A Smart Home: Creepy or Cool?

Here’s a question: is a “smart home,” connected and automated via various apps and devices, cool — or does it strike you as creepy? For those of you who have automated/connected your home, what products do you love the best? (I know there will be many who have a “no way no day” attitude here, and that’s ok too — I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!) As someone who tends to have an attitude of “sure it’s kind of creepy but ugggggh I hate turning on lamps manually on and off every single day when they’re an important part of our lighting design scheme,” I’ve started to go down the rabbithole. Things I’ve looked into (all of which work with my beloved Alexa as well as my smart phone, for what it’s worth):

  • Philips Hue – I got my husband a starter kit for last Christmas — getting it set up was VERY easy, and now we have colorful lights that can dim, be set to routines (such as turning on automatically at sunset), and can be turned on or off by voice command to Alexa. (We have SmartThings set up because we also have one connected outlet that my father wired for us — I think it’s a Leviton — and I will say I prefer the routines through SmartThings than through the Hue app.)  The LightStrips are awesome if you want to add undercabinet lighting to your home, particularly if you have a long bank of cabinets or, say, a long console table, china hutch, or shelf that you wish lit up; we also really like the colorful bulbs for the boys‘ room. (You can cut the lighting strips but each one needs to be plugged in to a power source.) I’ve only just begun experimenting with third party apps that, for example, change the lighting in reaction to music you’re playing.

  • Ecobee (vs Nest) – I got my parents the Ecobee for controlling the thermostat in their suburban house, in part because it was always too hot upstairs when we came to visit but we didn’t want to drag ourselves all the way downstairs to the thermostat — now they can just adjust it from their phone. They also like it when the seasons are changing and it’ll be 80 degrees one day and 60 degrees another day — you can set it so that Ecobee just maintains the home temperature to 68-73 degrees (or whatever 5-degree radius you set), without having to switch it manually to hot/cold. They have yet to report back if they’ve saved money since we got it for them. Ecobee not only works with Alexa, but the newest version comes with an Alexa built in.

Other smart home apps to consider:

  • Ring – a security camera that becomes an intercom if someone rings your doorbell — I’ve heard this is a lifesaver if you don’t live in a doorman building!
  • Nest – similar to Ecobee, controls your thermostat
  • (Whoa – there are even smart locks that work with Alexa!)
  • Bitdefender – something I should maybe look into; it’s “smart security for all your connected things.”

Readers, what are your thoughts on the smart home — is it cool, or creepy? Have you tried Nest or Philips Hue lights or another smart home product? a smart home for a smart woman

Picture via Stencil.

Smart homes - are they creepy or cool? Kat's into them, and has some tips on how to get started on a smart home, including whether to consider devices like SmartThings, Ecobee, Nest, Hue, Bitdefender, Ring, and more! (Great discussion from the readers who think a smart home is creepy, as well!)

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  1. AnonInfinity :

    I’m in the “no way” camp, especially if you need something like Alexa to control it. My biggest issue is that I can easily imagine something like Alexa advertising to me. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I’m talking to my husband and then log onto my computer and I have an ad for something I was just talking about. Or I’m saying to him, “We need more cereal,” and Alexa (or whatever) speaks up and says, “Would you like me to order you more Cheerios?” That level of surveillance just makes me so uncomfortable.

    • Anonymous :

      This already happens – ever notice how ads on websites will relate to whatever you were searching for on Google?

      • I’m with AnonInfinity. The ads problem is somewhat (but not entirely) fixable by clearing out your cookies or using a do-not-track. Also saying “well it happens anyway” is just a head-ostrich approach. Remember the movie Enemy of the State? It could actually happen – likelihood low, but if the wrong idiot is in charge…

        I heard unverified anecdata that someone couldn’t get their garage door to open via the app, and the company wanted a lot of money to fix the situation so she could get in. I’d hate someone else being in control of my house.

      • AnonInfinity :

        Yes, but those are things I’ve proactively typed into Google to search. I don’t like it, but I’d rather have that than something like an Echo picking up on words I’m verbally saying in a private conversation.

  2. I distinctly remember a Disney Original Movie, circa 200…3? about smart houses turning on their owners. Involved Katy Segal.

    17 yo me thought it was never possible, but also said “never!”

    • Yes, because there was an awesome scene with the teenage boys do the dance to some boy band (either NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, I can’t remember). Also, the Smart House sucked up all the evidence of the major party he had so he didn’t get in trouble – that tool I want.

    • New Job Who Dis :

      it’s literally called “Smart House” !
      …Such a good Disney TV movie.

