Every year brings new and better innovations to the realm of smart home technology. You probably knew that you can install a Wi-Fi-connected thermostat and control it from an app on your phone. But now, homeowners also have the option to integrate that thermostat with their home’s lighting, shades, music and security features—all on a single platform, controlled by one device.
It can be head-spinning, of course, to actually picture yourself using Jetsons-esque tools to remotely turn on your appliances. “There’s no doubt that people are intrigued and excited by the idea of living in a smart home that is connected and easy to control,”said Tim Bates, Division President of the Lennar Corporation, a home construction and real estate company. “But there’s an equal measure of trepidation about installation and selecting the right devices.” By relying on companies like Lennar — whose team curates state-of-the-art tech and incorporates it during construction — buyers can feel confident they’re getting the best possible smart home options.
So, how to get started? Experts in the field agree on three important initial steps: Think of smart home automation as a holistic system, rather than as a bunch of components. Be honest with a professional about your budget early on, as price point is the top determining factor when planning a home automation installation. And don’t limit yourself to a one- or two-year solution—instead, plan for expansion in the future, as technology continues to improve even more.
A smart home is something more than a house with a self-learning thermostat, wireless lighting controls and Bluetooth-enabled speakers, says Eddie Shapiro, owner of SmartTouch USA, a home-automation installer with offices in Bethesda and Columbia, Md. “That’s not necessarily a smart home—that’s an ‘Internet of Things’ home.” In other words, installing appliances and devices that have software and sensors makes your home more connected, but not necessarily “smarter.” You have more control, but is your home learning and responding as a whole system? Or do you just have a better thermostat?
The distinction is crucial, because the key to home automation is integrating devices on a single platform. Consulting with a professionalwho can customize a package to suit your specific environment and desires enables each aspect of your smart home to work seamlessly in tandem, controlled by a single simple display.
“Having control of your whole home in one place is far better than having seven or eight apps trying to control your house,” Shapiro says. “That gives you app fatigue—you’ll be running around trying to get all these different things to turn on.”
That level of control abets the flexibility and fluidity that is a feature of modern life. “Imagine you’re getting ready for a dinner party, and the doorbell rings,” Bates says. In a smart home equipped with the right technology, “you can not only see who’s at the front door, you can let them in with a simple command.You can let your dogsitter in from anywhere in the world.”
Relying on one interface to control devices throughout the home also eliminates superfluous panels and switches, which is an aesthetic boon. Certain big-name electronics manufacturers even offer touch displays that are dedicated to the entire system. You press the “goodnight” button, and all of the lights throughout the house adjust to the appropriate settings, the front door locks, the security system arms itself, the shades lower, and the thermostat adjusts to your preferred nighttime temperature.
All of this can be expensive, though, which is one consideration that customers often overlook. And while individual devices can be alluringly priced, they often won’t communicate easily with other devices, nor do they provide a platform for automation of the entire home.
“There are a lot of DIY products out there, but they are often tied into their own ecosystem,” says Aomed Najafie, director at PowerHouse AV, a smart home specialist in Arlington, Va. “You want to be able to integrate everything into one app to make it seamless for yourself.”
To that end, it’s incumbent upon homeowners to do research, says Najafie, so that they can set their expectations accordingly.
And don’t overlook the entertainment factor. “People are investing in larger homes and they’re entertaining more in the home,” Najafie says. “This stuff directly correlates with entertainment. Smart home tech basically is entertainment: mood lighting, a whole-home audio system—this brings your house alive.”
Najafie also advises that customers think about the future. Increasingly, smart home technology is not about hardware components, but about software and firmware that can be installed on existing platforms. Theoretically, this enables a near-limitless expansion of possibilities as the technology evolves, allowing customers to take advantage of cutting-edge trends like artificial intelligence and voice control.
This, too, can be a little scary. Najafie reasons that while “people are always going to want to add the latest and greatest,” it’s easy to be afraid of taking that leap. “It can be very overwhelming and complicated,” he says. But knowledge can mitigate that fear, as can firsthand demonstrations and experiences with smart home technology. Many installers offer working demos on tablets during consultations, in order to give homeowners a peek at the technology.
Najafie’s advice? Do your research, play with the products, and start off with something that you can easily incorporate into your everyday lifestyle. Before long, the benefits of smart home automation will likely be clear.
“Time is everything—no matter how successful you are, you can never buy time,” Najafie says. “The feeling of coming home from the office, and everything just works, is worth it.”
To learn more about smart home technology, visit www.Lennar.com.
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