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samantha_robbins26

Is a “Smart Home” smart?

6 years ago
last modified: 6 years ago

My boyfriend and I are converting a two-flat to a single family home in Chicago. The thing we are thinking through now (before they close up any walls!) ... is what sort of wiring for A/V, Speakers, Security, etc that we want to do. I definitely want to hear music throughout our the home :)

What are some of your favorite tech features in your home?

What tech features do you wish you had considered?

What should we skip?

Comments (51)

  • 6 years ago

    Just be careful what you automate and plan for backup if the power and/or internet go out. Our power went out the other day, so I stepped outside to make sure it was the whole neighborhood and saw the neighbor across the street outside too. He was stuck outside as he couldn't get into his house!

  • 6 years ago

    Check out smartthings. You can do practically anything with it if you are computer savy and willing to learn about it.

    For my build I ran cat6 everywhere. I'm going to hook it up to a POE hub, so I can run access points and cameras in locations without requiring a separate power source. So I can hide my wifi up inside closets.

    Nest and nest protect smoke detectors are nice. If there is a fire or CO, it can shut down your furnace.

    Schlage smart lock is nice too. You can tell when people come and go, lock and unlock your door remotely. My current house is on the market, and I used it to setup the lock such that when we are home, the realtor can't use their code to come in on us.

  • 6 years ago

    - Avoid wireless (cameras, thermostats, security, speakers, etc.) whenever possible. Great in theory, not so much in practice. This especially in a flat where you've got closer neighbors and RF interference from their stuff.

    - If audio quality is important then get someone who knows audio well to help with this. Even just a few inches difference in speaker placement can make a huge difference. A poorly done system can sound hollow and echo'y while a well done system will sound full with no echo.

    - Run some conduits and pull boxes for future cabling needs.

    - Lighting loads can be homerun to closets or other pseudo hidden spaces where hard switches or dimmers can be placed. This gives you the option of hard switches that are always kept on for fixtures w/ LIFX or Hue type lamps or installation of controllable dimmers such as Lutron. In rooms, instead of a bank of switches then all you have is a single small controller (Savant, C4, etc.).


  • PRO
    6 years ago

    Define "smart"...

  • 6 years ago
    Interesting opaone. We are going almost entirely wireless. I feel like tech is changing so fast that any other option is me tossing money on the trash!
  • 6 years ago

    @SophieWheeler, a bit of over-reaction?

  • 6 years ago

    Sophie's of the age where technology is not ingrained in her. But she does bring up a good point. If you can access these smart items from your phone from anywhere, that means anyone else can too if they're savvy enough. Just like your photos in icloud, they're never really safe from hackers. You can do things to increase security and lessen the change, but you can't eliminate it. That's one reason that while I'm intrigued about a smart lock on my doors, it scares the crap out of me that it can be hacked and someone would waltz right in my front door (without a hammer). When adding smart features, be prepared to accept the responsibility of putting your home out on the internet for someone to find and mess with.

  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    It's not really an over-reaction, given Denial of Service attacks and potential for hacking. I've read and heard a number of interviews with cyber security people who say they're avoiding smart home tech in their own homes for this reason.

    https://www.eset.com/ca/about/newsroom/press-releases/latest-smart-home-security-and-privacy-risks-exposed-by-eset-at-mobile-world-congress-2018/

    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/popularity-of-smart-home-devices-raises-cybersecurity-risks/article37171086/ ; from which: "security and legal experts warn that machine-to-machine communication is creating a new level of risk — by providing hackers with new vulnerabilities to exploit. 'I think being suitably paranoid is appropriate when you're dealing with IoT technology,' said Mark McArdle, chief technology officer for eSentire Security."

    http://www.cbc.ca/radio/spark/334-quit-your-job-smart-home-security-and-more-1.3840590/how-safe-is-your-smart-home-1.3840606

    I don't think it's something people should rule out entirely, but one needs to proceed with caution, weight the pros and cons, and understand the consequences. Oh, and understand your risk tolerance.

  • 6 years ago

    I agree to proceed cautiously. Technology is changing rapidly and there's no standardization right now. You could invest in something only to have it be outdated / EOL'd shortly after.

