It’s becoming easier to make your home a smart, connected one.
The funny commercial for AT&T’s new Digital Life captures the trend. As the children drive up to a rental cabin, they assure Dad they left everything shipshape at a home. The skeptical father checks his smart phone app and turns off the TV, water faucet and lights, and locks the front door.
AT&T is among the companies bringing home automation to the masses. With a home automation service and properly equipped home appliances, a homeowner can control lights, heating and air conditioning, appliances, window blinds, and security.
At one time those installations were found mostly in high-dollar custom homes. Now smart home products are finding their way in to Lowes and Home Depot stores, among others, for do-it-yourselfers.
It’s an indication of how consumers are adopting connected products that let them take control of their lives and budgets. Connected via the cloud, homeowners can manage their home and track their energy usage.
It’s part of the growing focus on energy efficiency in all kinds of buildings, including the increasing role of building automation for energy efficiency using cloud-based systems.
“The convergence of corporate and commercial real estate, information technology that is based in the Cloud, and energy efficiency leads the list of new green building mega-trends for 2014,” says Jerry Yudelson, a green building and sustainability consultant.
Automation options range from a programmable thermostat like the Nest to whole-house systems.
Starter kits are available with programmable switches that plug into outlets, so homeowners can set lights or other appliances to turn off and on according to a schedule or at the touch of an app button.
AdoraTouch Switches, launched on KickStarter.com, can be used to control light bulbs, fans and other electrical equipment. The dimmers are available in the form of a wheel and a slider to control the dimming of a bulb or the speed of a fan.
Users can control multiple switches and dimmers with a single touch and can create and recall different scenarios like movie time, vacation or a party.
With a more robust system, you can program window blinds, heating and air conditioning, lights and other systems.
For instance, if everyone in the house leaves in the morning for work and school, and no one is home all day, the house can adjust the heat to save money while the house is empty. But if someone comes home early, you can connect with the thermostat to turn the heat up to a comfortable level, or turn off the lawn sprinkler before you pull in the driveway.
The next wave is making smarter home appliances. GE, LG and others are designing appliances with integrated sensors and communications. Soon your refrigerator will be able to text you to pick up milk on the way home, or place an order for fruits and vegetables from a delivery service, perhaps an Amazon drone.
There are competing communication protocols for smart appliances. The popular options in the marketplace include Zigbee, Z-Wave and Insteon. Each has its pros and cons and are not typically compatible with each other, although adapters do exist.
Homeowners can also connect with home energy monitoring. You can track energy usage with services such as PowerWise Systems, Wiser Energy Management System or WegoWise. A new system from Finnish company BaseN offers both energy management and automation functions in one. It tracks energy consumption and can control lights, heating and cooling and other appliances.
Home energy monitors can help diagnose problems with a furnace or appliances, and help homeowners change their behavior to save energy.
“Monitors help people understand their usage costs and environmental impact,” says Christian Gilbert, business development manager for PowerWise. “It helps people understand that the second refrigerator in the garage costs them $20 a month and can monitor vampire power loads to see if a game system or cell phone charger is costing a lot of money.”