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Smart homes

How To Turn Your Home Into A Smart Home

Modern technology allows us to easily upgrade our homes to smart homes. Smart homes afford us the ability to automate certain aspects of our homes in order to enhance our daily living. These changes and upgrades in technology enable you to customize your living space, control key systems remotely, and can even help you become more energy efficient.

While this added convenience is appealing to many, there are some things to consider before you begin your transition to a smart home.

First and foremost, you should set a budget for your upgrades. While smart technology was once thought of as a luxury only available to the wealthy, many devices are more affordable these days, making it easier for more people to make the switch.

Your budget will depend on many different factors, such as the size of your home and your personal goals for this endeavor. You will want to consider how many systems and appliances you want to automate and how integrated you would like your systems to be. For example, if your home is already wired for high-performance broadband connection, you can keep a tight budget. On the other hand, adding devices throughout your entire home will likely cost a significant amount more, necessitating a larger budget.

When choosing your devices, pay attention to the different levels of integration. Also, consider using products from brands that partner with other smart-home device makers to ensure compatibility and future expansions. Because these brands may offer special deals, you may even end up saving money.

Brainstorm By Room
Once you’ve considered all the practicalities of this smart home upgrade, you can start brainstorming about what you would like for each room. Keep in mind that the goal of a smart home is to make your life more convenient. Remember, what works for some people may not work for you. For the best result, your smart home should be tailored to you and your lifestyle.

With that being said, begin by evaluating each room individually. What does this room do? How could smart technology help this room? Take the kitchen, for example. If you loaded the dishwasher, but forgot to start it, you could do so remotely and come home to clean dishes ready for dinner.

Prioritize Installation
Once you have an idea of what you want, prioritization is next. The most important products to start with are likely those which you use every day.

One way to prioritize is to consider automating from the outside in. Start with how to get in and out of your home, which may include smart locks or smart garage door openers. Next, you may want to consider smart lighting, to avoid fumbling in the dark upon arrival, or a smart thermostat to conserve energy and create your ideal climate.

Making the initial switch is the biggest step. Once you get accustomed to the convenience and efficiency, you will likely find new ways to incorporate more smart devices into your daily routine.

Smart Devices For Every Room
Once you’ve tackled the big stuff, here are a few smaller, simpler options you may want to consider implementing in your new smart home.

  • Smart outlet adapters in the living room allow you to plug in different devices and control them remotely through an app on a smartphone or device.
  • Motorized drapes for the bedroom let you easily adjust the lighting and privacy without getting out of bed.
  • Ditch your half-asleep coffee brewing ritual in the morning by installing a smart coffee maker in your kitchen, which you can control through an app.
  • Remote garage door access allows you to open, close, and monitor your garage door from anywhere at any time.

Have you considered or are you currently using smart technology within your home? Which do you find is the most convenient? Share your thoughts and experiences with us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

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Go Green With Smart Home Automation

Summertime is here, which means the heat (and your electricity bill) is rising. You may not have considered it before, but smart home automation can help you manage your energy consumption. By wasting less energy and using it more efficiently, not only will you be saving money on bills, but you can reduce your carbon footprint.

We could all use a little help when it comes to efficient energy consumption. To put our energy use in perspective, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans spend $241 billion on energy per year (approximately $2,100 per household).

So how can smart home automation help?

Smart Lighting
How many times have you left a room and forgot to turn off the light? According to the International Energy Agency, lighting accounts for 19% of global electricity use. Smart lighting can prevent you from wasting energy.

Thanks to infrared and photo cell technology, smart lights can distinguish whether there’s sufficient natural light in a given room or portion of a home. Along with motion detection, there smart devices can adjust your lighting accordingly in an effort to reduce unnecessary use.

Dimmers and lighting control solutions can also help. These devices reduce use by a 1:1 ratio, meaning if you dim your lights about 30%, your usage decreases by 30%. Added bonus: smart lighting can help to enhance the ambiance for parties or events.

