A thermostat that learns from daily habits. A fridge that lets you order more eggs when you run out. A toilet that files tax returns. Okay that last one isn’t real. But it does seem like every day a new product debuts to turn your home into something out of Black Mirror. Don’t get overwhelmed. Two smart-home pros explain how a few DIY setups—or a state-of-the-art overhaul—can make your house (or apartment, or condo) more efficient.
Control vs. Automation
Know the key terms, says Suryan. Home control refers to individual systems—security, lighting, and speakers, for instance—purchased separately that don’t necessarily work together. In other words, the DIY option. Home automation means one system to rule them all, ideal for larger homes or for someone who wants one-touch access to all smart capabilities.
Larger homes benefit more from automated lighting—like Amazon’s Echo Dot and Nicol’s Seattle-based Deako. It’s nice to not run upstairs and turn off a forgotten bathroom light. But to Nicol “it’s a different value proposition” for apartments and condos: fewer benefits but cheaper to install.
Smart thermostats like Nest connect to your existing climate control system and learn the day-to-day cycles of how you heat your home, adjusting accordingly to optimize energy costs. “These work great for standard heating systems,” says Suryan. Slower radiant heat systems work less efficiently with these user-friendly smart devices.
While not always thought of as a “smart” feature, some motorized blinds and shades (pictured above) can connect to Amazon Echo, Google Home, or your smart phone. But motorized shades are expensive to install, compared to other home control systems. “A lot of the time,” says Suryan, “the expense of hardware limits people.”
Systems like Control4—favored by Suryan’s home automation installer Digital Home Northwest—are an optimal way to centralize a home’s various capabilities with a convenient central hub. “But everything is getting simpler,” says Nicol. Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Echo have launched the respective companies into the market with cheaper systems that don’t require a two-week installation.