    What we went with:

    1. Nest thermostat. We have had this for years now (in our last place too). Well worth it, especially if you travel a lot and want to be able to control your thermostat from the road.

    2. Alexa / echo dot -- primary uses: controlling some lights in the house, controlling music, and (my favorite feature) using it as an intercomm so we no longer have to yell down or up the stairs. Not all our lights are hooked up to it -- just one arc lamp in our living room, and our two nightstand lamps. And Alexa is not able to order anything for us online.

    3. For music we recently got a Sonos system. It works with Alexa. Idea here is to consolidate devices but we haven't figured that out yet.

    We are also planning on installing the smart locks eventually.


  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    I say skip it all, especially the things that come with a monthly fee. I'd rather put the money into a simple, solid house with good design and details that'll stand the test of time.

  • 6 years ago

    While your walls are open and you have the chance, upgrade your low-voltage wiring as much as you can. We could only get CAT6, but it's enough to run anything we wish. And very affordable. We're in a Google Fiberhood, and yes- the Internet is every bit as fast as they say. Um, TV service? Lol... Even still CAT6 will last us a good long time. Do you have residential fiber available? Price it out.

    Make sure you plan wiring for security systems. Again- in-wall, and ready to go. I also highly suggest, if you have a garage or a car port, that you wire it for an electric car. Even if you don't have one, they're becoming more and more popular. Open walls, new wiring? It'd small dollars

    Like you, my husband and I LOVE music all over. At first, we we reticent to put it in. We actually owned a house from the 80's that had the "latest" technology"- Oh, my- a unit to run the intercom with a CASSETTE TAPE DECK.

    No worries. Make sure, if you have different levels, that you have zones. Separate wall volume control. Mr. and I can listen to different things, on different levels. A variety of products like Sonos and Pandora- and a total mix- are very easy to hook in. And our TV is hooked in, too.

    Sounds silly, but if anybody in your house is a "soaker", don't neglect the master bath. My husband is a serious soaker- candles, music, lights, reading. The speakers can be easily changed out, if you ever want to upgrade.

    We have a Nest. It plays very well with our HVAC system. Our electric bills are ridiculously low, and we live and work here. 24/7 climate control, no matter what, as we also have a doggie.

    Sit down with your people and get into it. You'll see. Good luck.

  • 6 years ago

    And here we have the opposite end of the spectrum. lol

    Before you pre-wire for your alien landing pad, sit down and understand your needs and wants for the future. Don't waste money pre-wiring for something you'll never use. If you even think of running a security system, do some research to see what potential vendors might use/require before installing the wrong wiring. Same for wiring for an electric car. Unless you have one now or are looking to buy one in the next 5 years, then again, figure out what is needed. otherwise, anything you install now will probably need to be replaced when new standards come out later. You're better off wiring a sub-panel to the garage if the main panel isn't there already.

    For inside the house, cat6 and rg6 in every room and anywhere you plan to put av and computer equipment are great ideas and relatively inexpensive. This allows to you to add wireless access points, or connect whatever devices you have wherever you want.. Cat6 is more than plenty for the foreseeable future, some are still only installing cat5. Run speaker wires to any room you think you'll want to have in-wall speakers. You don't need to install speakers now, just leave them tied up in the rafters so when you want to install, they're ready to go.

    If you're considering more than these basics, what else are you thinking of?

  • 6 years ago

    No, a smart home is not smart. Too many potential security leaks. IoT devices are notorious for being insecure (poorly and/or carelessly designed).

    Many of the corporations offering them are making much of their revenue selling your personal behavioral data. They tell you it's anonymized, but that's easily bypassed.

    There have even been cases where sensitive data sent from IoT devices were left on open, unsecured servers for anyone to download.

    I'm no Luddite, but I won't have any device or appliance in my house that sends or receives data over the net without my approving every data transaction every time. But if for you the convenience is worth the risk, that's your choice to make. Just make sure you really know what your "smart" stuff is telling its minders about you.

  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Smart does not necessarily mean connected to the internet so you can be hacked, spied on or whatever.

