CES gadget show: Smart homes are possible now – if you’re tenacious – Northwest Herald

When home, I can group products such that the TV and main lights turn off and a night light comes on when I say, “good night.”

It’s relatively straightforward to add components as time and budgets permit. With smart locks, doors automatically lock when you leave. Smart appliances such as the Nest thermostat also can help save energy. Smart-home systems also can incorporate window shades and irrigation systems – perhaps the sprinklers briefly turn off as you walk by.

The smart home divided

Though apps try to make the setup easy, there’s still a lot to think about. To get the most out of a smart home, you need to assign lights and appliances to specific rooms on the app. Then you need to enable automation through the app – figuring out which devices do what when you say “good morning” or “good night.” It isn’t too difficult for tech enthusiasts to figure out, but it could be challenging for folks who want things that “just work.”

Within days, I noticed some quirks in my setup. Because my main lights are connected to a smart plug, voice commands and the smartphone app effectively take control, meaning I actually can’t use the wall switch to turn the lights back on. It takes a few extra seconds to activate Siri and tell her what to do.

In theory, I could just have the lights come on automatically when I open the front door, which has a motion sensor attached. But that sensor is tied to Samsung’s system, while the lights are with Apple’s. And that coffee maker? Samsung’s system works with some WeMo devices, but the coffee maker isn’t listed. The best I could do is attach a coffee maker to a Samsung smart plug, so a bedroom motion sensor triggers coffee in the morning.

Besides Samsung, Apple, Nest, Amazon and WeMo, there also are smaller systems from the likes of Lowes and Insteon. Some systems work with others, at least in some respects, but it’s far from guaranteed. Most people won’t be trying out competing systems the way I do, but my example does illustrate how your first smart device might lock you into an “ecosystem” controlled by a single company.

Other considerations

It’s comforting to know whether your toaster oven is off, but then you run the risk of accidentally issuing a command to turn it on. I briefly attached a space heater to a smart plug to turn on when I say “good night.” I then quickly disconnected that, lest I start a fire. There are some safety mechanisms; a smart oven from Whirlpool ships without the ability to turn it on remotely (though you could decide to activate that function). You need to be aware of safety hazards – and ask.

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