Gift Guide 2017: Beginner Smart Home Tech

Last year, we highlighted some great tech gifts to give during the holidays, and broke them down by different price points: under $100, $100-199, and over $200. This year, we decided to do things a little differently, and highlight four categories of smart technology. Three of our guides (coming this week) will focus on beginning, intermediate, and advanced smart home products; and then next week we’ll have a commercial/office tech gift guide. These guides will cover a variety of price ranges, so there’s sure to be a gift for everyone on your list at any price point. Note that we’re using the suggested retail prices; you can search the Internet for better deals, especially during the holidays.

Today, we’re focusing on beginner smart home tech. If you or your giftee have never played around with smart home devices, this is a great place to start! Our gifts will get you up and running in no time, and are a low-stress way to dip your foot into home automation, voice assistants, and more.

1. IKEA Tradfri smart lighting system,  $7.99 – 34.99. Like our previous choice, the Philips Hue, the Tradfri starting kit comes with two bulbs and a hub, but has options with dimmers, motion sensors, and a variety of different types of lights. The price point is much lower than Hue or other bulbs, making this an attractive option for a starter kit for beginners. As of this writing, the bulbs only work with a proprietary app or with purchasable dimmers and remotes, but IKEA plans on integrating with HomeKit and Alexa in 2018, meaning the lights will become even more customizable through those platforms. Like other bulbs, you can set up programs (like turning on lights at specific times, or when the sun goes down), and the motion sensor allows you to set up lights that turn on and off when motion is detected. Overall, this is an attractive first lighting kit that is easy-to-use and will get anyone started on a smart home in style.
2. Amazon Echo Dot/Google Home Mini, both $49. Last year, we highlighted the Echo Dot and “regular” Google Home in two separate gift guides; in 2017, the Google Home Mini was announced at the same price point as an Echo Dot. We are including both on this gift guide because, a year later, both products are neck and neck in terms of functionality and usability for the beginner smart home user. Choosing an ecosystem is a personal choice – Amazon’s Alexa is great for people who find themselves using Amazon products frequently, and Google Home is an excellent option for people who have other Google services. Both work with major smart home systems like SmartThings, Philips Hue, and more.
3. WeMo Mini Smart Plug, $34.99. Turn almost anything into a smart device by adding a WeMo smart plug to your wall outlets. You can control lights, humidifiers, fans, and more. The WeMo out of the box has a lot of great features – since its WiFi enabled, you can control the plugs from anywhere, its easy to program (for example, you can turn your Christmas tree on at sundown with just a couple taps), and even includes a great feature where if you set your plugs to “away” for vacation, it’ll turn on/off devices at random so it looks like you’re still at home. The plugs also integrate with a ton of different platforms, including Alexa and Google Home, Nest (which is handy for using the Nest’s home/away functionality), and IFTTT. The mini plug has a slimmer profile than its cousin, the WeMo Insight, and tucks away easily without interfering with the second outlet on the wall.

Using these products can get anyone started making their home smarter without breaking the bank. All the devices are easy to use, easy to set-up, and work with a variety of systems so if someone gets the smart home bug, they can continue to expand their horizons and add more to their house. Tomorrow, we will cover technology for people who are interested in starting to customize their smart home and suggest some gifts that are a bit more advanced. Stay tuned to see our favorite intermediate smart home tech!

Using the Touchstone to Track New Build VOCs

One of the coolest things about working in a lab that makes its own hardware and software is the ability to get to find situations to test those products, and I was super happy to be able to getting to test a unique use case for the Touchstone indoor environmental quality sensor we’re working on: monitoring air quality during construction. I recently bought a three-story row house here in Chicago, and before moving in we wanted to do some cosmetic changes – a fresh coat of paint in the third floor bedrooms, brand new carpeting on the third floor as well as on 45 stairs (yes, that’s a LOT of stairs!), and new hardwood flooring on the first floor. All of these projects would be off-gassing various VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and it felt like a great time to bring in a Touchstone to monitor how high these levels got and how quickly they would dissipate. Finally, it also gave the team a chance to test user experience with installation – I am the least tech-savvy member of the bunch, so making sure the instructions were easy to follow was key.

Raspberry Pi SetupTouchstone protoype setupSetup was easy, thanks in part to some of the trickier bits being done by the team before I went to my new house. The setup includes a Raspberry Pi (which I’ve used in other applications, like setting up a welcome kiosk for our Information Services department), a USB stick that allows the Raspberry Pi to talk to the Touchstone, and the Touchstone itself. I also brought with me a Verizon MiFi hotspot, since our internet would not be connected for another week and the system needs internet to communicate to the software component called Grafana. Grafana is a way to display data directly from the Touchstone itself – while we are working on our own software, we are using Grafana to track data for research purposes.

