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Whenever "The Handyman Team" travels to any of the national home shows or the Consumer Electronics Show, we are struck by the focus on building "smart" homes. These are the ones with built-in technology to control everything in the home with a laptop, smartphone or even the touch of a button.
But remember that if you plan to upgrade your home with products that rely on technology, make sure both you and your home can handle them. All high-tech gadgets look good in a brochure but may not be easy or cheap to install and use.
One of the first smart home products many people installed was a programmable set-up/set-back thermostat, which was a huge upgrade from the standard manual dial thermostats. But even these fairly simple products still need the homeowner to program them to work efficiently.
"The majority of homeowners who have a programmable thermostat haven't programmed it because it is too difficult and they end up using it manually instead of taking advantage of its features," said Mike Bergstrom of Thornton and Grooms, (248) 430-0919, www.thorntonandgrooms.com.
Bergstrom said today's programmable thermostats are taking advantage of technology in a way that may make them simpler to program. Two technologically advanced thermostats he is installing are the Nest Learning Thermostat (www.nest.com) and the EcoBee, www.ecobee.com.
To help eliminate the need to program the thermostat, the Nest actually learns your behavior patterns of heating and cooling and will adjust the temperature automatically instead of just using a pre-programmed model.
It also can be accessed via a smartphone app to enable you to adjust your heating and cooling before you get home or are too tired to get out of bed and go downstairs to the thermostat to change the setting.
Bergstrom said the EcoBee is Internet enabled through your home's WiFi network so you can monitor and manage your home's heating and cooling from anywhere. It also can be set so that it notifies you via web portal or email if there is a problem with the system, and will also send you service reminders.
Bergstrom said both can be installed for around $500. He said he has the Nest in his home and controls it with his smartphone, while his father has the EcoBee because he spends time in Florida in the winter and likes to be able to monitor his system to make sure it is working properly.
Smart home technology can be very important for snowbirds or homeowners who travel often, and one big concern for these folks is the potential for water leaks from pipes bursting or sump-pump malfunctions. Fortunately there are a few products that can monitor water leaks and alert you via phone or email if a problem occurs, including Water Safe, www.thewatersafe.com, Floodstopper, www.thefloodstopper.com, WaterAlarm Dialer, www.controlproductsinc.com and Water Cop, www.safehomeproducts.com.
The ability to manage a number of things going on in a home with one central controller is the epitome of having a smart home. One system that does that is available from Control 4, www.control4.com.
Using the Control 4 system, just about every appliance in your home can be controlled with an integrated keypad, and the system even has the potential to be controlled remotely with a smart phone or computer from the car or office.
Another technological innovation is the Sears Craftsman Assurelink garage door opener, www.craftsman.com, which allows you to check the door status, and then open and close it using your mobile device or a computer.
Mike Bratcher at Bratcher Electric, (877) 722-0037, www.bratcherelectric.com, said that most home electrical systems can handle today's smart technology, but it is important to make sure you don't need an upgrade to your electric panel before spending the money on these high-tech products.
One of the smart products that Bratcher has been busy installing is stand-by generators, and even these power systems have gotten smarter over time. He said Kohler, www.kohlerpower.com, now has On Cue program that allows homeowners to remotely manage generator performance from a computer anywhere in the world and will alert the homeowner with a text or email if there is a problem.
There are plenty of products available to make your home smarter.
But before you buy anything, make sure you are capable of using the technology properly and that the payback, whether it is from saving energy or making your life easier, is worth the cost.
If you would like to suggest a question for this column, email email@example.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege personally, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The “Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations nationwide.
Note: This article was accurate at the date of publication. However, information contained in it may have changed.
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