    • Hahaha, you are totally right!

      I am spooked by having things listen in on private conversations, so no Alexa/whatever for us in the near future. As for the other smart features, we have a smart remote so that cable, surround music, and the dvd player are cordless and you only need one remote and I hate it because it gets so glitchy and then you have to re-start the remote just to adjust the volume sometimes. A rich friend of mine like 10 years ago had a smart home and vowed never again after they had to spend a night sleeping with ALL the lights on in the entire house because of a glitch with the app, hahaha.

  3. When I built my new house, I did add a number of smarthouse features. No, they aren’t necessary, but it is so convenient. At my old place, I turned around at the end of my street at least once a week to go back and verify that the garage door is down. Now, I can check my phone app, and put the door down if I ever forgot. The front door also has a smart lock that can be unlocked from the same app. Most lights can be controlled the same way along with the thermostat.

    Some items can be controlled directly via an app on your phone, but then if you have multiple items you end up opens a lot of apps to do everything. Using some sort of smarthub, whether Alexa or any of the other hubs on the market brings everything together and allows you to control “scenes” (a series of tasks that go together).

  4. Anonymous :

    I’m able-bodied, so I can turn off lamps (or just leave them on). It’s never really been a problem.

    I’d automate if things could be done that are helpful and unpleasant to me:

    Alexa — I sense a whif of dead mouse again; please find and remove it; then scrub the area in bleach

    • I said the same about lights, but it is particularly nice for waking up. Ours are set on a timer and gradually go from dim to bright ala the dedicated wake up bulbs. And having the color changing is kind of fun for parties, especially Halloween.

      • My husband is really interested in the smart house stuff, so we have branched into it a bit. I’m hesitant because I possess a lawyer brain. However the lights are the one thing I like. Theoretically if I fall asleep on the couch I can just yell at Alexa to turn the lights off for me. Although, despite this being the ONE BEST THING he disconnected voice control for Alexa downstairs so I can’t actually do it. I think I can still use a phone app to turn them off. I don’t know. Mostly it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

  5. Anonymous :

    Bring it on. I love technology. I’m one of the dreaded millennials and I grew up with technology constantly evolving and improving. I love it. No Alexa/Echo in Canada yet, but fingers crossed.

  6. bellatrix :

    I divide smart-home devices into two categories: the ones where I can tell a machine to do something, and the ones where the machine decides what to do. The former is fine (if frivolous), the latter is decidedly creepy. I love programmable thermostats, but I don’t a computer deciding my home’s temperature for me. My dad was telling me about something he’d read where your sleep tracker will talk to your coffeemaker, and if you slept especially poorly the coffeemaker will make your coffee extra strong. I think it must have been predictions, or some conceptual product that isn’t actually available — but you can totally see it happening, right? And I just find that terrifying.

  7. My husband and I are both in tech (he’s a .net dev, I’m a SQL dev). We have a SUPER connected home. I have a very low risk tolerance though and really have issues trusting certain internet of things products (mostly major appliances). To make me more comfortable, he built our own hub that can control everything using a Raspberry Pi. This is definitely way more work than most folks are willing to put up with, but I know a lot of people that aren’t as technical as we are that are able to follow the guides to build one. There’s tons of youtube videos and tutorials in general on it.

    Overall, we have a smart lock on our front door (with keypad), a nest, a smart plug that has been used for many things and is currently a timer for our china cabinet, a neato robot vacuum, and about half of our lights in the house are connected via Phillips Hue or something similar. The raspberry pi hosts an app that literally shows me the status of all of these items and lets me control them. I expect this will be SUPER handy when we have kids – I’ll be able to know if they’re home, whether or not they locked the door back behind them, etc. The smart lights are also a killer feature – we wake up to them.

    We haven’t gotten an alexa or other similar device mainly because we haven’t found a strong use case for one. None of them can control all our devices and building in your own support is tricky at best.

  8. My DH is big into tech stuff so we have multiple things that I thought were ridiculous when we got them, but honestly really love them now. We have multiple things that you plug into outlets/connect to Alexa and you can rename then anything you want (Wemo is the brand). We have one set on a timer to a light that we can’t reach and we can still turn it on/off by asking Alexa to turn living room lights on/off. Another is used for multiple thing, but my favorite is to plug in the Christmas tree and ask Alexa to turn on/off the Christmas tree. We also have one in the bedroom because we constantly bickered about who was going to get out of bed to turn off the lights. It’s also nice when we’re gone late and we can turn on lights for the dogs remotely. We also have a Honeywell wifi thermostat (much cheaper than the Nest), and it’s wonderful. It’s great to be able to change the temp from anywhere in the house or while we’re gone. I realize that all of these things are frivolous, but I like the convenience. I’m not terribly concerned about the privacy part because I also have an iphone, smart tv, etc. that all listen as well. When my google searches start showing things from private conversations then maybe I’ll reconsider. However, I’ve read some things about how Alexa works and am not concerned about that yet.

