If you’ve got a smartphone than you can use it to create a smart home, as well. That’s because more appliances and home systems are now capable of communicating with WiFi-enabled devices, such as smartphones. Not only does this give you better access to information, these inter-connected devices can also help you save time, energy and money.
To take advantage of your cell and home connection, consider these five ways to use your smartphone to modernize your home:
1. Turn your furnace on or off, remotely
Want to save money on heating and air conditioning bills? Consider installing a thermostat you can control remotely. While a standard programmable thermostat comes in at a quarter of the price (and can achieve the same savings), a WiFi-enabled thermostat let’s you make the heating and cooling changes in your home from a smartphone app. That means you can adjust the temperature while you’re away on vacation. Also, many of these app-controlled thermostats come with built-in alarms among other features. For instance, Honeywell’s Total Connect app also lets you arm or disarm your security system (sold and installed separately), turn lights off and on, unlock and lock Wifi-enabled door locks, view live video and recorded video clips from Honeywell Total Connect cameras, and provides email and text alerts to your phone when extreme temperature changes are detected in your home.
For Nest or Insteon thermostats, consider purchasing the Insteon Central Hub, which provides the same features as Honeywell’s Total Connect system.
2. Lock your doors, remotely
Are you constantly wondering if you locked the door when you left? Do you worry the kids will forget to lock the door behind them? Eliminate the need for keys by using a door lock and app that controls locks and garage doors remotely. For instance, the Lockitron (US$99) let’s you is a completely keyless app-controlled deadbolt for your door. Or try the August Smart lock (which starts at US$199) which lets you remotely lock and unlock your door and provides 24/7 entry and exit logs straight to your phone—so you know exactly who is coming and going at any time of day.
3. Turn your lights on, remotely
Do you hate the idea of leaving for vacation and not being able to randomly turn your lights on and off? Then you’ll want to fork over the US$69 for the InControl Standard USB stick. This is the backbone of the InControl system, and it enables you to control your lights from an Android or Apple smartphone or from your PC. The system (which starts at US$45) will also let you connect alarm systems—for example, hall lights will automatically turn on if your smoke detector starts—as well as other remotely controlled devices. Keep in mind that each extra component is at an additional cost.
You can also try Wink-Smart Home app. It’s free and reportedly works with virtually any connected product. Or try LIFX, a dedicated free app that controls just your lights. LIFX works with a variety of systems including Nest, Logitech Harmony, Samsung Smartthings and IFTTT.
4. Record or watch live security footage
Even big box stores are now carrying WiFi-connected cameras that can be installed inside or outside your home and provide either recorded images or live streaming video. These systems start at $50 for one camera and go up. Another option is the $5.79 iCam app that uses your computer’s webcam to snap images (when motion is detected) and sends these images to your phone, explains Jay Mairs, co-founder of SKJM, the company responsible for the iCam app. To get recorded video select the iCam Pro app ($5.79) but keep in mind that this app, unlike its more robust still-pic version, only works with Apple products. “A lot of people use it to watch pets when they’re away,” says Mairs. The two apps will let you view still or video images from up to 16 different cameras.
5. Send alarm notifications to your smartphone
Want to know when your security alarm goes off? Would you like to see exactly who is at your front door even when you’re away on vacation? Would you like to be notified when your children get home from school? All this is possible through app-controlled home monitoring systems. While the apps typically don’t cost you anything, the security monitoring service subscription will tack on a monthly fee (for example, Roger’s Home Monitoring starts at $20 per month and AlarmForce starts at $25/month).