This Christmas shopping season, home automation systems seem to be everywhere.
But what does home automation mean? Well, you know that tiny computer you have inside your pocket known as a smartphone? That little device can be used to revolutionize your life at home. Thermostats that learn what temperature you like at what time of day, being able to lock and unlock your door with a simple touch of your finger, and the ability to light your dining room the exact way you want it are just some of the ways smartphones are changing the way we live at home.
Here are five great home automation systems that you can control through an app on your smartphone.
Nest Thermostat and Protect
Many see the Nest System as a game changer because it isn’t just a thermostat that you can adjust remotely via your smartphone; it is also a learning thermostat. That means you adjust the temperature to your liking, and the Nest system learns what temperatures you like, and what time of day you usually change the thermostat. After a few days of “lessons” the Nest system begins to set the temperature on its own. The Nest Thermostat is also focused on conserving energy, and you can easily manage the settings if you’re gone for a few days. With their mobile app you can adjust the system anytime you want, anywhere you need.
Nest has also released a new product, Nest Protect. Nest Protect is basically a new and improved smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. Instead of a screeching alarm that goes off even if you simply burned a piece of toast, Nest Protect lights up and a human voice warns you that it detects smoke. If it is just a burnt piece of toast or your latest failed attempt at cooking a turkey, simply wave your hand approximately two to eight feet from the Nest Protect sensor and the warning goes away. If the situation is more serious, the voice on Nest Protect tells you it is an emergency and where the emergency is. If you have more than one Nest Protect unit in your house (and you should have more than one smoke detector in your house) the Nest Protect units communicate with each other and provide you with potentially lifesaving information. The system will also send alerts to your phone when its batteries are low, so you can ward off that annoying chirping sound that happens when your smoke alarm’s battery is low.
Mood lighting is taken to the next level with Phillips Hue. With the Phillips Hue system you can adjust the color, shade, and intensity of the lights in your home. It requires purchasing special LED light bulbs and a device – called the bridge – that plugs right into the back of your wireless router (you can buy a set of three bulbs and the bridge for $199.95). What makes the Hue even cooler is the amount of control you have in setting the color scheme. Do you want to recreate the lighting from the fancy French restaurant where you proposed to your wife? Simply pull up a picture of the moment on your smartphone or tablet, and use the touchscreen Hue app to match the lighting.
The beauty of Wemo by Belkin is the ease with which it incorporates your lights and appliances into a central system that you can control. You can use Wemo on basically any electric device in your home. Attach a switch to your lights, coffee maker, television or even your iron and you can turn it on or off by using the app on your smartphone or tablet. If you get the switch with the motion sensor you can program your Wemo to turn on devices when you enter a room and turn them off when you leave the room. If you’re in bed and wondering if you turned the porch light on, you can simply check with the app and not even have to get out of bed. The downside to Wemo is that it can get costly. You need a switch for every device you want to connect to Wemo, which can run you anywhere from $50-$80, depending on if you choose to get the motion sensor with it.
What Wemo does for your appliances and lights, Kevo does for your locks. Kevo has turned your smartphone into your key. Simply sign into the Kevo app and now all you have to do is touch the lock and it will send a signal to your phone and unlock it for you. The Kevo deadbolt also comes with a fob that you can use just like the smartphone app. Instead of having to drop off keys to family or friends, Kevo offers eKeys. Simply use the app to send an encrypted eKey to anyone who needs to get into your house.
Currently Kevo is only compatible with iPhones 4s, 5, 5c, 5s as well as 5th Generation iPod Touch and third generation or higher iPad and iPad mini. Sorry Android users.
Home security cameras
A big selling point for home security systems nowadays is being able to control the security system wirelessly through a smartphone app. Most major security system installation companies offer access to a free app when you get a system from them. With the mobile app you can arm or disarm your system from anywhere, and if you have security cameras installed you can see a live feed of your house.
If you don’t want to go the full security system route, some well-placed security cameras can help ease your mind when you’re on vacation or at work. Many companies (Logitech, IZON, Smart Labs) have security cameras you can set up on your own which connect to your WiFi. The WiFi connection allows you to monitor the feed on your smartphone from anywhere. There are even apps that let you stream an old smartphone’s camera to your current phone, so it’s not even necessary to purchase new cameras.
What other home automation gadgets are on your Christmas list?
Angelo DiGangi is a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago area, and a regular contributor on electrical and home automation topics for Home Depot’s website. Among the DIY projects he provides tips for are home security, lighting and thermostats.