Home Ownership

Smart Home Upgrades That Will Save You Money

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The slow march towards the future continues every day. One of the biggest technological trends these days are smart home devices. It’s now possible for just about anything to be connected to the internet and controlled with an app. Whether it’s really necessary to tweet from your fridge or control your toaster from your iPhone is a different conversation altogether.

The good news is that many of these smart devices can actually save you money. Some of them will save you money actively, while others offer a more situational return on installation costs. If we’re being really picky, some will simply save you some time. However, since we all know that “time is money,” even smart home devices that save you time can technically contribute to your bottom line since you’ll have more free time to earn money, balance your budget, or to just spend time with friends and family — because a healthy work-life balance is important too.

Nest Thermostat

Let’s start with one of the most well-known smart home devices available today. The Nest Learning Thermostat actually made it’s debut back in 2011. The sleek looking device promised to cut owner’s heating and cooling bills drastically, as the Nest would learn your schedule and adjust the temperature of your place accordingly.

Not only will the Nest use less energy when you’re, for example, at the office every day, future updates included turning itself to “Eco Mode” whenever it detected you were out of the house for a while. So if you took off for a weekend getaway and forgot to turn off the heat, the Nest would simply do it for you. You can also control it manually through their smartphone app. The Nest (or any other smart thermostat, really) can provide a lot of savings over time.

Nest was bought by Google in 2014, who incorporated into their Smart Home line of products. In fact, a lot of the products on this list are made by (or work well with) the Google Smart Home program. Since then, Nest has launched additional products like smoke/CO2 detectors and security cameras. The most intriguing one (and the one that could potentially save you money) is the Hello doorbell.

Hello Doorbell

Okay, a video doorbell won’t actively save you money. However, there are some passive ways the Nest Hello smart doorbell can help you save. If you ever do your shopping online (and who doesn’t?), you’re probably aware that “porch pirates” are becoming a real menace. Unsavory individuals will snag your Amazon packages right off your front step, hoping to find something valuable inside.

With a video doorbell, you will get a notification that someone rings your bell and you aren’t home. With two-way voice communication, you can ask the delivery driver to put the package in a hidden spot or leave it with a neighbor. Even if you miss the delivery, the 24/7 recording feature will deter thieves from nabbing your packages. That saves you time and money from having to fight with online retailers about missing goods. If you want to get really fancy, combine your smart doorbell with the next item on our list for perfect synergy.

Smart Lock

Yes, even the entrance to your house can be controlled by the internet. A smart lock is exactly what it sounds like — a deadbolt that you can open and close remotely with your smartphone. While you might use it to let the kids in after school or to double-check you locked the door after accidently sleeping late and rushing out the door, it can be used in tandem with a video doorbell to keep your deliveries safe.

When the deliveryman rings, you can use your doorbell app to see him. Then use the two-way voice communication to let him know that you’re going to unlock the door, and instruct them to leave the package inside. Once they are gone, you can lock your door via the smart lock. No more stolen packages!

If you’re worried about safety, know that most smart doorbells allow you to save copies of the videos it takes. That means that even if an unethical deliveryman does try something shady, you’ll already have them caught red-handed.

Security Cameras

We probably don’t have to explain what security cameras are. However, a whole new generation of smart security cameras will stream to your smartphone or laptop, record video manually or automatically (based on movement, for example), and will generally make your house a lot safer.

You can set up cameras both inside or outside of your home. The external cameras will help deter porch pirates, sure. But they will also help prevent break-ins or vandalism. You won’t want have to pay for replacement broken windows or to clean up spray paint. Cameras on the inside of your house are great if you regularly have people working inside your home while you’re not there. Cleaners, nannies, and general contractors will be kept in check if they know the cameras exist.

Again, this is one of those smart home devices that doesn’t actively save you money. However, it may prevent you from suffering a financial loss due to break in, theft, or vandalism.

Smart Lights

Did anyone else grow up with a parent who was constantly yelling “who left these lights on?!” There’s a good reason for that, as electricity prices are constantly on the rise. Leaving your lights on while you’re at work or overnight while you sleep all adds extra costs to your utility bills. So whether you’re forgetful or just lazy, smart lights are the solution for you.

There are multiple brands to choose from, the most popular are Phillips Hue, Lifx, and Kasa. These lights can be controlled with your smartphone, easily set on a timer, or dimmed to save energy. Some even feature different colors or the ability to “strobe” to the beat of music.

Smart Outlets

We just covered the lights, but what about other things in your house that use electricity? Appliances, power bars, fans, dehumidifiers, gaming consoles, and televisions all suck up precious (and expensive) electricity. With a smart outlet, you can control exactly when all those things are able to receive power.

