Our homes are getting smarter.
Smart technology that automates our homes’ devices is becoming mainstream, making it convenient for us to rein in our energy use and cut our energy bills.
Come to think of it, maybe we’re the smart ones.
Smart technology isn’t new, but until recently it’s been complicated to install and priced out of most people’s reach. Now many systems boast plug-and-play simplicity, and affordable options are as close as your local big box store.
Probably the biggest factor in that change is the rise of wireless technology, said Ian Hendler, director of business development for Leviton Manufacturing, which makes home automation devices.
Actually, “wireless” isn’t an entirely accurate term, Hendler noted. Some technology is truly wireless, using radio frequency to send signals. Other technology is more accurately called “no new wire” or power line networking, meaning the signals travel over the home’s existing wires.
Sometimes the two technologies can be mixed, opening up even more options.
Smart systems allow automatic or remote control of an array of devices that affect our heating, cooling and electrical costs, such as thermostats, lights, window shades, appliances and electronics, said Laura Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association.
Typically you can use a smart phone, tablet or computer to see what’s running and how much electricity is being used, she said. You can then use that information to make decisions, such as turning off your cable box when you’re away or overriding your thermostat’s programming when you’re working late.
Remote access is beneficial because it allows you to override settings you’ve chosen in advance, Hendler said. Scheduling is great, but “life doesn’t always happen on a schedule,” he said.
Some of the functions of smart systems won’t save on your energy bills, but they do have a wow factor. Imagine entering a code to unlock your front door and having that code automatically turn on certain lights, launch your favorite music and maybe warm up your hot tub. Hendler said Honeywell is even working on a system that will sense your approach using the GPS software on your cellphone, so you won’t even have to press a button to make all that happen.
Hubbard said manufacturers are jumping on board, embedding smart technology in everything from air-conditioning compressors to clothes washers. “You’re going to see this taking off,” she said.
Evidence of the growing reach of smart technology is Lowe’s recent introduction of a smart home-automation system called Iris. It’s designed to be affordable for the average consumer, easy to install and capable of accommodating whole-house automation, said Kevin Meagher, general manager and vice president for Lowe’s smart home.
Iris comes in three starter kits ranging in price from $179 to $299. One kit focuses on home security and monitoring, allowing you to get notifications if a security sensor is triggered. One contains a smart thermostat and also lets you control one other electrical device in your house and monitor its power use. The third kit combines the features of the other two.
Each kit has a hub, which connects to a broadband router and communicates with the various devices in your home. All the kits are expandable.