Tag Archives: home automation

Is Your Home Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

As our phones get bigger and smarter and the technologies we use every day get more sophisticated, so too can our homes. With the Internet of Things now upon us, we’re poised to go from smart homes to smarterhomes in 2019 as home automation systems become commonplace and off-the-shelf products offer the convenience of smart home technology.

Here’s a quick look at just some of the tasks you can hand over to automation and smart home technology:

Home security: This one you’re probably already familiar with, but it gets better and better every year. Today’s home security systems offer video to let you see who’s at the front door, smart locks you can operate from anywhere, and even home automation features that let you program heating, air conditioning and lighting.

Lighting: Speaking of lighting, your home automation system can be set to turn lights on or off. You can now also buy lighting systems that let you control the brightness but also the color. You can even match the color of the light in a picture on your phone. This system can also turn lights on slowly to help you wake up in the morning.

Thermostats: Your home automation system can be used to control your thermostat or you can buy a “learning” thermostat that adapts to your lifestyle.

Household chores: Would you like to hand over some of your household chores to technology? You easily can. You’ll find devices that can handle some of the most mundane tasks for you, including window washing, vacuuming and floor mopping.

In the kitchen: We’ve heard all kinds of chatter about smart appliances already, like refrigerators that can track your groceries for you and ovens you can turn on remotely on your way home from work. But the one I’m ready for is the coffeemaker that knows when I wake up and brews my coffee just in time!

In the yard: You can lighten your load inside with smart home technology and automated devices, but you can also hand over some of the outside jobs too. Technology today offers automated lawn mowers and sprinklers, pool cleaners, and even a gutter cleaning device. (That’s the one at the top of my list! I do not like ladders!)

In the bedroom: Even your mattress can now help you sleep better, using biometric sensors and your smart phone.

And for the not yet smart? For those appliances that aren’t yet “smart,” you can get an outlet that lets you control whatever is plugged into it from your smart phone.

Experts say we are on the verge of the Internet of Things revolution, and that it will change our lives as fundamentally as the Internet did 20 years ago. As a homeowner, you won’t have to wait for the benefits of this technology, because you can easily start making your home smarter than a fifth grader with all the home security features and home devices already available to you!

What’s New in Home Security? We Look at the Latest in Locks

If your car is new enough, you probably don’t have a key to unlock the door or even to start the engine. Instead, you have a “proximity key” which means something you’re carrying will unlock your car door for you when you are close enough.

As someone who drives an older car with an old-fashioned key, I can’t quite wrap my head around that yet, but I’d better get caught up soon because door locks for houses are going high tech too!

A home security or home automation system is a smart way to protect your home, but—as we’ve said before—it’s not enough. You must take other steps too, including secure door and window locks. And those locks are getting ever more sophisticated while offering multiple advantages as high-tech locks. You can lock or unlock your door remotely using your smart phone when necessary. You can assign a temporary code to a non-family member who needs to access your house—say a neighbor who’s feeding the cat while you’re away. You can get a notification when the lock is used. And those are just a few of the new-fanged features!

When your lock’s looks count…
Your lock is a security feature, but it’s also prominent on the entry point of your home, so appearance might be of utmost importance to you. If you care about appearance and you want a lock that looks like a lock, you can find them. Some smart locks can be opened with a code on a keypad, as a keyless entry, or with a key, but they have a classy low-tech “lock look” even though they’re high tech on the inside.

When you want high-tech features with a low-tech look
Some new-fangled locks do double duty when they look like a regular deadbolt but are all high-tech. You can even find locks with a place to insert a key, but they work via a biometric scanner that’s hiding behind an innocuous looking lock. You put your finger under the scanner to gain access.

When you want your high-tech lock to have a high-tech look
Other new locks look as high tech as they perform–all sleek and streamlined, screaming they’re high tech and not pretending to be anything but!

Of course, you have other options for locking your front door that are low tech, and those options are fine too, as long as you’re using high-quality locks and the whole family is diligent about locking them. But if you want something more sophisticated, one of these high-tech options might be the best choice for you!

