Holiday Gift Guide: Products to Help Create a Smart Home (Part 2)

We’ve heard how the “Smart Home” uses of the Internet of Things (IoT) will change life in the 21st Century. Frankly, it does seem a bit crazy to get messages from your appliances on your phone. Yet, while not everyone is interested in every single IoT or Smart Home device, more consumers are discovering smart home devices that they can actually use to make their lives more safe, energy efficient, and convenient.

So, in Part Two of this Holiday Gift Guide, we’re going to look over Smart Home devices that make home security, cooking, even laundry more convenient and energy efficient. Some devices aren’t for everyone but there’s a good chance you might find one that may work for your home. Fortunately, the Christmas season also gives you the opportunity to check them out and makes them cool gifts. (Check out Part 1 of this Holiday Gift Guide here.)

Smart Home Security Systems

One of the important things smart home devices can do easily is to interface with motion sensors. Technologically, it’s pretty danged easy: if the electronic sensor detects movement, then it turns on lights and may trigger an alarm. Low-tech outdoor fixtures like this have been around since the 1980s. Smart home security systems can do much more and can do the same job in a more controlled way.

  • The Nest Protect is more than just a smoke detector. It will not panic when there’s just a little smoke. If it detects rising levels of carbon monoxide (CO), it will sound a warning and shine a yellow light. If CO levels hit a dangerous emergency level, then it will trigger its alarm and flash a red light. It also keeps a history of CO detection which can come in real handy in tracking down leak problems in your home.
  • Homeboy is a 2.6″ diameter video camera that requires no wiring that can be mounted practically anywhere. Powered by rechargeable batteries, it can run 3 months at a stretch. Motion activates the camera and it starts recording. It connects wirelessly to your home’s network and will also send a notification to your phone, email, or favorite social media news feed and then let you access the video to see if you need to call the police. To make it more flexible, the device is built on an open platform that communicates with other smart home devices and services. You can trigger it to turn on lights, activate Next Protect’s alarm, or send an alert to a friend’s phone.
  • August Smart Lock is an easy to install (just a screwdriver and 4 AA batteries) lock that piggy-backs onto existing deadbolt assemblies or can be added to new ones. Based on Bluetooth, it automatically unlocks your door when you approach with your smartphone. It will also lock behind you when you leave. You can issue temporary keys to individuals that only work between certain hours or 24/7 keys to friends and family. It also logs who used their key.
  • SkyBell is danged-cool technology bundled into a single small unit that’s only 2.8″ in diameter: infrared LED sensor, video camera, motion sensor, microphone, speaker, and a light-up doorbell —all connected through your home’s WiFi network. At the other end on your iOS or Android device to receive a live video feed of who just pushed the button or tripped the motion sensor. So, you can be in some other part of you home and not only learn that there’s someone at your door but also who they are and why they are there. If you’re not home, you’ll get an alert so you can communicate with visitors — such as a delivery person who wants to know what to do with your package. No special electrical connections needed, just use your existing low voltage doorbell circuit.
  • Tripper is a smart window/door sensor that lets your smart phone know when a door/window has been opened. Now, that doesn’t solely apply to exterior windows and doors. You could also set it up to guard medicine cabinets, desk drawers, or…even refrigerators (one of these would have caught my little brother sneaking the cheese from the fridge all those years ago and I would have been vindicated!). You can also set it up to trigger other devices, such as smart lights or an alarm, to activate.

Smart Appliances (Small)

These are the appliances that at first glimpse seem perhaps too “smart”. However, it’s all about how you use them to make your life more convenient. For both the Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew Coffeemaker and the iKettle for making tea, the main features is that you can use these remotely with your phone. You can turn them on from bed as you’re getting up, or from your living room when you’re having company, or while on your way home from work. Likewise, the Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker gives you control over times, schedules, and temperature of cooking at home while you’re out in the yard or across town at work. And that’s a significant convenience when you’re trying to gather your family for at least one home meal together during the day, in spite of everyone’s busy schedules.

Smart Appliances (Large)

Apart from your home’s air conditioning system, the big energy users in your home are your big appliances – the refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, and laundry machines. Not surprisingly, smart appliances like these are designed to lower your energy costs while offering more convenience.

Appliances by Whirlpool, LG, Samsung and GE feature varying degrees of remote control for each appliance. These can include monitoring electricity usage, setting washing and drying cycles to less-costly demand times, self-monitoring their operation, managing efficient water usage, and remote temperature controls. Some now even create grocery lists, suggest recipes, and displaying weather information.

Smart Hubs 

Smart hubs aren’t always needed by every device but hubs function as the organization center of a smart home system. Most feature a single app to access all the devices connected to them, which adds to the devices’ convenience. Most hubs act as a proprietary interface between the home network router and different devices either by wired communication or software control.

Meanwhile, other devices help extend the home network to reach smart devices, either wired or wirelessly. The tricky part for hubs right now is predicting the future because — ideally — those hubs built around an open platform OS (such as openHAB) will be able to communicate to more devices in the future…theoretically speaking, of course. As it is now, many hub systems are available, including Nest, SmartThings, Wink, and others. If you find that you need a hub, find the one that does the best job with the devices that you want to use with your home.

Sure, the Smart Home / “Internet of Things” world still sounds crazy to some people. But as you’ve seen, there are already some great improvements in the technology and (most importantly) their practical application for the average consumer. So, don’t ask yourself, “Why do I want to receive phone messages from my washer?” Instead, consider how using a smart appliance can save you money and make your life more convenient in 2015 and in years to come.

Hopefully, this two-part holiday gift guide will help you purchase the products that your spouse, friend, or family member needs to create that smart home they want!


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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