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Where To Begin Making Your Home a Smart Home

Almost anyone can make their home a smart home inexpensively with plug and play devices.

What is a smart home? It is a home equipped with electronic devices that control such appliances as lighting, heating, and security remotely from an application (an "app") on a smartphone or tablet. The same devices or appliances can be controlled from inside the home by a smart assistant such as Alexa. This is a smart speaker/microphone using artificial intelligence (AI) to activate and carry out many mundane chores such as checking your calendar, playing music, and controlling devices throughout your home by voice commands. Smaller devices with microphones inside can be placed on walls or even carried on your person to extend voice control throughout the home, not just the area within speaking distance of the assistant microphone.

The following are just a few of the functions that can be controlled remotely through the app away from home via data or an internet connection or in-home via a virtual assistant.

  • Turning on the oven so dinner is cooked upon arriving home.

  • Controlling the thermostat to raise or lower household central heating.

  • Opening or closing drapes, curtains or blinds.

  • Have music playing upon arriving home.

  • Feeding pets on a schedule and with pre-determined amounts of food.

  • Opening doors with voice commands.

  • Allowing a family member or friend into the home remotely with a smart door lock.

  • Viewing arriving visitors remotely from the back garden in the summer or from anywhere in the home.

Many new homes being built today are hard-wired for smart home functionality. For older homes, hard wiring can be an expensive proposition. A less expensive option is "plug and play" devices. They can be purchased at most electronics or big box stores and are relatively easy to install.

The simplest and least expensive way to get started with basic home automation tasks is to buy smart interface products that are specialized for the appliances you want to control remotely. If you can screw in a light bulb and install a cable modem, you can install most smart devices. For appliances, you can use plugin sensors to turn ordinary devices you already have into smart devices. The sensor plugs into a wall outlet and the appliance plugs into the sensor. Additionally, there are very simple remote control outlet units that allow you to press a single button anywhere in the house and turn anything connected to a power outlet on and off if you are not ready for an Alexa virtual assistant.

Smart thermostats are a great energy-saving device. They can be used to remotely control the temperature of your home. Using AI they can learn your preferences and can intelligently lower your heat or AC while you're out and reactivate it before you get home to your preferred "at home" temperature settings.

There are several smart standards in the market you can choose from. If you are price conscious and decide to go the non-hardwired route, the bulk of your time will be spent deciding which plugin system to go with. There are many websites such as Tom's Guide where you can do your research. Z-Wave is a communication standard in wireless technology that allows smart devices to talk to one another. Zwave was developed by Zensys, Inc. a start-up company based in Denmark and is used worldwide.

Software: Whether you'll be controlling your system via your desktop, smartphone, or tablet, you'll need software to run the system. You can get this software when buying dedicated devices (A Hub) or using open-source software. Some solutions offer subscription packages with an annual fee.

The Hub: Your commands need a master control with software to talk to your appliances and devices. The hub is the "brain"; a box that transmits wireless commands to your network. More common devices are simple, self-contained units that often come with some software. There are many low-cost products on the market, but be careful as many cheaper USB devices don't come with software or require a monthly or annual subscription.

Sensors, switches, and peripherals: Something has to receive a signal transmitted from the hub. Depending on what you want to automate, you may need to install smart wall switches, install a smart door lock and look at some hard wiring changes to your lighting system. Peripheral devices range from low cost to expensive.

You don't have to stick with the basic software, either. While you have one device that acts as the master control program for your network, there are always new and more efficient devices and software coming on the market with better ways to extend your smart home system.

Home automation is here to stay. Home and business owners are all looking for ways to simplify living and making premises more secure. Home technology continues to fill the needs of consumers who are looking for better ways to access information and control the home environment. Predicting the future of home automation technology isn't an easy task, but here's what the future may hold.

There will be more voice command technology in homes. Some smartphone apps with voice commands are becoming more popular even now to complete tasks and control the surrounding environment. With this technology, the industry foresees the ability to use voice commands to control security, heating, and cooling, lighting, privacy, and entertainment. Say goodbye to the remote control and smartphone or tablet app.

Wearable technology is the new black. We're already seeing the popularity of wearable devices rise in the form of fitness monitors, which are just the beginning of the possibilities for wearable tech and home automation. In the future, the line between the digital and real worlds will be very much blurred. This will allow people to interface with their homes in a whole new way. Perhaps in the future, wearable technology will monitor consumers' health and medical conditions and control the surrounding environment for optimal health and well-being.

Automation is all about comfort, convenience, and energy savings. What if all this could happen without the consumer thinking about it? In the future, home environments could change automatically based on sensors around the house, in mobile devices and on individuals. Perhaps homes will sense when inhabitants are sick and adjust the heating and cooling to help get better, faster.

When it comes to the future of home tech, consumers' choices are only going to expand. Technology will continue to improve lives while giving new ways to interact with homes and one another.

Whether home security, wearable electronics or voice command technology, the future of home automation should be bright and exciting.

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