    • This is one of the selling points of my new apartement to my Dad. It will have smart everything. Smart refrigerator will reorder stuff when low, smart blinds will close when the sun is strong, and open later in the afternoon, smart watering for the plants I will have so that I do NOT over water or forget to water; smart reorder of toiletpaper and other stuff in the bathroom; smart facial recognition in LIEU of locks in my apartement (and no one gets in w/o my consent); etc.

      I normally could NOT care about all this smart stuff, but dad says it is all 21st Century stuff that I will need for years to come. Dad already has Alexa and mom is jealus of her b/c she sounds sexy. FOOEY b/c I saw the movie “HER” where there was a similar voice person (played by Charlize Theron) that the guy fell in love with and wanted to have s-x with. I could NOT have s-x with a voice, and even Shekeovits was worthless in that department.

      I hope the rest of the HIVE does NOT go overboard on this like my Dad did, but he wants me to do as little as possible, and I agree. YAY!!!!!

    • Minnie Beebe :

      Yes, I love the Wemo switches, and we have a couple of plugs as well. I have the outdoor lights on Wemo switches, and they’re programmed to come on/off with the sunrise and sunset, so I never need to think about them. We also have a few lights plugged into Wemo plugs, and they can be programmed to turn on/off or can be switched manually. We have them all connected to the app, and I can program them from wherever I happen to be at the time. This is useful when you’re on vacation, and you realize you forgot to reset the program.

      Also, I love turning the Christmas tree on/off via app, as does my 6-yo :)

      We also have 2 Nest thermostats, which are fine (upstairs and downstairs.) I typically program them using the schedule function– the “learning” mode doesn’t seem to really work all that well for us, for whatever reason. Are the Nest thermostats any better than any other app-enabled programmable thermostat? Not really, but our utility was offering a significant rebate at the time we purchased them, so they ended up cheaper than other options. And they look cool.

      No alexa/similar in our house, and I don’t want one.

  9. heatherskib :

    We have hue and a ring doorbell. I do want a smart thermostat and smoke detectors. I do not, however use alexa or any of the other instant audio devices because THEY creep me out. I run all the things through their separate apps because I really don’t want a central hub having control over anything.
    Robots I would love include the lawnmower one, the litter box one and a mopping type I could hook up with a microfiber cloth to keep my floors cleaner.
    Robots I wish they would invent: a dishes robot that loads, unloads, and puts everything away.

  10. Nanny substitute :

    A friend has a nanny cam and some other gadgets to check in on her son who is in middle school and is home alone for a couple of hours before she gets home. I could maybe see that.

  11. I’m in the no-Alexa/etc. camp because I think it’s creepy when the devices are low-level monitoring the conversations. However I think app-controlled smart devices like the Nest are cool and I have no issues with them. I can see how they’d be super helpful for anyone who travels away from home a lot, which hopefully will be us in the next few years.

  12. No way. My friend had some kind of smart TV that overheard a private conversation about a specific product she wanted to buy and next thing she knew, she was getting spammed with ads on her laptop for that product. That level of invasiveness is not just creepy when it comes to unwanted ads, but could be used as a new form of wiretapping. That’s not to mention the risk of hacking of devices like smart fridges and baby monitors, which can threaten all of your online personal information on your network and other devices. Am I willing to take that chance so my fridge can tell me things I already know like “buy eggs”? Hell no.

  13. Anonalamadingdong :

    I’m in the creepy camp. My life is already more open to surveillance by companies, governments, and hackers than I would like. I’m not going to go out of my way to give them greater access to me in my home.

  14. Linda from HR :

    Not sure. I was definitely scared by the movie Smart House in the 90’s, but I also know science fiction movies come from a place of fear – fear of change, and fear of science and technology going “too far.” But I absolutely see some benefits of a high-tech home.

    I’d love it if I could control and program my home’s lights and temperature from my cell phone. I’d like being able to turn on the heat or air conditioning when I’m five minutes away so the temp is just right when I get there. I’d like to turn the lights on or off from a cell phone, to make it look like I’m home, I’d love one of those apps that lets me turn off lights I left on. If I could somehow check whether I left the stove or a space heater on, or a door unlocked, or the garage door open from the office, that’d be awesome.

