Smart home

What can I do with home automation?

Part 2 of a two part series on how to get started with home automation

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allowing you to program your blinds to open and close at specific times, or in some cases, be controlled by other smart products, such as your thermostats.

Water Heating: While HVAC systems account for almost half of the average American home’s energy use, coming in a close second is hot water heating. Rheem, one of the leading manufacturers of water heaters in the U.S., recently launched a Wi-Fi module for electric and gas water heaters that lets you monitor the performance of the device, control energy usage and alert you to leaks or other potentially costly malfunctions.

rheem app screenshot

Rheem’s Wi-Fi water heater module allows you to save energy by controlling the temperature of your hot water through an app.

A vacation mode and the ability to change the temperature with your smartphone help prevent wasted energy on heating and reheating water that won’t be used. The Rheem device only works with select Rheem water heaters, but the concept is likely to roll out to other manufacturers in the near future. GE has a hybrid water heater in the works, launching early 2015 and Kickstarter-funded Sunovations is close to launching its version, the Aquanta, which promises to install on your existing water heater.

Smart Sprinklers: Standard programmable sprinkler systems help conserve water by eliminating the need for us to remember to turn them off. Smart sprinklers such as the Rachio help create an automated schedule by learning from our patterns, but also go a step further and automatically adjust for changes in weather and seasonality, helping you use as little water as possible. For more tips on being smart in your garden, read this article from Kitchen Gardens International.

rachio smart sprinkler

Smart sprinklers allow you to control and monitor the watering of your lawn from anywhere in the world.

Smart Kitchens: Tablets and smartphones have quickly become useful in the kitchen, so much so that some fridges now come with them built in. But tech has yet to take over the kitchen entirely. One day soon the smart kitchen will have a fridge that can track what’s in it and how long it’s been there without the user having to do anything. We're not quite there yet (five years, say industry experts), but both Samsung and LG now offer connected fridges that communicate with other smart appliances in their line-up. This video from LG gives a great glimpse into the future of the connected kitchen.

quirky egg minder

The connected kitchen will one day allow you to monitor the contents of your fridge from the supermarket. Devices like the Quirky Egg Minder are the first steps toward that.

While we wait for the kitchen that can cook and clean itself, however, a variety of smart appliances are already available to help prep your cuisine. Bluetooth-enabled Sous Vide cookers such as Anova's Precision One and LG’s Smart ThinQ can be controlled remotely, so you can check on a meal’s status while relaxing in another room or make sure you turned the oven off after you’ve arrived at a pot luck party. LG even has a chat function that lets you communicate back and forth with the oven.

On a smaller scale, you can get a Wi-Fi connected crock-pot, a smart coffee machine, smart scales and even an egg tray that will tell you when you’re running low.

lg smart diagnosis

Many modern appliances have self-diagnostic features built in. Opening the manufacturer’s app allows the device to communicate what its malfunction is and offer a solution.

While the individual aspects of a remote-controlled kitchen and laundry room are all convenient —there are connected washing machines and dryers that allow you to start cycles, monitor progress and get alerts if the dryer duct is clogged—an excellent advantage of connected appliances is service. Smart kitchen devices can diagnose problems remotely, saving on the cost of sending a technician. Combined with the ability to turn appliances off remotely, these features take the smart home from slightly frivolous to almost essential.


Building a smart home is no longer the daunting journey it was even a year ago. Today, the technologies are user-friendly, vastly more affordable and increasingly accessible. You can buy many of these products in brick-and-mortar stores, meaning you can go in and get your hands on them before you buy them and, crucially, there is somewhere to go if things go wrong.

One of the early barriers to entry to the smart home was the concern over protocols and interoperability between products. However, the advent of the smart hub, which acts as a bridge between all these devices, means you no longer need to worry about whether you are purchasing Zigbee or Z-Wave, Bluetooth LE or Wi-Fi enabled products.

“We're working across the different technologies and bringing all the leading brands together in one app,” says Matt McGovren, head of marketing for Wink, one of the universal smart home controllers on the market. “We'll continue to expand Wink so you have the choice and flexibility to pick the products that are right for your home and life. People can be comfortable purchasing connected products from leading brands that use those technologies. They will be around for a long time.”

While a standard protocol is a possibility, it doesn’t mean support for the other tech will go away. Electric cars may one day be the standard automobile, but that doesn't mean gas stations will disappear overnight.

“The Smart Home is not just for the rich or the geeky anymore,” says McGovren. “It's for everyone. There are a lot of parallels between cellphone adoption and what we're seeing now. The idea that you would want this phone—which at first was for the super rich or business travelers—it was hard to get your brains around how this would change your life, until you started to use it. It's the same thing with the smart home. It's a lot easier to realize the potential of a smart home than it is to explain its potential.”

Go ahead—take that first step toward building a smart home and see how it changes your life. See what problems it can solve for you. It really is as easy as screwing in a light bulb.

Connect with the author, Jennifer Tuohy, on Google+

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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