Tips for Getting Lit Up Before the Dark Days Arrive

October is here, Halloween is fast approaching, and daylight savings will end November 4th. Yep, it’s time to look at lighting! Use the tips below to make sure your lighting is adding to your home’s security, both inside and outside your home.

Inside your home
With a home automation system, you can put your lights on timers so they turn on when it starts to get dark, even if your house is empty. There are two safety reasons for having your lights turn on automatically.

  1. The lights turning on all of a sudden makes it look like someone’s home, to help deter burglars.
  2. When the lights are already on, you or your kids can see when first coming in the front door, reducing the risk of trips or falls in the dark.

Also take a walk around as dusk falls to evaluate your lighting needs. Are there dark corners or stairs that would be safer with better lighting? Are there nightlights for anyone who gets up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water during the night? Fix any problems spots you find, to decrease the chance of accidents.

Outside your home
Good lighting outside will also help deter burglars and reduce accidents, but it’s a little trickier because you’ll have to experience the dark spots to know where you need to make adjustments. Do your assessment when it’s dark and check for the following:

  • Are sidewalks and pathways clearly lit, for your family, but also for visitors?
  • Is the path to your shop or detached garage clearly lit?
  • Are there dark areas by doorways or windows where someone could hide while breaking in?

As you’re improving your outdoor lighting, keep in mind these three tips so your yard doesn’t end up looking like a brightly lit runway:

  1. Use motion sensors to provide light only when and where needed. Perhaps a soft light is enough most of the time, but a motion sensor can turn on a brighter light as someone approaches the house.
  2. Be wary of really bright lights that shine like a spotlight because they will also create dark shadows—and you want to avoid that.
  3. Be a good neighbor and make sure your lights are not annoying or pointing into anyone else’s yard.

And now? Now let the darkness come. You’re ready…

Is Your Brain Overloaded? Home Automation Takes on Task Saturation!

My husband recently introduced me to a new term: task saturation. Task saturation happens when your brain has so much information coming at it that it can’t absorb any more. I was complaining about being so forgetful lately and he suggested that my brain is overloaded. It sure is!

I’m not alone. Many of us suffer from task saturation because we have high-pressure jobs with looming deadlines, constant communications via email and text, financial stresses as we try to make ends meet, and more…in addition to simply raising our kids, making our meals, taking care of our homes, and getting through each day reasonably sane.

That’s where home automation can help. It can remove a few of the tasks from our lists and free up our brains to handle other information.

Free up brain space when you automate some tasks
Forget about setting the thermostat or regulating the air conditioner. Your home automation system can take care of that. In the winter, you can set it to warm up the house right before you get home but save money by keeping the house cooler during the day when it’s empty. And the opposite is true during the summer. If you have pets, your home automation system can be set to keep the temperature correct for their needs without using too much energy—and without your having to worry if the dog is okay on a really hot day.

Your home automation system can also turn lights on and off, so you don’t have to come home to a dark house on a cold winter’s night—and if your kids get home first, they’ll appreciate the welcoming look of a warm, well-lit house.

The big benefit here is you can simply stop thinking about heating and cooling and lighting. You’re welcome, brain!

Home automation also protects your home—despite your forgetfulness
Your home automation can also free your brain from worrying about home security. You no longer have to nag the kids to remember to lock up, because you can lock and unlock doors, and even arm or disarm your security system, remotely using your phone. Or maybe you forgot to double check something because you were rushing out the door to work and your brain was full of thoughts about that big meeting later in the day. It’s okay. If you did forget, you can take care of it later from your office or while on the road.

We don’t function well when we suffer from task saturation, so we should be trying to get out of situations that cause it if we can. But at least a home automation system can offer a little bit of relief on the home front.