    I’d also really like a toilet that can analyze my, ahem, “output” and let me know if I need to make changes to my diet, let me know if I may be sick, tell me if my upset stomach is a bug or food poisoning or if I just had a little too much to drink the night before. Oh, and maybe a fridge that can detect when food should be thrown out.

    But do I want my home to “learn” how I like to keep the temp and “make decisions” for me? No, not really.

  15. So funny. DH and I were talking about this last week. He works in security so he is extremely wary of the Internet of Things. I am too, but I like the idea of upping the cool factor of our house. However, given DH’s concerns, we might let this one ride for a bit before jumping on.

  16. Shopping in Chicago :

    I am in Chicago for a two day conference, on Michigan Ave. Rare chance to shop at stores I do not have regular access to, including budget friendly Top Shop, Zara and Uniqlo. What are the must haves from these stores? I also am near both a Saks and Bloomies – anything unique to those stores I should consider splurging on?

    • Late reply and I can only comment on Uniqlo, but their heattech apparel (particularly long-sleeve tees) are my favorites. I find the regular heattech shirts get a little thin and shapeless with a lot of wears; my heattech plus shirts have held up amazingly and are so soft. Their rayon blouses are also a good deal.

      You may also want to consider hitting up Water Tower Place. It’s only 1-2 blocks from the Uniqlo, and it has some brands that don’t have Michigan Ave locations (and for ones that do, the WTP location is usually bigger/has more variety).

  17. I am a former software developer who worked on similar things. The ability to collect data using such technologies is really not well regulated at all.

    My family was also subjected to old-school surveillance when I was a child (not in America), so I am very very sensitive to privacy issues. I am already unhappy about features on my iPhone. I can’t imagine having a “smart” home.

  18. Count me in the “no way” camp. Partly for principled, privacy reasons but partly because of the hassle. I work in tech full-time; I don’t want to spend my free time applying firmware updates to my lightbulbs or whatever. I guess my professional work gives me a pessimistic view on how convenient this tech will actually be.

    After recently moving from an apartment to a house, I was pleased to banish my TV and laptop to a den upstairs. In my downstairs, I have a kitchen radio, a digital piano (soon to be upgraded to an acoustic upright, I hope) and sometimes my iPad for watching TV while cooking–that’s it for tech downstairs!

    I do see the appeal, though, and I think a younger version of me who loved technology but didn’t do it professionally would have looooved to spend her free time configuring (and probably, fixing) smart home devices.

  19. I love not having to keep a separate remote just to turn on the TV. I love dimming the lights over the kitchen island. I love waking up to a chandelier that tells me the weather forecast by the color it is showing.
    I love listening to any song I want, and regularly tuning into live broadcasts from around the world.
    To lights turning off and security cameras on when I leave the house.
    I hated that egg holder that was meant to tell me how many eggs I had and how fresh they were… Never could get that thing to work :)

  20. I have the Hue and LOVE them! I have my living room lights set to dim 15 minutes before I want to go to bed and it’s a great way to get me to bed when I want. I also really like having the lights turn on in the morning so no one tries to walk down the stairs in the dark.

  21. I say NO WAY to smart locks. There is just way to much risk for not enough reward. And apparently people have been able to break in by asking Alexa to unlock the door to a house that is not theirs…

  22. My husband is very techy and used the “wife approval factor” to get me to buy into this fairly early on. I hated coming home to a dark house, and he hated leaving them on all day, so he has it set so that when I reach the house, the kitchen lights turn on for me before I walk in the door.

    We also have a garage door sensor, window/door sensors, a connected thermostat, a ring doorbell and connected lights. Alexa can be used to control them all by voice, although we also have an app that controls them through our phones. It’s nice to not spend the day worrying whether I closed the garage or left some random lights on.

    One of the other big benefits to us is that we have been able to provide our garage code to our “home helpers” (cleaning lady, babysitter, etc.) so that they can come and go if necessary, but we get alerts if someone is there and shouldn’t be. It’s not for everyone, but it’s working out well for us.

  23. My partner is often an early adopter when it comes to tech, but when it comes to smart homes we are both an emphatic no. It’s the creepiness factor mixed with the high rate of failure and malfunction with many devices.

    We did reluctantly get a ring doorbell, after we had several packages stolen off our front porch. But we got one that wires into the existing doorbell wiring, so even if the app doesn’t notify our phone the actual doorbell still rings.

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