Photo by Ash Daniel
Dee Straub, vice president of Structured Cable of Virginia, shows homeowner Barbie Williamson how to use the mobile app for her home security system.
A Richmond city firefighter and single mother of two boys, Jennifer Curran doesn’t keep regular hours. She works 24-hour shifts and isn’t always sure when she’s going to be at her Forest Hill home.
That’s why the Nest Learning Thermostat is perfect for her, she says. The smart, Wi-Fi-connected thermostat not only learns your schedule and programs itself, but can also be adjusted remotely by smartphone or computer. It also delivers energy reports based on your usage.
“If we’re out somewhere and we’re not going to be home, I can turn [the heat] off wherever,” Curran says. “I can tell the house to be warm when I get there. It’s made a big difference in me being able to keep my energybills down.”
The Nest thermostat is one of a growing number of smart, Internet-connected home-automation devices that tackle a range of jobs from home-security monitoring to sending you push notifications on your phone that it’s time to water your plants. Most of the devices are modular, can be scaled to fit average budgets and can be installed in any home.
“The prevalence of smartphones is helping to make the connected home a reality,” says Melanie Ortel, a spokesperson for Verizon Wireless. “A variety of products are currently available today that enable the homeowner to do everything from change the temperature inside while they are away using their smartphone or tablet, to turn on the lights as they pull into the driveway to avoid entering a dark house, [or] to track their pet’s activity during the day while they are at work to make sure [they are] getting enough exercise.” Verizon sells an assortment of such products from third-party vendors in its Verizon Wireless stores.
For do-it-yourselfers, Lowe’s also sells its own customizable suite of home automation products called Iris, which include wireless video cameras, window and cabinet sensors, smoke detectors, plugs, lighting — and even a smart pet door. Starter kits range from $180 to $300, and add-on accessories range from $20 to $150 each.
Comcast offers a home automation platform called Xfinity Home, which integrates a suite of modular services including home security, lighting and climate control. Consumers can “customize the product based on their own needs,” says Chad McCauley, regional director of product management for Comcast. “What may work for one customer may not work for another.” A small condo owner may only need one security camera or motion sensor, for instance, “but if you have a very large house, it scales up to provide enough coverage for that as well.”
Some of Xfinity Home’s interesting features include night vision cameras and the ability to monitor home security cameras from your smartphone, tablet or even your television.
“If you’re a parent and you expect your children home from school by 3 p.m., you can set up a rule so when the door opens and closes, it takes a 15-second video image of your child getting home, and it can be emailed to you or sent to you as a text message,” McCauley says. “And you do the inverse of that if no one’s home by 3 o’clock. You can be sent an alert.”
Dan Dubansky, president of Richmond-based Structured Cable of Virginia, installs home automation systems in a variety of houses, small and large. His clients use the products in innovative ways, he says. For example, “if you have a worker come into your home, you don’t have to go home to meet them. You can unlatch the door from your phone, you can turn the alarm off and you can actually see them walk up to the door and then lock the door and turn the alarm back on when they leave.”
Some people also install the technology to help monitor elderly parents. “You can know when they’re up and around and get a text,” he says. “And, if they didn’t get up, you would know that, too.”
The systems can be as complex or as simple as one wants, Dubansky says: “It’s just a matter of what makes sense for your lifestyle.