Smart Thermostats
It’s nice to walk into your home when it is set to the perfect temperature, but leaving your heater or air conditioner on all the time is not necessarily ideal. The U.S. Department of Energy states that heating and cooling constitute roughly half of your utility bill.

Luckily, smart thermostats allow you to control your thermostat remotely. In case you forget to turn off your system, or you want to start it up as you arrive home, you can access your thermostat with your smart phone or device. Furthermore, zone-based thermostats can divide your home into sections so that unoccupied rooms are not needlessly being cooled or heated.

Smart Power Strips
When you turn out the lights at night, do you see glowing LEDs staring at you? These are known as idle currents (“electronic vampires” if you will), which continue to use energy when left plugged in. Idle power accounts for 10% of household electricity use, which may seem like nothing, but it can certainly add up.

Instead of unplugging all of your devices when they are not actively in use, you might want to consider installing smart power strips. These can monitor your devices and detect when they go into standby mode and automatically shut them down.

There are plenty other options out there, such as smart irrigation systems and automatic faucets to help reduce water consumption. And amid the drought in California, this could be extremely beneficial. Do you employ any smart home devices that help your energy or water consumption? Share your favorites with us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.

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Security Flaws Of Smart Home Systems

Smart homes allow you to connect different aspects of your home, including things like appliances, alarms, and sensors. Most find this concept alluring since you can control your appliances and home security remotely, allowing you peace of mind whether you are at home or away.

With the convenience provided by these smart home systems comes considerable risk. Some devices, while acting as a helpful tool, could end up hurting you if access to your system fell into the wrong hands.

In hopes to identify potential security risks and call attention to producers of smart home systems and devices, a team made up of Earlence Fernandes, Jaeyeon Jung, and Atul Prakash joined forces to look at different systems. The systems under study were those that were larger and more popular with consumers. They looked at common features, how devices interacted with each other, which third-party apps were supported, and most importantly, security features, among other aspects.

From this study, two major flaws were found:

Akin to your smartphone asking for permission to access certain things on your phone, certain smart home devices and apps can access different functions with your permission. The problem therein lies in how these functions are grouped together.

For example, if an app can automatically lock a door after 9pm, it likely has the privilege to unlock it, although that function is not necessary. The app developer cannot ask for permission to lock a door without the ability to unlock it.

Most apps have access to more functions than they need, putting your security at risk.

Because devices and apps can communicate through messaging (think instant messenger), sensitive data sent through this system can be vulnerable. For example, a door lock’s PIN code may be sent in a message. Since these messages are not entirely secure, any software that has the most basic access to your device can receive all the messages that the device generates or receives.

Other apps can also “impersonate” smart home equipment, in that, they can send messages that look like messages sent from real smart home devices. The phony app could possibly read and steal the network’s ID and then create a message.

Testing The Flaws
The team of researchers then created four different attacks to show how attackers could use the aforementioned flaws to their advantage.

For the first attack, they created an app that’s purpose was to simply monitor battery levels of various wireless devices around the home. However, after a user downloads the app, it can be reprogrammed to monitor other messages sent by those devices.

In the second attack, they were able to listen to the supposedly secure messages between an app and its companion mobile device. The team was able to impersonate the mobile device and send commands to the app, such as creating a new PIN which would give an attacker access to your home.

The third and fourth attacks involved disabling and enabling different functions. For example, a custom app could disable “vacation mode,” which allows the system to turn lights on and off to make the home seem as if it is occupied. Another app was able to falsely trigger a fire alarm by acting as a carbon monoxide monitor.

Security Improvements
Just because smart home systems currently have security flaws does not mean these systems and the Internet of Things do not have great potential. As of now, if you are considering adopting a smart home system, much like anything else, proceed with caution. You might want to think twice about giving third party apps access to your devices, and do some research on the security of the system you choose.

As security and technology improves with these systems, the Internet of Things and smart home systems will likely see much wider adoption. This could eventually lead to better quality of living.

Have you considered adopting a smart home system now or in the future? Do you currently employ any smart home devices? Share your thoughts and experiences with us on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or Pinterest.

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