I set up the Raspberry Pi and MiFi in my kitchen on the second floor, and then the Touchstone in the hallway on the third floor.

I set these up the day that painting started, 8/11/17, with final touchups of paint happening on 8/17/17. The units have stayed plugged in since, allowing us to see how the levels “settle” over time. It’s been hands off since installation, except for when we got our internet connected in the house, when I switched the Raspberry Pi over from the MiFi network to its final network home. That process was pretty easy, and the instructions the team wrote were clear and allowed me to do the switch with ease.

What did we learn about VOCs in that time period? As expected, total VOCs went up during construction, stayed elevated during the “worst” parts (when we had paint drying, carpet installing, and the hardwood floor going in simultaneously), and then dissipated rather quickly once we took steps to rid the air of VOCs. We also were able to tell when people were most active near the Touchstone itself, since CO2 levels would raise, which I thought was a funny way of measuring the progress of the carpeting install.

touchstone grafana data

The straight line from the 19th to the 21st is when the unit was offline between taking down the MiFi access point and getting our new internet installed. The 15th was the most active day for installation; the spike on the 18th likely corresponds to the actual move-in date, where lots of cardboard was being tossed around, lots of people were moving around, and any carpet fibers that were buried even after a vacuuming were being kicked up.

We mitigated VOCs in two major ways – creating cross breezes through window airflow, and by constantly running our indoor whole-house fan. We had the air conditioning on during the day – it was about 85-90 degrees during that week, and with workers bustling about we wanted to keep them comfortable – but since we were not living in the house yet, opening the windows at night to let out vapors was an easy and fast solution.

Some things to keep in mind with the graph above – we are tracking four different things that all actually do not usually exist on the same scale as each other, so the end values can’t really be judged without looking at individual points and comparing them to known ranges. But for a quick visualization, this works out great, and being able to track trends is an important part of monitoring indoor environmental quality.

Now that I’m moved in, I am planning on relocating the Touchstone after unpacking to a place that gets a lot of use, like the kitchen or living areas. That way, I’ll be able to directly see the impact had in the areas I “live” in the most. If I do see trends in VOCs or high CO2 levels, I can consider putting some pet-friendly plants that I am researching for part two of our Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air series. While indoor environmental quality sensors won’t diagnose specific issues, they are a valuable tool in tracking your home’s health, just like your Fitbit helps to track metrics about fitness, and we think these metrics will lead to happier home occupants.

Things Thursday #020: What makes a city smart?, Microsoft entering the thermostat battle, and some great resources on smart homes for you

A hand holding our environmental quality sensor, which is called the Touchstone. It's about the size and shape of a bar of soap.

The Touchstone sensor from CRT Labs. This device will read temperature, humidity, light, CO2, VOCs, particulate matter and more.

  1. What are 10 key things that make a city smart? (via ReadWrite)
    This is a great roundup of what a city needs to be smart. From connectivity to sensing, ReadWrite put together a great roundup. If you’re interested in the real estate perspective on smart cities, we’ve got a series for you to check out called ‘The Building of Functioning Cities‘.
  2. And finally: Amazon Echo 2 incoming and more (via Wareable)
    Yes, this is a list of smart home/wearable items for you to peruse. They have some good intel on Amazon’s latest smart speaker as well as what Apple’s up to on the smart home front. Check it out.
  3. What to know about smart home technology: 10 smart home resources for REALTORS (via CRT Labs)
    Another roundup??? What’s going on with this list? 🙂 I would be remiss if I didn’t point you to our roundup of resources you can take advantage of to bolster your understanding of this emerging market. Why does it matter to you? Because it matters to your clients. Read on to find out more.
  4. Microsoft’s Cortana-powered thermostat is totally gorgeous (via CNET)
    This is definitely something to consider. A nice-looking thermostat from Microsoft and Johnson Controls. No pricing info yet, but keep an eye on this. It’s called the GLAS, it’s voice-enabled (with Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Alexa) and it monitors indoor and outdoor air quality. If you want a voice-enabled thermostat now, check out the Ecobee4 with Alexa integration. If the $249 price point is keeping you away, you should look for rebates from your utility or insurance company.
  5. Touchstone: Environmental Quality Monitor for your home! (via CRT Labs)
    Finally, a look at what we’ve been up to. This device is not on the market yet, but take a look at our work. Really proud of our group here at NAR. Akram, one of our lab engineers, provides a pretty deep dive into what we’ve been up to with this device. I’m really proud of our team and their efforts to make this piece of hardware and the software behind it. They’ve been extremely supportive of one another and have collaborated better than I could have imagined. Kudos to them.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook

What to Know About Smart Home Technology: 10 Resources for REALTORS & Their Clients

Smart home technology is definitely here to stay. According to a recent report on consumer adoption of smart home technology, 79% said they own some type of smart home tech. Those that owned it said they would purchase more. Ninety-seven percent of consumers now know what smart devices are. This is up from 67% in 2015. Because of market awareness, there are several opportunities for you to discuss these devices with your clients. They may:

  • have interest in adding value to a home before selling it
  • be wondering if they should leave devices with the home
  • want to outfit their new home with devices
  • be curious about simply learning more

As more and more of these devices hit the market, consumers will ask you about the benefits and their needs. Below, we’ve compiled a list of resources for you to use to educate yourself and your clients on smart home technology.

