Enhance your life with smart home technology

By Geoff Kirbyson

You might want to have a teenager handy if you’re in the market for a smart home.

As technology continues to grow by leaps and bytes, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a feature of your house that you can’t control with your cell phone.

Your security system, your alarm system, your thermostat, your blinds, your garage door and your hot tub can all turned on or off, up or down with a tap or two of your finger.

If you’re still doubting that smart technology is here to stay, consider you can also buy a refrigerator that scans the groceries and condiments that you put in them and sends you a note to remind you that you’re out of milk.

And with MTS having recently merged with Bell, smart homes are going to get even smarter as bandwidth from the new Bell MTS is more than 20 times faster than what MTS offered alone.

But with hackers able to penetrate the most impenetrable of fire walls, do home buyers need to worry about somebody — perhaps even the people they’ve just bought their house from — gaining electronic access to their home?

Break and enters can happen when you least expect them, but Sean Banks, president of K&S Electronics & Security, said you can get much-valuable peace of mind by purchasing a combination of security and surveillance systems.

“If your alarm goes off and you’re not home, you can check the cameras. You’re getting video verification of a break and enter versus just an alarm system tripping,” he said.

To be 100 per cent sure that nobody is going to hack their way into your home, Banks recommends hiring a technology company to come in to wipe the slate clean and reset everything for new users with new email accounts and new passwords.

Smart homes are becoming increasingly popular as evidenced by a little company named Google and its competitors launching advertising blitzes where devices the size of a coffee cup can walk a Toronto Raptors basketball player through a recipe, enable mopey housewives to turn their kitchens into a Jamaican beach bar and fun fathers to quickly transform their chaotic homes into bedtime mode seconds before their wives walk in the front door.

Just as you would when buying the appliances in your new home, make sure to include in your written offer that you’re also purchasing any smart technology, too, said Elizabeth Rosenberg, Winnipeg-based vice-president of operations at The Accurate Technology Group,

“Ensure that the seller is actually selling the technology with the home as cameras, thermostats and components could be removed. Ensure (as the buyer) that you receive the contact information for the company that installed the system so that programming changes, as necessary, can be made to the system,” she said.

For example, automated lighting often works on “scenes,” which are customized and will need to be reprogrammed to your own preferences.

When you move into your new house and get set up with your own Internet provider, you’ll have a different IP address from the previous owners, which will prevent them from accessing your account, she said.

“But you must change the user name and password. That is critical,” she said.

Security cameras would also require an IP address, so once that’s changed, former owners would not be able to see what you’re eating for dinner or what you’re watching on television.

Rosenberg recommends new home owners ask the company that installed the alarm system to come back to reprogram it and set a new code. This is particularly important if you have pets and the previous owners didn’t.

“You will need to know what type of motions have been installed in the home to ensure that your pet does not set off your alarm. Upgrades to pet-friendly motions would be required, depending on the size of pet and whether they have the run of the house,” she said.

So, what’s it all going to cost? A starter kit for a smart house, including a thermostat and a couple of light switches, can set you back less than $1,000. You can add other devices, such as your garage door, lawn sprinkler system or hot tub for a few hundred dollars each.

There’s a super ultra-Cadillac package, too. Banks said he recently installed a $500,000 system with smart, well, everything, in a $6-million home. But more than anything, people want maximum control of how their house operates.

“They want to be able to see what’s going on in their homes from anywhere in the world. Everybody is glued to their phones these days. They want to be able to control everything from the palm of their hand,” he said.