Smart Home Compatibility FAQs (Part 1)

Today’s post is written by Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions, continues with his series about Smart Home Tips for REALTORS® with information about setting up smart home devices, and for REALTORS® who encounter these devices when buying and selling homes.

Smart home devices are fun and trendy now, but this trend is here to stay. As a REALTOR®, you should have a basic familiarity with these devices, what they do and how that affects your clients and your clients’ transactions. These devices not only offer convenience for a home, but they also provide safety, security and data that can help us conserve energy use.

Pro Tips:
• Be sure it’s clear – in writing – if (and which) devices are included in the sale of the home.
• Be sure that all devices included in the sale are reset or wiped of any personal data – including the previous owner’s ability to control or monitor the devices. For more info, check out this handy Smart Home Checklist for resetting devices.
• CRT Labs has recently published Smart Home Simplified guides to help you learn more about possible smart home devices and what makes each type unique.

Nest Thermostat

What does it do?
Controls the temperature of your home – automatically or based on when you are home or come and go or on energy usage. Also provides historical energy usage data and compares to other users (anonymously of course) and even the local weather.

What is needed to run it?
The Nest thermostat communicates with your phone and the Nest servers via your wi-fi, so having a wi-fi connection is generally the only requirement beyond HVAC system compatibility.

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes. There is fairly nominal work to remove the thermostat if you are moving. Just be sure to keep the “old” thermostat if this is a possibility so you have something to replace it with. Generally speaking, there is no modification to the wall area around the thermostat needed.

Difficulty of set up:
The Nest thermostat is pretty easy to install – it basically walks you through setup once powered up. Everything you need is in the box including a wall plate in case your older thermostat is larger and you need to cover up an unpainted area or larger holes visible beyond the size of the Nest thermostat. I would highly recommend using this wall plate you are installing it knowing you will move it later.

Cost:
$250 one time for the 3rd generation (newest) model

General compatibility tips:
Nest in generally compatible with most modern HVAC systems. Full compatibility information at: https://nest.com/support/article/How-do-I-know-if-my-heating-and-cooling-system-works-with-Nest (click the link towards the bottom for an easy guide specific to your system)

Nest Protect Smoke and CO2 detector

What does it do?
Alerts you to smoke or carbon monoxide in the home or area you put it in – even remotely via your phone if you are not present at the time.

What is needed to run it?
The Nest Protect communicates with your phone and the Nest servers via your wi-fi, so having a wi-fi connection is generally the only requirement.

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes, relocation is very easy – please be sure to comply with local laws and fire code when removing any type of smoke or carbon monoxide detectors

Difficulty of set up:
Very simple to install – essentially replaces your old smoke detector, including hooking up via the backplate.

Cost:
$99 for the latest model

General compatibility tips:
The Nest Protect can be used by itself and is also compatible with a number of other devices and all other Nest products. Comes in both wired and battery varieties, so make sure you pick up the right one for your needs!

 

SmartThings System

What does it do?
Controls lights and plugs in your home, monitor doors and/or windows, monitor temperature and/or moisture.

What is needed to run it?
A wi-fi network and a device to run the app on (iOS or Android).

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes, pretty easily. For the most part, the system is not permanently installed. A double-sided tape is used for the door/window sensors that is pretty easy to remove or relocate those devices. Many of the rest of the devices are not permanently installed at all – such as outlet switches that just plug into outlets, then devices plug into them.

Difficulty of set up:
A kit is very easy to set up and the app will help walk you through the process of connecting and installing each component.

Cost:
Basic kits start at $199. A hub ($99 for most recent model) is needed to control the devices, which can be purchased separately. A starter kit is highly recommended for cost effectiveness and to understand the full ability of a system.

General compatibility tips:
SmartThings runs on Z-Wave technology which makes it compatible with any other Z-wave devices. There are no specific compatibility requirements for the home.

TP-link smart plugs and switches

What does it do?
TP Smart Plugs can control outlets in your home via an app. You can set a timer that runs consistently, check the status of an outlet (is it off or on) and turn any item plugged into them off or on from anywhere in the world.

What is needed to run it?
Wi-fi and a device to run the app (iOS or Android)

Can you “relocate” it?
Yes! Just unplug and take with you – nominal setup if your wi-fi network changes names or settings.

Difficulty of set up:
Just plug back in (possibly rename outlets in app) and go!

