May 23, 2014 10:39 am

4 ways to make your home smarter

Make your house smarter with these devices.

Global News

TORONTO – For the last few years technology has been making its way more and more into our homes. Everything from LED bulbs to slow cookers are now connected to the ‘cloud’ and can be controlled via a smartphone. I’ve incorporated many products into my own abode, and have researched many more.

Here’s four devices that will make your home smarter and your life easier.

Take control of your heating and air conditioning

There are many connected thermostats on the market, but none come close to the beauty and capabilities of The Nest Learning Thermostat.

Created by Tony Fadell, who had a hand in inventing the iPod, the Nest is a slick, circular thermostat that helps reduce your energy usage by learning your habits and creating an optimized schedule for your heating and cooling needs.

The Nest Learning Thermostat can be set manually or detect an empty home in Auto Away Mode.

Nest

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Its built-in sensor can detect when you’re not home, so you don’t waste money heating or cooling an empty house, and it rewards you with a ‘leaf’ when you use less energy than the average in your area. A monthly email report will show you how many leaves you earned and how much energy you saved, which turns energy conservation into a competition.

Since it’s connected to the Internet over your home WiFi, it’s fully controllable via an iPhone or Android app, as well as from an online site, anywhere you are (so if you want to make sure your AC isn’t blasting while you’re on vacation you can adjust it from the beach). Because it learns your habits you’ll find you also spend less time making adjustments in the long run.

Besides a bunch of other innovative features, the Nest also monitors the humidity in your home and can control whole-home humidifiers.

The Nest is available at most home reno and electronic stores in Canada for a MSRP of $249. Some utility companies, such as Reliance Home Comfort in Ontario, now offer it for free when you purchase a new furnace or protection plan through them.

Never be in the dark again

Ever go out after work only to come home to a completely dark house? Not fun, especially if you’re a worrier like I am. Belkin’s line of WeMo switches helps solve that problem.

The WeMo Wall Switch replaces a standard light switch, connects to your WiFi and gives you total control of that switch via your iPhone or Android device. I have one for my outside lights and I never have to stress about my house being in darkness when I’m out or on vacation.

Belkin also offers a plug-in WeMo switch that can be used to control a lamp or device, such as a fan, plugged into it. This is great if you have a young child who likes to fall asleep with the light on as you can turn it off after they’re asleep without having to go into their room, potentially waking them up. I have an air cleaner in my crawl space connected to one, which I run for a set time each day.

There is also a motion sensor you can add to the WeMo Switch so that lights turn on when you enter a room (great for the basement) and you can also program each switch to turn on/off at a set time or at dusk/dawn.

The WeMo Switch and WeMo Wall Switch retail for $49.99 each. Both are available at most major electronic stores.

Monitor and control your doors

Never fumble at the door with groceries again. With the Kevo Bluetooth Electronic Deadbolt your iPhone becomes your house key. With a single touch the deadbolt will send a signal to the eKey on your phone and either lock or unlock your door.

You can send eKey’s to other users and assign when they have access. This is a great feature if you have someone watching your house while you’re on vacation as you can set them up before you leave and then disable their access after you’re home.

The Kevo app monitors when the door is locked/unlocked and by whose key. It also knows if you are inside or outside of the house (as long as you have your phone on you).

Using multiple levels of encryption, the Kevo is very secure and safe. The lock itself is manufactured by Kwikset and Weiser and is rated at the top for security by the Underwriters Laboratories.

The one downside with the Kevo is that because it uses Bluetooth instead of WiFi you can only operate the lock in person. It would be a much better system if it was able to be controlled from a distance so that you could unlock your house for visitors and lock the door if you forgot to.

The Kevo comes with two regular keys and a fob you can scan to operate the lock if you don’t have an iPhone. It’s available in Satin Nickel, Polished Brass and Venetian Bronze.

At a price tag of $249.99, the Kevo is not cheap, but for the convenience it offers it’s well worth it.

The Kevo is available at most home reno stores across Canada.

For people with garages, Chamberlain’s MyQ system is a must-have. Unlike the Kevo, the MyQ system connects to your WiFi so you can control your garage door via your smartphone from anywhere in the world.

Besides having full control of your garage door, the app will also alert you when the door is open so you can monitor if it should be or not.

Chamberlain’s MyQ system consists of a garage door opener with an additional Internet gateway device. They also sell a standalone device that will work with most garage door systems that use safety reversing sensors.

The MyQ garage door openers range in price from $169 to $270 depending on whether you want a belt or chain drive system, the speed of the opener, and whether it comes with a battery backup. The Internet gateway is an additional $56.99. The standalone MyQ Garage runs for a suggested price of $129.99.

Most MyQ devices are available at Home Depot stores across Canada and at Best Buy and Future Shop.

Track your energy usage

Based out of Halifax, N.S., the founders of Blueline Innovations came up with the idea of a speedometer for energy usage and the PowerCost Monitor was born.

The PowerCost Monitor consists of a small arm that attaches to your hydrometer and reads your usage. It sends the info to a small unit inside that displays how many kilowatts per hour you’re using. With an additional WiFi bridge you can monitor your usage, right down to specific devices, via one of many third party apps and services available.

Entering how much you pay for hydro and whether you are on tiered billing (peak, mid peak, off peak) during setup allows you to see how much you’re actually spending on hydro in real-time, which is a much better way of conserving energy than just monitoring kilowatts.

The unit inside also gives you an accurate outside temperature based off the arm attached to your meter.

Setting up the arm, unit and WiFi bridge was a surprisingly easy task. Even when the hydro company showed up unannounced to swap my meter it only took a few minutes to get everything back up and running.

I originally got the PowerCost Monitor to keep track of my electric hot water tank, which was costing a small fortune to run each month. Some minor adjustments and we got it under control thanks to the PowerCost unit. With all these other smart devices running now, having the monitor is a must (it’s also a great tool to teach kids about the need to conserve energy).

Blueline Innovations has partnered with many utility companies across Canada and the U.S. to offer the PowerCost Monitor for free. Over 170,000 homes in Ontario alone have the unit via the Peaksaver PLUS program. If your utility doesn’t offer it you can also purchase the unit online and at select stores. Check the Blueline Innovations site for more info.

A note about security

Keep in mind that with any ‘smart’ device you should always make sure the latest firmware is installed and that, if possible, the device is connected to a secure connection. You will also want a WiFi router that is not only secure, but can handle multiple devices without any issues. After testing a few options I’ve been happy with the Trendnet TEW-812DRU AC1750 Dual Band Wireless Router. With the TEW-812DRU you can have multiple networks for different uses and even hide each network from broadcasting its signal (meaning it won’t show up on the list of available WiFi networks and you’ll have to manually connect to it). For safety reasons, this is a good solution as it will make it much more difficult for someone trying to hack.

SOUND OFF: Are you excited about ‘smart’ devices in the home? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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