Amping Up Your Home’s IQ: How Smart Homes Make Home Maintenance Easier

Ever wonder what the “Internet of Things” means? We’ve got the answer.

A tablet displaying the EDGE home performance app for tracking energy use in a smart home.

EDGEhome is a home automation dashboard that allows homeowners to wirelessly control many different devices in your home, as well as keep track of energy usage. The system even allows users to remotely control lights and plugged-in devices while away from home.

When Eric Thies talks about the future of smart home technology, he uses the term the “Internet of Things,” which refers to a time when “pretty much every device you buy will be on a network.

“It’s a whole another level of automation,” he explains.

As founding partner and director of marketing for home technology provider Via International, Thies has his finger on the pulse of smart homes and home technology. Smart homes utilize the “Internet of Things,” a term that describes connected home automation devices, allowing you to control items such as your thermostat or oven from a computer, mobile device and even your vehicle.

We’re not quite to the point where 
your whole home with be automated yet, but some of the latest devices and apps for appliances, locks, lights, window coverings, even garage door openers give a good indication of the coming Internet of Things. And, unlike many systems today, which are still more luxury than mainstream, future home technology will have a much lower price tag. “Even the Jetsons would be able to afford an automation system,” says Thies. 

Smart Homes are Coming

Right now, technology that allows you to open your doors remotely is getting a lot of attention and this is only the beginning. With these types of systems, not only can you assign specific codes to various people, you can also pre-program times and days when they can access your home so you know when someone enters and leaves. Options such as cameras allow consumers to visually monitor entries or other areas while a video captures each visit for you.

Lock and hardware manufacture Schlage — rebranded as Nexia Home Intelligence — offers a system whose lighting and heating controls enable consumers to turn on lights or turn up the heat before they arrive home. Using Z-wave technology, which uses low-power radio waves to enable electronic devices to communicate throughout the house, Nexia says more than 200 devices can be connected to their system.

Nexia, like similar automation providers, partners with a number of products and manufacturers. For example, there are multiple brands of electronic locks that work with Nexia, but Schlage offers the integration and options, including sending an alert if the lock senses tampering. 

Home Automation at Its Best

Smart homes utilize the “Internet of Things,” a term that describes connected home automation devices, allowing you to control items such as your thermostat or oven from a computer, mobile device and even your vehicle..At the recent National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) International Builders Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, a number of new tech products debuted. Winning best in show for technology was a tankless water heater, Trutankless by Bollente Companies, controlled via smartphone and also integrates with home automation.

The folks at NAHB dubbed it “the world’s smartest water heater.” While it enables adjustment of temperatures from anywhere and produces hot water with only a 1-degree variable — even if someone else turns on hot water — this device also allows users to set maximum power consumption for specific days and times. And will notify them of a leak or freeze.

Another new product, EDGEhome, parses control down to individual switches by wirelessly connecting outlets, light switches, junction boxes and dimmers to a central controller. A dashboard gives a quick snapshot of energy usage at any one time, broken out by A/C and heat, lights, appliances and miscellaneous. Consumers can drill down further and see which spaces or outlets are using the most power by tapping into a system map.

The EDGEhome dashboard also shows inside and outside temps and calculates estimated energy savings per day. The system allows control of lights and plugged-in devices (no more worrying about turning off the iron). The outlets look like any standard outlet and allow users to program lighting scenes — and the cost doesn’t break the bank. 

Even without connectivity, simple electrical outlets are getting an overhaul. Many now incorporate USB ports and options, including built-in surge protection. 

Appliances manufactures are just beginning to introduce remote apps; this trend is not as widespread as consumers would like, according to Thies. At IBS, Dacor introduced an oven with a built-in tablet that allows users to download recipes and also to control the appliance remotely. Last year, GE introduced a wall oven with connected technology that allows users to control temperature, timers and mode with their smartphone. Kitchen faucets with motion sense have become standard offerings for manufacturers such as Moen and Kohler.

Still, new technology is not without glitches and one thing experts expect to see in the next few years is even more reliability and lower prices. “Overall acceptance is going to drive innovation and it’s going to drive the price points down to reality,” Thies says.

And rather than traditional suppliers of years past, who often provide bulletproof hardwired systems, he says innovations will be coming from the tech space or from starts-ups who will be looking for big mass-market business opportunities. 

The future Internet of Things will see automation “go down-market in a big way to where it will become standard,” Thies says, adding that he predicts it will “be in every home” and major builders will make technology standard in home that most people can afford.

Camilla McLaughlin is an award-winning writer specializing in house and home. Her work has appeared in leading online and print publications, such as Yahoo! Real Estate, Unique Homes magazine and Realtor Magazine. She has also freelanced for the Associated Press.

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