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Smart technology: Practicality at your fingertips

It’s no longer a luxury item or complicated gadget that can trip you up as you try to do something simple, such as increase the room temperature or bake a favored meal. Smart appliances, locks, lighting, and heating and cooling systems have become a practical way to save time, money and increase security at the touch of a button.

Upgrading your living spaces to include technology is a fairly easy process and more consumers are asking for homes with smart appliances and systems, said David Reichert, a real estate agent with DG Realty.

“It is so easy to convert to a smart home with the amount of products available,” he said. “Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have made it super easy to get at least part of your home to be smart.”

In the past, smart home technology was typically reserved for high-end and custom homes. They used main organizers, such as Crestron controllers, to operate more than one system in the home.

“They controlled everything from lights to window shades, music and various AV systems,” Reichert said. “Trouble was they required racks of servers and could eat up an entire closet.”

The next generation, which included Nest for the heating and air conditioning systems and Ring for entryway security, made technology for the home more affordable and accessible.

“Amazon and Google really refined the smart plug, which is a small device between your lamps, stereos, etc., and the actual wall outlets,” Reichert said. “Those made it easy for the layperson to run their home from their smartphone.”

Recently, there has been a push to make smart appliances and door locks for nearly any budget or lifestyle.

“Refrigerators that text you when you’re low on milk or allow you to browse your fridge contents without opening the door; stoves that you can text to begin pre-heating during your commute home from work; toilets that raise, lower and heat the seat from your phone, just to name a few,” Reichert said.

“A really popular one is the compact, single-unit washer and dryers that conserve space, energy and allow you to program when to begin a load or set a time when you want the load to be complete and message you. I’m just waiting for the one that folds the clothes. I will buy that one.”

Locally, homebuilders are embracing smart home technology for tech-savvy consumers.

“Lennar sold the first Wi-Fi certified home with their ‘Everything’s Included’ tag and they now give homeowners a free Alexa home device, smart thermostat and Wi-Fi boosters throughout the home,” he said. “Data closets, which have been a staple in homes since the late 1990s, are now coming pre-loaded with cat 5 and cat 6 (Ethernet) cabling and in some areas fiber optic for ultrafast internet connectivity.”

Individual products are fairly affordable so it’s simple to start small and add to the smart home system as your needs require, said Christopher Sterle, co-founder and CEO of Acoustic Design Systems.

“There are many ways to make your home smart,” Sterle said. “You can start with a thermostat or some smart light bulbs and then add as time goes on. Or you can add a smart door lock to give guest access to your home when you are away. They are also great when you lock yourself out.”

Monthly savings, in both energy and money, is an added value to installing the latest gadgets to your home’s interior.

“When you tie in the thermostats, water monitoring, motorized shade control or a smart lighting system, you begin to immediately see a reduction in cost with your utilities,” Sterle said.

Smart homes can offer improved functionality to all of your appliances. A smart TV will locate your favorite programs and apps based on your previous viewing preferences. A smart oven won’t let you overcook the turkey or ham as you have in the past by calculating the weight and temperature of the meal that is slid into the appliance.

Even old-school items have been upgraded to interact with other electronic gadgets in a smart home.

“Wireless speakers have been around for a while, but you can now link them together to play background music throughout your entire home,” Sterle said.

Security is one of the largest areas of interest for those looking to turn their homes into safe smart homes.

“Security is always the best first step because of the peace-of-mind that it affords you and your family,” Sterle said. “When away from home, the security system can adjust those smart lights to deter break-ins by making it look like there is always someone home.

“The system can also give you the ability to check in on your home remotely, from anywhere in the world. A mom or dad can check in on the kids with active cameras and sensors.”

Wi-Fi-enabled door locks are quickly growing in popularity due to the tech’s ease of use and automation capabilities.

“Imagine your kids coming home from school and entering their individual code into the door lock,” Sterle said. “The door unlocks, the lights turn on, the alarm turns off and the system sends you a text letting you know that they are home safe from school.”

The key component of a sophisticated smart home system is the controller.

“A smart alarm system or AV controller is the brain that ties everything together,” Sterle said. “The separate components work on their own, but the controller will get everything talking to each other.”

For instance, when you hit a button next to your bed at night, the controller will talk to all of the components to make sure the doors are locked, lights are turned off, the alarm is armed and the thermostat is set to your ideal temperature.

Technology is improving quickly with more impressive and time-saving models and gadgets being churned out almost monthly.

“The future of home technology is focused on one thing: making a person’s life easier, more secure and more connected,” Sterle said. “Your home will respond to you coming home, based on the time of day, by setting every device in the home to your preferences.

“Other activities in our lives will continue to get easier and more automated. There are already refrigerators that are capable of ordering food when you run out, and there was a laundry folding machine shown at CES this year.”

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