HJ - Hoppmann Smart Home Program

Using “smart” switches, Lied Public Library Director Andrew Hoppmann enters a command on a tablet computer during a demonstration at a program Monday, May 21, at the library. (photo by Dan Eshelman)

Utilization of available technology can transform a house into what is described as a “smart” home.

 Options for implementing that technology were reviewed by Lied Public Library Director Andrew Hoppmann during a program Monday, May 21, at the library in Clarinda.

A “smart” home, he said, commonly refers to a residence “that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment systems, video systems and security camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely.”

With a “smart” phone or tablet computer, and an Internet connection, Hoppmann said, “you can control your home anywhere in the world.” Lights can be turned on and off, doors locked or unlocked, and interior and exterior areas of the house monitored by cameras.

Once “smart” devices are installed in a dwelling, numerous tasks and operations can be scheduled to occur at designated times or on selected days, depending on the preferences of the homeowner.

“All of your products are going to be programmed to meet your needs,” Hoppmann said. “You can customize them to your routine, and can include as many or as few of these products as you choose. There are locks, lights, switches. If it plugs in, it probably can be a ‘smart’ device, or can be modified into a ‘smart’ device.”

At the program, he showed samples of such products, including a light that could be turned on and off from a tablet computer. Functions of different types of switches were discussed as well.

Also among the “smart” products Hoppmann displayed were an Amazon Echo and an Echo Dot. Called “personal assistants,” and with a service named “Alexa,” these are voice activated devices that react to queries or directions. Responding to questions, they can provide information about certain topics. Voice commands can tell them to perform specific actions.

Similar devices that have these features are marketed by Google and Apple. “They also allow for the voice control of ‘smart’ items,” Hoppmann said.

If a person is interested in establishing a “smart” home, there are pertinent factors to consider, he said.

They include deciding what the goal of the project will be, and whether the installation of a “smart” system will be relatively simple or more complex. Devices can be accessed with applications on phones, or a home “hub” can be used as a central control point.

If certain brands of technology, such as Apple, Android or Google, are already being used in a house, any “smart” devices introduced will need to be compatible in order to avoid communication problems.

The type of items intended to be controlled must be determined, Hoppmann said, so that the installed components will work properly. 

Some companies will set up a “smart” system in a home and then maintain it through a monthly subscription, a choice that might be suitable for people who do not wish to deal with potential problems associated with system maintenance.

One of the primary benefits of a “smart” home, Hoppmann said, is that is can be “environmentally friendly,” since thermostats, air conditioning and lighting can all be controlled for optimal energy efficiency.

“Some of these ‘smart’ devices will actually show you how much power they’re consuming, and when,” he said. “And depending on the power grid, these devices can cut down the power when you’re not using it.”

At his residence in Clarinda, Hoppmann has a product called Ecobee that controls the thermostat for the heating and cooling systems. During the library program, Hoppmann, through a remote connection, showed how temperature settings can be selected and programmed for rooms when they are occupied or empty.

Ecobee also monitors and records energy usage, allowing Hoppmann to see how the figure compares to averages in other areas. “We can know what the energy impact is,” he said, knowledge that may aid in deciding whether temperature settings should be adjusted. 

Enhanced security is another benefit in a “smart” home, Hoppmann said. Cameras can monitor the inside and outside of a house, with alerts of any suspicious activity forwarded to the homeowner or public safety authorities.

Sensors located in various places in the house can also detect problems requiring attention.

Hoppmann said that if the “smart” smoke detector he has installed in his residence goes off, “I get a message on my phone, so I know immediately that something has happened.”

Sensors are also available that respond to water leaking--or bursting--from lines in a house.

 Though the creation of a “smart” home offers benefits, there are disadvantages that should be recognized, Hoppmann said.

“Some of the products can be fairly expensive, and there may be a learning curve for how to set things up,” he said.

Reliability of a system is also an issue. An uninterrupted connection to the Internet is required for a home’s “smart” components to function properly, and a loss of Internet service will adversely affect the devices.

“Smart” systems amass information about a home and its occupants, and that data can be accessed, Hoppmann said. This development has raised concerns regarding personal privacy.

“You might have to make a trade-off, or a compromise,” he said. “It’s between the convenience of having these devices do all these things for you, and concern about the security of the data that’s being compiled about you.”

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