I've been living in a smart home for 2 years — and I probably will for the rest of my life

Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

Over two years ago, I converted my old “dumb” home into a still-old “smart” home.

I’ve been using a smart-home system for the past two years that lets me control my home’s climate, door locks, and security, and it has proved indispensable.

In fact, I would take my existing devices or buy smart-home devices if I were to move.

It’s not so much the convenience of controlling these things from the couch or even abroad – it’s the peace of mind of knowing away from home that I locked the door or set the alarm, and the reduced energy bills from better managing the heater or air conditioning.

Plus, controlling things like the temperature with my voice on smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home devices, while not perfect, can add a futuristic touch.

Oddly, my favourite connected device in the house is the smart doorbell. Apartment dwellers may scoff, but I doubt any homeowner would prefer not knowing who’s ringing at the door at 2 a.m. (You’ll find that story below.)

Check out why you should get smart-home devices if you’re still on the fence about them:


So far, I’ve loved having control over my door locks through my phone or a smart voice assistant like Amazon’s Alexa.

Yale/Amazon

The best thing about using smart door locks is checking to make sure you did, in fact, lock the door on your way out. It’s given me incredible peace of mind.

Otherwise, locking the doors through the app and smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo has been a nice little extra. I basically don’t have to physically lock or unlock my doors.

Would I pay for new smart locks if I moved to a house with normal locks?

They can be expensive – about $US200 for a highly rated model. But for a single door that’s the main point of entry, I’d absolutely buy a smart lock.


Having a smart doorbell with a video camera and microphone has come in handy a few times.

Vivint

The best thing about the smart doorbell I’ve been using is the camera and talk-through feature, as well as the video recordings whenever there’s activity around the main door.

Having a video feed of my home’s main point of entry has been incredibly comforting at times. Checking the feed when you hear a strange noise or an unexpected doorbell ring, or to find out who’s there without shouting or letting them know I’m at the door, is unequivocally better than not having the option.

One night, at 2 a.m., my wife was on the iPad and saw a notification that someone rang the doorbell. Using the doorbell’s video and audio feed, I could see that it was the police, and I was able to ask, from my bed, why on earth they were ringing my doorbell at 2 a.m. Eventually, I crawled out of bed to talk with them.

It turned out they were checking in, as the officer had apparently seen a “suspicious” vehicle drive into my driveway earlier that day. I’m very appreciative. But ringing the doorbell at 2 a.m.? My wife thought we were getting burgled – albeit by courteous burglars who ring doorbells before they steal your stuff.

Would I pay for new smart doorbell if I moved to a house with a normal doorbell?

For between $US100 and $US250, yep.


Controlling the temperature from anywhere in the world, including through my phone, has also come in handy.

Nest

For me, controlling the temperature using my phone is more about saving on energy and utility bills than the convenience. I can turn down the heat or air conditioning from anywhere in the world if I forgot to do it before leaving. I’ve certainly noticed a drop in energy bills since using a smart thermostat.

The convenience is nice too. Like with the door locks, I don’t need to walk to a thermostat to change the temperature. I’ve definitely felt lazy doing it, but that’s not the smart thermostat’s problem.

Some smart thermostats like Nest learn your climate habits over time and can control your home’s temperature without your doing anything.

Would I pay for new smart thermostats if I moved to a house with normal thermostats?

Absolutely. Saving on energy bills and having more control make the price of a good smart thermostat – between $US100 and $US250 – worth it, in my opinion.


I’ve been using a smart alarm and security system that usually costs extra, but that’s often optional.

Sensors detect when nearly every door and window in my home is open or closed, and they’re all linked to the smart alarm system that’s connected to the device’s own alarm service. You need that if you want the police to come to your house automatically – without calling them – when there’s a break-in.

It’s been useful to see which doors and windows might be open before setting the alarm and to make sure it’s set when you leave.

However, like regular alarm systems that connect to alarm services, smart alarm systems tend to include a subscription that you pay monthly or yearly. Some smart-alarm services aren’t that much more expensive than a regular service; it depends on how much the regular service charges you.

Would I pay for a new smart alarm and security system if I moved to a house with a normal system?

I’d keep using the normal system at first, as I’d have to get a new smart-alarm panel, which can cost between $US50 and $US500.


Smart monitoring cameras have been awful in my experience.

Canary

I certainly haven’t tried all the smart cameras available. And the ones I’m using are on the older side, so newer models are surely improved. But I almost never use smart cameras apart from the camera on my doorbell.

For reference, the smart monitoring cameras I’ve tried include the original Canary, Netgear’s Arlo Pro cameras, and Vivint’s Ping camera.

The main reason I dislike those I’ve used so far is that they’re terrible with motion detection and notifications. They detect either everything, including the shade from a passing cloud, or nothing at all.

If I set the motion detection to a high sensitivity, then I’m constantly bombarded with notifications on my phone. If I set the sensitivity too low, it doesn’t detect anything and completely voids the point of using a smart monitoring camera. There’s probably a perfect setting, but I haven’t found it yet, because it requires a lot of tweaking and testing.

Most companies that sell smart monitoring cameras also charge a subscription fee to store all the video clips the camera records from motion beyond 24 hours. In my experience, they absolutely aren’t worth it, especially the extra subscriptions to store video clips.

Would I install my smart home-monitoring cameras if I were moving?

That will be a big nope. I’d probably give them away or throw them in the trash. I would keep an eye out, however, as I would like some kind of monitoring camera for inside and around the house that handles motion detection well.


There are tons of other smart devices that you can control online or with an app.

zhu difeng/Shutterstock

A popular entry-level option to get smart homes started is smart lightbulbs, which you can turn on and off or even change colours via an app. There are smart appliances too, and even smart systems for sprinklers and pool machinery.

Pretty much anything that can be turned on and off or controlled in some way is getting smarts these days.


Some things I dislike about using a smart-home system:

Some smart door locks and thermostats run on batteries, which need to be replaced, and it can be a pain. Some companies offer a service to replace batteries for you, but they usually cost extra. (Some systems can be hardwired to your home’s power or sip power through the climate system’s wiring, so watch out for that.)

Sensor batteries also need to be replaced, but that’s the same for normal alarm systems.

Newer models can get better over time, meaning you’d need to buy new smart devices if you want to benefit from newer or improved features. It’s a bit like smartphones, but with less frequent upgrades. Meanwhile, normal locks and thermostats never become obsolete.


Some smart-home services charge a monthly or yearly subscription fee for some basic things, like controlling locks and thermostats from an app. Others don’t.

I’m getting subscription fatigue, where I’m amassing too many services that charge me on a monthly or yearly basis. I’d rather pay more up front for a smart-home device than pay less up front with a paid subscription.

With that in mind, I’d check out smart-home devices and systems, like Ring or Nest devices, that don’t require paid subscriptions for basic things like controlling locks or temperature through an app.

But if a paid subscription is within your budget and you have a specific desire to go for a smart-home system like Vivint, ADT, or Comcast Xfinity Home that charge you monthly or yearly for certain basic things, there’s no harm in doing so.

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