We’re not suggesting you turn off the power to your fridge or anything. However, your TV and Xbox both probably consume “vampire power” — a small amount of current that never stops, even when the device is turned off. With enough things plugged in, those costs can add up. Smart outlets and power strips can help fight back against vampire power use.

Whether you’re simply cutting power from 9-to-5 while you’re at work or setting your portable A/C unit to only turn on if the temperature hits a certain high, smart outlets and plugs can save you hundreds of dollars every year. You can also use one to easily turn a “dumb” lamp that you really love into a smart lamp.

ChromeCast

If you’re still living with an old “dumb” TV and clamoring to splash some cash on a fancy new smart one, just hold on. For a super low price, you can buy a Google Chromecast. Even the Ultra version that supports 4K streaming is only $70. This little gizmo turns any dumb TV with an HDMI input into a full-fledged smart device. Just like that, you saved yourself hundreds (or thousands) of dollars by sticking with the TV you already have.

The Chromecast allows you to send various media to your TV screen. Cast Netflix, Disney+, or HBOGo from your phone or tablet to the big screen. Send your Spotify playlists to the TV to avoid playing them through your tiny phone speaker. Third-party apps allow you to set up slideshows of your vacation pictures or even play games.

Smart Chores

So far we’ve mostly talked about ways to save yourself some money. Now let’s discuss how to save some of your precious free time. As the “internet of things” continues to blossom, you can now have a decent amount of your house and yard work automated by robots. What a time to be alive!

For starters, you can get a robo-vacuum. The iRobot Roomba is the most popular brand name, but hardly the only option available. There are dozens of models, each with their own unique features. Some will self-charge. Others can empty themselves into a larger canister, saving you from having to do it frequently. The most expensive models can be controlled and scheduled with an app. They also offer better cleaning and longer battery life.

You can also get a robo mop, although they are less popular and a little more work. Consider them like an automatic Swiffer Wet Jet. The little robot will periodically spray your tile or hardwood surfaces with a bit of cleaner, and then scrub them with replaceable cleaning pads.

What About Outside?

If you live in the suburbs, you probably have a lawn to manage. It needs watering and regular mowing. What a waste of your sunny weekend afternoons! Luckily, there are smart devices to save you the effort. There are already robo-lawnmowers on the market. They work exactly like the Roomba, except for outside. They require a bit of set-up, as you map out of the areas it should and shouldn’t go. For example, you don’t want your robot lawn care to slice up your garden. They run on battery power and are significantly more quiet than a traditional gas mower.

Lastly, there’s even a solution for watering your lawn or garden. The Orbit B-hyve is a smart faucet that you can attach to your hose. Once set up, you can remotely turn the sprinkler on and off. For a more hands-off approach, you can even set up a predetermined watering schedule. Between the vacuum, mower, and smart watering system, you can ditch your housekeeper and lawn guy! Or at least, have a bit more valuable free time for yourself.

Smart Speaker

This device won’t really save you any money, but if you’re going to commit to having a Smart Home, you might as well have a smart speaker too. Again, Google reigns supreme here with either the Google Nest Mini, Google Home line, or the Nest Hub Max. That last one has a vibrant video screen, meaning you can view your security cameras, doorbell, and thermostat status on it. It also displays photos, weather, and is capable of making video calls. Best of all, it all responds to your voice.

If you’re of a certain age, it may seem weird to talk to your house. However, you can bet the next generation will learn it quite naturally. Before long, your kids will come home from school and say “Hey Google, lock the front door, turn on the outside lights, set the heat to 72 degrees, and put on EPSN in the living room.” The future is here!

The Last Word

Whether you want to active savings with lower bills or passive savings via increased home security and spare time, there’s probably a smart home device that will help. However, you should carefully consider the start-up costs before you make the plunge. A video doorbell can run you $250 (plus installation), so don’t bother unless you frequently order expensive items online. And you probably don’t need a $600 robot vacuum if you’re a single person living in a small apartment.

Besides the cost, there’s also the matter of privacy. Amazon’s brand of smart doorbells, Ring, has been under fire lately for extremely concerning privacy reasons. This piece by Gizmodo explains it better, but basically there’s no guarantee that Ring won’t share your information (or footage) with third-parties or local law enforcement.

Google is another data giant, of course. If you use Gmail, Chrome, or an Android phone, you’re already in their ecosystem. With recent acquisitions of Nest and Fitbit, Google may already have access to your data without you even realizing it. They promise to keep it safe, but it seems like there’s a new data breach of some kind in the news every other week. How much of your smart home data you are willing to trust to these giant tech companies is entirely a personal decision.

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