Are You One of the Many Going Green in 2018? Home Automation Can Help

Although Americans tend to say they are environmentally conscious more than they act like it, there is definitely a trend toward a greener America. From re-usable grocery bags to organic foods to hybrid cars, the signs that we’re sitting up and paying attention to the consequences of our actions are all around us. Even fast-food giant and mega brand McDonald’s is going green. When that happens, we know something is afoot!

If you’ve been contemplating ways to green up your life, maybe as part of your New Year’s resolutions, and you’re shopping for a new home security system, you’re about to have a win-win situation. That’s because a home automation system can help you to be more green and consume fewer resources (while reducing your utility bills, which is a nice add-on). Here’s how:

Home automation can green up your thermostat
Heating an empty home in the winter or cooling the same in the summer are both huge energy drains. But no one wants to walk into an icebox at the end of the day in January, or an oven at the end of the day in July. With a home automation system, you can have smart control over your home’s temperature, and use your energy wisely.

Your house can stay moderately warm or cool while empty, but then your furnace or AC can kick in before you get home, so you walk into a comfort zone, not a hot or cold one. If you have pets at home, or kids who get home from school before you get home from work, you can adjust the temperature accordingly—and automatically.

Home automation can cut your electric bill
Coming home to a dark house at the end of a long day can be a dreary start to the evening, and sap your energy even more than your work and commute already did. But you don’t want to leave lights on all day just so you can drive up to a cheerful sight once it’s dark out. That’s wasteful.

Enter the home automation system that lets you program your lights to turn off and on at scheduled times, so you can have the lights off while gone but come home to a cheerful, well-lit abode. And if you have kids who leave lights on when they leave, because that’s what kids do, you can turn lights off remotely.

A home automation system won’t include solar panels or wind energy or make your washing machine more energy efficient, but every little bit really does count. Imagine what a difference we could make if all 324 million Americans cut their energy usage by just a fraction: huge!

Finally, if you’re looking for other ways to be a better citizen in the year ahead, be sure to check out these 101 tips on going zero waste. Many are ridiculously easy to do. And again, every little bit counts!

Phone, Wallet, Keys… How Do You Lock Your House When You Leave?

When you leave the house, do you check to make sure any back or side doors are locked, and then lock your front door on your way out? When you’re home, do you triple check that all the doors are locked before you head to bed?

If this doesn’t sound like you, you may be part of the 7% of Americans who don’t lock their doors when they leave, or the 23% who leave their doors unlocked while they’re home. This YouGov poll found that many homes across the country are unlocked throughout the day, especially while someone is home. That means over 22 million people leave their doors unlocked when they leave the house. We find that number shocking!

For the rest of us who think about home security and therefore do lock our doors when we leave as well as when we’re home, locks are a big deal. But not every lock is created equal. Read up on types of locks and what they’re good for below…

Knob Locks
Knob locks are the kind built into the door handle. Most homes have a knob lock in addition to a deadbolt on exterior doors. These locks should never be the sole security on a door, since the lock is within the knob itself and not in the door like the deadbolt is,  making it easier for someone to break in. Instead, knob locks are better used on interior doors that don’t need as much protection, for example a bathroom door you’ll lock for privacy.

Lever Handle Locks
Lever handle locks are easier to open than knob locks, which is useful if handicap accessibility is a concern. These locks have a large push down lever instead of the turning knob, but a similar lock style to the knob lock. As with knob locks, these are not recommended for sole security on exterior entryways, but can be helpful indoors if someone in your home has difficulty turning knobs—again, think bathroom privacy.

Deadbolts
For real home security, you need deadbolts. Deadbolts are typically installed on household exterior doors. The most common in American homes is the single cylinder deadbolt. These locks secure your home from the outside, but if someone can gain access to the inside of your home such as through an open window, the deadbolt only requires a turn of the thumbturn to open the door. That’s why you want to make sure windows are secured as well when you leave for the day.

