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What you need to know to join the smart home revolution

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From video doorbells to lights to refrigerators, the smart home revolution is underway! According to the National Council of Home Safety and Security, more than 47% of Millennial homeowners have smart devices in their homes, and an incredible 81% of home buyers say they'd be more apt to buy a home with smart tech devices already installed.

For those homeowners who don't have smart tech or are thinking about upping their home's tech IQ, we spoke to Kris Sparks of 10X Smart Home about why it's a good idea to integrate smart devices into your home and how to do so.

Why should you build a smart home system? 

"Google, turn on my fireplace."

Smart home devices make your home more desirable to potential buyers, but if you're in your forever home or only curious about smart tech devices, why should you start embracing them?

"Homeowners want to feel safe – from intrusion, fire, and even medical emergency," says Sparks, who has been helping integrate smart tech into homes for more than 20 years. "A flood sensor is triggered, and the fire department can get sent out. Does your home have carbon monoxide, the silent killer? Then the alarm will sound in the monitoring centers. EMS are sent if there's intrusion. Now my doorbell camera has that video clip of who walked up, which I can give to the police."

Before the onslaught of new technology, the traditional "smart" home was a security system than ran wires throughout the house and a big panel in the closet. Today's systems can do so much more, and wireless technology was the game-changer.

Says Sparks, "We use Z-Wave technology and military grade encryption. Now your panel is a 7-inch touchscreen, like an iPad on steroids. This one control center does everything – your lighting, your thermostat, your garage door, your front door locks, your cameras. The possibilities are endless."

You can even start your fireplace with a simple voice command.

But before you can ask, "Alexa, turn on my fireplace," you have to decide which features you want and how they will enhance your life.

"That's why I tell people to use a professional company for installation," says Sparks. "If you don't use the technology and embrace it, what does it end up doing? Sitting there to fry. We want customers to embrace the new technology, so it makes their lives better."

First smart devices to install in your home 

While meeting with a smart home engineer can help you take a whole-home approach, we asked Sparks which smart home devices homeowners should look to install at the start of their smart tech journey.

Step #1: Video doorbell 

See who is at your door and then decide if you want to let them in.

"Someone who is brand new and wants to start experimenting – [the doorbell cam] is going to be your jumping off point for smart home tech, not security," says Sparks. "You can adjust the motion settings, so when someone starts walking up to your front door, the camera will detect the motion and send you an alert," says Sparks. "Before the person even gets to push the button, you can already have that video up on your iPhone, Android tablet, or you can be sitting in your living room and it comes up on a screen."

This allows homeowners to decide if they want to answer the door or if they're not home, decide if they want to communicate with the person via a speaker.

Once you get comfortable with your doorbell cam, you can add additional items, such as a –

Step #2: Digital lock 

For those homeowners who constantly wonder if they locked the front door, a digital lock gives you the opportunity to check if you did from miles away. If you didn't, then you can either set the mechanism to lock automatically after a certain amount of time or you can lock it with an app on your smartphone or tablet.

If you're heading out on vacation and want a friend to check up on your house (if you don't have interior cameras yet – that's step #4), then you can also program a special code that expires after a designated time. This way, someone can get into your house this week but not drop in unexpectedly next week.

Step #3: The programmable thermostat 

Make your house a cool home with a programmable thermostat.

A smart thermostat can automatically adjust to a homeowner's schedule. When you aren't home, the thermostat can lower the temperature, saving you money. It can also turn the heat on an hour before the end of the workday, so you return to a warm home.

"You're saving money on your electric right out of the gate with a smart thermostat," says Sparks, who also mentioned how smart thermostats can also help homeowners while at home. "If I'm upstairs in bed and I'm a little cold – I just go to my iPhone. I don't even have to get out of bed."

Step #4: Interior or exterior cameras 

See your home when you're not home.

The good ol' nanny cam has recently been used by pet owners to keep track of their fur babies during the workday. Some high-end devices can also scan homeowners' and visitors' faces and remember them, so as not to bug you with unnecessary alerts. However, these devices are best used for when you're away and want to check up on the home front.

"I actually had a customer who went down to Myrtle Beach, three hours away," recounts Sparks. "Her neighbor said, 'Yeah, there's a lot of cars up front of your house.' She went to her camera on her apps, and unfortunately the dog sitter was having a rave at her house."

Sparks had another customer who lived in the countryside and loved to watch the deer in her yard.

"We were able to design a system where with outside motion, [the homeowner] would get an alert," recounts Sparks. "Then the feed would pop up on her screen in their living room, and she could watch the deer." 

How do I keep my smart home safe? 

Open your door without every touching the handle.

A recent video of a stranger talking to a child in her room through a smart device alarmed homeowners regarding the security of smart home devices. Is this something common, and should homeowners be worried?

"When you're dealing with smart home devices, they're not technically security companies," says Sparks. "The doorbell company – that's what they do. It's video, but now they have to deal with a security problem."

While not even security companies can guarantee a homeowner will never be compromised, professional installers offer warranties and additional security measures to protect your home and devices.

"When you're dealing with the professional security company, [customers] are getting the military-grade encryption," says Sparks. "Your professional is going to back up that product, so you shouldn't have those issues."

However, it really comes down to your comfort level.

"I always tell homeowners, do your homework and make a decision you're comfortable with," says Sparks. "If you're comfortable with Ring, Nest, and do it yourself, great! If you're not sure, that's when you want to research a company that can service the devices, make sure they're warrantied, and handle any technical issues. You get that peace of mind." 

Learn more about protecting your smart home in 8 steps to protect your smart home from hackers.

What's next for smart home tech solutions? 

In today's digital world, a fully connected smart home system can provide limitless convenience. From unlocking the front door to making sure your children and pets are safe, to helping you save money on your heating and electric bills – the era of the smart home is only beginning.

Says Sparks, "We're only scratching the surface in this industry, and I think you're going to see in the next six months, more devices and technology released that can really help our day-to-day lives."


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