Phones and TVs aren't the only "smart" items. There's also "smart" technology for your home — automation devices and apps that offer convenience, safety and, sometimes, energy savings.
For DIYers, a number of devices are available at local hardware and big box retailers. Devices include The Nest thermostat, which learns your habits and turns the temperature up or down accordingly; ceiling fan controls and light dimmers; door locks and garage door openers; slow cookers that can be monitored and adjusted from anywhere; smart light bulbs; washers and dryers with cycles and timers that can be monitored remotely; and smoke and carbon monoxide monitors.
HomeDepot.com indicates that one of the most valuable devices is a smart thermostat, such as The Nest, which can save as much as 30 percent on a home's energy use. The Nest retails for $199 on homedepot.com.
The website also suggests starting with the smart light bulb, which lets homeowners turn lights on and off from their phone. Some of these bulbs have wireless communications capabilities built in, so they can be directly controlled by your smartphone or tablet. Others require a hub or bridge device to act as a translator.
Don Heany, manager at Haller Enterprises in Lancaster, says one of the simplest systems to start off with controls lighting in the home.
"People don't realize how often they turn lights on and off. It adds to a sense of security if you come home to a lighted house, especially in the winter when many of us leave for work when it's dark and come home in darkness," he says.
A Lutron remote control lighting package, consisting of a network bridge, two dimmers with wall plates and two remotes, retails for $340, not including installation, Heany says.
While smart devices can simplify life and provide additional security, he says the devices may not all utilize the same source code or language, and the fact that each device has its own app can be a bit onerous.
"We offer a whole-home solution that integrates all the devices and rolls them into one application," he says.
He cited the following example of how smart home technology can be used and integrated:
A child arrives home from school and enters a four-digit code to open the door of the home; that code also can reset the thermostat, turn on lighting, turn on music in the child's room, and send a push notification to the parent that the child has arrived home safely.
Heany also points out that Haller's integrated system is a scalable solution onto which additional features can be added. A comprehensive, whole-house system can range from a few thousand dollars on up, he says, depending on its size and scope.
"Smart Home technology relies on the home's Internet network, so the Wi-Fi needs to be rock solid. In addition to interfacing with all of the individual smart home devices, our system also works with both Apple and Android devices. The system can be controlled by an iPhone, iPad, Apple watch or Android-based phones, tablets and watches," he says.
Smart home technology can also control lawn irrigation systems and monitor home plumbing for water leaks, shutting off the water in the event of a leak and sending a push notification to the homeowner.
Window shades can be lowered and raised based on the amount of sunlight.
"It allows a homeowner to take advantage of the warm sunlight and solar heating effects. That's especially helpful in winter. This technology often uses sunrise and sunset times, which means it doesn't have to be reset throughout the year like a timer does," Heaney says.
Motorized blinds are a specialized product. Hunter Douglas has a PowerView system that adds approximately $300 to the cost of window treatments, says Jennifer Wilkinson of Grauer’s Paint & Decorating Center in Lancaster. Shades for the standard window with the system can cost between $500 and $600, she says.
Some people may be cautious about smart home technology due to its use of a home's Wi-Fi and the potential for malfunctions or its possible use by hackers to break into a home.
Heany says many of the manufacturers have been involved in smart home technology for a decade or more. Additionally there are redundancies in the event of malfunctions. They can include actual locks on doors and valves to shut off water. With regard to security, he notes that the systems are very safe.
But, perhaps the best is yet to come. He sees the advent of Ultra HD TV and video as a "game changer."
"To fully take advantage of HDR video (Ultra HD TV), will require utilizing fiber optic cabling. That affects how you wire your home. For new construction, that's easy, but existing homes will have to be retrofitted. That's something we're getting up to speed on right now," he says.
For those of us who watched "The Jetsons" and marveled at the automation in their home, smart technology is pretty cool stuff. We're not quite at the Jetsons’ level yet, but we're on our way.