I admit it. I am a tech junkie. I can’t wait for driverless cars, and the thought of having a smart fridge that reminds me of grocery shopping and goods to spoil is definitely on my bucket list.
All of this began when, as a small child, I watched a lot of StarTrek, one of my parents’ favorite shows. They could talk to doors. They could use those wrist devices to do all kinds of things – even order food that was delivered in a type of “dumb waiter” or materialized out of nowhere.
It was all about IoT – devices talking to other devices. And that is just what smart home technology is all about. My device today (an iPhone) has the potential to talk to connected devices in my home and regulate and control everything from temperature, to lights, to my fridge, to my security system. What could be more convenient?
A lot of people, actually.
Among millennials, the older segment (27-36) is embracing the concept. In fact, 38% of them have purchased homes with at least some smart tech or have installed it post-purchase. And, in that age bracket, another 58% state they have an interest in doing so.
Another recent survey has also reported that 72% of millennials would pay an extra $1500 for a home that had some smart technology; 42% would pay as much as $3,000 extra.
Finally, a survey of over 3000 real estate agents and brokers reported that smart technology can boost the sale of a home. 42% of these agents said that sellers are adding smart technology in order to make their homes more attractive to buyers, and buyers are adding costs of upgrading to smart homes as they look at what they can afford to buy.
All of this talk about smart homes has led me to dig deeper into the concept and the technology involved. And I have learned some important stuff. The technology continues to improve, and more and more home devices and appliances can be “connected.”
But there are some pros and cons that every consumer should understand before taking the “plunge” into smart home technology. I have tried to summarize them here.
The benefits of having a “smart” home cannot be denied.
You can control what goes on inside and outside of your home. Consider just a couple of examples. When you leave home for work on a cold winter morning, you can turn down your thermostat and then turn it back up to a reasonable temperature before you arrive home for the evening. If you are going to be away from home until after dark, you can “tell” specific lights to turn on, so that you are not entering a dark home when you do return. All of these activities can save on the cost of power to your home.
You can set up “smart” alerts. If an appliance malfunctions, if you failed to turn off a water faucet or the oven; if there is a water leak, your smart technology can tell you about these things. And you can either “fix” them remotely or arrange for quick repairs
You are also contributing to environmental sustainability. When you can control such things as your thermostat, you are being as energy efficient as possible, and the planet will thank you in the long run. Not to mention the cost savings to you.
Security. It is always on our minds. With a “smart” security system, you can ensure that your doors and windows are “locked down” tightly; you can shut off a system temporarily to allow trusted repairmen in to complete their tasks; and you can monitor their activity, through remote cameras, and even speak with them as they work. Then, of course, the security system is reactivated once they leave.
Alerts on outside activity. Though cameras, you can monitor all of the goings on outside of your home. If yard workers are there, you can watch them remotely. If someone pulls up in your driveway, you can be alerted. If a package is left at your door, you will know (especially if someone took it).
Relative ease of installation. If smart devices don’t come already equipped with the technology, much of it can be bought eternally. There is no need for a high-tech pro to install it. The owner’s manual does a pretty good job of instructing.
My research also pointed out a number of “cons” that everyone should probably consider before they plunge head first into this technology.
Expense. It’s not just the cost of the devices and the software. It’s the cost of making the changes to replace existing stuff in your house. Consider just a light switch, for example. It may cost about $1.00 at your local hardware store. A smart light switch could run up to $40. Depending on the number of rooms in your home, this could get pretty pricey. All of these costs, when added to the software itself, can mean a major investment.
Reliability Issues: Smart home technology is wireless. As such, devices and software can be interrupted by other devices in the home. Any time a new wireless device is added to a home, the chances of phantom or weak signals and unreliability of operation are real possibilities. Correcting these issues may call for a pro
Inter-Operability: In short, there is no standardization among manufacturers of smart devices and technology. The software that enables you to control your thermostat will not be the same as that which controls your lights or your security system. This means you will be uploading and operating a variety of separate software programs on your remote device.
When a consumer must use multiple applications to control each connected device, the user experience is definitely less than desirable. And even with the newer “hub” technology, the long-term reliability is just not _there yet. Many of these companies can’t “make it”, and a consumer who has connected everything to a hub that dies must then undergo the pricey transfer to another.
Device Security. This is by far the biggest “con” at the moment. Here are a few specific vulnerabilities every potential smart home aficionado should know about:
- Last year, hackers attended a professional conference. One of their activities was to try and hack into Google’s Nest thermostat. It took less than 15 seconds to do so. Now, hacking a thermostat may not seem like a huge security issues, but it points to the vulnerability of all devices connected to smart home technology.
- A recent Wikileaks disclosure revealed that some Samsung smart televisions could be hacked and conversations, etc. of the people in close proximity could be recorded. To block this potential, owners will have to block out the built-in camera and unplug the TV when not using it – all pretty inconvenient.
- Hackers have been able to remotely log into smart security systems and disable them. Obviously, this leave the entire house vulnerable to intrusion, theft, vandalism, or worse. There is still a long way to go to have security systems that are completely secure, and even then, human error can cause breaches. When devices are controlled remotely by smart phones, and the user is not careful about where else he may go on that phone, there is always the potential for hacking. Some consumers have even been known to buy an additional phone just for their smart technology.
- Leaks in communication devices. If consumers have smart speakers of any type of personal assistant in their homes, they are vulnerable as well. And even personal assistants in the home can now be remotely controlled by an iPhone. The key will be to not share any passwords or personal information over these devices. While they all have some level of encryption and security, they are not foolproof.
After looking at all of the pros and cons of smart homes, I am still enticed. And here’s why. I like the idea of control. From what is in the food I eat, to how I manage my finances, to the lifestyle I embrace, I want to be in control. A smart home will allow me to manage my home from afar.
Obviously, the biggest concerns for me are the security and the lack of standardization among manufacturers of these products/software. Here is what I believe, however.
By the time I am ready to sink a “fortune” into a home, I believe I will be able to find a “hub” that has proven it stability. So, even if manufacturers do not get standardized, I can do it through such a provider.
Security is bound to get better, although it will never be perfect. But, if I buy a phone specifically for the purpose of control of my smart home and use it for nothing else, I can “up” the level of security all by myself. Smart home – here I come, eventually.