Cost:
Currently selling around $25-35 for a single plug and a 4-pack for $120

General compatibility tips:
Fully compatible with any setup – very simple to use and setup (also works great with Amazon Echo, but works as standalone device)

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.AmplifiedSolutions.co to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

How to be Smarter than the Homes You Sell

Today’s post is the first of many written by guest bloggers for CRT Labs. We’re working with industry insiders all the time, so we are teaming up to give readers first-hand information on how technology is shaping real estate. First up is Lee Adkins, founder of Amplified Solutions

Smart home technology is a relatively new industry, but it’s impact on real estate is here to stay. It is more important than ever that as a Realtor you understand the basics of this technology and how it will impact our industry and daily lives.

Here are my top 5 points to help you better understand smart home technology.

1) Control the temperature and environment of the home
This is probably what most people think of first when you mention a smart home; Devices can adjust lights, outlets, other devices and temperature either on a schedule or by certain criteria you can set. This can both save energy and provide convenience and even measure air quality. These devices can also provide historical data to help you save money by providing information such as peak times of energy use or totally monthly energy consumption.
Common devices: Nest thermostat, SmartThings, TP-link smart plugs and switches, Belkin WeMo devices, Philips Hue devices
(Some utility companies offer discounts for various devices that help save on energy usage, check specifics of your areas and wow your clients!)

2) Provide safety (alarms, lights on while gone or when returning)
In addition to energy monitoring and efficiency, there are many safety features of smart home technology. One of the easiest and more affordable complete systems is the SmartThings system. SmartThings offers a few packages to get you started – no special installation needed and no monthly fees, and the system works with many other devices from other companies. You can control exterior lights for safety – on a schedule (that can even change automatically with the seasons), manually or when a certain event happens, such as you return home after dark. The systems also has separate “modes” so that you can create an out of town mode where a different set of rules happen – such as an interior light on or to alert you if a door opens or a certain high or low temperature occurs. Nest also offers a camera and smoke alarm/CO2 alarm that work together with thermostat as a good system.
Common devices: SmartThings, Nest

3) Provide convenience, voice activated answers and commands
The Amazon Echo (Alexa) is probably the most common and comprehensive device in this space. This is largely because it has been around longer and they have allowed outside developers to create “skills” that you can add to the Echo. Amazon has also released the Echo Dot, which is just a smaller and less expensive version, with a less powerful speaker – designed to be connected to another speaker or sound device, but sufficient to operate without an extra speaker. Google Home is a newer player here, but basically like searching Google with your voice. Google also owns Nest, so it plays nicely with all the Nest devices as well. Voice Activation is here to stay. You can set a timer while cooking something, ask for conversions or even just how many days until a certain date. You can of course also order items from Amazon via the Echo. You can ask, “What time is the Falcons game?” or “What channel are the Grammys on?” or “What time is it in Australia?” or whatever you want to know – or ask Alexa to tell you a joke…
Common devices: Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Apple Home App

4) Help the family communicate and work together towards a happy home
This is something I think we’ll see more adoption of soon. It’s easy to have each family member set up with their phone as a “presence” sensor which allows the devices (and or other family members) to know if someone is home or when they came and went. Great for teenagers or young drivers and certainly there are convenience components to this – like keeping the air or heat at a certain level if everyone is gone all day, but having it turn back on when someone arrives home or at a specific, consistent time each day. You can also have lights turn on automatically if someone comes home after dark. I’m sure you’ll soon be able to easily leave voice memos for family remembers that can be played or updated as people arrive home or even play a video message on a TV or phone.

5) Be aware of privacy issues – devices watching, listening, recording
Certainly there are viable concerns that these devices are always watching, listening and possibly recording. It’s known that many of these do record commands and send to the manufacturers for improvement. Adding cameras and/or microphones to a home is easier and cheaper than ever before. I have heard several stories already of home sellers hearing conversations by potential buyers about levels of interest in the home or “we’re making an offer ASAP” which is something to be cautious of as well – if only just from a negotiation standpoint. 

On a recent trip to NAR in Chicago, I got to visit CRT Labs and learned that the Amazon Echo (Alexa) was likely the device most likely to “play nice” with the majority of the popular devices and platforms. I have played a bit with Google Home as well and it works well too with some devices, especially Nest which is owned by Google. The Amazon Echo (with a Prime membership) has an astonishing amount of free (and commercial free!) music and shows and movies that push it over the top for me at this time. Samsung purchased SmartThings in 2014 and I’m sure they have big plans to integrate with their existing product lines. Think that your phone will remind you to pick up a new water filter for your Samsung refrigerator next time you’re at a place that sells them or a reminder that the lightbulb inside has 5% left, or a smart TV that reminds you that you have laundry still in the washing machine.