Here are 10 resources that you can use in improving your understanding of smart home technology:

1. Smart Home Glossary and Smart Home/Internet of Things FAQ

The glossary and FAQ are good places to start. They give you all the terms that relate to smart home devices. From how these devices connect to what IoT is. It’s a compendium of the most asked questions we’ve received with respect to these devices. Help clients get ahead of the curve by sharing the links with them.

2. The Insecurity of Things: Understanding Security Issues Around the Internet of Things

Last fall, when the denial of service attack happened and most of the internet wouldn’t work, I wrote a 3-part series on the security issues around the internet of things. I looked at what you as a user of these devices can do to protect yourself as well as what manufacturers need to do to protect you. Security is paramount for these devices and this series gives some insights on what to do to make sure you understand the risks and how to mitigate them.

3. Smart Home Simplified 1-Pagers

Our Smart Home Simplified series of 1-pagers is meant to give you a high level overview of the different device classes in the smart home space. These 1-pagers are great tools for educating yourself, other agents, or consumers. You are able to share them with whomever you’d like. Add a link in your newsletter or other informational posts. Each sheet talks about the pros and cons of these devices, how they work and why consumers are interested in them. The 10 classes of devices we cover are:

  • Thermostats
  • Locks
  • Doorbells
  • Cameras
  • Indoor Air Quality Sensors
  • Lights
  • Hubs
  • Voice Activated Speakers
  • Water Leak Detectors
  • Smoke/CO Detectors

Each page will also provide you with a link to a resources page for that class of devices. Think we need to add another class of devices? Let us know.

4. CRT’s Smart Home Report

Last year, we did our first smart home report with our Research Group at NAR. This will be an ongoing annual report for the next few years. We are working to better understand your knowledge of the space and that of the consumer market. Use it to understand what devices are important to consumers and where there are opportunities to help support clients in their quest to understand this market.

5. Educate Yourself & Consumers on Incentives from Utilities & Insurance Companies

I recently wrote a piece on the value of understanding what rebates and incentives are being offered by your utilities and insurance companies. These incentives may or may not be known by your clients, but knowing about what is available in your area is of tremendous value to them. It also shows that you’re looking out for ways to improve their experience.

6. CRT Labs’ Things Thursday

On a semi-regular basis, we put together a round-up on the internet of things and talk about the implications for real estate. We look at the way in the future tech as well as stuff that you can take advantage of today. It’s a great list of links you can share with your team, other agents or clients.

7. CRT Labs’ Office Hours Every Friday

Our Facebook page is a great place to find resources. Every Friday, we hold Office Hours on emerging technology. They start at 3p Eastern and run for about 20 minutes. We love receiving questions and comments during the Office Hours so we can discuss with you and have active conversation on these topics. Like the page and be notified immediately of any live videos we are doing.

8. Smart Home Checklist App

Have you sold a home that had smart home devices in it already? If so, did you have those devices reset by the seller before transferring ownership? If not, the seller may still have access to the smart devices. To help with this problem, we created a web app called the Smart Home Checklist. This simple app will allow you to identify the devices in the home, aggregate them on a list and share that list with whomever you want.

9. Smart Home DB

The Smart Home DB is a great resource to find out more about specific devices. They have nearly 1,200 devices listed in this community-curated database. They also have user-generated plans for hooking up different devices and some how-tos. We are actually feeding the backend of our Smart Home Checklist from this repository.

10. IoT Podcast from Stacey Higginbotham

Stacey is an IoT industry expert and she has a great podcast on the topic of smart homes, smart cities and industrial IoT. She has vendors and industry experts talk about the market now and what’s coming.She’s even covered CRT’s work in the past on her podcast. Stacey’s expertise comes from years of covering technology for a number of news sites, including Fortune and GigaOm. Sign up for her newsletter and find out what’s coming next.

BONUS: This blog & CRT Labs

You might have noticed a lot of the resources I posted linked back to this blog. There’s a reason for that. CRT is one of the few resources thinking about the impact of emerging technology on your business. We talk to members about it, as well as speaking to industry experts, vendors, security groups, universities, government and research laboratories about you and your business. They see you as a valuable resource and are very interested in your feedback and work. So, use us as a resource. We do webinars, presentations and all sorts of educational outreach. Drop us a line if you’d like us to present to your group.

