Q: We’ve been thinking about installing a smart-home system in our house, but we are unsure whether it’s something we need or just an expensive gimmick. Is it worth it?
A: The term “smart home,” now a catch-all term for a connected residence, is something of a misnomer. Smart homes are really networked ecosystems, with intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces rather than a single system. They provide comfort, security, wellness and entertainment, and can be incredibly useful when fully integrated and used correctly.
While the popularity of home automation has risen, there are still a lot of misconceptions about smart-home technology. Let’s debunk a few of the most common myths.
It’s too complicated to figure out. Yes and no. A lot of consumers were first introduced to smart-home technology via early unintuitive DIY devices that were, with few exceptions, clunky. Tech like “connected” thermostats that track homeowners’ preferred temperatures and adjust accordingly can be a nightmare if not installed correctly. Fortunately, the tech has evolved to the point where most connected thermostats are now installed by HVAC professionals.
Bottom line? While some people are comfortable working on their own plumbing or electrical systems, most aren’t. The same is true with smart-home technology. For stress-free results, leave it to a pro.
It’s just gimmicky nonsense. There’s a kernel of truth in this myth, too: The term “smart” has been slapped on everything from toothbrushes to water bottles. The good news? The tech has evolved to a point where voice-control software can do a lot more than play a song and tell bad Dad jokes.
When the tech works, it provides real benefits — increased security, more-efficient HVAC, optimal lighting, expanded entertainment options and more. Imagine a lighting system that mimics the color temperature of natural sunlight at any given time of day, and then shuts itself off at bedtime. Now imagine that system “telling” automated shades to adjust the ambient light and climate of the home to meet your minute-by-minute needs. That’s no gimmick.
This stuff is all fragile junk. Companies offering the most reputable home-automation systems are fully aware that any failure, whether a mid-movie signal interruption or a security breach, is completely unacceptable. To that end, the testing processes for everything from temperature extremes to hacking attacks are incredibly stringent.
None of this stuff will work when I need it to, or with other stuff. Think about the automation in your car. It’s all branded Toyota, Lexus or BMW, but some parts and devices are made by other firms. Yet the locks recognize your fob when you approach, and the backup camera clicks on when you put it into reverse. Your vehicle is an ecosystem of automotive automation. Your home can be just as intuitive and dependable with many different compatible devices.
It’ll go haywire every time there’s an update. Yes, these systems are becoming more complex, but they’re also maturing. That finetuning prevents a lot of hiccups during software and firmware updates. Back to the car analogy: Your vehicle needs service sometimes. And so does your smart-home system. Technology designers and installers offer regular service contracts akin to an ongoing HVAC service, and many issues can be resolved remotely.
Wi-Fi connectivity can handle everything I add to this system. The reliance on wireless connectivity is a true double-edged sword. Yes, it’s extraordinarily convenient, with more and more wireless devices introduced every day. Plug-in hubs that expand networks have proven their worth. But the backbone of the best smart-home systems, the ones that ensure the least number of problems, is hardwired cabling.
This stuff is spying on me and collecting personal data. Also, it just gives hackers a back door into my house. Security has layers. As devices become ever more secure against intrusion, the weak link in most networks often turns out to be the human user. In fact, most breaches are actually the result of phishing attacks, often via email, targeting the homeowner. If you’re using smart-home tech, you should know best practices for safe and secure internet use.
As for privacy, yes, it’s a huge concern, but having a professional design your smart-home system will strengthen your defenses and help protect your data. This is especially important as the lines between work and home become ever blurrier. Remote workers have a unique responsibility when it comes to data protection and privacy.
Ed Wenck is senior content writer at Crestron, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,600 members, write to email@example.com.