If you wanted to get started, I would recommend a SmartThings system (easy to install and relatively inexpensive) and an Amazon Echo as an add on to that. A Nest thermostat is another good layer and all three of these devices can work together pretty well with no special technological knowledge.There is no one right way and more of these devices seems to be working together in the Internet of Things. I would encourage you to venture into it – it’s a pretty cool place…

Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.AmplifiedSolutions.co to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.

A Technophobe’s Smart Home

I’m relatively new to smart home tech – I don’t have a computer science/engineering background, and I don’t feel warm fuzzies talking about the latest and greatest computers, cell phones, or other devices. In fact, when it comes to the internet of the things, I would go as far as to call myself a technophobe – wary of what these technologies can do for me. So when I started at CRT Labs, I had some trepidations over smart home tech and its place in my own home, but over time, I’ve found a place where my life intersections with these technologies. Understanding your personal drawbacks on technology can help you to implement a smart home you’re proud of, and can help you get over some of the “bumps” in adopting a smart home system.

It’s only scary at first…

My biggest personal drawback on adopting technologies is that I don’t like feeling that undergoing such a large change could ultimately be rendered obsolete by one simple upgrade in technology. Luckily, smart home technology companies, on the whole, seem to understand that most items in your home are designed to last quite a long time (like thermostats and light bulbs) and are making their own products with that longer lifecycle in mind. So unlike your phone, which usually only has a two-year lifespan, you’d expect your thermostat to last around 35-years. Now, a Nest thermostat might not last for 35 years, but Nest will want you to be able to use their devices for several years. There will of course be exceptions to this rule – especially as companies jockey to become the “standard” in this space – but on the whole, these companies do want to stay competitive with their non-smart counterparts with their longer lifespans.

Armed with research done by my colleagues here in the labs, I started thinking about what types of things I could do within my own apartment. I live in a 900-unit complex, where my only windows are floor-to-ceiling and give me a southern exposure. This means my apartment gets very warm and has very little natural airflow. The first piece of “smart home” equipment I bought was a Netatmo Weather Station, so I could monitor the weather outside to see how it affected the temperature and CO2 levels inside. And because I was monitoring my indoor CO2, I was able to begin to correlate higher CO2 levels with certain activities – while I knew that running my oven would vent off CO2, I was able to see just how much it would rise, and now know to open one of those windows while cooking in order to offset some of that gas.

Next up, I wanted to solve my indoor lighting issue. As I mentioned, I only have one set of windows in my entire apartment – meaning that the bedroom doesn’t get any natural light. I also do not have any ceiling-mounted lights (I live in a converted fruit market with an industrial loft feel). So some form of smart lightbulb system made sense to me. I decided to go with the Philips Hue system after good reviews from my coworkers. I bought Hue bulbs for the lamps in my hallway, living room, and bedroom, and supplemented those with Belkin WeMo products for lamps with unusual bulbs. I also put a WeMo insight switch on the string lights around my porch outdoors. Not only are these devices all easily controlled with Hue dimmer switches or the Logitech Pop Switch I purchased, they also can all be controlled by voice through Google Home. The lights outside go on at sunset and off at 10pm, a program that I easily put together in the WeMo app; and the lights in the bedroom can turn on as the sun rises in order to help us wake more naturally.

After solving my lighting problems through smart devices, I felt a bit more confident in my technological skills, and have rounded out my apartment with a few more products. First up was the triple-threat of products from Nest: the Nest Thermostat, Protect, and Cam. The Nest thermostat is one of the labs favorite thermostats, and I’ll admit that installing it felt a little daunting, but Nest’s customer support helped me out by putting together a personalized wiring guide after I emailed them a photograph of my old thermostat’s wires. I was able to then watch a video about install, and got the whole project done in under 30 minutes – and promptly celebrated my dominance over technology. The Nest Protect is a smoke detector and CO monitor in one, and came in very handy a couple weeks after install – not only did it alert my phone when my bacon started smoking in the oven, it allowed me to silence the alarm (the Protect is about 10 feet in the air, so it would require a ladder to get to usually), and it also kicked on the whole house fan through the Thermostat in order to help vent the smoke out. The Protect also alerted my NestCam to take video, which allowed us to archive a very funny video of me running around the apartment to try and salvage a few strips of bacon.

