Remember "The Jetsons," the cartoon in which the characters never had to deal with such mundane tasks as turning off light switches or adjusting thermostats? And remember how such a lifestyle seemed so unlikely when you were a child?
Well, we may not have robots doing our laundry and cooking our meals yet, but our lifestyles can definitely become much more automated, thanks to a variety of new technology—one company is even offering a device that lets you know when you are about to run out of eggs, according to Shane Wallin, EPB field services supervisor.
Although that’s a bit more automation than most want, basic options offer convenience, security, heating and cooling efficiency, safety, and lighting, he said.
Known as creating a "smart home," automating these features has a variety of advantages.
Although there is an upfront investment in the form of a kit of devices that communicate with your smartphone, tablet or computer, the investment pays off in peace of mind, safety, time and energy savings.
You can know your children are home safely before they can even call you, or you can unlock the door for them if they forget their key. You can turn off your coffeemaker or stove if you forgot. If you’re out of town, you can flip a few lights on and off to give the illusion you are still home.
According to Wallin, you can also set up an "if this, then this" (IFTTT) feature. This means that devices will take action based on certain pieces of information received. For example, if a motion sensor detects motion when it shouldn’t, you can set it up to send an alert, as well as program a Dropcam to turn on to get video footage of whatever caused the sensor to go off. All of this will be delivered to your device in real time.
Over time, the ability to turn your lights and devices off remotely will save costs on your electricity bill. You can also set your appliances, such as your dishwasher, to run at nonpeak times without physically going to the appliance to turn it on. You can turn on your crockpot from work in the middle of the day instead of leaving it on all day.
"Using this automation could certainly lower utility bills if used correctly," Wallin said. "Turning off hot water heaters and keeping the home heating and cooling thermostat at a more efficient temperature setting while away from home should yield noticeable savings."
An automated home also saves time. Sure, it only takes a few moments to turn a key in the lock behind you or run back in the house to flip a light switch, but all these small time investments add up to huge chunks of time wasted over the course of weeks and months. Automated homes let you accomplish these tasks with a button on your smartphone.
Setting up a smart home is dependent on the level of automation desired, Wallin said.
"If you are looking to be able to automate your home to the maximum degree possible, it is probably a good idea to talk with a professional so that you get the results desired," Wallin said. "But if you just want to control your lights and appliances, you can probably set that up yourself if you have a basic understanding of how to connect to a wireless network and install an app on your device."
People should always find out by reading the fine print on the home automation devices they purchase or asking a customer service representative whether the company shares customer data. Many do, such as Nest (a Google product). You need to ask the right questions to see what the companies do with that data: Do they share it? Is it made available to third parties?
You also need to be certain that the automated devices are secure and use encryption. As more home automation devices that use Wi-Fi are being set up, so are more hackers finding more opportunities to exploit weaknesses and hack into systems.
Finally, Wallin recommends reading consumer reviews on any smart home system you are interested in to make sure it has a good consumer report card before spending your money on it.
"[It is] important to remember that [home automation] is a newer concept," Wallin said. "Like most new technologies, the early versions usually have a few kinks to iron out."