What is a smart home?


Tony Sumrall Contributing columnist

Tony Sumrall Contributing columnist


Last week we talked about smart outlets and smart hubs. This week we’ll wrap up our foray into the smart home and briefly look at some other smart devices that are available. If you’d like more on this subject, just write me as detailed at the end of this column.

One smart device I recently acquired is a Nest Learning Thermostat (https://go.ttot.link/NestLearning). Yes, it’s been out a while but none of the thermostats were out-of-the-box compatible with my Courier HVAC. I recently replaced a central air unit and the installer threw in the Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Generation) and I love it. I can control the temperature from any of my smart speakers but the real winner is that:

1. I can detect and change the temperature from any of my devices that has the Google Home app installed.

2. It learns my scheduling preferences. How? I just set the temperature throughout the day and over the course of a week or two, it figures out what the schedule should be based on those changes. Now, I’ve had setback thermostats for years and I’d always guess at when I’d like this or that temperature and on which days. Now, I see that I really only change the set temperature twice a day. It can sense when no one is home and automatically change to an “Eco” mode which suspends your regular schedule and sets a warmer or colder threshold temperature (depending on whether you’re heating or cooling). The thermometer wakes up when you walk near it which is one way it senses your presence. The other way is to allow your phone to be a presence sensor through the Google Home app. You set your home location and the Home app can tell when you’ve left. You can link everyone’s phone to the Home app so it knows when no one is at home.

You may be thinking your thermostat is nowhere near where you spend the majority of my time. Well, you can purchase a remote sensor for the Google Nest Thermostat. Place it in the room where you spend most of your time and your Nest can make heating and cooling decisions based on the temperature reading for that sensor. Have multiple rooms? No worries. You can buy several and place them where they’re needed (good summary and review at https://go.ttot.link/NestSensor).

My HVAC installer heartily recommended the Google Nest Learning Thermostat but there are many more available. CNet recently gave its opinion on the best smart thermostats of 2022 at https://go.ttot.link/CnetThermostats and includes a link to their review of the other smart thermostat that had my interest — the Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium (review at https://go.ttot.link/CNetEcobee). One thing to note: the Ecobee includes a remote sensor which is an extra purchase for the Google Nest. But, as I said earlier, I’m pretty happy with my Nest.

I also have tilt sensors installed on my garage doors. They interact with my SmartThings hub and let me know when my garage door opens and closes with the current open/close state recorded. I no longer have to wonder whether I remembered to close the garage door when I left! There are many on the market. For reference, here’s a link to one so you can read more about them https://go.ttot.link/TiltSensor.

You can sometimes use an open/close sensor such as https://go.ttot.link/OpenCloseSensor. The one I linked to can also sense vibration and tilt so it’s a good multipurpose sensor, albeit a bit expensive and requires a hub.

Motion detection sensors like https://go.ttot.link/MotionSensor can be used to trigger other smart home devices like switching lights on or off.

Another popular smart home addition are smart locks. They replace or add on to any lock you want to make “smart” (for example, your front door) and give you the ability to lock and unlock it remotely. Some allow you to set temporary access or assign separate codes to different family members. Consumer Reports discusses smart locks and gives its recommendations at https://go.ttot.link/2022SmartLocks. No, I don’t own one of these simply because we don’t use the front door that often. Instead, we use the door to the garage and I have a tilt sensor on my garage doors.

Speaking of garages, there are smart garage door openers. Tom’s Guide has an introduction to them and their picks for 2022 at https://go.ttot.link/SmartGarageOpeners. The Chamberlain MyQ consistently gets high marks (review at https://go.ttot.link/MyQReview) but, as with the addition of any smart device to your home, check to make sure your existing equipment meets the requirements specified by the manufacturer.

If you have an irrigation or watering system at your home to water your lawn and garden, there are smart irrigation controllers that control your various valves and can adjust based on weather conditions such as rain or excessive heat. Consumer Reports gives their recommendations and an overview of how they work at https://go.ttot.link/CRSmartSprinklers.

Remote Infrared and RF controllers can help consolidate your various remote controllers (TV, radio, etc.). I have a Logitech Harmony (discontinued but still supported and available for purchase at various site like Amazon https://go.ttot.link/LogitechHarmony) which consolidates the remotes for my TV, audio video receiver, nVidia Shield TV, TiVo box, and Xfinity X1 cable box. Through its app I can control each device independently or as an “activity” (e.g. turn on the receiver, switch input to TiVo, turn on TV, switch it to HDMI input 3), change channels, change volume, etc. Plus, I can do much of this by voice (“Hey, Google, turn on the Shield TV”). If you want to go with one that’s still made, check out SofaBaton (https://go.ttot.link/SofaBaton) and Amazon’s Fire TV Cube (overview and review at https://go.ttot.link/FireTVCube)

Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at [email protected] and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L. My links tell me that I’m getting some international readers. Regardless of where you’re from, drop me a quick note and say hi!

Tony Sumrall, a Hillsboro native whose parents ran the former Highland Lanes bowling alley, is a maker with both leadership and technical skills. He’s been in the computing arena since his graduation from Miami University with a bachelor’s degree in systems analysis, working for and with companies ranging in size from five to hundreds of thousands of employees. He holds five patents and lives and thrives in Silicon Valley which feeds his love for all things tech.

Tony Sumrall Contributing columnist
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2022/09/web1_Summrall-Tony-mug-1.jpgTony Sumrall Contributing columnist