A Dummy’s Guide to Smart Homes

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What’s the opposite of a smart home?  A dumb home.  And who wants to live in a dumb home?

Of course, some of you might be a little reluctant to embrace the future when the future looks like turning your home into a mini-surveillance state that’s presumably hijackable by anyone with a European wireless antenna they bought off Ebay and a few programs they downloaded off the darkweb.  Well, the reason you should embrace a smart home is the same reason you do anything – go to work, pretend not to be disgusted by your significant other’s sexual proclivities, rob liquor stores.  Money.  Recent surveys show that buyers will pay significantly more for a home with smart home technology – not only that, many new buyers consider it a prerequisite.  So unless you want to be one of those awkward couples whose friends have to tiptoe around anything real estate or money-related because everyone knows their house has been on the market for like 175 weeks, you better “get smart”!  (Ugh, sorry.)

(In case you’re wondering what, exactly, a smart home is, they just came up with an industry standard.  It’s a home with “network-connected products (via WiFi, Bluetooth or similar protocols) for controlling, automating and optimizing functions such as temperature, lighting, security, safety or entertainment, either remotely by a phone, tablet, computer or a separate system within the home itself.”  So yeah, a home you can control with your phone.)

So here’s a brief guide that will help you turn your cozy inert “dumb home” into an always-on wired panopticon of remote surveillance and total control!  Whee!

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THE PLATFORM
It’s still early, so there isn’t an industry standard yet.  There are the big three of Apple HomeKit, Google Nest, and Samsung SmartThings (fire the person who approved that name, please), and plenty of smaller companies to consider if you’re the kind of person who goes to the bar and orders an obscure cider that the bartender has to go to the back room to find.  At this point there isn’t a clear favorite, since they can all be controlled by pretty much any phone, and work with almost every smart device.  This is basically the nervous system that your smart devices will connect through.

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THE COMMAND CENTER
The Amazon Echo is pretty much the undisputed master in this category.  You can tell it to start the coffee maker, play a specific song, turn up the heat, call an Uber, or email your boss, and it’ll do it.  It’s basically a bluetooth speaker that’s gained sentience after being struck by lightning or something.  It works with pretty much every smart home device on the market, so if swiping away at your smartphone feels “soooo 2015” to you, the Echo is your best bet to upgrade to voice commands.  And with updates it’s only getting smarter and more customizable.  Soon you’ll be able to ask from the sofa, “Echo, how does my ex look in their latest batch of Instagram photos?”  “Like a manatee having a severe allergic reaction to peanuts,” Echo will say without missing a beat, as you chortle softly.  (You can also opt for the Amazon Dot, which is basically a cheaper, streamlined Echo.)

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THE THERMOSTAT
This is like the vanguard of the smart house phenomenon; the Nest thermostat was sneaking into houses before “smart home” thinkpieces were even a thing.  It basically lets you control your heating and cooling from your phone or, if you invest in a voice-operated interface (like an Amazon Echo), by voice command.

But although the Nest is still the gold standard, it does have its competitors; the Ecobee, for instance, uses remote sensors to monitor the temperature of every room in your house, automatically adjusting when it detects someone enter or leave the room.  I feel like this is the tipping point for smart home usefulness;  when it was just doorbells that sent you texts, I was like, eh, I can live without that.  But if my thermostat could cut my heat bill in half without sacrificing any actual comfort, it starts to look like a must-have.

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THE APPLIANCES
How many times have you forgotten you put a load of clothes in the washer or dryer, and then had to re-wash/dry them because they got horribly wrinkled?  This happens to me a full 50% of the time I do laundry, even moreso since they legalized marijuana.  Now your washer/dryer can text you when your clothes are done.  Annoying?  Possibly.  (See above!)  But possibly just the right level of annoying.  There are also fridges with internal cameras so you can check what you have from the grocery store and coffee makers that will start when it senses you’ve woken up.  Before long we’ll have spoons that berate you when you sink it into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

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SMART LOCKS
True story:  when I lived in the godforsaken Midwest, I was walking home one night when I clearly saw a hobo come out of the trainyards by climbing over a chain-link fence, see me walking across the street, and do a quick u-turn to start following me.  You know how when, in horror movies, people fumble and drop their keys at the door when being chased by a killer, and you always scoff, like, “yeah if that was me, I’d put the key in first time, no problem.  Cool under pressure, that’s me.”  Nah, you wouldn’t.  With this hobo bearing down on me, my mind went so blank that I literally couldn’t even remember which key unlocked my front door.  It was like I’d never seen that set of keys before.  Luckily, my roommate was home, so the front door wasn’t even locked, and I narrowly avoided being stabbed with a rusty screwdriver.  For this reason, I think smart locks are a no-brainer.  The best ones will unlock at a swipe or even a voice command; perfect for eluding murderous hobos.

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SMART DIMMING KITS
A smart dimming kit can be had for less than $50 and lets you dim the lights in your home with your phone.  If you’re single, you need this.

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