Easy-to-use home technology brings us one step closer to the era of the “smart home”

2013-02-16T00:00:00Z Easy-to-use home technology brings us one step closer to the era of the “smart home”By MADHUSMITA BORA CTW Features nwitimes.com
February 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Consumers love ‘smart’: smartphones, smart cars and now smart homes. As lives get busier than ever, homeowners want convenience and control at their fingertips. They want to dim the lights, turn off the oven and monitor home security from a distance.

Looks like the industry is listening.

In years past, the dream automated home was just an aspiration that existed as a prototype. Not anymore. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, the industry’s largest annual event, home technology was prominently featured. It’s a trend that organizers say would continue.

“Innovation fuels our economy, and we project that the consumer electronics industry will grow by nearly 3 percent in 2013 reaching a record $209.6 billion,” says Erica Corley, spokeswoman for Consumer Electronics Association. “Home technology will be a major part of that.”

Automated devices such as temperature-controlled water heaters, timer-enabled lights and stoves and programmable thermostats have made life easier for homeowners for a while now, says Leonard Kady, an architect and former chair of the American Institute of Architects, small projects committee.

“Today, remote access to such devices and a host of intermediate control devices is what makes automation real,” Kady says. “The use of these remote-access devices by a growing user group is largely a function of ease of integration and ease of use.”

Mobile control and mobile connection are the future of home technologies, Corley says.

“When we are all able to operate the lights, thermostats, [audio-visual] equipment and other electronics via our mobile devices, home control suddenly becomes much more attractive,” she says. “We will continue to see tablets and smartphones being used as primary control devices.”

Here are some hot features for smart homes in 2013:

• Wi-Fi-enabled light bulbs: Keep forgetting to turn off the lights before stepping out? Phillips launched Phillips hue, a Wi-Fi-enabled light bulb with color controls that you can manipulate through a tablet or a phone. The app includes pre-programmed “light recipes” that Phillips says can help for reading, energizing, relaxation and concentration.

A three-bulb starter pack retails for about $200, so it’s a big investment, but popular among home techies.

• The re-invented thermostat: Tony Fadell, a man who helped design the sleek iPod, is now making an ugly home-heating tool sexy. Fadell’s company sells the Nest Learning Thermostat, a device lauded for its sleek design. Nest programs itself in about a week after installation, creating a schedule based on the user’s manual temperature changes and motion sensors placed throughout the home that detect a person’s presence. The device can be remotely controlled by a free Apple or Android app, allowing you to heat your home before you arrive or change temperature any time when you are away.

At $250, it might seem like a steep price to pay for a thermostat, but the company says you will recover that money in energy savings in less than two years.

• Remote monitoring: Remote home monitoring is a growing niche in the home tech world for both security and convenience purposes. Products such as Vera 3 Z-Wave help homeowners-away-from-home keep an eye on their abode with a variety of features, such as live video feeds on smartphones, text messages with updates and the use of one button to shut down, lock up and arm the house. Vera can be integrated with existing security systems. The system will notify users through their phones about various household events like thermostat changes, opened windows and basement floods.

Vera’s model retails for $300.

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