Paul’s Tech Makeover: Baby Steps to a Smarter Home (Premium)

Anyone interested in smart home technologies will immediately run into a long list of issues: Cost, the complexity of dealing with multiple ways of doing the same thing, and the difficulty of retrofitting a traditional home with cloud-connected, smartphone- or voice-controlled devices. It's hard to know where to start. And how deep you should dive in.

And then there are the people who have to deal with this unfamiliar technology. About a year ago, when we were plotting our move to Pennsylvania, I convinced my wife that part of the home renovation we'd be doing should include some level of smart home integration. But she was worried about the costs and complexity, understandably. So I told her we'd try to be, ahem, smart about it. Move in measured steps.

Flash forward several months and I finally noticed that when my wife walked around the house, turning off lights before she went to bed, she would leave one untouched: A lamp in the living with a Philips Hue smart lightbulb. I asked her about that and she said she was afraid to touch it. That if she turned it off normally, it might stop working. And ... that's on me.

We often joke about "spousal acceptance factor" when it comes to big purchases. But it's real, and there's also a familial acceptance factor, if you will, to consider when it comes to adding smart tech to your home. It's not smart if everyone living there doesn't understand it. Or won't use it.

Also, what if you don't even own your home and can't rewire the place? Or simply don't want to pay an electrician, or do the work yourself, to handle more complex in-wall work? You need to understand the options. And then you need to make the right decisions for your own situation.

There are all kinds of ways to start. But I think it helps to think about what, exactly, you can make smart---interior and exterior lights, light switches, power receptacles, thermostats, home security of all kinds, shades, doorbells, and more, plus items on the periphery like TV, music, speakers, and the like---and then go from there.

And then you can choose where to start. Think about what makes sense what doesn't. Where you can (or should) mix and match. And where you should leave well enough alone.

I like to think of these things in terms of rooms.

Looking at my home office, as an example, I see three lights (a lamp, a table lamp, and a ceiling light), one wall switch (which controls the ceiling light), and sets of power receptacles, and, a control box for the room's heating.

(That last bit is unique to my home, as we have electric heat and every single room has its own heating control. This is good in some ways, but ponderous and complex. And it makes a single whole-home temperature control system both difficult and expensive since we'd have to replace every single control box in the house. There are at least 16 of them, off the top of my head.)

So what are the options for making just this one room "smart"?

The sheer expen...

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