Questions to Ask Yourself Before Diving into Smart Home Upgrades
In 2020, technology is a normal part of daily life. With it comes a flood of products and customization options for anyone looking to upgrade their home and make it a smarter one. It can be overwhelming to find out what is available, what exactly you would like and what type of technology would work best for you. With so much information out there, where do you even start? To help, here are some things to keep in mind in order to make a more informed decision when upgrading your home with smart home technology.
What do you want to have automated?
Having a base idea of what you want to automate is helpful, though not knowing at first is okay (that’s what doing your research is all about). We recommend starting with the basics that would be most useful to your lifestyle and schedule. Lighting, window coverings and thermostat upgrades are the most universal of home automations and the easiest to start with. The next step we recommend would be smart speakers and TVs and to get used to a smart assistant such as Alexa or Google. We recommend planning ahead and looking into what products and systems work together, as not all smart products have integrated support for Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google Home.
How do you want to control everything?
Do you want to control your smart home features from a central panel, from your smart phone or through voice commands? Optimal ease of use relies on finding the balance between what you envision and what you actually find comfortable to use. For some people, voice commands sound like a great idea but turn out to be a bit cumbersome compared to a few quick swipes on their phone screen. If this is your first foray into smart home technology, it helps to test out different options. If you have any family or friends with smart home technology, try testing out a few functions on their device(s) to see how what you envision stacks up to what you find comfortable. Alternatively, you can look for showrooms in your area where you can view different equipment in action and ask any questions you may have.
Are you planning upgrades to your home as part of a larger renovation?
Would you prefer a centralized system or wireless system? It is much easier to retrofit a home with a wireless system, but if you are doing smart home upgrades as part of a larger renovation, you have more flexibility in the system you choose. Most centralized systems require special wiring. If you will already be getting into the walls of your home, this is the perfect time to redo or add wiring for upgrades, especially for smart lighting and sound systems. So, the question to ask yourself is: are you looking for a network of wireless lightbulbs and smart speakers such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, or a centralized system of wired light fixtures and built-in speakers with a wireless control hub?
How long do you plan to stay in the space that you want to upgrade?
If you do not plan to stay in your home much longer, upgrading certain items just doesn’t make much fiscal sense. For instance, upgrading your thermostat to a smart Wi-Fi thermostat may not be worth the price, as they take 2-3 years in energy savings to pay for themselves. On the other hand, upgrading your lighting to smart Wi-Fi or Bluetooth lightbulbs does not pose the same dilemma, as they are easily unscrewed and taken with you. The same can be done with any small smart appliances, or curtain tracks that do not require very involved installation.
What systems are already in your home? Especially look into your HVAC system.
Smart Wi-Fi thermostats are really just programmable thermostats with a few extra capabilities. They are able to learn your schedule and adjust themselves to it on their own. They are also accessible and controllable over Wi-Fi. If you already have a programmable thermostat, chances are that your energy bill savings would not increase much by upgrading to a smart Wi-Fi thermostat. Therefore, you must decide if the cost is worth these extra functions.
If you currently have a communicating HVAC system, your thermostat and furnace already work together to be highly efficient. If there is something wrong with your furnace or it needs preventative maintenance (such as replacing or cleaning an air filter), your thermostat will display a message for you. Your thermostat in turn sends more complex commands to your furnace such as to stop heating but leave the fan on to continue circulating air and keep the temperature more balanced. Since smart Wi-Fi thermostats are designed to control conventional and 2-stage systems, they cannot properly handle the more complex demands of a communicating furnace.
With these points in mind, if you do upgrade your thermostat, check where the current one is located and, if necessary, see if it is possible to move it to a better spot. It should be somewhere that will get an accurate reading of the overall temperature in the space, so it doesn’t shut the system off too soon and leave the house with temperature imbalances. Avoid placing it in direct sunlight or next to a vent or exterior door which can all affect the temperature readings.
By asking yourself these questions, you will be well on your way to choosing the smart home technology that will work best for you!