    I overwired my last house and I say that because I never used things after 8 years and no one else will.

    What we did use was speakers - for about 3 years then we stopped. We did use security. I found central video not helpful because of the ever changing and finicky cable boxes.

    This time - I am going to be a minimalist but that still involves RG6 drops for TVs, cat 6 drops for TVs, and security.

  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    A few thoughts:

    - Electric Car Charging. Run wire for 240v/80a service to each car location. Yes, chargers may change but the service line to them will not. Every single person I know who's driven electric (purchase, test drive, friend) says that they will never buy another gas car. Manufacturers are all, except Suburu, focusing their future on electric.

    - Internet Security. Yes, this is an issue, but don't over-react. Firstly, there is a difference in smart home type functionality and remote access. Second, remote access can be made quite secure. That said, it is often not made quite secure so hire good knowledgable people to do it and learn as much as you can yourself about it.

    Do you have a laptop or computer connected to the internet? Does it have any sensitive data on it? Network security is critical and should never be ignored or given short shrift. But long before saying that lights or thermostats shouldn't be automated, people should stop connecting their laptop to the internet. I don't want to risk loosing a dollar but I'll gladly risk loosing my identity and hundreds of thousands of dollars?

    - Wireless. @Alison, you are lucky if you're not having problems. The problem with wireless is that the environment it operates in changes constantly. Sometimes something as simple as moving a bit of furniture causes signal problems. Most often the problem is a neighbor installing something that causes interference. When they were installing wireless, integrators would have everything working and then the homeowner would begin having problems some weeks or months later and it was almost always due to interference from some new device that the homeowner or a neighbor had purchased. Hardwired doesn't cost that much more but is massively more reliable.

  • 6 years ago
    Opaone maybe I’m just ignorant to the type of wiring your mean. We have hardwired several things that I don’t think I will change but didn’t for security or speakers and we won’t have a smart home in terms of thermostats etc. I spoke to friends and family with wireless alarms and they love it. As for speakers and sounds systems we don’t have/need one really. So we didn’t wire for anything. But our TV and data is set up like most homes.
  • 6 years ago

    We don't own a tv and have no plans to ever own one, but we did wire our house in every conceivable place some future owner might want to have one.

  • 6 years ago

    I assume on your security system that only sensors are wireless and pads are hardwired so that you'll at least always have the ability to arm/disarm, see status and error codes, etc.?

    I believe the number one item to fail is wireless cameras, second are door and window sensors, and then internal stuff like motions, glasses, smokes, water sensors, etc. As I said above, every environment is different and environments change frequently. The question with wireless is what your tolerance is for stuff not working?

    Maybe once or twice a month we cannot access one of our thermostats for a bit. Not a big deal; if we're home we do it manually, if we're gone it doesn't get done until we can access it. What is the risk if your security system goes down 2 days in to a 3 week holiday?

  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    A lot of this smart stuff is super convenient....till it breaks, or the power goes out, or something else goes wrong. And then this simple household thing (blinds, faucets, whatever) that previously would last decades without any problems, suddenly needs expensive repairs, or has to be replaced, or requires that you take half a day off work so you can wait for the repair guy, etc.
    I’m very inclined to keep it simple unless there is enormous benefit to be had by going “smart”.

  • 6 years ago
    Honestly we’ve never had a security system in our life. So if a sensor fails or the system goes down I don’t care one bit. The fact that I will have cameras on the rear yard is more for watching kids than fear of a break in. I’m not an alarmist...pun intended. We aren’t worried.
  • 6 years ago

    In answer to my question then, your tolerance is quite high :-)


  • 6 years ago

    @drdeb1234, I agree. All depends on how you want to use it.

    We currently have a Control 4 system (and likely the last C4 system we'll have).

    - Most use is my wife turning on TV or radio or streaming of some sort. It's fairly simple one-button access from a C4 remote or her iDevice to whatever she wants wherever she is. No multiple remotes or figuring out what's plugged in to what and what to select to go from Apple TV to local TV (though we're getting rid of cable so all TV watching will be via Apple TV).

    - We can turn the heat or ac on ahead of our arrival so we're not walking in to a 55°f house that we then have to wait to warm up. We can turn it down after we've left for a weekend away and forget to do it before.

