Smart Technologies for Your Home

Updated June 24, 2016
Nest thermostat
The third generation Nest Learning Thermostat can notify homeowners when temperatures drop to help avoid frozen pipes. (Photo courtesy of Nest)

No need to be nervous about home automation. You can incorporate smart house technology a little bit at a time.

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If you’re not, shall we say, tech smart, the idea of using home automation might seem out of this world. But the good news is, there’s a variety of gadgets and gizmos on the market to help even the least tech-savvy person live in a smart home.

First steps to a smart house

Rest easy — you don’t have to go “all in” when starting a home automation project.

“Pick an initial feature of your home you would use the most in terms of automation, and expand from there,” says Lee Travis, owner of Wipliance in Bellevue, Washington.

But also keep in mind that you might want to add more smart technology to your home as time goes on. Investing in products that are compatible with a central automation system will help simplify the process down the road.

“A consumer can buy a thermostat or light switches and make them smartphone accessible,” says Kellan C. Warren, vice-president of Kelltech Systems in Dallas. “But keep in mind what your end goal is and purchase products that get you on that path. Once you start integrating, everything can work together. You can open the garage door, turn on the lights and set the thermostat with one touch. You make the rules.”

One of the most popular automation integration systems experts recommend is Control4, which starts around $1,000.

“The great thing about products like Control4 Home Automation is that you can install the system to control one feature initially; whether it’s your lights, your entertainment system, your security, or more,” Travis says. “Then as your needs change, you can expand on the existing system with those additional features.”

Video: A central hub can enhance your home automation

Let there be light

Having your lights automatically come on when you walk in a room or being able to turn lights on throughout the house when you’re not home is more than just convenient — it’s a safety issue. You won’t have to worry about stumbling over footstools in the dark or potential vandals casing a home that appears empty.

Product suggestion: Lutron’s Home Automation Smart Kit, available at home improvement and lighting stores. Cost: $100-$200

A smart thermostat will save energy

Living an energy-efficient lifestyle not only helps save the planet, but it also pads your wallet. It’s a win-win! A smart thermostat can help you cut down on energy bills by learning your habits and knows when to make the house warmer or cooler just for you.

Product suggestion: Nest Learning Thermostat, of which the third generation version has the capability of alerting owners when temperatures drop to help avoid frozen pipes. Available online or at home improvement stores. Cost: $200-$249

Automatic curtain control

Some days you might want to flood your house with sunlight. Other days, you might want to hibernate in the darkness. With automated window treatments, the decision is literally at your fingertips.

Automating your blinds, curtains or shutters can also help keep your home’s interior at a comfortable temperature (blocking that late afternoon sun!) and give you privacy in an instant from the outside world. Shades can be set to open at sunrise and close automatically at sunset, or whatever time you prefer.

Product suggestion: Somfy Systems, available online or from a local dealer. Cost: $270+ for the motor, $50 per window for installation (on average), and you may have to buy new window treatments if your current ones aren’t compatible with a motor.

Under lock and key

Still hiding that spare key under the doormat? With the advances in electronic locks and wireless control, you don’t ever have to worry about losing your house key again. Electronic locks allow you to lock or unlock the door from your cell phone or you can set a temporary code and timeframe if you’re expecting a visitor. The lock will also send you a text message when your kid gets home from school — just like magic!

Product suggestion: Kwikset electronic lock, available from a local dealer or automation company. Cost: $399 for an automation-ready model.

Garage door assurance

How many times have you backed out of your driveway, driven halfway down the street and looked over your shoulder to make sure you actually closed your garage door? There’s no need to risk a neck sprain (or running off the road) anymore once you’ve installed a remote access package to your garage door opener. From your smartphone, you can open or close the door and also receive activity notifications of any door movement.

Product suggestion: Liftmaster MyQ Garage, available at home improvement stores or local garage door dealers. Cost: $99 to retrofit a current Liftmaster or $220-$250 for a whole new opener (not including installation).

Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on December 17, 2015.

What smart home technology do you use? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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