Smart is the New Black: Today’s Home of Tomorrow

written by CLIFF LUMMUS | photo courtesy of DRIFT LIGHT; NEST; iDEVICES

touch home

A short two decades removed from the mass spread of the Internet (dial-up, that is) into American households, homes are now as integrated and interconnected as they have ever been. This is all thanks to the recent tech explosion of the smart home industry. Combined with the computing power of our smartphones and tablets, this new generation of devices has presented an unprecedented ability to monitor, control, change and customize almost every facet of the home-life experience.

We sat down with Marc Baron, an Atlanta-area senior systems administrator and IT expert to discuss what has contributed to the surge in smart home technology. “In my experience, many users are relying more heavily on tablets/ smartphones in their homes over laptops. They are cheaper, efficient and they have Internet access and applications to control home automation,” Baron said.

“Technology is advancing quickly in so many areas of our daily lives,” he added. “A decade ago, not too many homes had Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi-connected devices. We can now control all facets of our home from iOS/Android apps including lighting, security, home audio/video and thermostats. We are an Internet-connected society.”

Baron is right. What began with Roombas and Smart TVs and then iPhone-controllable lights and thermostats has given way to Wi-Fi security cameras, mobile-alerting carbon monoxide detectors and a slew of handy innovations. What’s more, these devices are not only available, but many have become surprisingly a ordable. Of course, as with any home improvement, the sky is the limit as to the time and money that can be spent.

To start, we’ve got a room-by-room rundown of the latest smart home trends for 2016.

Overhead

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SUNSETS IN EVERY ROOM
Offering the latest in progressive lighting is the Drift Light. With two flips of the switch, the Drift Light fades to dark in 37 minutes –the time of the average sunset– allowing for a gradual easing down at bedtime.

Less of a lightbulb moment than a solution to a problem, the Drift Light was created by Preston Wily whose little girl, Grace, loved to read before bed.

“The Drift Light was originally made for my 4-year-old daughter and it wasn’t supposed to be a sleeping aid so much as a reading aid. When I let her read in bed, I often forgot to sneak back in and turn o her light so it would stay on all night (and when she woke up in the middle of the night, she would be wide awake). I worked with our engineers to build a prototype of a bulb that would mimic a sunset in hopes that I could set it [to] dim so slowly she [wouldn’t] realize it was dimming and finally turn off.” Wily and his team tested the prototype and discovered an unexpected, but as he added, a very welcome side effect.

Offering the latest in progressive lighting is the Drift Light. With two flips of the switch, the Drift Light fades to dark in 37 minutes.

“Grace started falling asleep much quicker than she ever did before,” Wily added. “We thought this was probably anecdotal, but looking into medical research showing the link between light and melatonin production got our attention. Simply put, the amount that light suppresses melatonin production is based on three factors, for which our engineers optimized the bulb: color temperature, light intensity and duration of exposure.”

With research showing how prevalent sleep problems are and that many of these issues stem from advances in artificial light (many popular LED bulbs include a lot of blue light since more lumens per watt, means lower operating costs), the Drift Light has garnered much attention … and created an ideal sleep environment.
$25, drift-light.com

WIRED FOR SOUND AND LIGHT
One of the more costly and labor-intensive custom add-ons to any home is wiring a room for premium sound. Now, a light socket and a speaker hub are one and the same, boasting a new generation of all-in-one light bulbs. One of the most popular is the MiPow PLAYBULB, an app-controllable bulb with four different color settings. $80, playbulb.com

On the Walls

ONE-TOUCH PRIVACY
Remote control and electronic blinds were once reserved for high-end homes and swanky hotel rooms. Now, this luxury amenity can be added to any room for hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. Some systems even allow for automated schedules to easily set the mood, save energy and discourage prying eyes. $360-400, serenashades.com

thermostat_lifestyle_1-c3637f40THE PERFECT TEMPERATURE
The signature smart home staple over the last several years has been the thermostat, and Nest has become the byword and name brand synonymous with these handy products. Now in its third generation, the Nest thermostat learns your routines, and creates a personalized schedule based on your comings and goings. App-controllable, Nest can even show ways to cut energy usage and be more environmentally friendly, hence the Nest tagline “programs itself, then pays for itself.” $250, nest.com 

LIFE-SAVING WITHOUT THE EARDRUM RUPTURE
Say so long to the ear-piercing screech of the smoke detector. Along with its next-generation thermostats, Nest and others have also produced a high-quality line of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Many of these devices send mobile alerts, communicate with other units within your home, and can even distinguish between smoke and carbon monoxide threats to let you know the source of the problem. The best part? Many, such as the Nest Protect, do so in a human-sounding voice. $100, nest.com

In the Kitchen

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LOW-AND-SLOW MEETS HIGH-TECH
For those that want to set it and not forget it, meet the Crock-Pot SmartSlow Cooker with WeMo. The free WeMo app allows complete control of the cooker’s functions, letting you change the cooking time, adjust the temperature and monitor the cooking status. It’s an easy way to be sure that dinner is hot and ready the second you walk in the door. $130, belkin.com

In the Bathroom

PEARLY WHITES VIA BLUETOOTH
Don’t worry, there’s no cameras. Just toothbrushes like the Oral-B SmartSeries that connects you to your day-to-day dental health like never before. Through Bluetooth connectivity, the brush lets you know of trouble spots, tracks brushing progress, and even lets you know if you’re brushing too hard. $130 and up; oralb.com

For The Backyard

COOKING ON GAS
This method is fast and convenient … unless the tank is empty, that is. With the new line of Quirky ReFuel electronic propane tank gauges, never be caught off guard again by a low tank on cookout days. See real-time gas levels in your propane tank any time on your smartphone and know when the tank needs refilling. $50, quirky.com

PLANT-LIFE 2.0
Too hectic of a schedule to remember to water, or simply lacking a green thumb? Check out the Smartpot. Once filled, the Smartpot releases a month’s worth of water and nutrients into your plants. And it’s not just for decorative plants. You can grow everything from strawberries to Stevia in the Smartpot. Even the New York Times praised its simplicity: “If you can change the cartridge in your printer, you can grow a tomato without the hassle of remembering when to water or fertilize it.” For added assurance, add in the Parrot Flower Power sensor into the soil. It will monitor the plant’s progress, and can even send alerts when action or attention is needed. $80, clickandgrow.com; $60, parrot.com

Everywhere
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THE CONNECTED HOME
Not surprisingly, there is even an accessory that will automate much of your house with as little as the swipe on your finger or the sound of your voice. Enter the iDevices Switch. This smart product allows you to control, monitor and schedule electronics throughout your home from wherever you are. Simply plug Switch into fans, lamps, electronics, coffee pots and use the free iDevices Connected app or Siri voice commands to power them on or off, wherever you are. $59, lowes.com; ideviceinc.com

It might be impossible to keep up with the technology as quickly as it is coming out now, but we will certainly have fun trying. Smart homes are all about communication, efficiency and most of all, comfort.