Smart home features: Are they worth the splurge?


In only three years, the number of Americans who claim to understand what a smart home is has jumped 53 percent, according to a Finn Futures survey. This doesn’t mean we’re all adopting connected home technology, however. In fact, the survey finds that 59 percent of Americans don’t plan on doing so soon and cite cost as the main barrier.

Yes, it’s pricey, but some features may just be worth the money, while others may not.

General Issues to Consider

Think security, security, security and privacy! Understand that “smart home” almost always means “connected home”.  If it is on the internet, you can get to it, but so can others. It is early days in the smart home industry and security has proven to be an area that manufacturers are not paying much attention to in getting their products to market. Check out this article The Internet of Things: Five critical questions for a great discussion of the issues from experts in the field. Additionally, what are your connected device providers doing with all the data they will be collecting?

Will it work if you lose internet service? If not, consider the significant loss of “convenience” you may have gained in going with a “smart option”?

How much time do you have to devote to keeping every device up to date? Do you keep your router, PCs, phones, gaming consoles patched or is that a significant chore that you dread or just don’t bother with? Now consider doing that for your door locks, lights, thermostat, security cameras, etc. Patching won’t just be about getting more functionality, but around security and privacy.

Will all your devices “play well” together? Do you want a separate app on your phone for every device from every manufacturer? You’ll probably want a smart home “hub” to help consolidate functionality. Consider how much nicer it would be to have one app with a button for “Watch Movie” and have the TV turn on, sound system set properly, lights dimmed to your preferred level, etc. vs. having to open an app for each item independently. Also be aware that standards for smart home devices to work together are still emerging. Not all hubs work with all smart home devices yet.

When you go to sell your home, your target market will be reduced to those that share your opinion and answers to these critical questions. Personally, I’d view a home with extensive “smart” functions a detriment that I would avoid. I expect to hold that view for the next 5 years at least. 

Smart locks

The Finn survey finds that 55 percent of respondents want automated, or “smart” door locks. Interestingly, these locks don’t make your home any more secure than your deadbolt does because they work with the deadbolt, not instead of it. “You’re paying for convenience (not necessarily security), according to cnet.com’s Ry Crist.

Depending on the type you choose, from key fob, password entry and fingerprint recognition to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi enabled, smart locks can be quite pricey so consider why you want one before purchasing. If it’s for the convenience factor, go for it. If you’re concerned about home security, forego the lock and invest in a smart home camera, an alarm system or motion-sensing doorbell instead.

Smart thermostat

One of the top smart home gadgets that the Finn survey respondents want is the smart thermostat (44 percent want one). What can a smart thermostat do that the trusty old programmable one can’t?
Make life more convenient is the obvious answer if you’ve ever tried to program a standard thermostat. Not only is it time consuming but they are limited in how many different programs you can use.

Smart thermostats, on the other hand, are connected to the Internet and controlled by other devices, such as smartphones. The number of programs you can use is unlimited and programming them is simple. In fact, if you purchase a learning thermostat, such as Nest, you won’t need to program it at all. It promises that after only one week, it will have “learned” your routine and automatically adapted to it.

Smart lighting

Coming in third as the most desirable smart home feature is smart lighting. This feature allows you to program the lights in your home to turn on, off and even dim via a remote device (such as your smartphone).

You may want to program the gadget to turn on the porch light at dusk, or as you ‘round the corner in your neighborhood on your way home from work, turn on random lights around the house when you’ll be out of town or, if you have a teenager that leaves a trail of lit rooms in his or her wake, turn off lights when someone leaves a room. In the latter case, smart lighting may save you money on your electric bills.

Smart smoke alarms

If a smoke alarm in a home is activated and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It does if it’s smart and connected. Smart alarms send a warning to your phone, a handy feature if a fire breaks out while you’re at work.

We think they’re worth it mainly for the sense of security they provide but also because you may receive homeowner insurance discounts. Check with your insurance representative before purchasing a smart smoke alarm because some insurers have a list of those they consider “qualified.”

Homeowners aren’t yet jumping on the smart home bandwagon, but some homebuilders are and don’t be surprised within the next few years to find newly constructed, up scale homes offering a full package of connected-home options.

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