Home Automation…Is It All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

You’re heading out to dinner with friends or just sitting down at a movie theatre when you think, “Did we remember to set the alarm?” Or “Did I leave the oven on?”

Wouldn’t it be great to check your smartphone and instantly know the answer? And be able to turn the alarm on or oven off, with the touch of a key? That’s the promise of home automation and the rosy picture painted by TV commercials. But is it really that simple?

The truth is, connecting your alarm system, locks, appliances, or cameras to the Internet for remote monitoring presents a host of issues, such as hidden costs, service calls, and technical challenges. If it’s not done properly, it also opens you up to Internet snooping by a hacker.

OUR TAKE: Rather than dive in, start with the basics, then add automation as you see fit. For example…

1. Alarm system. Keystone alarm systems provide you with an app and icon on your smartphone that can tell you whether the system is armed, windows are secure, if the alarm goes off, and whether there are any problems with the system.

As you know, our basic alarm systems are connected to a central control panel and will activate when a window or door is opened. More advanced systems can include fire and carbon monoxide detectors, motion sensors, and glass-break detectors.

2. Thermostat. Many homes now have programmable thermostats that adjust the temperature at night and when you’re not in the house. What’s New: Now, companies like Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat can “learn” your behavior and adjust the temperature to be more energy-efficient. Tip: It may be simpler and cheaper to get a separate app for your thermostat than trying to integrate this function with your home security system.

3. Lighting. This feature lets you control the lighting in your home from a smartphone app and best of all, turn the lights or TVs on and off while you’re away on vacation. This gives people the impression that someone is home.

4. Cameras. Being able to see inside or outside of your house can help you check on a pet or caregiver. Or see who’s at the front door without having to open the door—a great security feature for at-home parents or the elderly.

5. Other: With more computing power built into appliances today, systems can remotely monitor and control stoves and ovens, refrigerators, washer/dryers, door locks, water alarms, and more. The question is…do you really need to program your fridge?

Bottom Line: Get comfortable with basic home automation functions first. Then add from there.