Remember Rosie from the Jetsons? She was the XB-500 model robotic maid helping Mr. and Mrs. Jetson keep their house clean on mainstream TV in the 60’s and later the 80’s.© Maskot | Getty Images
Rosie was a fictional state-of-the-art robot for her time, giving people a glimpse into what home automation could look like in the future. Rosie is now sentimentally vintage, and while we still don’t have automated robot butlers a la Rosie, we are able to control and automate just about any mechanical feature in our homes using a smartphone or smartwatch.
So much has happened in home automation in a short period of time, but if you are still not using any of this technology in your own home, maybe it’s because you think the learning curve is too steep, you’re worried about security or you don’t understand what all the fuss is about.
By 2025 it is expected that almost 480 million households worldwide will be classified as smart homes — that’s one-third of the world’s households.
Let’s break things down to see if we can help you get comfortable with the idea, so you can start benefiting from how effortless these technologies can make the everyday tasks in your life.
How does home automation work?
The term home automation covers the task of automating your home’s otherwise unintelligent features like your appliances, lawn watering systems, home entertainment systems, lighting, surveillance systems, door access, climate control, and more.
Home automation devices, also called smart devices, are usually connected to a router in the home and controlled by a wall-mounted screen, a smartphone or a smartwatch. Most smart devices are connected wirelessly to the internet so they can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
Except for financial constraints, there’s no limit to how much home automation can be expanded and it doesn’t have to be done in a specific order. It’s possible to start with, for example, a thermostat controlling your home’s temperature and then add devices on an as-needed basis.
What can be automated?
We’re tempted to say anything above the floor level can be automated in a home; while this is not completely true, the list of options is so great that it’s not too far off. We’ll go into some of the most valuable uses below.
Refrigerators can include cooling control, alerts, internal cameras for content availability, meal planners and grocery lists that sync to a smartphone. Dishwashers can be programmed and activated remotely. Ranges can receive cooking instructions from smartphone apps to set temperature, timer and even alert you when it’s time for the next cooking step.
Smart home lighting
With smart lighting, it’s possible to control each light in your home individually or divide your lighting into room zones. Most lighting can also be programmed to respond to the activities in the home — for example, when you typically leave for work and return again. Or if you’re going on vacation, lighting can be programmed on a temporary schedule with variable on/off times for a more organic approach (the same applies to your thermostat which offers standard and vacation modes).
Smart home heating and cooling
With a smart thermostat, you can control your home’s heating and cooling from afar via a smart phone app. That’s especially helpful if you have forgotten to adjust your home’s temperature before leaving for an extended period of time, but that’s not the only advantage, for beyond acting as a remote control, smart thermostats also increase comfort, convenience and cost savings.
For example, you can program a schedule for the temperature when you wake up, go to work, return home and go to sleep. Many smart thermostats can be set to learn from your daily rhythm by using geo-fencing features that are able to tell when you leave and return home. They will then auto-adjust accordingly to make sure your home is already at a comfortable temperature when you enter.
The cost-savings of adjusting the temperature throughout the day will reflect on your electricity bill. By not having to heat or cool your home while you are away, it can really make a big difference.
Smart home access
Doorbells are available with cameras to screen visitors with two-way audio and recording of motion-detected events. Door locks can be programmed to unlock the door automatically, especially handy when you are bringing in groceries, and to then lock the door once it’s closed. You can also program virtual keys for guests and family with set expiration dates or only allow access to your home during specific daily hours.
Smart home cleaning
Robotic vacuums like the Roomba, Deebot and Roborock are packed with technology to keep your home clean. Infra-red sensors, Lidar mapping and bump sensors navigate around chairs, doors and staircases on manually or scheduled cleaning on your terms. Some can even empty their bags without intervention!
Smart sprinkler systems
An outdoor sprinkler system for your lawn running on a set schedule is nothing new, but it doesn’t allow you to make changes to the schedule while you’re away. With a smart watering system, you can water your lawn while you’re away but also make helpful changes like turning off the sprinklers when it rains. This customization is great for vacation home owners and those with second homes or rental properties.
Smart lawn mowing
The robotic vacuum’s cousin is the robotic lawn mower. Robotic lawn mowers usually sit in a small outdoor garage to protect them from the outside elements, and they cut your grass when they’re programmed to do so, then roll back into their ‘garage’ to charge for the next time.
One downside of using home automation devices connected to the internet that worries many homeowners is the risk of being hacked. You may remember the Colonial Pipeline (responsible for delivering 45% of petroleum products to the east coast) that was hacked this spring resulting in public fears of gasoline shortage and gouging. While a residential home is not a high-risk target like the Colonial Pipeline, it’s still vulnerable to hacking attempts and good security is imperative. Due to limited computing power in smart devices, they are unable to use strong security measures and security patches are often not available or updated. To combat this, as the home owner, you are better off using well-known brands, since they are more likely to initially offer strong security and provide ongoing updates throughout the smart device’s lifecycle.
Also read the latest tips on how to protect yourself from hackers when you own a home with smart devices.
How can I start using home automation?
If you own an iPhone or Android smartphone, you already have the control center for smart devices. Both Apple’s Home Kit and Google’s Home App can control your devices from the palm of your hand.
Most smart device manufacturers also offer their own app for more advanced controls. You’ll find a great selection of these apps in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.
The next step is to find out which task you would like automated and order that tool for your home.
Once you receive your device, look in the manual for a section describing how to connect the device with your smartphone — it’s usually fairly easy. And once you get started with one smart device, you can decide if you’d like to take it further and fully outfit your home over time to automate more of your repetitive daily tasks with the help of smart devices.
Now you can start enjoying the conveniences of what used to only be imagined in science fiction movies and TV — not exactly Rosie the Robot perhaps, but home automation makes many of the same things possible and it is within easy reach of most homeowners.