That’s it for this roundup. Are there any resources you’d like from us that aren’t listed above? Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know.

 

Things Thursday #018: Detroit, Smart City! and how secure are your speakers and more

A picture of the Detroit skyline.

Detroit’s getting sensors provided by citizens. Read below about Sensors in a Shoebox.

  1. HomePod, Echo, Google Home: How secure are your speakers? (via C|NET)
    There are a lot of questions around security and smart devices like the speakers. In fact, the audience at my presentation at the South Bay Association of REALTORS this past Monday were very concerned around security of smart speakers. This nice quick piece on the security of your data from Apple, Google and Amazon’s voice automation speakers. It seems like Apple has the advantage based on their encryption best practices. Even though they cost around $349, the HomePods secure your data the same way that Apple’s Messages and Siri applications do. Check it out and see if your security questions are answered.
  2. Toyota is exploring heart rate monitoring cars to help prevent accidents (via Wareable)
    For me, these types of thoughts around smart technologies are very worthwhile. Nothing is imminent from Toyota, but they are exploring how to determine if a driver is incapacitated and what they can do to help them in case of emergency.
  3. Samsung challenges Google with Connect Home Wi-Fi mesh (via ReadWrite)
    Mesh networking is becoming a big market and it’s being driven by IoT. Samsung joins Google, eero and several other companies in trying to scratch this itch. Follow the link to see what they are up to.
  4. Detroit Imagines a Citizen-Led Smart City (via CityLab)
    This is the type of thing I love about smart city work. A community coming together to solve a problem. Detroit is a great innovation space due to its past economic downturn. The city is ripe for change and new ideas. Working with the University of Michigan, residents are deploying smart sensors. The project, called Sensors in a Shoebox, are providing a low-cost way for residents to understand their environment. Imagine if REALTORs could help deploy projects like this to improve quality of life. Pretty cool.

That’s all for Things Thursday this week. Have questions? Want us to cover something? Let us know. You can follow us on Twitter @crtlabs or Facebook

Navigating the Smart Home: Utilities and Insurance Companies

A picture of a man standing at a crossroads in a redwood forest. There is text on the picture that reads Navigating the Smart Home

NOTE: At this year’s REALTOR® Legislative Meetings, I was talking about our work with Andrew Sims, CEO of Dayton Area Board of REALTORS®. I shared with him things we talk to REALTORS® about in our presentations, and at one point, he said, ‘That should be written down somewhere.’ I realized immediately he was right. So, I’ll start by doing that in this post.

When we speak at associations and brokerages, our standard presentation includes a lot of information about why REALTORS® should care about smart homes. The biggest reason is because other industries that touch the housing market are getting involved. Utilities and insurance companies are creating rebates and programs around smart home technology. Smart home devices will allow you to do things like:

  • monitor and save energy
  • keep your home secure
  • prevent extensive damage to your property

Knowing what is available and who is offering it is a great information for you and your clients. We will include links to more information in this article.

Utilities

I realized immediately smart devices would mean big things for how consumers use energy when I first saw the Nest Thermostat in 2012. These devices help consumers save 10-15% in energy costs. As I traveled and spoke, however, members weren’t too keen on its $249 price tag at that time. But around 2014, REALTORS® began sharing stories of rebates from utilities and energy savings for their clients. They were even sharing stories of how the thermostats were paying for themselves in a short amount of time. These programs have only grown.

ComEd, Chicago’s largest electric utility, is offering $100 rebates on certain smart thermostats. They’ve even extended rebates (amounts vary) toward the purchases of light bulbs, power strips and security cameras, and has a site dedicated to selling smart home devices with instant rebates included. Check with your local electric and gas companies to see what rebates they may be offering on these devices.

Insurance

In the insurance industry, smart home devices are being offered as ways to reduce premiums and risk. Specific smart device types that can be up for discounts are:

  • Locks
  • Cameras
  • Water leak detectors
  • Smoke/CO alarms

One such insurer is Liberty Mutual, an NAR REALTOR Benefits® partner. They are giving away a Nest Protect smoke and CO detector and up to 5% off of insurance premiums. You can find all the life safety and security products included in Liberty Mutual’s program by searching the Liberty Mutual site.

Another insurance company with an interesting offering is State Farm. They are working with camera company Canary to provide discounts on burglar alarm insurance.

Educate Yourself So You Can Educate Clients

These are just a few examples of smart home promotions you can find outside our industry and share with your clients. Companies like Nest and Ecobee have rebates and rewards websites you can use to check and see what’s offered in your area. This is very fertile ground and there are a lot of opportunities for you to connect with your clients by educating them on these discounts and programs. Search your local area for opportunities for clients and make sure they know what’s out there.