    - When going to bed I can see that all doors are locked or not. Very nice, especially as I'm getting older (I'm likely older than @Sophie Wheeler).

    - I can remotely lock/unlock the back door for friends or neighbors to get in when we're gone. Same with opening/closing the garage door. AND, I can remotely close the garage door when I forget and remember as we're sitting down to dinner. When you get older you'll understand :-)

    - Even just the lock by itself is nice because I don't have to remember a key, just my code, which fortunately I'm not yet quite so old that I forget.

    - There's a gob of comfort when traveling that we can check on the status of things like no alarms, cleaning folks locked the door when they left, flood sensors indicate no water leaks, furnace is still working because it's 55°f inside when -20°f outside, all looks well on cameras, etc.

    - We can see if there've been any package deliveries.

    - Lighting. It's nice to press a button vs having to run around the house turning things off at night. The ability to create scenes with lights at various and pleasing levels for differing activities is nice. Newer RGBA LED's allow for some fun color stuff. And some practical color stuff... We have a downlight centered over our toilet bowl. It's white during the day but is dim deep red at night. It's enough light to see to get to the bathroom safely and for 50% of us helps with aim. AND, red is least disturbing of sleep (vs white or any color). Bluish light wakes us up and helps improve our mood and lessen problems like SAD. So, when I get time to do some programming, lights will have either a bluish color temp like 56k or maybe even be a pale blue color in the mornings.

    After a number of years we've not been affected by power outages as lights and other stuff don't work when the power is out anyway and I think we've had one service call to fix a non-responsive thermostat. Knock on digital wood.

    ------

    - Our new house will have electric shades inside and electric phantom screens and shades outside. The phantom screens were an easy choice, we'll use these multiple times per week in summer. We were originally planning manual blinds (like roll-up matchstick) on our west facing porch to deal with the late afternoon sun but are now doing electric. One advantage of electric is we will be able to program them to go down with the sun and so reduce energy costs from passive solar heat in the summer (and likely make inside a bit more comfortable). Inside will be nice in general, but particularly for my wife when she's home alone.

    These are perhaps by overwhelming biggest worry from a maintenance standpoint. Many people we know have had them for years or decades without problems so hopefully that good record continues.


  • 6 years ago

    Best plan for the future, is to make the system accessible, changeable, and plan to expand it. The "latest system" 15 years ago is a joke today, if you put that into perspective. Have a big enough chase from the bottom floor up to the attic or wherever would allow you to easily pull new wires around (watch fire code). Use cat6 networking cable or better, run boxes to multiple places even if you won't use them right away. Low by the floor for computer/gaming/filesharing, high on the wall for tv mounts, ceiling for wifi router locations. I'm no expert, but speaking generally.


    Do you want a real system or a "smart hub"? Most of the Wink/SmartThings/etc hubs are mesh networks that are made to be afterthoughts. Their outlets and switches can be easily swapped out with existing components too. IMO the smart hubs are net and do some cool things, but they're not gonna automate your house or do many useful things

  • 6 years ago

    We are planning to use the Lutron Caseta system to control most of our lights and skylight shades at the recommendation of our electrician. We also ran speaker wires through our great room ceiling because it will be inaccessible once it is closed up next week. We plan on getting a Sonos system and using Alexa to control everything.

    Not sure about doing a smart lock... I have to pick a front door locking system in a few weeks. Not sure I am ready for smart locks though. I will have to do some research.

    We aren't running any cat6 and rg6 because IMO these are already dated tech and we haven't used them for years. If you set up your router and extenders properly, you will not have wifi issues (our 4k TV works great on wifi).

    I just wish electricity would go wireless... I am trying to figure out if the outlets in our laundry room are enough to charge vacuums or if I should add one to the closet.

  • 6 years ago

    Can I ask you what brand of skylight shades did you find that work with Caseta?


  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Cat6 is not dated for streaming. Wireless can't touch wired speeds or stability. I wire everything I possibly can, so I don't ever have to worry about wireless issues.

    Of course, if your performance is good enough for you over wireless, then to each their own.