Locks of the Future
As you might expect, technology has taken on locks too, making even keys obsolete. From keypads to Bluetooth-enabled deadbolts and even biometrics with fingerprint recognition, the locks that will soon be commonplace will powered by technology and accessed by devices such as smart phones. In addition, home security systems today will let you lock and unlock doors remotely, should you forget to lock the door on the way out or should you need to let the electrician in while you’re at work.

Whichever kind of lock you choose, check the level of security you can expect by checking the rating given by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). ANSI has three grades for door locks to help you know which will provide the most security.

Maybe you’re part of the 93% who lock their doors when they leave, the 77% who lock their doors when they stay, or even a part of the 7% who are (or should be) rethinking their home security habits. No matter which category you fit into, knowing your options on locks can help you make informed decisions on how to keep you and your home safe and secure.

Is Amazon Key the Key to Secure Package Delivery? Or Is Your Home Security System Enough?

By now you’ve probably heard of Amazon Key, the new service from Amazon that will enable delivery people to enter your home. That way, they can deposit packages there as opposed to leaving them on your front porch where they are vulnerable to thieves.

The timing for the announcement lines up perfectly with the startup of the holiday shopping season, as Amazon ramps up for its busiest time of year. And the timing might appeal to you, if you’re thinking about the products you plan to buy through Amazon—and have delivered to your vulnerable front porch.

But the more we thought about it, the more we wondered: Should you get Amazon Key if you already have a home security system? We did a little digging to find out.

Package theft is on the rise
Package theft has risen right alongside the increase in online shopping, after all. According to one report, U.S. homeowners get an average of 27 packages delivered during the course of the year, and 26% get a delivery at least once a week. Of those people receiving deliveries, 23 million people fall victim to “porch pirates” each year, with packages stolen from the front porch.

That same report indicates homeowners want delivery personnel to have access to their homes, citing 69% of people who have been victims of package theft would choose to let a delivery person into their house via an app (such as a home security system equipped with a video camera) rather than have the package left outside, and 28% of those victims would be willing to let the delivery person have access to their home in order to leave packages inside.

Enter Amazon Key…

What is Amazon Key?
Amazon Key is a new service that lets people into your house to deliver packages from Amazon. To use Amazon Key, you must have a certain type of smart lock and in-home video camera. According to our research, you can choose from three locks, all sold by Amazon, but there is only one camera that will work: the Cloud Cam Key Edition in-home camera. The camera and smart lock talk to each other via your home’s WiFi. The locks come in a range of prices, and the camera only one price, so the whole package costs between $249 and $319 after a bundled discount.

With Amazon Key, the delivery person scans a barcode, sending a request to Amazon. Amazon grants permission to unlock by telling your camera to start recording. The courier gets a prompt on their app, swipes the screen to your smart lock, and unlocks your door. They drop off the package and then relock your door with another swipe. You get notified that your delivery has been delivered, and voila! All done.

What about your home security system?
Amazon Key might make sense for people who do a lot of online ordering yet also spend a lot away from home. But there is a cost to get set up as noted above, and what if you already have a home security system? With the right kind of home security system, you can use a video camera to see who is at the door, unlock the door remotely to let a delivery person in, and then lock the door again when they leave. Granted, you have to be accessible at the time the delivery person shows up, meaning you’re not tied up in a meeting or on a conference call. But do you need both? It’s something to think about.

According to one reporter’s trial run with Amazon Key, it sounds like you have to disarm your home security system in order for Amazon Key to work, and delivery people are instructed not to open your door if they hear barking or scratching that indicates a dog. We don’t blame them: People are often bitten by dogs that “don’t bite,” and who wants to be the one to accidentally let Fido fly out the door to roam the neighborhood unsupervised? That means even Amazon Key can’t keep your packages off the front porch, regardless of your smart lock and special camera.

