Holiday Gift Guide: Products to Help Create a Smart Home (Part 1)

We’ve heard how a “Smart Home” will use the Internet of Things (IoT) to change life in the 21st Century. The single most important facet rapidly becoming clear to manufacturers is that these things sell best if they are designed to be both modular and mixable on the same home network. Plus, considering the comments on a New York Times blog post last January, not everyone is immediately interested in every single IoT device. Still, consumers are growing interested in those devices they can actually use, especially if they are convenient and reliable.

Which smart home devices can you use? The best way is to find out what’s available. Fortunately, the Christmas season also gives you the opportunity to check them out, as they make cool gifts for the right person. To be sure, there’s been lots of development over the past year with systems being designed to be simpler to install, use, and control. So many, in fact, that we’re going to cover them in two parts. Part One covers Smart Thermostats, Smart LED lights, and Smart Wall Outlets. Part Two will cover Smart Home Security Systems, Smart Appliances (Small and Large), and Smart Hubs.

So, if you’re interested (or skeptical) in how the IoT can help you create a Smart Home, here’s our holiday gift guide.

Smart Thermostats

Generally speaking, smart thermostats allow you to program the heating and cooling schedules for your home with a greater degree of complexity and energy efficiency than just a mere programmable thermostat. Plus, by having an internet connection, you can control them remotely and have a greater degree of flexibility.

Smart LED lights

They sound extravagant at first, but it all depends on how you use them. If you are away from home for most of the day, or travel away from home, or have to get up while it’s still dark out, a smart bulb like GE’s Link Bulb can be directly programmed with on/off schedules — singly or in groups. Plus, you can control them remotely via your smart phone.

LED bulbs are both energy efficient (using 3 watts but producing the same amount of light as a 60 watt incandescent) and extremely long-lived (they have no filament to burn out). Newer LEDs can be controlled to emit different colors, leading to a whole other level of uses. Phillips’ Hue bulb can be programmed to use different colors that work best for human biorhythms throughout the day. Cool blue light is best for mornings, warm yellow for evenings. You can even set it to low red if you need to get up in the middle of the night. Lifx is a LED WiFi bulb system that  lets you set up to 16 million colors for home or office/commercial environments.

Smart Wall Outlets

Not everything that you use in your home is wired to be “smart.” All the same, it would be convenient and energy efficient to be able to control things you leave plugged in. Window air conditioners, space heaters, floor lamps, fans, home theatre systems, microwaves, water softeners, filters, pumps — life could be just a bit simpler if you could turn them off completely while you’re away. Smart wall outlets give you that control. Not only can you control these outlets by your smart phone, many will measure and track the energy use of what ever is plugged into them.

Belkin’s WeMo Switch lets you name and control each WeMo outlet individually. The more info you have about the energy you use, the more money you can save from your energy bill.

As you’ve already seen, there’s lots of innovative ideas, some great improvements in the technology, and (most importantly) practical applications in Smart Home devices for you to take advantage of. But it’s not all just thermostats, light bulbs, and outlets. There’s other devices that make home security, cooking, even laundry more convenient and energy efficient — but we’ll get to those in Part Two.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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