Home Automation: Smart Homes on a Budget
LESLIE: Well, built-in home automation systems can help monitor and control your home systems whether you’re home or not. But installing some of these systems can require a big up-front investment that may be hard to recoup.
TOM: Well, the good news is that there are many new products on the market now that give you the same sense of automatic smart-home control without the need for a costly, centrally-wired hub. Here to discuss some of those options with us is This Old House host, Kevin O’Connor.
KEVIN: Hi, guys. Great to be here.
TOM: If you think about it, when home automation first hit the market, there was a lot of interest. But most of the early systems required a centralized, hard-wired control panel, which you really had to commit to. And that was expensive and costly and I think it turned a lot of people off.
KEVIN: I think it definitely prohibited a lot of people from diving in to what was a big decision, something that was going to require a lot of thought and probably a lot of money. And the big change today is that the need to hard-wire everything is pretty much fading away, thanks to Wi-Fi technology. And the need to sort of just pick one system and have everything run off of that is also changing.
Because of that wireless technology, there are systems now where you can actually cobble together different manufacturers’ products, different brands into one unified system. Basically, it’s all going to your smartphone eventually, right?
TOM: So the phone has basically replaced that big box you used to have to stick in a closet somewhere?
LESLIE: The phone is the brain.
KEVIN: The phone is the brain and the phone is not wired anymore. And so it’s a lot easier to sort of cobble together the system that serves you best and to use products from different manufacturers that you like over – one over another.
TOM: Yeah. Home Depot, for example, has a system now called Wink, which is a platform that can be connected to multiple manufacturers of the same products like, for example, in thermostats where it will work with the Nest thermostat or the Honeywell.
KEVIN: And there are a lot of other things that sort of fall under that umbrella. So now you don’t just have thermostats and alarms. You’ve got things like smart outlets where you can actually plug in an outlet or (inaudible at 0:24:05) wire an outlet.
And now, all of a sudden, you could control that outlet remotely, so you can have an air conditioner go on and off via your smartphone. You can have humidity sensors, temperature sensors, motion sensors, cameras, all of these things now coming together into a unified system that sends it back to your phone that can be, again, different brands, different technologies coming into that one central hub, which is often the smartphone.
LESLIE: You know, I think it’s so interesting because you’ve created sort of a smart way to fool potential burglars. We recently took a vacation and I put in three or four different automatic timers for lights around the house to come at different times so that it could essentially look as if someone’s been moving about the house. Here you could be anywhere in the world and be like, “Boop, I’m going to turn the light on in that room. Ha ha. Tricked you.” I mean it really is convenient and amazingly accessible.
KEVIN: And the fact that it’s convenient, I believe, means you’re more inclined to use it.
LESLIE: To use it, yeah.
KEVIN: If you had to crawl down underneath the couch and pull out that old timer that you had to push down the little tabs and try to …
LESLIE: Were you spying on me again?
KEVIN: Right. But if that’s what you had to do before you went away for the weekend, chances are you’re going to walk right by it and you weren’t going to get the lights turned on remotely, so it just didn’t serve you well. The ease of being able to do it from your smartphone and then because it’s so intuitive means you’re more likely to actually use this stuff.
TOM: It’s really exciting and a fun time to add some of these things to your house. There’s a new garage-door opener now that it is smartphone-enabled, so you can literally pull away from your house and if you recall that you left the door open, no problem. You just pull over, open up your smartphone and close it.
KEVIN: Probably not a bad thing to have when you consider that most of us go in and out of our houses through the garage. Would you ever leave your front door open? No. So why would you leave your garage door open by accident when oftentimes it is the primary access into your home?
LESLIE: Well, I think that’s an interesting point, also. We’ve seen entry systems also become automated for homes, as well. So if you need to let, perhaps, a service person – or your kid’s home from school, you can just easily program the door to open at a certain time. Or you know they’re there by your smartphone and you just go boo-boop, door opens, done.
KEVIN: I have a neighbor who pretty much, every time we go away, calls me up to see if he can borrow the leaf blower, which is great because he knows I’m not using it right then but it’s locked in the garage.
TOM: Now you can let him in.
KEVIN: I can let him in. I could just send him the passcode and in he goes, he unlocks the garage door. I don’t have to give him the key. He shuts the door afterwards, it automatically locks. It’s great convenience. I love to have that sort of remote access to it.
It will also, if I wanted it to, send me a notification when that door was opened or closed so I can keep track of who is coming and going.
LESLIE: If your leaf blower has been returned.
KEVIN: Well, that’s how I actually figure out how many beers he owes me for the leaf blower.
TOM: There you go. Leslie and I recently both just installed KOHLER standby generators or KOHLER whole-house generators and we have apps now on our phones. Tells us when it comes on, when it goes off, when it’s exercising itself, running tests.
LESLIE: You can turn it on, you can turn it off.
KEVIN: It really is a brave, new world when it comes to home automation.
TOM: Well, that’s right. And now there’s a lot of smart features that are purely for entertainment. You just put in a system at your Charleston home project that was an audio system that was all sort of Wi-Fi, enabled in smartphone control, right?
KEVIN: We did. And the beautiful thing about it is that we’ve got a central hub that’s down in the basement and then we have these wireless speakers all throughout the house, so you’ve got them on all different floors and all different rooms. They’re connected to wherever your music source may be, whether it is on that central hub or again, on your smartphone. And it also allows you to connect it to the television sets. You can move these things around, you can pick settings so that you have the music going on throughout the entire house during a party.
We’ve seen this stuff before. It’s just getting easier and easier to install them because the wires are disappearing.
TOM: And really, really fun. Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: Thank you for having me. Always a pleasure.
LESLIE: OK. Catch the current season of This Old House andAsk This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos of many common home improvement projects, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you on PBS by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.