Like other great household decisions (such as puppy or kitten, SUV or minivan, and pizza or tacos), smart or not smart is one of those things that the whole family needs to be on the same page about, otherwise certain chaos will ensue. From keeping the lights on and making sure no one gets locked out of the house to protecting privacy and security, the introduction of smart home devices impacts everyone under the same roof, so controls, permissions and access need to be discussed and agreed upon. If you’re going to install smart devices in your home, here are the big issues you need to clear up first to keep harmony in your household.
Geofences make good neighbors
Some of the best features of smart products are connected to geofencing–the ability to control a system automatically based on a user’s location. Geofencing systems may use your phone’s cell signal, GPS, your home Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth, or some combination to detect where you are. Within a device’s app, you specify a home perimeter (the geofence); passing in and out of that area can trigger actions by the device. In most cases, geofencing is connected to your smart phone and can work with things like thermostats, security cameras, and security systems. When configured, geofencing can adjust the smart thermostat when you leave the house (with your smartphone), arm your security system, and even turn the living room lights on or off, all automatically. But if more than one person lives in the home, everyone needs to be part of the geofencing network (which usually means every person needs to download the device app and log in). Otherwise you’ll risk, say, turning off the heat when you leave while someone is still inside, or accidentally locking a family member out of the house. If you use geofencing for a home security system, messing this up can result in unwanted false alarms. If geofencing sounds too complicated or risky, you don’t have to use the feature. But you’ll be missing out on its automated convenience.
The light at the end of the tunnel is off
Smart bulbs and smart plugs turn a boring lamp into one that seems to do magic. But those tricks can be spoiled with the flip of a switch. With both smart bulbs and plugs, for the smart device to operate, the lamp or appliance needs to always be left on. So if someone who’s not onboard with your new tech turns off a lamp at the switch, that smart app will just stare back at you like a puppy who doesn’t yet know the command “sit.” (In my house, I resorted to taping the wall switches into place until the rest of the family figured out which lights were smart and which weren’t.)
Also, if an app is the only way to control the lights, then everyone who uses them will need to download the app, too. Some smart-bulb manufacturers, such as Hue, offer a creative workaround to that with remotes that can sit on a table or be hung on a wall and allow more traditional control of the light. If you don’t want to fuss with controls at all, automatic settings in the light app, or motion sensors, can operate your lights for you, so no one needs to bother with an app or switch. Voice-controlled smart speakers can also solve this issue by letting anyone control a connected light with their voice, assuming everyone knows the correct command. All of my outdoor lights are controlled either by automatic on/off schedules or by motion sensors. Motion sensors in my kitchen and hallway automatically trigger lights there, so no one needs to fumble for a switch during a late-night amble.
Somebody’s watching me, maybe
Security cameras and doorbell cameras can be great if you’re worried about trespassers or package thieves. But, as with the geofencing issue noted above, if only one person in the house has access to the camera app, then it’s not security—it’s creepy. Because cameras introduce a host of ethical and privacy issues, as well as concerns about hacking, it’s important that the family members agree on their use and placement. For example, an indoor security camera that’s placed in a common area but accessed by only one person can leave others in the house open to eavesdropping, or at least to feeling like they’re being spied on, even if the original intention was just to keep an eye on pets. A better solution would be to allow everyone access to the app and controls, and use geofencing to ensure that everyone has to be out of the house for the cameras to be active. Making sure all of the adults in the home have administrative control over the device can also reduce the likelihood of the device being used in an abusive way.
In addition to all of the issues above, adding smart devices to your home requires you to practice some extra diligence when securing your home network, to help prevent unwanted access.