How Smart are Smart Homes?

Is smart home technology getting warmer? Now should you invest in home automation?

The marketplace offers a plethora of gear to conserve energy, both yours and your utility company’s. “Smart home” technology refers to automation and control— it’s a subcategory of passive or net-zero-energy building. It takes energy-efficient concepts a step further, and seeks to control systems to optimize the energy that is produced or conserved. Smart means turning systems on and off automatically according to a model of efficiency, so nothing is wasted, while increasing comfort and ease.

You can upgrade your home to automatically control not only heating and cooling, but window, floor or facade thermal gain or loss, glare, privacy, lighting, security, audiovisual, information system security, pool maintenance, landscape irrigation and more.

Home automation systems can turn on and off locks and alarms, lights, home theaters, media, cameras, all in different indoor/outdoor zones. They can even pre-heat the oven, light the fire, and adjust the music— all as set-it-and-forget-it digital control systems. On arrival at the airport, from your smart phone, you can turn on the spa and warm up the house . . . or shut the house up, if you forgot to in your haste to get away.

These systems can be quite affordable, but some are an investment; and it’s not easy to figure out if they will pay for themselves over time. Don’t you wish you knew if you would save or make money in the end? Here are some ideas to consider.

If you plan to stay in your home for five years, it is wise to invest and enjoy these features. But if you plan to sell sooner, it’s very possible your choices will not be current technology when your buyer comes along to pay for them, or, your buyers might have a different way of living, and not benefit from your improvements. In addition, prices on innovation go down and early adopters pay more than buyers who wait awhile.

Be aware too, some systems are indeed “green” and conserve energy, and some are merely hyped and are only “greenwashing.” Know the specs on the upgrade you’re considering and how it will function in your particular property.

Building codes change all the time, as health and safety and environmental awareness increases. We’ll see changes possibly for fireplaces, digital cable, window allowances, even carpet and flooring off-gassing standards. You don’t want to over-improve or become obsolete quickly, though these improvements may add immensely to your enjoyment of home.

There are financing programs that exist to lend on energy updates. You may be offered HERO or PACE loans by the vendor. Be sure to understand that your improvement cost might be added to your property tax, and the next buyer might not want higher taxes to pay off systems they don’t consider valuable or state of the art. If you are doing a remodel anyway, definitely consider smart home elements. Renovation loans can help pay for them.

Do inform yourself about smart home automation. Invite specialist (usually HVAC) contractors to do a free energy audit of your home. They’ll tell you where you spend energy, lose heat, let in cold, recirculate unclean air, and waste hot water. Building science has come a long way, and a little money spent tightening up your house can save money over and over.

All this efficiency comes at a cost, but it might pencil out to be your smartest investment. Just my sense.

Posted By Linda Fischer At 6:26 PM •