I have always considered myself to be something of a technophile, embracing each new gadget as a conduit of knowledge and organization that culminates in a really snazzy design. But it appears I may be wrong. You see, as I began my holiday shopping and drafted my technology wish list for the new year, I quickly realized that I have not even scratched the surface!
For instance, I’ve been keeping mental notes about how many eggs I have when I could have snagged a WiFi-enabled egg tray that uses a smartphone app to share the quantity and freshness of the product in my fridge. I’ve also been sacrificing precious space in my purse for an umbrella, just in case of rain, when I could have invested in an umbrella that checks the weather for me and alerts me on days I’ll need it. Most importantly, all these years I’ve been whisking cream and sugar into my morning brew by hand when I could have just purchased a self-stirring coffee mug. How have I survived without these products?
While these particular gizmos may not drastically improve my life, the good news is that the market is packed with items that are designed to do just that. From energy-efficient control systems to interactive appliances, the options are limitless. If you want to learn how to make your home and life more efficient and perhaps more comfortable by harnessing the power of technology, follow along as I share my newly gleaned insights.
The world forever changed when Apple introduced Siri, our chipper, knowledgeable, handheld guide. Now, my friends, voice assistants have emerged from our phones and earned a rightful place in our homes and our hearts. The most widely acclaimed of these, the Amazon Echo, is a nearly 10-inch tall, slender, black cylinder that can perch on any counter or tabletop. Other options include Google Home, ivee, Cubic, Athom Homey, Mycroft and more. Regardless of brand, these ever-present attendants can add items to a grocery list, set a timer, play your favorite tunes, and even answer your burning questions like, “What is Bob Saget’s middle name?”
With your important queries out of the way, you can focus on bigger issues such as an inventory of your household goods. Luckily, technology is ready to save the day once again. With the flip of a switch, or, more accurately, the push of an Amazon Dash button, your favorite items—laundry detergent, paper towels, pasta, batteries and beyond—will automatically re-order.
Measuring only a few inches long, this handy button is emblazoned with the brand you wish to order, and you can purchase the button on, you guessed it, Amazon. Once the button arrives at your home, remove the sticky back and place it on the wall near your stock of the product. If you have little ones with eager fingers running around the house, have no fear. You’ll receive an order confirmation request before your merchandise ships.
These days, lighting embodies true luxury. Specialty lamps, like the Wake-up Light from Philips, soothe your body as you rise from your slumber, slowly brightening the light over the course of 20 to 40 minutes prior to the alarm you set on the device. What’s more, smart light bulbs, such as the BeOn LED version, learn your lighting use patterns as you turn lights on and off in your home; you can also input preferences via an app. A comforting safety precaution, you can use the provided key fob to select “home” or “away.” The away setting notifies the BeOn light to mimic your typical lighting actions. For instance, if someone rings the doorbell when you’re not home, the lights will automatically illuminate bulbs to simulate your progress from a far room toward the front door. Additionally, your lights will shine for up to five hours during a power outage. Who says luxury can’t also be safe?
The latest advances in home safety and security extend far beyond smart lighting. Have you ever heard the doorbell ring and wish you could see who it was before you approached the door? Now you can. Products such as the SkyBell HD WiFi Video Doorbell stream real-time video of your visitors to your smartphone. Many of these items also integrate with voice assistants like those used in Amazon Echo, allowing you to verbally respond to your guest. Additionally, new in 2016, video doorbells are beginning to partner with systems like Nest— featuring security cameras, thermostats, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and more—which enables you to control your full suite of automated systems from one app.
Sometimes threats are silent. Smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, such as the version from Nest, now have a longer life expectancy—upward of a decade!—and test themselves nearly 400 times a day. More importantly, instead of the frightening chirp to which we’ve grown accustomed, a soothing human voice will alert you to the location and nature of the issue. You can also silence the alarm from your smartphone, meaning no more time spent fanning the smoke detector when you accidentally burn the popcorn! When paired with an associated smart thermostat, your home will also automatically shut off your furnace in the event of a fire or a carbon monoxide leak, preventing a much larger issue!
