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How Smart Homes Work

Smart Home Challenges

What happens when your fingerprint-access entry system fails and locks you out? It's important to consider any potential pitfalls of your system to make sure you're prepared for any prospective hassles.
What happens when your fingerprint-access entry system fails and locks you out? It's important to consider any potential pitfalls of your system to make sure you're prepared for any prospective hassles.
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A smart home probably sounds like a nightmare to those people not comfortable with computers. Those who routinely fumble around with a remote control just trying to change the TV channel might have stopped reading by now.

One of the primary mental blocks of installing a smart home system is balancing the complexity of the system against the usability of the system. If it's downright exasperating, then it's actually making your life harder instead of easier. When planning the system, it's important to consider a few factors:


  • What kinds of components are part of the system? Are they basic, such a light dimmer, or more imposing, like an alarm system or a video camera?
  • How intuitive will the system be to a non-user?
  • Is the device actually fulfilling a need or is it just a fancy and potentially frustrating toy?
  • How many people will be required to use the system?
  • Who will know how to operate the system? Who will know how to maintain the system and address failures?
  • How easy is it to make changes to the interface? For example, if your house is programmed to wake you up at 7 a.m., how will you let it know that you're away overnight on business or sleeping in on a Saturday?

For these reasons, it may be easier to start with a very basic home network and expand as enhancements are needed or desired. Like many new technologies, smart homes require a significant investment in both cash and time to keep up, so if you're short on either, you may want to stick with your "dumb" old house.

Before you buy, check product reviews and avoid those that draw the ire of users. There are plenty of products making sky-high promises that fall flat in the real world. And if you're a smartphone user, strongly consider products that come with an equally well-reviewed smartphone app. Some apps are so unwieldy or convoluted that they cause more headaches than they relieve.

Smart homes also come with some security concerns. Hackers who find a way to access the network may have the ability to turn off alarm systems and lights, leaving the home vulnerable to a break-in. They could also cause mischief like turning devices on and off rapidly, which could ruin some electronics or -- in an extreme case -- possibly cause a fire.

Consumer electronics manufacturers are ramping up their product lines in the hope that home automation finally hits the mainstream. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, and the many home automation apps that are now available, there's a chance the trend will catch on ... but a full-on Jetson's-style home may still be years or decades off.

That's because, in spite of so many technological advances, there's still no standard system for automating all of these gadgets. Without such a standard, many consumers are left wondering if they're spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on products that will wind up obsolete or unusable in a short time.

Of course, there's also the question of whether an individual needs all this technology. Is our society really so lazy that we can't flip a light switch? The good news is that with all the time we save from home automation, we'll have time to work on other pursuits. Like developing robot maids.

To learn more about smart homes, visit the links below.

Author's Note: How Smart Homes Work

Home automation products, to me, look like a whole lot of fun. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of customized LED lighting schemes, and by a crockpot that I can monitor from 20 miles away. But I'm also pretty frugal by nature, and smart home gadgets tend to be pricey luxury items, especially if they don't really fill a need. And until I really feel like the need is there, I'll probably be among the smart home skeptics. Unless, of course, you can promise me Pink Floyd-worthy lighting effects in my bathroom -- that would be irresistible. -NC

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More Great Links


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  • Atwell, Cabe. "Smart Home Systems are on the Rise." Dec. 31, 2013. (Jan. 9, 2014),industry_consumer,aid_270692&dfpLayout=blog
  • Atwell, Cabe. "Smart Power Strip Automates Appliances." Dec. 4, 2013. (Jan. 9, 2014)
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