A common theme among complainers is that technology hasn’t progressed as quickly or as far as 1950s-era science fiction predicted it would. No, we don’t yet have vacation resorts on the moon or commercially available flying cars, but let’s get realistic: Flying cars would only result in falling cars, and a moon vacation would get really old, really fast (unless you’re a big fan of making sand castles out of regolith). The fact is that the futurists of the 1950s were being conservative when they imagined what the new millenium would be like. Consider home automation. