Blog, LinkedIn Article: The Ins and Outs of Smart Home Automation

Just two generations ago imagined a world of self-driving flying cars, homes with robots, automatic controls, and video conferencing from anywhere. Smart home automation is making those far-flung dreams reality. While we don’t have flying cars, we do have self-driving cars and all the rest. To our grandparents, it must feel like we are living in a Jetson’s episode.

Smart home technology adoption is increasing thanks to innovation and decreasing barriers to entry, like cost and installation. Let’s break down where we stand with smart home automation adoption.

What is smart home automation?

When a home uses technology to control its systems, that is smart home automation. Tech experts call it the “Internet of Things” or IoT. When a device connects to a network, syncs with software, and runs based on protocols or commands, it’s a smart home device. 

How sophisticated a smart home is depends on the devices installed and how the users manage the tech. Some people use a few products, like a security system or a smart thermostat. Other homes come with a suite of IoT devices managed through a central hub to control everything from temperature to sound systems, security, and kitchen appliances. 

The pinnacle example is Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ home, Xanadu 2.0, where guests receive a smart pin that interacts with sensors around the house to adjust each room to their personal preferences. 

What are some smart home applications?

We have technology to control almost every aspect of a home. The most common and well-known is the smart thermostat. Heating and cooling is the primary driver of a home’s utility bill. Smart thermostat devices monitor the home’s energy use, temperature, and occupancy to optimize a home’s temperature. Some thermostats allow occupants to pre-program the device to raise or lower the temperature based on set times or by sensing when they leave the residence. The owners reduce their energy costs through more efficient heating and cooling.

Smart thermostats are one stepping point into the world of smart home automation. Today, homeowners can apply IoT devices to:

  • Use the garage door, even remotely
  • Unlock their exterior doors
  • Monitor a self-managed security system
  • See who’s at the door
  • Adjust sound and lighting
  • Turn on faucets
  • Automate sprinklers
  • Automate washer and dryer cycles
  • Run robotic devices like vacuums
  • Track what’s inside the refrigerator
  • Monitor water use
  • Turn objects on and off with smart plugs

Essentially, our ability to control the built world around us is increasing exponentially. Not only can we manage these items using our smartphones, but voice assistants like Alexa amplify the freedom of control over our surroundings. As of April 2020, around 87.7 million adults had installed a smart speaker, which amounts to 34.4 percent of the total adult population in the United States. 

Facts about smart home adoption

  • Back in 2012, around 1.5 million homes were designated as smart homes. Seven years later, over 47 million homes worldwide achieved smart home classification. Smart homes will grow and exceed the 300 million mark by 2023, says Statista. 
  • According to Statista, the smart home market is projected to generate $141 billion U.S. dollars by 2023. 
  • In terms of smart speakers, adoption grew 20 percent between 2018 and 2019. Users turn to these devices for an increasing range of applications, which includes the control of their smart home devices. 
  • Worldwide, approximately 12 percent of internet users worldwide already use smart home technology, while another 33 percent are “very likely” to do so. 
  • The National Center for Health Statistics found in 2015, more than two-thirds of all adults aged 25 to 34 lived in wireless-only households.
  • The most popular smart home devices are (in order): smart speakers, security systems, thermostats, monitoring cameras, video doorbells, and smart light bulbs.
  • According to Nielsen, lighting control, at 70 percent, is the daily home automation feature most frequently used. Garage door or gate control and access monitoring are second and third, respectively.
  • Echo IV, the first official smart device, was invented in 1966. It never sold commercially, but it did things like turn on appliances and controlled the room temperature.

How to use it

When it comes to smart home technology management, users essentially have two options. 

A central control system manages the automated devices from a single source. It’s convenient for managing all the devices from one place. They tend to be more expensive and need professional installation, but the trade-off is a high-quality system. However, adding something new can be challenging because you become limited to the devices that pair with the system. 

A Smart Hub system imitates the central control idea but allows users to self-select the devices they use. You are not limited to a single manufacturer as long the device is compatible with the smart hub. It enables the owner to control these apps from a single place.  Examples of smart hubs are the Google Nest, Amazon Echo Show, and Apple’s HomeKit. Find more examples of smart home hubs, device compatibility, and their reviews here. Many of these devices are compatible with smart speakers for easier control of smart home devices. 

Another option for applying IoT to the home is through app-based smart home technology products. The devices use cloud computing and a wi-fi connection to manage and control devices through the user’s smartphone. The product works as long as the user and the device are connected to the internet. The downside is owners must create an individualized account for each device. Depending on the products you have, you may have various tech distributors and apps for management.

