One of the things that has made 2016 bearable for me has been the arrival of affordable “smart home” technology. Some of it is frivolous and unnecessary. Which is sort of the point, but other parts have spectacular potential for enhancing our lives.
Whether it’s an elderly relative who is able to communicate that she’s alright to her family purely by switching the kettle on, or the guy in the wheelchair who can voice control the lights, there’s a million use cases for making the home starter.
The idea has been around for ages, but has been restricted to evil geniuses in sci-fi films, and of course professional footballers.
But now a few key “enablers” have allowed almost anything to control anything. What is more, it could save you money.
Take for example this Energenie MiHome Adapter Plus.
Not only can you control a device to run remotely via an app, but it can also be used as a time-switch and even controlled to turn off if it’s using too much energy. By including an energy monitor, you can check if the device is hogging the wattage. It can alert you, or it can be set to take unilateral action. It can even be triggered to set off another device, say, the lights.
To make use of it, you do need a base unit attached to your router. This one includes three plugs and a remote controller so you can do an entire room.
Of course the big talk this year has been about talking to your house. The Amazon Echo has now reached the UK and after some quite aggressive launch pricing a lot of people are now looking to see what it can do.
Energenie is one of the brands that has a “native” channel for Alexa (the Amazon cloud) along with the likes of SmartThings, Lifx, Phillips Hue and Wink.
The important thing is to not get locked into a single brand. At the moment, no one company offers you everything to make a smart home. However, many of them offer “IFTTT” compatibility. This is a handy site that allows you to trigger rules from thousands of devices, such as “IF I pause my TV THEN turn up the lights” or “IF I detect movement THEN ring my phone”
The third weapon in your arsenal of maximum capability lives with Logitech’s Harmony remote. But you don’t even need the remote. If you buy the Hub then it can be used to voice control the TV and a number of other devices with Echo.
The final piece of the puzzle comes with heating. Nest and Hive are the big two at the moment, though there are a number of other smart thermostats on the market. We’ve gone with Hive because it plays nicely with IFTTT and Alexa, and has a complementary range of motion sensors, light bulbs and other security bits.
you might be thinking to yourself that this all sounds like a frivolous waste and that it doesn’t apply to most people’s every day needs. Wrong.
Remember how I said that smart homes could save you money? Well, think about it. If you know that your house not only has cameras to show if there is a problem, triggered by motion and can be fitted with everything from smoke alarms to flood monitors all working together, then it means your house is safer. And who is going to like that?
Insurance companies are just cottoning on to the idea that a home filled with gadgets that actively protect it are likely to cost them less in payouts. It’s worth asking yours whether they consider smart-home products when calculating your premium. At the very least, you can say with confidence that you have a burglar alarm.
Some take the idea a step further. Neos is a new company that offers iPhone owners (and Android soon) hefty discounts on their policy, in return for setting up smart home devices to monitor it. In fact, they’ll actually give you hundreds of pounds of devices when you sign up.
At the moment, the whole smart home thing is still new and confusing, It will take months and years to really evolve into something cohesive. Standards like Z-Wave and Zigbee, which show promise of a single standard are yet to really prove themselves and often the interfaces are complicated.
As such, I’d certainly recommend building a system bit by bit – looking for compatibility with IFTTT, Alexa, Harmony and if you’re looking to retrofit light switches and sockets, Energenie has a range of replacements that you can fit yourself.
The nice thing is that you can do this all at your own pace without worrying about whether you’ll get left behind. But be warned, as I was. Smart Homing is a hobby and it’s hopelessly addictive.
Guest post created by Chris Merriman- Freelance Journalist and Staff Writer for The INQUIRER