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Smart homes: what you need to know about I.o.T. devices

Dahna ChandlerThe Mortgage Reports Contributor

Smart homes and the Internet of things (IoT)

In this article:

Today, so-called smart homes and IoT devices can make life easier, if you know how to use them. You can control:

  • Home security, lights and temperature
  • Appliances and water heaters
  • Windows, doorbells and speakers

In short, just about every electronic device in your home can take orders from you and coordinate with others.

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What is IoT and how does it create smart homes?

You can make yours into a smart home like George and Judy Jetson’s while keeping you safe using these gadgets. But, it helps to understand what IoT and smart devices are.

Now, IoT and smart devices get used for creating smart home environments once only possible on television or in movies. Smart homes might be worth more or sell faster, too as they become increasingly popular.

Short for “Internet of Things,” IoT allows devices that are not your computers or mobile phone to connect the internet independent of them and each other. Once connected by Bluetooth, wifi, wired or LTE, you use IoT devices to automate everything from coffee making to lighting.

Related: Home technology (protect yourself when buying or selling a smart home)

To be a smart home, your house’s IoT network has to contain a security or temperature control feature and two others like an appliance, entertainment or lighting feature.

While IoT gadgets have the internal structure to get connected to the internet, you’ll have to do some work to make that happen. Most of the time, you use your computer, tablet or smartphone to get IoT devices to function effectively. Then you send them commands, and they do what you want from internet searches to take-out orders.

IoT, smart, and connected devices get sophisticated

Increasingly, smart technology doesn’t only automate things. They’re sometimes connected to one another on networks outside your home and powered by voice or artificial intelligence (AI).

That means over time, they can “learn” what you need them to do by collecting and analyzing data. Then, they simply do what you expect. Or, using voice commands, you can tell your devices what to do and have some tell others what to do.

Your refrigerator can let you know using a connected app on your smartphone you’re out of juice, eggs, and avocados. With some programming, it can order those things for you, too. If you live in one of the over 47 million homes with access to smart speakers, you can tell them to do more than play certain music or tell you a joke.

The most common smart speakers are Apple’s Siri on Homepod, Amazon’s Alexa with an Echo speaker or Google’s Assistant on Home. Use them as your “assistant” to search online, set reminders or control your smart home’s connected IoT devices, like your refrigerator or other appliances.

With some programming and a push of its button, Amazon Dash buttons know when it’s time to reorder items for you and has them shipped to your door.

Get started by deciding which features you want

Many people used to hire a pro to make their homes “smart,” but today easy to use assistants and apps make the process a pretty simple DIY undertaking. Consider what you want your smart devices to “learn” about your habits and what features they’ll need to do that.

Related: Best home security providers

Since many homes have security, most have thermostats, and all have lighting, it’s probably easiest to start there, replacing those devices with smart ones. These are household features you already understand, providing a basis for gaining more knowledge.

For example, it’s simple to add smart cloud cameras to your security system because you’ve likely got experience with security, cameras, and cloud computing. These smart gadgets can connect to WiFi and your smartphone for a simple system.

Figure out how networked you want to be

If you’re a tech geek, you may want an entirely networked home connecting multiple devices and have them work together. For that, you’ll start with a voice-controlled smart speaker as your “hub” and assistant.

You can use apps like “If This Than That” IFTTT to create “recipes” that trigger actions to control all devices on your IoT network. Then, you can turn smart gadgets into smart systems. One could be for heating and cooling, lighting and water temperature control by adding a smart water heater that knows when you shower.

Related: new house checklist (things you’ll need that you never imagined)

Make your smart security or entertainment system more sophisticated, too when its devices get internet connected and voice-controlled using IFTTT recipes. You can connect windows and doorbells to your smart security system. Or,  control the kids’ TV screen and game time by telling Alexa to shut down the entertainment system.

Keep security in mind

Like anything else connected to the internet, smart home devices get hacked, leading to serious crimes, in some cases. That’s true whether the connections are wireless or wired if they’re not on secure networks or devices aren’t password-protected.

While these hacking incidents happen only to about 10 percent of smart homeowners, they can have costly consequences if they do. Those who’ve had this happen report losses between $1,000-$5,000 dollars.

It’s essential to do several things to protect yourself from hackers:

  1. Research before you buy any devices. Don’t cheap out; buy from manufacturers who focus on security or price
  2. Strengthen your internet networks. Make sure wifi is set up securely starting with a top router. Then, connect your smart devices to the internet on guest networks separate from your computers, phones or tablets
  3. Use strong passwords. If your IoT gadgets offer password options, add them and use strong passwords
  4. Keep all software updated. That includes security software on every device and each connected gadget’s firmware
  5. Use “mute” and “disable” whenever necessary or desired. If you can speak to a smart gadget and it hears you, hackers may, too. Smart cameras (and baby monitors) also get hijacked routinely
  6. Read device privacy policies and terms and conditions. Make sure your IoT devices can’t collect data on your, record your conversations or act like surveillance tools against you rather than intruders or others

Don’t feel paranoid if you believe someone unauthorized is watching or listening to you or your family. These days, it’s as likely as not so mute or disable your network’s recording tools for some old school privacy

Even Mark Zuckerberg and former FBI Director, James Comey tape their computer’s web cameras to protect their privacy. Security experts also say it’s just not smart to leave your smart speakers connected all the time. Completely disconnect smart devices with mics or video when you don’t want your smart home used to monitor you.

Get installation help so your IoT doesn’t hurt you

Don’t be afraid to alert law enforcement, friends and family if you’re feeling harassed or you know they should privacy-invading avoid smart gadgets. If necessary, make the smart move of hiring a smart home security expert to make sure yours keeps you and our family safe.

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