  • 6 years ago

    clt3, we prewired for the Sivoia QS tension shade. We will have to get the Caseta Pro however to get it to work with this shade.

    Steve J, you only need 25 Mbps for streaming 4k. Right now on my wifi I can get 5 times that (and it should be even faster). Can't imagine why you would need faster. Any wifi instability is improper set up or old/bad router issues. Also, it will continue to get better. There is a reason macs don't even have ethernet ports anymore... dated tech. In 5-10 years people will look at them like telephone wires.

  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    I guess same reason people are happy they don't put headphones on iPhones either?

    Very few computers come with nics anymore, they want you to buy their dongles, and they have limited space for add on cards.

    Try living in a congested area where everyone is clueless about wireless signals and all blast the same ones and crank it up with no thought, understaning, or regard. You don't always get the best wifi signal even if your house is configured properly.


  • 6 years ago
    It seems from reading the comments there is a huge range of feelings on this. Big surprise! Joking aside I think it’s neat to read all the options but it’s still totally fine for someone to go no tech, me to go wireless and someone else to make their home super tech filled. No one way.
  • 6 years ago

    As with much in life, It's entirely personal opinion and subjective to your wants and needs, there normally is no right or wrong way. There are better ways to address some needs/wants however.

  • 6 years ago
    Agree Steve. This is also an international forum though and the needs of one person in one area can differ greatly from someone in another. Hard to make blanket statements on anything
  • 6 years ago

    Not only that, products in one area may not even be obtainable in another.

  • 6 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    There is a reason macs don't even have ethernet ports anymore... dated tech. In 5-10 years people will look at them like telephone wires.

    All Macs have ethernet ports, even the Mac mini, Macbooks do not.

    Ethernet isn't going away any time soon. Wireless is still a radio wave and it is subject to all the limitations of radio waves. If all you want to do is stream then wireless is great (maybe even preferred), however, if anyone in your house is gaming, then latency becomes a lot more important than bandwidth and wired connections are the hands down winner there.

    If you have a gaming console then Cat5e or Cat 6 are money well spent. Also I prefer PoE security systems and would avoid wireless systems. Finally, I have a dedicated wired computer (laptop with wifi removed) for my investment accounts, and that is admittedly a little paranoid but it is cheap and easy protection.

  • 6 years ago

    "I have a dedicated wired computer (laptop with wifi removed) for my
    investment accounts, and that is admittedly a little paranoid but it is
    cheap and easy protection."

    I don't think that's paranoid at all. It's just good sense. I also have a dedicated laptop for financial records. It has neither WiFi nor Ethernet connections. All communication with it is by sneakernet. It may not be very convenient, but I'll never have to worry about it getting malware or someone breaking into it.

  • 5 years ago

    @Sophie Wheeler "It’s really smart to have your home hacked and your refrigerator tells your click list to buy 10,000 gallons of milk, and your furnace has a 85 degree temp for your heat.

    Yes, I’m a curmudgeon. But I dont think it’s a burden to make a grocery list and to actually stand in front of the thermostat to create the setback parameters."


    I agree with you completely. I believe that we should only allow technology to do our chores to a certain extent. My gf and I make our lives simpler with our smart display. We simply add items to the same shopping list whenever we realise something is running low. By the end of the week we are able to compile a list that we can access from our phones when we are out getting our stuff.. This way i never forget the things she needs me to get and saves me a whole lot of nagging lol

  • 5 years ago

    John Tan: I don't understand why " we are out getting our stuff. " Surely you just phone it in or order online. Why would you waste time actually leaving the house to go to the store. Technology allows you to connect electronically and never see a retail store.

  • 5 years ago

    We are in the planning stages of our house now and I am also starting to think about this. At the moment I am leaning towards, ring for security, sonos for music and aleksa to control it all. I am still going to run cat 6a to all tv and computer locations to make things more stable and reduce the load on wireless as we use ATVs for all our TV streaming. I will run speaker wires in the media room for surround sound. But all other items will probably be wireless. It seems to be where things are headed.

