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An Education in Smart Home Decisions

An Education in Smart Home Decisions
Shahrooz Hariri a.k.a @DigitalRooz  primer on stepping into home automation
Major manufacturers are fighting tooth and nail to control your home. They will seemingly go to any length to get there too. Walk into any hardware store or brick and mortar electronics retailer and you will see endcap after endcap using catch phrases like green, smart, mobile, control, remote, anywhere, savings, and energy efficient. That sounds great and all but what does it all mean? How will these devices make my life better? Do I really need these devices? If I decide to incorporate these products who’s going to install it and show me how to use them?
What does it mean?
Let’s face it, the smart home isn’t going anywhere so you might as well get used to it. You can simply choose to ignore it and move on with your life or you can choose to be an early adopter and embrace the technology. If you don’t want to dive in right away you can monitor the industry, dabbling here and there until things become a bit more uniform.
I liken the current smart home category to a pot of gumbo. Just a hodge-podge of players in a mosh pit of apps, LED’s, cameras, thermostats, smoke alarms, door locks, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices. There is no doubt that smart devices are cool, but how do they work? Nearly all smart devices will need to connect to the internet. They can connect via Ethernet (hard wired), Wi-Fi, or both. Being a tech professional of nearly 20 years I will always go with a hard wired connection over a Wi-Fi connection when afforded the opportunity.
How will these devices make my life better?
The truth is there is no black or white answer. Each case is unique to the end user. Often times they will just be a big waste of money as the end user will realize the smart devices don’t actually work or offer the desired result. The one certainty is that your smart devices will invariably be controlled by your mobile phone and or tablet.
We’ve become a push button society and people love apps. The end user wants to open an app and control what they need and they expect it to work. Smart devices can be downright amazing and improve the quality of your life. They can save you money and everybody likes that. They allow you to control your thermostat from your office downtown or from your living room couch. They can even help save your life in an emergency.
My personal favorite smart device that I have in my home is my lighting system. I can control the lighting in my house from my universal remote control or my smart phone with, you guessed it, an app! It is the coolest and most functional device in my entire house and that is saying a lot. I’d pay four times what I paid for the system because it truly makes my life better.
Do I really need these devices?
Absolutely, positively NOT! Yeah I said it. You don’t need these devices but you damn sure want them. With fall upon us and daylight fading quickly I looked into purchasing LED light bulbs to replace my current incandescent, halogen, and CFL light bulbs. My CFL’s are adequate but they are not dimmable and I really can’t stand how they need time to warm up to reach full output.
The average LED light bulb I found was about $12 per bulb. I live in a standard track home that’s approximately 1,600 SQFT. I counted 60 light bulbs in order to do my entire house. I love to be green but $720 is quite an investment on light bulbs. I also find it troubling that many LED light bulbs are more harmful to the environment than incandescent light bulbs due to the silicon chips and circuitry in them that isn’t biodegradable. In addition there is virtually no way they will ever meet the ridiculous claims of a bulb life. Most I’ve encountered are rated at north of 25,000 hours. There have been multiple reports of LED bulbs going out within the first year!
There is no disputing that LED’s can save you money on your energy bill but it may take longer than you expect to equalize the cost of LED bulbs vs. the savings in your electric bill. As with most tech products, I always recommend buying quality. When I do decide to move forward with my LED light bulbs I will be sure to purchase from a well-respected manufacturer. What I won’t do is buy the cheap Chinese imitations that are littered all over the internet at a fraction of the cost. Before you make the plunge be sure to check with your local electric company for lighting rebates. You just might be pleasantly surprised what they’re offering.
How difficult can it be to incorporate smart devices into your smart home?
What most consumers don’t realize is that smart devices are not simply plug-n-play. There is huge potential for frustration, four letter words, Xanax refills, fifths of Jack, and Just for Men. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound very smart to me. Nearly all smart devices require a Wi-Fi connection to even get started. That means entering your Wi-Fi password. Some know it like the back of their hand and some cringe at the thought of trying to remember.
If your ISP provides you with a modem & router combo the passkey is typically a 10 character alphanumeric sequence. This can be found on a sticker on the bottom of the Router. My standard practice is to whip out my iPhone and snap a picture of the passkey. I find this much more efficient over hunting for a pen and paper. This will eliminate the possibility of jotting down the incorrect characters and if it’s dark where the modem is my iPhone camera has a nice bright flash built in! Just getting the network passkey correct can be quite cumbersome.
I empower people to try new things, at least give it a shot. Most things in life can be figured out if you are willing to learn and put in the time needed to get it fixed. The issue for most is time, they simply don’t have that luxury. One attempt at trying to setup a smart device and consumers are willing to return it or searching the internet for a professional. That is the biggest challenge facing smart devices. Most who can afford them lack the knowledge on how to set them up. It’s quite tragic because that demographic stands to benefit the most from smart devices.
What’s my advice?
I equate smart devices to financial planning. Narrow down what you want to invest in, do your research, weigh the benefits, and start slow. Start in one room and build from there. Most systems are modular. You can add on whenever you are ready. If your project requires wiring, take detailed notes and tons of pictures. Use different colored tape and a sharpie to label your wires. I cannot tell you how many times I have saved myself a ton of grief by taking pictures, screenshots, and creating a wire schedule. It takes a little more effort initially but it will more than make up for itself later.
Technology can be intimidating no doubt but the benefits clearly out weight the cons. Give it a chance and if you fall dust yourself off and try again.

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