Alternatives to Amazon Key
If package theft is a concern for you, especially as the holidays approach, note that Amazon Key is not your only option for package protection, however. You can also:

  • Choose to have your package delivered to a nearby Amazon locker.
  • Choose to have your package shipped to your local UPS store.
  • Have packages delivered to you at work.
  • Build relationships with trusted neighbors who can either receive packages on your behalf or get them from the front porch for you after delivery.
  • Explore other package theft prevention options now on the market, such as the Package Guard, a small disk on which a package is placed, and that sounds an alarm if that package is picked up.
  • Use your home security system to see who is at your door and to unlock the door if it’s a package delivery.

Our conclusion after this research? It depends. For some, Amazon Key will be the way to prevent to package theft. For others, an up-to-date home security system might suffice…and save some cash.

Stop Blaming Ben Franklin and Focus on Getting Ready for Darker Days Instead

Daylight Saving Time ends November 5th, and most everyone will be looking for someone to blame when the sky starts getting dark an hour earlier than we’re used to. But did you know that the man who invented the bifocal glasses did not invent Daylight Saving Time?

A Short History of Daylight Saving Time (DST)
Although Ben Franklin did write an essay on using daylight hours more efficiently by getting up earlier, it was actually New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson who in 1895 first proposed setting clocks forward two hours in March and setting them two hours back in October. That idea didn’t stick, but a small town in Canada kicked things off by setting their clocks one hour forward in 1908, followed by the rest of the country and then popularized by Germany. By 1918, the United States had passed legislation to establish DST, and by the end of World War II, most European countries also followed the time change.

Time to Perform a Lighting Audit
Whether or not you agree with setting our clocks forward and backward in the middle of the night when the time changes, soon it might be dark by the time you get home from work. And if you can’t see the pathway walking up to your house, it’s probably time to reevaluate your home lighting—before the days get any shorter.

One way to check the adequacy of your home lighting is to walk up to your home in the dark as if you don’t live there. Come up the sidewalk as if you’re a guest visiting for the first time.

  • Can you see your feet, the path right below you, and the path in front of you?
  • Check your porch or your front door: Is it well-lit from the outside?
  • Are there lights on inside the home to ensure suspicious characters know the house isn’t empty (even if it is)?
  • If you walk to your outbuildings, are they well-lit?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you could be risking someone tripping and hurting themselves in the dark, or even inviting burglars in by giving them darkness to hide under.

Light It Up Instead
If you’ve taken a look around and decided your lighting could use some adjustments, what then? You can place small pathway lights leading up to your home and to any outbuildings, reducing the risk of tripping over an unseen obstacle. Another option for these outdoor lights is to install motion sensor lights, which work well to eliminate hiding spots by dark buildings. If you’re home while the skies get dark, you can make sure to turn on any outside lighting and leave on a few lights inside as well. If you aren’t home, your home automation system can be used to turn on your lighting at any time you set it to, or even remotely. You can be halfway around the world, and as long as you have WiFi, you can turn on your lights.

Although we’re talking about shorter days, it is also a good idea to keep a couple lights on inside while it’s still light out as well since 65% of burglaries happen between 6 am and 6 pm. Just because it’s daytime doesn’t mean your home isn’t vulnerable after you leave for work.

We have a lot of things to credit Ben Franklin with (even swim fins are his invention!), but we can’t blame him for losing that extra hour of sleep in the Spring and that extra hour of light in the Fall. Instead, we can keep our houses well lit, thank him for our bifocals while reading a good book, and settle into the darkness and quiet that fall brings.

Home Automation Helps Seniors Stay Put

I’m at the age when my generation is helping their parents to downsize or move into retirement homes. My own mother is determined to stay in her house for as long as she can, so I assume it will be several years before I’m in the same situation as my friends. However, I still want to be mindful that my mother is older, and therefore needs extra consideration if not a new place to live.

Home automation can help.

A home security system can provide peace of mind for both my mother and for me, because it means her house is being watched over. If the alarm is triggered, the police are notified and on their way. Home security systems can also monitor for heat and smoke, as well as carbon monoxide. However, home security systems that also offer home automation can provide even more peace of mind than a home security system alone.

