Smart Homes

Smart homes integrate many small tasks and appliances to eliminate the minutia of everyday tasks around the home and make your life more efficient. While a smart home, or at least systems with smart technology, can take an initial investment of time and money – they often eliminate wasted energy and handle repetitive tasks on our behalf. What exactly is smart technology, what are some pros and cons, and is it right for you?

There is no single example of a smart home or what it contains. Instead, smart home is a category that describes a home with a significant amount of components that are interconnected with two-way communication and can be controlled from either a computer, phone, tablet, or central console. While I have some smart controllers inside my home for lighting and thermostat control, I wouldn’t consider it a smart home because there are only a few smart components which can easily be removed without much modification. For example: a few smart plugs that simply plug in between the existing receptacle and the lamp and are controlled over the cloud via the plug’s app on my phone; also a thermostat controller that saves energy usage and is controlled over the cloud via the thermostat’s app on my phone. A true smart home is built from a cohesive plan to incorporate all systems the end user could want. It usually connects all systems through a single hub in the home, which can be controlled either with a singular panel in the home or a single app on your mobile device.

What sort of things can smart technology help with inside your home? This is not an all-inclusive list, but is includes a summary of the more common items seen around our area:

  • A home security system which can detect if doors or windows are open, if glass is broken, is motion is detected, or even determine if movement is from a person or animals to separate out what is recorded or sent to your phone as a notification.
  • Smart door locks which you can open or lock remotely. Whether you are letting in family members or can’t remember if you locked the door when you left to buy groceries – you can quickly monitor, lock, or unlock your home from anywhere you access the internet.
  • Smart thermostats, which let you program a schedule to minimize your heating or cooling costs and can be controlled from a phone. If you turned off the A/C before a family vacation, you can turn it back on while you are heading home and return to a comfortable house.
  • Water leak detection will monitor for unwanted excess moisture and alert you. Commonly seen in the kitchen or utility area – it will alert you if the dishwasher, clothes washer, water heater, or another plumbed appliance is leaking water. It can also provide a heads-up in the case your freezer shuts down and frozen liquids leak out, or any other application where water can accidentally leak out.
  • Smart valves can control water to one specific appliance or the main water shutoff to your home. Did your water leak detector sense excess water? Integrate these to immediately shut off water until you can get home and correct the problem.
  • Smart faucets, which never quite made sense to me until my toddler grew tall enough to reach the sink. Think of motion-controlled faucets in public places, only much better. You can tap the faucet with the back of your hand to turn on water and wash up after handling raw meat, or you can announce “8 ounces cold water” for precise measurement without measuring cups. Or keep the kids from wasting water with timer controls. This is one of my current favorites for resource management.
  • Smoke detection and CO detection. The standalone devices are great to alert an occupant to exit the building when a problem occurs – but what if nobody is home? Smart detectors can connect to security systems and alert you to a concern or even dial emergency services. Side note on security and other detectors: many areas require a permit if your system auto-dials authorities. Not expensive, this permit helps minimize false alarms and provides call centers with your contact information if they need to reach you to verify your safety if there is a question of trapped occupants inside.
  • Smart switches, plugs, receptacles, bulbs. I lumped these together and there are many more styles, but the broad category is to control small electrical appliances. Either turning on lights, adjusting intensity or color of bulbs, controlling fans, scheduling a coffee maker, controlling a humidifier, turning on holiday decorations and lights, limiting time on a child’s game console, or any other small task.
  • Smart dishwasher to schedule when dishes are cleaned (especially important for areas that utilities are charged a premium during prime time), adjust settings on the washer, and control soap levels.
  • Robot vacuums/mops may not be ‘part’ of the house because they are easily taken to a new home, but they integrate with your technology to automatically maintain your home and save you cleaning time.
  • Smart fridge have a variety of uses. Some monitor how low you are getting on certain grocery staples and can add the item to a shopping list, some have a screen built in for digital messages or viewing inside the fridge without opening it and losing cold air.
  • Smart breakers are not yet common, but are intended to disconnect power even faster than traditional breakers and allow you to remotely determine if a breaker was tripped or if your light bulb simply burnt out. In time, I expect this technology to be able to alert us as to the reason for the trip (overload, GFCI, Arc Fault, or other) and reset the breaker if it deems this safe, or alert us to contact an electrician if the problem is persistent.
  • Sprinkler timers and smart sprinklers. If you have an existing system set up, connect a smart controller to control water based on temperature and weather forecasts, so you do not waste water right before a big rainstorm. New sprinklers allow you to set up a single sprinkler and digitally map the yard, so it can adjust the flow to reach far corners and reduce pressure for short runs – meaning one circulating sprinkler can water exactly what you want and no excess.
  • Garage door openers mean your garage door will open automatically as you pull up, close automatically when you drive away, alert you if a door is left open for a long time, automatically close the door in the evening, or even (if you choose) allow packages to be safely delivered inside your garage where “porch pirates” would likely steal deliveries left on your porch, then lock itself up.
  • Smart TV, speakers, and other media allow you to control appliances from your phone if the remote is lost, control content for your family, and restrict viewing times.
  • Smart oven, crock pots, and other kitchen appliances let you prepare food easily, load cook times and temperatures directly from a recipe, pre-heat the oven while you are driving home, or schedule a frozen stew to begin cooking at a certain time.
  • Smart blinds and glass can control how much light (and heat) passes through windows throughout the day on a schedule or based on factors like light and interior temperature.
  • AI assistant hubs allow you to control these devices by voice, set timers, add reminders and calendar events, communicate with family, play music, games, or TV shows, and may even show who is at the doorbell.

Smart homes may not be right for everybody, but they let you control your home life and save time. A single phrase you pick, such as “good night house”, will close the garage door, lock deadbolts, set the alarm, confirm no water is leaking, close the blinds, mop up your kitchen, turn on the dishwasher, and water the garden if you want! If your internet ever goes out, it is important to know how devices will react. Some can temporarily work on a local network without an internet connection, while others will not. With no internet, will we know how to handle all of those tasks on our own? Probably. Will it take more time out of our day to complete them? Definitely. But you may save hours every week when things work well!

Too Long, Didn't Read Version: Smart homes can be as simple or as extensive as you want them to be. Appliances and controllers are designed to make your life easier, save resources, and protect your home from floods or fires.

-Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP

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Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP
Author: Marshall Tramp, CPI, RMP
Top Notch Inspection Services llc
Serving Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho