By ANGELO DIGANGI
Some aspects of going away on vacation are as stressful as the responsibilities you’re taking a break from. Besides making sure your work life is in order before you leave, it’s tough not to worry about your home while you’re away. Thoughts of burglars, snooping neighborhood kids, and fire are just a few anxiety-causing prospects.
Fortunately, there are a number of brilliant new smart phone apps and technological advancements that work in concert, allowing you to keep a watchful eye on your home even as you’re tanning beachside, sipping a colorful drink adorned with a tiny plastic umbrella.
The term ‘home automation’ refers to the process of integrating home systems so that components operate automatically and in cooperation with one another, allowing home owners to control and receive feedback from those devices.
Here’s what one of these systems may look like: when you open the front door of your home, lights in the foyer turn on automatically and the thermostat sets the temperature to a comfortable 72 degrees.
But here’s where your vacation comes in: those systems allow you to control proponents of your home and monitor its security from anywhere using apps downloaded to your smartphone.
Before Buying the Apps: Here’s the Hardware You’ll Need
Control Panel – “The Brain”
You’ll need some kind of control panel that will allow the various components of your system to “talk”. This is also the piece that communicates with your smartphone. Often times, kits come with a control panel and a few sensors. A good example of this is the Defender 8 Channel 500GB HDD Surveillance System.
Open/shut sensors do just what the name implies: detect when doors (or windows, for that matter) are opened or closed. They’re a tech that home security systems have used for years, except now they can send alerts to your phone.
Vibration and Accelerometer-Equipped Sensors
These sensors have a wide range of uses, like recognizing and alerting you when someone knocks on a door, or when a jewelry box is tampered with.
System-Appropriate Security Cameras
Security cameras vary from under $100 to over $500 depending on their video-quality, capabilities, and features (motion activation, night-vision, etc.) They can be found at Home Depot and most local hardware stores.
SimpliSafe Home Security App
The app for the SimpliSafe Home Security system is just the tip of the iceberg because the real magic of SimpliSafe is the all-in-one system that saves you the effort of shopping for individual components, while making sure they’ll function within a proprietary system. After installing the system (it’s not scary to do – very easy), through the app you can arm and disarm the alarm system, watch live video of your property, control the thermostat and turn lights on and off. In other words, you can do many of the things you’ve always wished you could when you’re away from home. SimpliSafe systems start at $200 with a $15 monthly emergency contact fee.
With the Alarm.com app, you have control over your home’s security, temperature, and energy management no matter what, from anywhere. Alarm.com provides everything you need to monitor your home, even when you’re on a beach far away, stress-free in the comfort of a lounge chair. This system informs your smart phone of disruptions on your property. The special feature of Alarm.com is that it uses a mobile signal – not a phone line. This ensures that the system and its components are connected and online. This mobile capability coupled with an anti-smash control panel means that it is virtually impossible for intruders to disable the system. Alarm.com contracts range from $30-$50, depending on desired features, and also costs an activation fee.
Airbeam is a much cheaper (though limited) app that allows you to view a live video feed on one device as it is recorded by another. For example, you could view a feed unbeknownst to the babysitter you’re trying out, or get visual confirmation on which dog keeps eating things off the counter while you’re out. You can also record the feed, which could come in handy if you were to capture foul play in your home, or maybe just to share footage of the deer that has been eating pansies out of your flower box. The app is only $3.99 in app stores.
Digital Life by AT&T
Digital Life, a service offered through AT&T, enables their customers to control many components in their homes though an app on smart phones and tablets. From anywhere that a mobile signal is available, you can control security cameras, lights, and even run appliances. Digital Life starts at $39.99 a month plus $249.99 for equipment and installation, and comes with a number of sensors and 24-hour home monitoring – something many other smart-phone capable systems don’t have.
If It’s Possible, Why Wouldn’t You?
Home automation and home security systems that are controllable via your smart phone are obviously valuable. Of course you’d like to be able to maintain control over your property when you leave it. Your home is your most prized possession: not just a shelter, but where you build a life and lay your head at night. These systems aren’t luxuries, they’re necessities that many folks don’t yet know they probably need.
Angelo DiGangi is a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago area, and a regular contributor to Home Depot’s website. Angelo provides advice to homeowners on electrical topics ranging from home automation systems to home security.