Keep your smart home secure

Wi-fi router

Smart home adopters often select these devices because they feel it will enhance their security. However, as situations have proven, smart product owners need to take measures to ensure their systems won’t be compromised. Media outlets regularly report video monitors, speakers, and locks being hacked. Just read this from PCMag about Nest camera hacking. 

Prevent someone else from accessing your IoT devices by:

#1- Secure your Wi-Fi network and router. Change the default password and use a strong password that is unique from your email or bank account. Your router’s network name can also give away clues to its model, so change the network name. 

#2- Different device, different password. This step can be annoying, but it is paramount for secure systems. Every smart device connected through a mobile app with its individualized account should have a different password. If a hacker does get into one system, like your smart speaker, having a different password for your video camera will stall or prevent them from hacking that. 

Do remember, it’s not just the device you’re securing. How many data breaches have we heard about from corporations? If a hacker gets into your Roomba account, they might also try your Netflix.

#3- Say yes to two-factor. Using two-factor authentication takes security a step further. The account will require a second form of authentication, helping stop hackers in their tracks no matter how they gained your password.

#4- Stay updated. Pay attention to firmware updates. Firmware is the software that runs the router and your smart home devices. Companies push out bug fixes, and most devices will update automatically. Some will require you to proactively seek out the fixes. Keeping the software updated deters hackers from exploiting code weaknesses. 

#5- Separate the Wi-fi networks. Put your IoT devices on a different network from your general browsing and streaming devices. This protects the valuable information on your computer and the information on your devices, both from hackers and smart home malware. Many routers allow for a secondary network; use it for your guests and smart home devices. 

What about power outages?

A frequent question from hesitant technology adopters is, will the smart home devices work when the power goes out? 

Any system that requires the internet will be down when the power or internet services are also out. Devices wired through phone lines or with battery back-up will continue to operate. 

Most power outages are temporary situations. Remember, while Alexa may not be able to play music or turn the lights back on, you can always manually operate your door locks. 

Future smart home innovations

What is the future of smart home technology?

We have smart faucets, refrigerators, and heated driveways. What’s ahead in the next decade of smart home innovation?

The artificial intelligence (AI) market is booming across industries. Time suggests that AI will come to smart home automation. Devices will learn our habits and start automatically doing things like playing our favorite morning jams to start the day. 

Robotics will get more sophisticated. Future devices might move the furniture around depending on the time of day, or take care of slicing and dicing the veggies in the kitchen.

There’s a company making light-up walls that provide light or change colors. Or how about televisions that roll-up when not in use? Our refrigerators can track the inventory. In the future, they may even track what we’re eating to help us establish better habits. And apparently, Toto is making a urine-sampling toilet.

Smart home communities

The increased interest in smart homes has led to real estate developers creating smart home communities. Building a smart home from the ground up is attractive to homebuyers interested in a connected lifestyle. The homes come pre-wired to handle our modern connectivity demands and try to accommodate products we will want in the coming years.

Homes in purpose-built smart home communities are equipped with basic smart devices, like locks, automated garage doors, and climate control. What specifically comes equipped in each smart home depends on the developer and the community. 

Interested in smart home community living? Pulte is a leader in smart community development, with communities across the United States. Amazon also announced a partnership with developers, like Lennar Homes, to create move-in ready smart residences

Smart home and property values

While there is not much reliable statistical data on the impact of smart home technology on property values, anecdotal articles and early surveys show people are starting to desire and expect homes to be equipped for these devices. Around 81 percent of prospective home buyers would rather buy a home with the products already installed. 

Consumer Reports found equipped homes boosted a home’s resale value by five percent, and found home appraisers are starting to factor in the technology in their valuations. Coldwell Banker reported in their 2017 Smart Home Marketplace Survey that the number of people willing to spend money on smart homes has increased by 25% year-on-year. They also found around 91.3 percent of their brokers and real estate agents found the home sale would benefit from smart home technology in the marketing and sale. 

eMarketer reports claim that about 33% of U.S. internet users would buy a smart home, which is up from 12% in 2017.  The millennial generation are most likely to adopt and desire smart home technology. One source found 47 percent of this demographic already owned a smart home product. 

Why smart homes?

People are gravitating towards smart homes because of the touted cost savings. Thermostat company Nest found its product saved consumers 10% to 12% on heating and 15% on cooling. The promise of enhanced security is another significant factor in IoT adoption.

The good news is investing in smart home devices isn’t as expensive as people think. By choosing app-based, self-management products, you can equip a home with smart locks, video monitoring, and sensors for around $1500 or less. Homeowners can start with a smart hub and buy compatible devices as they are able to make upgrades. 

Finally, we can’t discount the “cool” factor. Isn’t it fun to tell your house to make it warmer, run the faucet, and turn off the lights? The homes of the future our grandparents envisioned are the homes we live in today.

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