Smart Home for a Cheap Price

Thursday, May 21, 2015

If you’re tempted by those whiz-bang high tech systems that let you adjust your mood lighting, raise and lower your blinds or check to see who’s at the front door without moving from your comfy couch, you may also be put off by the price of complete home automation. The good news is that while elaborate systems are available and can cost thousands, less expensive options have been introduced so you don’t need to be Warren Buffett to control your lighting, security, heat and air conditioning with ease.

Technological advances in the past have lowered the price for items such as cell phones and computers to make them accessible to regular people and not limited to the rich; these days, home automation advances are doing the same thing for homeowners and renters.

Identify your favorite smart features
If you plan on just adding one or two home automation elements to your home, think first about what means the most to you.

  • Automating your heat and air conditioning. If one goal is to save energy and regulate the temperature in your home, one option is to purchase a “Nest” thermostat. While programmable thermostats give you the power to schedule your heat and air conditioning to turn on and off at different times or temperatures, the Nest thermostat takes this another step and remembers what choices you made in the past and automatically makes adjustments without your programming assistance.
  • Saving energy. While your heat and air conditioning use the most power in your house, you can save extra energy with a “smart power strip” that shuts off your devices when you’re not using them to save energy – and money on your electric bill.
  • Safety and convenience. An old-fashioned peephole works if you’re home and want to see who’s at the front door, but you run the risk of being seen by your visitors whether they’re welcome or not. Several companies now offer a version of a “Doorbot” for under $200, a WiFi - enabled camera you install in your doorbell that lets you see who is at the door via your smart phone or tablet no matter where you are in your home or in the world. You can even talk to the visitors through this system to let someone know that they can leave a package at your door or to explain to a friend that you’re running late.
  • Cleaning without lifting a finger. Robot floor cleaners, which cost from under $200 to $400, continuously clean your floors without you needing to get out your mop or vacuum.
  • Controlling your lighting. For under $100 you can purchase a starter kit that allows you to control your lights by dimming and brightening them, creating “light scenes” for different times of day or activities and even incorporate motion sensors so your lights turn off and on while you move around the house. For a few hundred dollars more, you can add motors to your window treatments that allow you to program or remotely control opening and closing them.

Check out apps to control smart devices
While each of these devices can simplify your life, controlling them all may leave you feeling more stressed. To ease that strain, companies ranging from ADT security to Staples and Home Depot have developed apps that allow you to combine the controls for all of your home automation systems in one place. ADT’s “Pulse” system, for example, lets you control not only your home security and video channels from your smart phone or tablet, but also lights, climate control and monitoring for carbon monoxide. The company recently added the ability to remotely lock or unlock your front door.

Staples “Connect” and Home Depot’s “Wink” systems use one app to set up and use a variety of devices for home automation on your Apple iOS device or Android device. The Staples product also works with Windows 8 PCs and Windows Phone 8 mobile devices.

The main advantage of this type of app is that you can connect all your home systems through the app and touch one button to make a change throughout your home. For example, touching the “Good Night” button can serve to turn off the lights you’ve programmed to go off at bedtime, turn on your security system, lower your blinds and lower your temperature. Best of all, the Staples and Home Depot products cost under $100, putting Jetsons’-style home automation at your fingertips even if you’re not Cosmo G. Spacely.