How Smart is a Smart Home, Really?

Smart homes are as interesting as smart phones; they are a technological commodity that's grabbing attention. However, just how smart is a smart home, and does it actually save consumers money? There are arguments on both sides; some want smart homes for everyone, while others believe they are an astronomical waste of time.

The Basic Devices

It's important to begin with the basics of the smart home - the devices that make it smart. December of 2016 found CNET reviewing the best smart home devices currently available on the market. This overview delivers a general understanding of these devices and how they interact with our homes:

  • Amazon Echo - this device leads the pack, because it controls all other smart devices in the home. Hook up the Echo, use the friendly voice-activated assistant, Alexa, and you have constant access to the home, as well as a plethora of information.
  • Lifx Color 1000 - these are smart color-changing lightbulbs. They are compatible with Alexa, and don't need a hub for proper operation. Add the app to a smart phone, and you have mobile control over lighting.
  • Scout Home Security System - this custom system allows the homeowner to create all the settings, and change them whenever necessary. It connects to a smart phone, so it can be operated remotely. In conjunction with Alexa, it builds a virtual barrier around the home, customized by you.
  • SkyBell HD Wi-Fi Video Doorbell - You'll be able to see who's at your door, whether you're home or not. What's more, you can talk to visitors through a microphone, using your smart phone. When the doorbell rings, you get complete control over how the door is answered with this system.
  • Nest Protect - This is a smart smoke alarm. It will tell you remotely if there's a problem at home, it connects to Alexa, and it has the ability to connect to the local fire department.

When these devices are tied together with others, such as smart appliances, the home falls under your control, no matter where you go around the world. As CNBC stated in an article from May 2016, the smart home is defined as one equipped with products connected to each other by a network, and controlled via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Energy Efficiency

Smart homes save money over time when they are incorporated with energy efficient equipment especially in tandem with an energy source like rooftop solar. Companies such as Apple have made it simple for homeowners to install a complete efficiency kit with products such as the HomeKit, which includes a smart thermostat. This intelligent piece of equipment will learn the energy consumption of a home over time, heating, or cooling, the home in a pattern appropriate to the residents' presence, saving on heating costs over time. However, many residents are wary of an energy efficient smart home, mostly through lack of education on the technology, and the inability of equipment such as the thermostat to link to other systems, such as the security system. The Consumer Technology Association suggests that more homeowners might be receptive to an energy efficient smart home if the temperature could be linked to the security system. When the homeowner turns on the security, the thermostat lowers the home temperature to adjust for no residents in the home.

Sounds Great, Right?

It sounds great to have complete control over your mecca when you can't be there, right? Forbes Magazine, in a 2015 article, argues that they're not as great as the hype might have us believe. The article argues a few major points as to why the smart home is actually stupid, and, though the article is dated, the points are still glaringly accurate in today's technology.

  • Unity - Forbes argues there is no current unity to make a smart home work - consumers must choose a specific line of product, such as Apple or Android. If a consumer prefers the Apple coffee maker, but an off-brand security system, the concept of the smart home falls apart, because the security system and coffee maker cannot talk to the same central hub. This is why homeowners shy away from energy efficient smart homes as well - they seem to be more work than they are worth in coordinating computer-based settings.
  • Lack of Input - The smart home cannot detect who is in what room, or for what reason. Forbes uses the excellent example of a six-year-old trying to change the radio station. The smart technology is not yet smart enough to recognize that the parent has authority over the radio, and therefore, will allow the child to gain control. The same reasoning stands for energy efficiency. If the system cannot recognize who is changing the water heater settings, for example, then the whole system becomes counterproductive. There simply is not enough input available for the computer to understand when to react to whom in the household.
  • Homes are Not Solitary Environments - Smart homes cannot yet determine how to differentiate between users, as highlighted in the example above. What if a guest comes to visit? Should they be added to the list of people in the household? Should they be able to turn on lights manually? What about those who do not have smart devices that can be connected to a central hub? How will they operate the home systems? The fact that the home holds more than one person has eluded designers, and is a glaring flaw in the technology.

So How Smart is the Smart Home?

The smart home is as smart as you want to make it. Of course, you must decide on a central system, then build all devices to be compatible to that system, but the control over your home is immeasurable. Never before have we had the technology to remind the television to record our favorite shows when we realize we'll be working late at the last minute. We've never been able to turn the thermostat up remotely, as we are arriving in the taxi after a week-long vacation or business trip. We've never been able to see who's visiting our home while we're on vacation. We've never been able to feel this secure in an uncertain world. The smart home is extremely smart, despite its mentioned drawbacks, because it makes us smarter. It makes us happier, more relaxed, and gives us more time to absorb the world around us, without worrying over what is happening to our homes. Smart homes are smart for anyone who wants to concentrate on living life, not on worrying.

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