart home? The biggest reason is security risk. Smart home technology makers have not been able to eliminate many bugs and flaws that could potentially allow your Wi-Fi-connected devices to be hacked. There are also privacy concerns; there is no guarantee that your conversations are not tracked by a smart speaker, or that information about your daily routines learned from smart home devices won't be leaked in the future. Finally, another concern is the potential for smart home tech to malfunction in internet or power outages. Most devices will still function during a power or Wi-Fi outage, but not with the same capability as non-connected device.

For more information on smart home technology or help getting started with it, drop in on Tech Tuesdays at Mount Albert branch from 1:30-3:00 pm or Tech Thursdays at Holland Landing branch from 1:30-3:00 pm.

Are you using smart home technology? What do you love or hate about it? Let us know in the comments!

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