When considering any products like these, it’s a good idea to visit your local hardware store or contact your energy provider or HVAC company. They can answer questions and perhaps recommend other options. Nothing beats a face-to-face conversation when discussing home safety!
While energy-efficient systems may not be the flashiest piece of technology, everyone can appreciate lower utility bills, especially during the chilly winter months. From thermostats to smartplugs, there is no shortage of ways to make your home more efficient.
Many smart thermostats, such as the lauded Nest, have made their way onto the market. Just as the smart light bulbs learn patterns, so do these products, resulting in 10 to 15 percent energy savings. For instance, if you turn down the heat before bed each night and then crank it up each morning, your thermostat takes note and begins to make these changes automatically. It can also alert you in the event of a problem, such as low temperatures that could cause a pipe to burst.
For other early alerts, consider the addition of a leak detection system, such as Wally, Fibaro Flood Sensor, or Utilitech Water Leak Detector. While each system utilizes different technology—Bluetooth, Z-wave, copper wires and others—these items are designed to alert homeowners to developing leaks that could lead to mold as well as major water emergencies. Again, local hardware stores usually have trained experts ready to help you choose the best option for your home.
Despite their small size, smartplugs pack a mighty punch. Products such as Zuli and Wemo allow you to use your smartphone to control any appliance plugged into that outlet. Even more impressive, you can set preferences for the appliance dictating when you would like it turned on and off. The associated app also keeps a record of your energy use and, more importantly, your cost savings!
It wouldn’t be a discussion about home technology without mention of appliances. From kitchen scales to refrigerators, the world will never be the same with these innovative ideas.
Smart refrigerators are the way of the future. Options such as the Samsung Family Hub require only an open mind and an Ethernet connection. With these two items, your family will refrigerate like never before. A WiFi-enabled touchscreen makes it easy to manage grocery lists, coordinate your family’s schedule, and leave reminders (or a honey-do list!). That’s not all. Many of these smart fridges feature built-in interior cameras that snap photos of the shelves each time the door closes and then transmit the images to your smartphone so you can access them at any time. Say goodbye to those moments of panic in the dairy section when you can’t remember the status of your milk supply.
If recipe measurements seem like a foreign language, products such as the Drop kitchen scale empower you to master any recipe. This wireless scale and recipe app helps any home cook craft delicious concoctions with any amount of ingredients. For instance, if you select a delectable cookie to bake and then realize you don’t have enough flour, simply place the ingredient on the wireless scale and then let the app recalculate the amount needed of the other items. The app also features step-by-step instructions and swift video tutorials to walk you through even the most complicated culinary delights.
Life also got a little smoother in the laundry room. Products like the LG Styler Clothing Care System create a steamy chamber for your wrinkled items. Resembling a tall, narrow closet, this no-plumbing-required minimalist item features a vibrating hanger, pants press, an aroma kit, and a sanitizer, making it the perfect accessory to your laundry routine.
Fun and Frivolous
One of my favorite new products is a smart piggy bank, like the Porkfolio by Quirky. These ingenious, and adorable, devices sync with an app to keep track of your balances and financial goals. What better way to teach young ones about fiscal responsibility?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just one more item that’s top of my shopping list: a WiFi-enabled grilling thermometer such as Tappecue. Grill masters, rejoice! With WiFi probes and a complementary app, you can relax with friends while your meat securely cooks. When it reaches the appropriate temperature, you’ll receive an alert on your phone. Easy!
Though I may have been a Luddite before—unbeknownst to me—after a holiday season of research, I now feel well-versed in all aspects of home technology. From energy efficient gadgets to luxurious lighting, I have my priority purchases mapped out.
The rapid progression of technology can spark hesitation. However, I encourage you to delve into a little research and consult local experts in your area. Make your own wish list of smart items and then weigh the pros and cons. Will that purchase lower your energy costs? Will it increase the resale value of your home? Will it make it easier to get ready for work in the morning? Will it help your children finally learn who Bob Saget is? These are not questions to be lightly considered. Though if you find yourself in a true conundrum, I feel confident there is a technological advance on its way to help you!