  • 5 years ago

    Ring for security? Its a doorbell cam. I have one, it can't detect what it can't see. If you are running cat6 wires anyway, I'd highly recommend running wires to where you would like security cameras placed, inside and out. Then can you can get IP PoE cameras and run your own NVR server on an old computer, and have complete control over your surveillance video and not have to pay a monthly fee for it.

  • 5 years ago

    trashcanman


    Ring has added a lot of new items lately, the have a full alarm system with sensors for doors, windows and motion sensors. It can also tie into fire, co2 sensors and also water flooding detectors. It also ties into their doorbell camera and outdoor motion cameras and lights. Its now a full system with monitoring for $10 a month.

  • 5 years ago

    I posted a link about that in another thread! Crazy stuff

  • 5 years ago

    trashcanman, there is no reason you can't build your own with wifi cams... I think running cat 5 everywhere is very dated.

    I hope to build a security system for our house someday, but I would never store it on a local server as that could get stolen if someone breaks in. I haven't researched it yet, but I would hope I could find some HD wifi cams I where I could stream encoded video directly to the cloud (my own s3 buckets ideally) or at least a cloud hosted server that I could have write s3. I did use to work on video software, but it has been a while... so I think it would be a fun project.

    Like your user name by the way.

  • 5 years ago
    We are almost done our new build and don’t run anything wired for security. We feel like wireless options are super efficient and easy. We are focusing on nest doorbell, cameras, thermostat and smoke detectors.
  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    @robinlmorris - You are right, running cat 5 everywhere is dated. You should be running cat 6. Wired will always be faster and more reliable. If you have neighbors close by, you are sharing that wireless space with them, and as they add more devices, your speed and reliability will trend downward. I have wifi devices on my network too, I just try and use wired where it makes sense.

  • 5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    I would love wifi music, we shall see. It will depend as I can't stand many of the "services" out there. What I want is to run my OWN music with a chance to listen to new stuff I don't know about, when I want to explore.

    I am getting a wireless doorbell - looking into seeing if I can get an option that I'd also hear when out at the chicken coop, way out back.

    My robot vacuum cleaner apparently has wireless... so he can return to its docking station when his battery is low. That's fine. (Amusingly, guests want to know if Shark is my Internet provider and can they tap in...)

    Otherwise, I'm not really interested in the Internet of Things.

    PS, I am not close enough to my neighbors that they can tap into my Internet.

  • 5 years ago

    trashcanman, I meant cat 6 obviously. I've had this argument further up on this thread (where I did say cat 6), but you just can't convince some people that technology improves/changes.

    "If you have neighbors close by, you are sharing that wireless space with them, and as they add more devices, your speed and reliability will trend downward".

    Just to reiterate, this is a dated way of thinking... there is very little to no interference with modern 5G routers. Anecdotal proof: I am sitting in my tiny temporary city apartment where there are 28 other wifi networks available, and I can still watch perfect 4K TV through my wifi and my internet is super fast.

    In 10-15 years, those of you running cat 6 will have to tell stories about the old days when the internet ran through wires and devices had these strange "ethernet ports" every time a kid asks about the strange useless outlets on your walls.


    artemis_ma, I did run audio wire for speakers.... even though Apple is convinced that wireless sound is ready for prime time, I don't think we are quite there yet. I think we will be soon, but I am not willing to wait a few years to listen to music (also speakers in the ceiling do need power some how). I am pretty happy with Spotify for what you are describing, but that is an entirely different conversation.

  • 4 years ago

    nice

  • 2 years ago

    Those 2018 comments didn’t date well with WFH. Latency is a huge issue that is solved by wired internet. We have great download speeds but can’t zoom and online game at the same. Hardwired the PS and zero issues. Hard wiring cat6 is worth it!

  • 2 years ago

    Latency is not at all a huge issue. A properly designed and installed WiFi system will be fine for anything except hard-core gaming. If latency is a problem for anything else, including video-conferencing then there's a problem w/ the WiFi system that s/b addressed. FWIW, we have frequently had 4 different video conferences going at once over our WiFi with no issues (along with streaming and other uses).

    I'm a proponent of hardwiring everything possible as that is a better way to go but people should not be scared of WiFi.

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