House & Home

Smarten up: The latest innovations to raise your home's IQ

Posted January 11, 2020 2:32 p.m. EST

Smart home innovations

Just how smart is your house? Will it show you, at your office desk, who just rang your front doorbell? Automatically turn on the entryway lights as you pull into the driveway? Queue up your dance playlist and strobe the living-room lights when you say “party time!”? The Internet of things (IoT) is making almost everything in our homes faster, easier, more sophisticated and efficient and well, just more fun. The options in home automation can be mind boggling, so we’ve gathered some of the hottest smart home devices so you can get your house started on a crash course toward genius.

Before you begin filling your shopping cart with nifty smart-home devices, you’ll want to settle on a communication platform — the central switchboard through which commands are relayed. Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple HomeKit are the three big players in home automation platforms. All three incorporate digital assistants with voice command capabilities, Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri. And all three offer integration with myriad third-party vendors. For now, the Amazon Alexa platform wins the prize for the most variety in models, as well as the broadest compatibility with other devices.

All three platforms also work with IFTTT (If this then that) applets for scripting complex automation routines. (Think of a going-up-to-bed routine that turns out the lights, lowers the thermostat, locks the doors, sets the alarm, feeds the cats and reads you tomorrow’s schedule.)

“What we’re finding is that people are looking more and better for ways to make their homes more connected to their lives, more streamlined and working better for them,” says Shannon Robinson, marketing manager for Meritage Homes. “That’s why every home we sell includes our M.Connected Home Automation Suite.”

My Connected Home

Safe and sound

Home monitoring and security systems were some of the first connected devices on the scene, and now offer a wide array of sophisticated options at some pretty attractive price points.

Video doorbells by Ring and Nest enable homeowners to not only see from remote locations who is at their door but also activate recording when motion is sensed (and store those recordings in the cloud), allow for two-way voice communication and even connect with local neighborhood watch networks. The Ring doorbell is included in the Meritage Homes M.Connected package. The Nest Hello doorbell can maintain a personal facial recognition database for regular visitors, so Alexa can announce, “Mom’s at the front door.”

Cameras by Wyze, Arlo, Ring and Nest can be installed inside and out, and all are compatible with Alexa. Motion and sound-activated lights, notifications and recording, as well as night-vision, sirens, 180° fields of view, zooming, panning and tilting are all available for comprehensive real-time home monitoring.

Smart smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors will send an alarm-triggered message to your smartphone. Nest models can also turn on lights, and One-Link offers Alexa connectivity in its smoke detectors.

The lowly deadbolt lock has joined the smart world. Not only do these connected door locks allow you to lock and unlock your doors remotely, August models even automatically lock and unlock when they sense you leaving or coming home. Homeowners can grant temporary guest access and track who comes and goes. The Kwikset smart locks included in the Meritage Homes M.Connect suite lock and unlock with just a touch.

The MyQ garage door activators that are part of the M.Connect package work with most automatic garage door openers and are Alexa compatible. Even baby monitors have gotten smart, with models from iBaby and Namet featuring two-way voice capability, as well as sleep and breathing tracking.

For a comprehensive home safety system, SimpliSafe offers a complete DIY solution with integrated entry, motion, freeze, water and smoke sensors, cameras, video doorbells and sirens, along with optional monthly monitoring.

Efficiency and comfort

Yesterday’s programmable thermostats have gotten so much smarter. The Nest thermostat “learns” from your behavior and adjusts temperatures accordingly. If, for instance, you routinely adjust your thermostat up a few degrees on windy or cloudy days, the Nest automatically adjusts your thermostat relative to outside weather conditions in your zip code. Aprilaire smart thermostats, included in all Meritage homes, offer IAQ control to balance temperature, humidity, air purity and fresh air.

The Ecobee thermostat offers voice control and remote sensors, for monitoring conditions away from the actual thermostat location. Both the Nest and Ecobee thermostats can be controlled remotely and feature extensive energy monitoring data to help you maximize efficiency.

Virtually all of your home appliances are available with smart options now — refrigerators that notify you when the door is left open or track expiration dates from the bar codes on items stored inside, smart ovens you can turn on remotely to warm up while you’re on your way home, or accept voice commands through Alexa, smart washers that notify you when the load is done and smart dryers with real-time moisture sensors to adjust heat and drying time to optimally dry clothes while minimizing damage.

Lights, camera, action

Home entertainment is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of smart-home technology. Wireless speakers are available at almost any price point, and smart speakers from Sonos, Amazon Echo and Google Home make your entire music library, along with streaming from Pandora, Spotify, Tidal and more, easily available in every room in your home — no wiring required. And with voice activation through Alexa, Google Home or HomeKit, no button-punching required either; just say, “play the Avett Brothers,” and the music begins. Ditto adjusting the volume; just tell Alexa to turn it up.

Likewise, smart TVs allow for myriad streaming services, a multitude of third-party apps for ultimate customization and Alexa, Google Home and HomeKit compatibility for voice commands.

And flipping a switch to turn on one light — that’s so yesterday. It’s now possible to control all of the lighting in your home through sensors, apps and voice activation. And that doesn’t just mean a binary on and off choice. You can dim and strobe and even change the color value or your lights. “With M.Connect, homeowners get the iDevices smart Alexa-compatible switches for their entryway and foyer,” says Meritage Homes’ Robinson.

Use IFTTT applets to create vignettes. Imagine a scheduled weekday wake-up sequence that slowly brings up the lights, first in your bedroom and then down the hall and into the kitchen. Or sensors that see your approach and turn on the porch and house lights. Or simply call for dinner lighting, and the dining room dims to a soft yellow glow.

The Phillips Hue light bulbs can do all of this, even flash in time to your music. For a more economical alternative, Yeelight and Wyze smart LED bulbs offer Alexa, Google and Siri voice activation. Ecobee makes smart light switches to connect all of your overhead lights.

If your device isn’t already connected, you can make it smart by plugging it into a smart plug or power strip. The WeMo, TP-Link and Samsung smart plugs are Alexa compatible and make almost any appliance voice activated. Smart plugs allow you to turn appliances on and off remotely and to program scheduled operations.

The day when buttons and knobs disappear from our homes altogether and everything from lights to temperature to entertainment to the crispiness of a roast chicken all happen with a simple voice command seem not too far away at all…

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