Finally, I decided to pick up a SmartThings hub, which allows for the devices in my home to talk to each other and easily set up automations – within the SmartThings app, I quickly set up my hallway lights to “turn on” when I get home (using the location services of my iPhone and setting up a “geofence” around my apartment to trigger the automation). This is a huge lifesaver for me at night, so I don’t have to fumble around in the dark to find the light switch when I come inside (its not in the most convenient location in the hallway).

I’m not fully sold on a Tony Stark-style smart home system like J.A.R.V.I.S, where TVs come out of walls and start playing the news and your favorite beverage is waiting for you in the morning. And there are certainly privacy concerns when you decide to live so much of your life digitally, even when the technology lives squarely within your home. But by identifying my challenges and deciding to focus on using smart home technology to improve my quality of life, I was able to find a great middle ground between my technophobe heart and the part of my brain that wanted to understand CRT Labs’ goals on a personal level. By looking at  how you’re currently living in your own home, you can also start looking at how technology could improve your day-to-day life, and here in the labs we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about how to begin adopting technology yourself. Feel free to comment below, and stay tuned for more articles on this topic as we explore all sorts of different ways we’re using smart home technology in our own lives.

CRT Labs Predicts: 2017 Edition

With CES coming up this week, there is bound to be a lot of talk about the future of technology on all your favorite blogs. Here in the lab, we decided to give a stab at what we see happening in 2017 in smart homes, renewable energy, and more!

crt_predicts

Adrienne:
Now that Google Home has hit the ground running, I predict this year the company will integrate its popular home assistant into their mesh network platform, Google Wifi. Each router will act a lot like an Amazon Echo Dot, but bring in the added mesh networking capabilities. Right now, a 3-pack of the routers costs $299, with additional units costing $129 (the same as a Google Home); however, I believe the company will introduce a smaller router, without the ethernet ports and with tiny speakers, at around $69 to compete with the $49.99 Echo Dot. Google’s goal is to get an assistant in every room in order to control your smart home. They’ve already pulled ahead of Amazon with their multi-room support, which not only has intelligent voice detection to allow you to only interact with the Google Home closest to you but also allows you to control playback on other Google audio devices in other rooms. Of course, for Google to control your whole home, they’ll need to expand compatibility, but since their API opened to the public at the end of 2016, both third party and native support for devices will be coming in 2017.

Chad:
After solar shingles, there will be solar siding and solar window offerings for traditional consumers. This would mean that homes wouldn’t need consistent direct sunlight to harvest energy. Homes in traditionally less-sunny places could harvest solar as effectively as homes in the southwest. Home energy battery storage will make this an even more viable option as batteries look less and less like batteries and more like traditional appliances. Cities will also begin implementing systems that aren’t one type of energy harvesting. Solar, wind and hydropower will take great steps to become prominent in large and small cities. Cities will find creative ways to gather energy from these three methods that are both practical and aren’t highly visible. Portland is already generating hydropower using its water mains. Expect smaller form factors in all three areas for ancillary energy harvesting. Solar sunflowers and wind trees are examples we may see deployed on boulevards and parks in 2017. 

Chris:
In the managed smart home arena, we’ll see the telecommunications companies continue to grow in importance, and many of the “closed” managed smart home systems will loosen some of their restrictions, allowing consumers to bring their own devices. In order to secure the increasing number of internet-connected devices, the government will get involved in encryption and security requirements. Open-source software will continue to be incredibly important. Open-source distributed ledger applications such as Hyperledger and Corda will be among the first widely-used Blockchain apps, and open-source tools will also become increasingly important to journalists and citizen activists. Voice control, artificial intelligence, and deep machine learning will continue to redefine our relationship with devices, and self-driving trucks will disrupt the trucking industry (with cars and busses not too far behind). Monitoring the health of your home – CO2, energy efficiency, VOC, and water contamination – will see a rise in importance as rising CO2 levels and water contamination continue to make news.

