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How Smart Homes Work

Smart Home Benefits
With smart home security, you can check on your little one from anywhere.
With smart home security, you can check on your little one from anywhere.
Thomas Jackson/Stone/Getty Images

Smart homes may make life easier and more convenient. Who wouldn't love being able to control lighting, entertainment and temperature from their couch? Whether you're at work or on vacation, the smart home will alert you to what's going on, and security systems can be built to provide an immense amount of help in an emergency. For example, not only would a resident be woken with notification of a fire alarm, the smart home would also unlock doors, dial the fire department and light the path to safety.

Here are a few more examples of cool smart home tricks:

  • Light a path for nighttime bathroom trips.
  • unlock your door automatically as you approach.
  • Feed your pets on a schedule with a preset amount of food.
  • Instantly create mood lighting for any occasion.
  • Program your television so that your children can watch only at certain times.
  • Warm the bedroom before you get out of bed so that it's nice and toasty when you get up.
  • Turn on the coffee maker from bed.

Smart homes also provide some energy efficiency savings. Because systems like Z-Wave and ZigBee put some devices at a reduced level of functionality, they can go to sleep and wake up when commands are given. Electric bills go down when lights are automatically turned off in empty rooms, and rooms can be heated or cooled based on who's there at any given moment. One homeowner boasted that her heating bill was about one-third less than a same-sized normal home [source: Kassim]. Some devices can track how much energy each appliance is using and command power hogs to use less.

Smart home technology promises tremendous benefits for elderly people living alone. A smart home could notify the resident when it's time to take medicine, alert the hospital if the resident falls and track how much the resident is eating. If an elderly person is a little forgetful, the smart home could perform tasks such as shutting off the water before a tub overflow or turning off the oven if the cook had wandered away. One builder estimates that a system like this could cost $20,000, which is less expensive than a full-time nursing home [source: Venkatesh]. It also allows adult children who might live elsewhere to participate in the care of their aging parent. Easy-to-control automated systems would provide similar benefits to those with disabilities or a limited range of movement.

Smart homes look great on paper, but are they for everyone? On the next page, we'll look at some of the disadvantages of this technology.