By Harvey Meyer
IT’S AS THOUGH the futuristic TV cartoon
series The Jetsons has come to life at Stephen
Knuth’s Nashville home. The social media
marketer and website designer can use his
smartphone to remotely unlock the front
door to let a plumber or housecleaner in.
While driving on cold winter evenings, Knuth
can crank up the thermostat via his Wi-Fi system so his home is cozily warm upon arrival.
And when he goes on vacation, he can
remotely inspect his house from a security
camera, even turn the lights on and off.
“The technology makes things conve-
nient, accessible and efficient,” says Knuth, a
Costco member. “But the biggest thing is that
it simplifies my life.”
Knuth echoes the praise of other con-
sumers who’ve outfitted their residences with
so-called “smart-home” technology. The fea-
tures enable wide-ranging tasks, from
remotely lowering blinds, watering plants and
operating the garage door to tracking the
amount of food in the refrigerator and nag-
ging homeowners to change the furnace filter.
Systems for the common folk
Once the province of the wealthy or
techies, smart-home technology systems and
devices are increasingly embraced by average
consumers. Home automation varies in intelligence and capabilities; functions can be as
simple as remotely controlling lighting or as
complex as operating computer/micro-con-troller-based networks that “talk” with each
other. For instance, the air conditioner won’t
turn on because it knows a window is open.
Several factors account for the rising pop-
ularity of smart-home technology. Today’s
wireless systems eliminate threading wires
through walls, making installation cheaper
and easier. More people are also deploying
tablet computers and smartphones, whose
programs remotely operate smart-home sys-
tems or devices. And in part because of more
competition, home-automation technology
has become more affordable in recent years.
“As connectivity has been built into more
consumer devices—especially smartphones
and tablets, but also all sorts of appliances—
that has lowered [installation] prices dramatically,” says Jonathan Collins, principal analyst
at ABI Research, a New York technology market intelligence firm.
Do it yourself, or get a pro
Consumers themselves can install many
smart-home devices that are directly controlled via smartphone. But do-it-yourselfers
should be aware that many devices require
their own app and come with different wireless technologies that may prevent, or at least
make more challenging, an interconnected
system. Consumers should also know that
smart-home devices that communicate
online may also risk being hacked.
Companies such as Provo, Utah–based
Vivint offer systems that integrate security,
energy management and other features, all of
which can be controlled through a central
touch-screen panel or remotely through the
Internet or a smartphone. There is a one-time
fee for installation, and consumers pay a
monthly maintenance and monitoring charge.
Users can remotely monitor security
cameras to view their kids arriving home
safely from school—and see if they’re watching TV instead of doing their homework.
Users can also check on pets. Unsure if you
turned off the curling iron or coffee maker?
Check remotely. The Vivint security system
The Costco Connection
Most Costco warehouses and Costco.com
carry a variety of smart-home items, such
as door locks, thermostats, smartphones
and tablets, and security systems.
where the smart is
Wired homes create energy- and time-efficient environments
can also automatically alert homeowners
when smoke, carbon monoxide, motion and
glass-break detectors go off or when window
and door sensors are triggered.
Another benefit: saves money
Costco member Sean Cochrane, founder
of SuperGreen Solutions, a West Palm Beach,
Florida, supplier of wide-ranging energy-effi-cient home products, says one major benefit
of energy-managing smart-home features is
that they can save money. The most important energy-conserving feature: a smart thermostat that enables consumers to remotely
control heating and air conditioning; some
adjust to individuals’ living habits and even
weather conditions, he says.
“I went on vacation once and forgot to
turn down the AC on my old thermostat, so
the next bill was very high,” says Cochrane. “If
I had had a smart thermostat, I could have
paid for it in just that one use.”
Because of energy savings, convenience
and other benefits, Cochrane predicts smart-
home technology will improve a property’s
salability. And if that isn’t enough to sway you
about home-automation features, Cochrane
adds this: “They’re just plain cool.” C
Harvey Meyer is a freelancer who writes for a
variety of business, consumer, health and