Dave:
I predict we have not seen the end of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks caused by consumer grade IoT devices. In fact, I feel it is possible we will see a large scale event in 2017 that would cause the disruption of legitimate internet traffic in the United States for up to 24 hours. As we covered in our Insecurity of Things blog series last October, it only takes a few dozen hardware manufacturers to not follow best practices to leave over a half million devices vulnerable to hijacking.  With these manufactures already facing heavy competition and slim profits margins, coupled with the influx of new startups rushing to into the space – security and privacy are not given the priority they deserve. Part of our mission here at CRT labs is to educate REALTORS® and consumers about these issues, and it is very promising to see both parties starting to prioritize them when they are deciding what devices to put in their homes. However, until the hardware vendors start taking on the responsibility, there is still a significant risk for large scale attacks.For more information about best practices and how you can keep your devices secure, please visit one of our partner organizations – the Online Trust Alliance.

Joe:
In 2017 we’re likely to see an increase in the tension between our public and private identities. On the one hand, declaring exactly who we are — and where we are, and when we are there — is an essential part of customizing many user experiences. Concerns about surveillance, though, are prompting more people to use (or at least start asking about) Tor browsers, personal VPNs, and other tools that provide increased security and anonymity. Balancing the demands of both openness and privacy will be a huge story in 2017. (To learn more about Americans and their views on surveillance, visit the Pew Research Center.)

CRT Labs Year in Review

Goodbye 2016, and hello 2017. CRT Labs has had quite a first full year. A lot of products have surprised us; a good number have disappointed. We’ve been working hard to create our own innovative products for members and their clients and seen some great results in a short amount of time. We’ve developed software and hardware meant to analyze cities, communities and buildings.

Our goal at CRT Labs is to represent our members on the technology front and educate people outside of real estate on the value of our members and membership. In the past year we’ve won $30,000 for a local organization, volunteered at a local Boys and Girls Club, and designed our own indoor environmental and air quality-sensing hardware and software. Our hardware, the PiAQ (Pie-A-Q) and Touchstone, have drawn great interest from outside groups, and we are working on refining this hardware to increase accuracy and bring costs down. We spoke to 10,000 plus members and non-members and helped open eyes to the values and challenges of the internet of things. We hosted thousands of members in our labs and gave many tours highlighting our work. We also spent a lot of time educating vendors, universities, research laboratories and organizations to the value of our membership. We will spend a good amount of time in 2017 refining our hardware and software. And look for us to expand our educational offerings and push on the innovation and advocacy front as well.

There were a lot of interesting developments in smart home tech/IoT & renewables: the solar shingles announced by Tesla, home energy batteries that are attractive, voice control taking over IoT. These positive developments stand in contrast to the Mirai attacks and the decommissioning of devices that aren’t too old (leaving owners in the lurch).

The smart home market is gaining momentum and it will provide you with opportunities to rethink how you market yourself. What will 2017 bring? Wait until next week where each member of CRT will be making their smart home and IoT predictions.

CRT Labs Gift Guide 2016, Day Three

This week, we’ve been looking at our favorite tech gifts, with guides for devices for gifts under $100 and from $100-199. Today, we’re going to round out the guides with gifts for when you feel like splurging, with price points above $200. Just like with our other guides, we recommend you search your favorite online (and offline) stores, because these devices often go on sale around the holidays.

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  1. Ecobee 3 Starter Bundle, $313. We’ve featured the Ecobee 3 smart thermostat in both our Thermostat Tearsheet and first episode of CRTv, with good reason – it’s one of our favorite smart thermostats. It’s got a large, easy-to-read screen, works with a variety of hubs and voice-assistants, and looks great on your wall. But our favorite feature is the Lil’ Bee room sensors, which allow you to extend the sensing capabilities of your thermostat beyond just the room in which the thermostat is installed. This means the Ecobee can sense when you’re in a room away from the thermostat, and adjust your heating/cooling needs to bring comfort to that room. For $313, you get the Ecobee and 3 Lil’ Bees.
  2. Netatmo Presence, $299. Netatmo is another one of our favorite companies, with a great lineup of security, air quality, and weather smart devices. We love the Presence, an outdoor security camera, which is simple to install, includes free video storage (in a variety of methods), and an great app for viewing footage. It can identify if a person, animal, or car is detected, as well as reports in real time so you know what’s going on outside your property, all the time.
  3. SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit, $249. The SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit is a great start for simple sensing within your home. It comes with a SmartThings hub (which can control more than just SmartThings devices), two multipurpose sensors for doors/cabinets, a motion sensor, and an outlet. You don’t have to just monitor with these sensors – you can use them to trigger lights (such as turning on a bedroom light when the bedroom door is opened), arm and disarm security, and more. SmartThings works with Alexa and Google Home, making these voice assistants compatible with any device that works connects to the SmartThings hub.