How home automation can help seniors stay in their homes
The AARP says 90% of seniors want to stay in their homes. We as the children can help our parents to be safe at home with common sense tips like these, and by taking advantage of the features home automation can offer.

For example, home automation means you can schedule lights to be turned on and off at set times, in case your parent is getting forgetful, or they’re getting wobbly on their feet. Automated lighting means the lights can be on before dusk falls, so your parents aren’t fumbling around in the dark. It also means they have fewer reasons to be getting up and risking a fall in the first place.

Such a home automation system also enables you to regulate the temperature, especially important during the heat of summer and the cold of winter. If your parents are like my mother, then you’re already used to their house being too warm or too cold because they’re trying to save money on the heating or cooling bill. Yet our goal is to ensure they are always warm or cool enough. Automating the temperature control can do that for us.

If your parents are starting to forget simple tasks like locking doors or windows, a home automation system lets you lock up from afar.

Security cameras give you extra insight
Security cameras let you keep an eye on the home and property, and see who is at the front door when the doorbell rings. Those same cameras can help you keep an eye on your parents too, so you’ll know when they leave and when they return. That means you’ll know that they remembered the doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, for example, and then returned home safely afterwards. If you’re not living near your parents, you’ll probably appreciate the security cameras even more.

It’s challenging when the tables turn and it’s the children caring for the parents rather than the other way around. Taking advantage of modern technology to enable you to provide some of that care without seeming intrusive in doing so can help. And that’s just what home automation can do for you, your parents, and your peace of mind.

Going on Vacation? 5 Ways to Make Your Empty Home Look Anything But

You’ve earned your vacation and you’re looking forward to it! But don’t get so caught up in your plans for getting away that you forget to secure your home before you go. And part of securing your home is to make it appear that you’re still there. Since installing cardboard cutouts or mannequins as silhouettes against windows is only a short-term solution—until the burglars figure out that those “people” never move—here are five other ways to make it look like you’re occupying your vacant home while you vacate your way to some rest and relaxation.

Tip 1: Get a house sitter
The absolute best way to make it look like someone is in your house is to have someone in your house. This works even better if you have a dog that would otherwise go to the kennel while you’re gone. With the house sitter occupying the house and the dog barking alarms, you now have two deterrents to burglary.

Tip 2: Leave a car in the driveway
A car in the driveway definitely gives the impression that someone is in the house. If you have an extra car that you normally park on the road or in the garage, park it in the driveway so it’s easily seen. If you only have one car, consider getting a ride to and from the airport so you can leave your car conspicuously in the driveway.

Tip 3: Hire someone to take care of your lawn and yard
This tip is a little trickier because it would be better if you hired someone well before you left, not just for the week or two that you’re gone, for two reasons. One, if someone is watching your house, they’ll know there has been a change in the routine. Two, you want to make sure this person or company is reliable before leaving your yard in their care. Now, if you can follow tip one and find a house sitter and this house sitter will keep up with the yard maintenance, you’re twice blessed!

Tip 4: Keep the electronics going
If you don’t have a house sitter, or even if you do but they are gone for work, use timers and/or your home automation system to keep lights and electronics like radios and TVs turning on and off.

Tip 5: Keep your vacation to yourself…
…at least until after you get home. As we’ve said before, broadcasting your vacation via social media is the same as telling the world your house is sitting empty. So don’t. Save your vacation pictures until you get home and then share them. That way you can make sure you’re only sharing the best of the best, besides, rather than inundating friends and family with far too many photos.

It only takes a little effort to provide a lot of protection, so put in that effort now and enjoy more peace of mind while you’re away.

View all of our security plans and features!

Customer Reviews

I feel so much better knowing my family is protected! I spoke with SafeStreets USA in the evening and a technician was able to come install the system for me then for my parents first thing the next morning. Very impressed with his knowledge and care!

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We had our ADT system installed by SafeStreets USA and were really impressed with the service we received from our technician. He was very friendly and answered all of our questions on the system and how it worked. He set everything up in a couple of hours and was a real pleasure to talk with []

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