Smart, Savvy Home Appliances

Our homes may not be as automated as The Jetsons, that childhood cartoon we remember from the 1960s (but set in 2064), but we’re getting closer with today’s “smart” technology.

For years, consumers have enjoyed being able to set timers that automatically send their dishwashers, washing machines and ovens into motion at appointed times—making those homekeeping tasks occur at convenient times of day. But now, home appliances getting are even smarter.

Some new appliances, such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and ovens, can be controlled with a touch-screen interface on the appliance, or from your smartphone. These built-in apps can send you alerts, notify you when the washer is finished, or send you status updates of your refrigerator’s water filter. LG, GE and Whirlpool are three companies in the forefront of the technology, with new ones being introduced all the time.

One aspect of smart technology in the home that’s gaining ground is the ability to check on and control multiple appliances and devices from a smartphone, tablet or computer. With an app, users can control a variety of devices while sitting at home, or at the beach: lighting, heating and cooling, appliances, and locks. The apps can also send an alarm when the power goes out, the smoke or carbon monoxide alarm goes off, an intruder sets off a motion sensor in your home, or the hot-water heater springs a leak.

Long the vision of science fiction and World’s Fairs, smart homes have not completely reached the level dreamed of in the 50s and 60s, but we’re getting closer to that goal all the time. At present, there is no single standard technology to allow smart appliances to “talk” to each other, so the appliances in some smart homes will be hard wired, while others are able communicate wirelessly.

These technologies also help make the smart house a “green” house that allows you to keep appliances, lights, and heating and cooling off during the day when no one is home. You can choose to run your dishwasher or washing machine during off-peak hours, generally at night, when electricity demand on the local power grid is light.

Before you leave the office, you can set your home thermostat to slowly cool down as you head home so the temperature is comfortable when you arrive. You can turn the oven on to preheat while you’re still at the grocery store. When you pull into your driveway, you can pull out your phone to open your garage door, unlock the door to the house, and turn on the lights so you don’t have to fumble with a light switch when you have your hands full of groceries.

Separate controls can replace your thermostat and can be installed to control overhead and occasional lighting or other home devices. From your easy chair, you can control your home theater system or control the volume of your favorite songs in each room of the house. Security measures may include magnetic contacts that detect when a window or cabinet, like a gun safe or medicine cabinet, is opened; sensors for motion, smoke, carbon monoxide, and moisture (like a leaky pipe); window shades; automatic door locks; and cameras inside and outside the house. Individual modules can control separate devices such as table lamps, the coffee pot, and a crockpot.

You can hire an expert to have home automation systems installed, or install them yourself. Prices for professional installation vary depending on whether you’re installing a system in a new home, or retrofitting an existing home with hidden wiring or wireless control.

And it doesn’t take an engineering degree to control your home from your phone. Manufacturers have made sure that controlling their appliances by smartphone or tablet is easy by designing simple software to run the show.

Designers and engineers of home appliances are constantly seeking new ways to help homeowners: refrigerators that scan food and send a shopping list to your phone; ovens that scan your food and offer recipe suggestions. Now, if they could just get the washing machine to load itself, and the trash to take itself to the curb, they may be onto something!

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