Smart homes promise to make our lives easier. And while that promise may be genuine, it’s always flanked by heavy irony. Building and maintaining a smart home takes time, money, and research — it’s a hassle, and for some people, that hassle can drive the potential benefits of a smart home right to the ground.
Smart homes are an expensive and frustrating hobby
If you’re physically able and live in a regular-sized house or apartment, a smart home is mostly a hobby or novelty. The real benefits are marginal. This is not a hard and fast rule: as we will see throughout this article, smart home devices can solve important problems in your life and even help you save money.
But here’s the thing; Building a smart home takes a lot of time and money. You can’t just buy these things and call it a day; Smart home devices require setup, programming, constant troubleshooting, and research.
You may even find that your expensive smart devices need to be replaced. Smart home companies are constantly going out of business, shutting down their servers and leaving customers with broken smart devices. Heck, even the big names like Amazon drop support for older products!
So keeping a smart home is a bit like keeping a dog. Everyone loves your dog, it’s great, but you should treat it like a member of the family, a responsibility or an investment. Otherwise, the dog will poop on your floor and break your furniture. The same goes for smart homes – you need to decide how a smart home will actually benefit you because if you don’t get anything out of it, you won’t keep it or enjoy it.
A smart home can make life easier
Even with all the hassles, the time you spend building and maintaining a smart home can pay off in spades. Things like device automation, remote control, activity notifications, and voice commands are incredibly convenient and can even improve your quality of life.
Smart light bulbs are probably the simplest example of this convenience. By installing smart light bulbs (or smart switches) in every room, you can control the lighting in your home through schedules, voice commands, or even external factors like motion detectors or the weather.
Of course, smart light bulbs offer some people more convenience than others. If you have a physical disability, have children, or live in a large house, the ability to control any light from anywhere is a blessing. Installing smart light bulbs in a small apartment is a welcome development, but the convenience factor is small compared to previous situations.
You can take the smart light bulb example and apply it to other products. Smart garage door controllers, for example, keep you from worrying if your garage is open. And a smart doorbell can not only check in guests, but also alert you when they’re at the door and allow you to talk through an intercom system. These are useful features, but for some people they are no more convenient than doing things the old-fashioned way.
Now some smart home products are more universal than others. A smart plug should be convenient for just about everyone, adding scheduling, remote control, and automation features to any outlet in your home.
But convenience isn’t the only reason to invest in a smart home. In fact, saving money or increasing home security is often a much better trade-off for the hassle of programming and maintaining smart devices.
Smart devices could help you save money
We waste a ton of money on water and electricity. Not because we’re lazy or distracted (although that’s probably part of it), but because we can’t live a normal life while obsessing over plugs, faucets, lights, or windows.
The automation provided by smart home devices can, over time, save you a ton of money on water and electricity bills. Smart thermostats are the most well-known money savers, as they can automatically reduce air conditioning or heating usage when you’re not home. They can even call the power company, figure out peak usage times (when electricity is most expensive), and avoid working within those hours.
But smart thermostats aren’t the only money-saving automation tool. Smart light bulbs and smart plugs obviously have the potential to reduce energy use (some even measure how much money you save), and in particular, smart blinds can automatically open or close to maintain certain temperatures inside your home.
Things get even more interesting when water sensors are taken into account. These smart devices tell you how much water you’re using, give you tips on how to reduce your usage, and can even detect the first signs of a leak.
Now, unless you’re completely irresponsible with your electricity or water usage, the immediate savings from something like a smart thermostat are pretty small. But over time, these products can pay for themselves.
And for home security, smart cameras are a must
Building a home security system is cheaper and easier than ever, and it’s all thanks to smart home devices. A handful of cheap smart cameras and a smart doorbell can go a long way: they detect and record motion, have built-in intercom systems, and can even sound loud alarms with the push of a button.
Some smart home brands even offer a security bundle with their cameras. This package typically includes small motion detectors, additional software features, and access to a team of live humans who can alert you and authorities to unusual activity.
You don’t even need to buy cameras to get some of these benefits. Amazon’s Echo smart speakers come with a free feature called Alexa Guard, which can notify you if Alexa hears breaking glass (and turn smart lights on and off when you’re not home). For $5 a month, Alexa Guard will even bark like a dog or sound a siren if it thinks there’s an intruder.
Smart locks and deadbolts are also part of this equation, though unless you’re super forgetful, a smart lock won’t necessarily make your home “more secure.” It will allow you to lock your door remotely or enter your home without a key, to be sure, but a smart lock won’t catch a thief or prevent someone from opening your windows.
To be clear, professional security services are often more robust than what you can hack together with smart cameras. But if you’re working on any kind of budget, smart home security systems make sense.
The only drawback, aside from the usual hassles of maintaining a smart home, is that smart cameras aren’t always secure. They can be hacked and unfortunately some companies do not take this threat seriously.
Should you invest in a smart home?
Building a smart home means taking on a new hobby with new responsibilities. You have to install, program, maintain, and occasionally replace these devices. And such hassle is not always worth it.
But most people could use smart home products to improve their lives, save money, or increase home security. If you can find a way to reap these benefits, a smart home is definitely worth your time. You can even take pride in your smart home – you take care of it and you take care of it.
I’m not saying that smart homes should be boring and dumb. If you want to buy smart bulbs for the novelty, great, I’ve done the same. And if you love tinkering but won’t “benefit” from a smart home, these things can still improve your quality of life. It really is a hobby.
Those who are on the fence about smart homes should start small. Buy a Nest, Alexa or HomePod smart speaker and start playing with it. Use it to set timers and reminders, stream music, or look up information. Then start researching smart bulbs, plugs or cameras and go from there.