Smart home products are making life easier, from turning on lights to opening doors

By: Joshua Gordon | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published October 30, 2017

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METRO DETROIT — This winter, you could stumble into a cold home after work, trying to find the light switch in the dark and then cranking the thermostat up to get the house to a comfortable temperature.

Or you could have the garage door open without you pushing a button, the house door unlock without the keys, the lights turn on as you walk in and the thermostat adjust to a cozy temperature in anticipation of your arrival.

Smartphones have been in our pockets for a decade, but smart homes have become a growing trend over the last few years. Some people do it for the savings on utility bills, while others do it for the convenience.

Chris Wright, owner of CWC Smart Home Specialists in Madison Heights, has been working on integrating technology in people’s homes since 2000. But it has been the last four or so years that more homeowners have sought out more automated features in their houses.

“These products have really gone mainstream, and it has made it more affordable with more products out there,” Wright said. “It makes life easier to hit one button and the lights come on, the alarm goes off and everything happens at the touch of that button. There is no more getting up to change the channel anymore, and with this new technology, you don’t have to get up to change the thermostat.”

Smart thermostats — such as those from Nest, Honeywell and Ecobee — were some of the first popular, mainstream smart home products, Wright said. Not only could you change your home’s temperature from an app on your phone, but it could save you up to 25 percent on energy costs, he said.

Now the product line has expanded. Everything from lightbulbs and outlets to security cameras, door locks and kitchen appliances can be connected over a network to be accessed remotely or programmed to function when you need it.

Instead of buying an updated house, Wright said, a lot of homeowners are upgrading the technology in their homes.

“Builders are putting these things in new homes, and people can get more in their budget by retrofitting compared to remodeling or buying new,” he said.

While every new piece you put in your home has an app that can control it, there are also hubs that can help make that easier. The Amazon Echo, Google Home and the upcoming Apple HomePod are some of the products that can help control all the smart technology in a home with your voice.

Retailers like CWC Smart Homes and Paulson’s Audio & Video in Farmington Hills also offer more advanced hubs that can serve as a programmable panel for controlling all the functions.

Kris Paulson, vice president of design and integration at Paulson’s, said products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home have created a lot of awareness for smart home products over the past two years.

“People see these devices and then wonder what else they can do,” Paulson said. “Voice commands are still early, but with an aging population, voice commands can be a big plus for people with disabilities.”

While it is neat to turn on the lights from your couch, Paulson said smart home products are more than just party tricks. They are cost effective when it comes to energy, and they can create a more efficient environment.

“It is the little things like it being dusk and your house is dark, so it lights it up when you pull in,” Paulson said. “You want to have your house react to your lifestyle and make your life easier.”

Like anything connected to a network, there are security concerns. Wright said he does not tie key locks into his automated systems, as he doesn’t want a homeowner driving by, but not coming home, and the system to sense the proximity and unlock the door and turn off the security system.

Paulson said consumers need to make sure their networks are secure at home, but a lot of the products, such as door lock systems, have multiple layers of security — from radio frequencies to usernames and passwords.

Going forward, Wright said he thinks facial recognition will be a new safety feature that can secure smart home technology.

“Safety-wise, you have to be careful when you are on a network,” Wright said. “The systems are still developing and maybe just not there yet for everything.”