by Eric Murrell
Whether you’re buying a new home or looking at some upgrades for your current living space, the chances are that a few smart home upgrades have crossed your mind as part of the process. It’s easier than ever to build the futuristic smart home of your dreams, and thanks to so many disruptive products in the marketplace, it’s surprisingly affordable, too.
As you venture out into the smart home waters, you might have some reservations about adding cutting-edge products to your home, especially when it comes to new technologies with which you may not have experience. Learn how to troubleshoot them at the outset, and you’ll have confidence in what all this new tech can do for you.
Here are the top five problems you might run into when you’re outfitting your smart home, along with the easiest solutions.
1. Problem: Your Smart Home Devices Don’t Play Together
With so many smart home gadgets to choose from, the first issue you’ll likely run into is purchasing the thermostats, security cameras, and sensors that you like the most, only to find out that they don’t automatically work together. Although almost every smart home device connects to a companion smartphone app, the best experience is being able to open a single app or use a single service that enable you to manage and control all of your smart gadgets at once.
Invest in a smart home hub. Your local cable or Internet service provider may be able to help you set up a full home automation system that works as one that you can control via one hub and one mobile app. You can also look into web services like Stringify or IFTTT. Many of today’s smart home products integrate with the most popular smart home hubs, allowing you to use and schedule your favorite devices to turn on and off from a single app, instead of bouncing back and forth between a folder full of apps for each device. If all else fails, free web services like Stringify can link up with most smart home gadgets, allowing you to cook up some great integrations with products that don’t automatically play nice together. This means you can program lights and the TV to turn on when the AC is on, etc. The combinations are endless, depending on the devices you have.
2. Problem: Your Smart Home Device Can’t Connect to the Network
Network connectivity is one of the most common issues that smart device owners will encounter. From smart cameras dropping the feed, to your living room smart lights failing to turn off, connectivity issues can be annoying and even seriously disruptive. The good news is that this issue is extremely easy to fix.
Upgrade to a better wireless router, and make sure your Zigbee and/or Z-Wave devices aren’t too far apart. Your wireless router is the backbone of your smart home, and if you haven’t upgraded in a while, your trusty old router will probably have a hard time keeping up with so many devices on the network. Upgrade to a top-of-the-line router from the hardware store or get it from your local Internet service provider. If you live in a large home or apartment, you may want to consider setting up “mesh networking” to ensure consistent Internet connectivity throughout your home.
If you choose devices like door locks or light bulbs that rely on protocols like Zigbee or Z-Wave, make sure those devices aren’t spread out too far from each other. Those devices actually piggyback off of each other’s signals, meaning that products like smart light bulbs may have connectivity issues if they’re connected at the opposite ends of your home.
3. Problem: Your Smart Home Device Activates at the Wrong Times
Nothing’s worse than a smart gadget that constantly demands your attention for all of the wrong reasons. This is especially true of smart security cameras and sensors. Security products should be trustworthy, and it’s frustrating to get security alerts on your phone that are just false alarms from tree branches blowing in the wind or a cat jumping on the furniture.
Take advantage of “smart zones” and features like human recognition. Many smart cameras can ignore certain parts of your home or yard that experience frequent motion, and some include toggles for a feature where you’ll be alerted only if an unidentified person is detected in the frame. Some systems are powered by artificial intelligence to pinpoint and zoom in on motion and can send a video clip of the activity. It takes only seconds to customize your cameras, but it can have a noticeable impact on how effective they are.
4. Problem: Your Smart Home Device Drains Its Batteries Too Fast
Wireless smart home products are great until you realize that wireless devices require maintenance. Door sensors and other low-energy products typically need fresh batteries only every year or two, but cameras and motion sensors can chew through batteries at a much faster rate. A dead smart home gadget is a useless smart home gadget.
Check your device’s settings and make sure you’re in range of a good Wi-Fi signal. Just like your smartphone, your smart devices will run their batteries dry a lot faster if they’re constantly looking for a signal or straining to maintain one. Moving your devices just a few feet closer to your home’s network can have a dramatic impact on their battery life.
If you dig into your device’s settings, you’ll also discover many optional features that can be toggled off for increased efficiency. Keep the features you use the most and turn the ones off that you never use; it’ll help extend the life of your battery.
5. Problem: Your Smart Home Device Is Hard to Control
Although the other issues we’ve covered are fairly common, the most common complaint with families adapting to smart home technologies is that they hate feeling confined to an app to control their homes. It’s great being able to set the temperature or control your lights from anywhere in the world, but when you’re having a normal day at home, it can be a chore to track your phone down every time you want to make a simple adjustment to your living space.
Make sure the smart devices you purchase have easy-to-access physical controls, and consider investing in a few smart switches. The best smart thermostats and door locks include traditional controls that work in conjunction with their companion apps, allowing your family to have all of the benefits of a smart device while interacting with it like its traditional counterpart. For devices like smart lighting systems that are controlled exclusively through an app or touchscreen panel, inexpensive smart switches are also available that can allow your family to toggle those controls with the click of a button.
As you consider your next smart home upgrade, don’t be afraid to integrate some new technologies into your living space. The most common problems have straightforward solutions, and a few simple guidelines can help you build an intuitive home that’s always ready to help when your family needs it the most.
Eric Murrell is a software developer and technology contributor . He enjoys sharing tips on how people can benefit from incorporating smart home automation and security in their homes on his blog At Home in the Future.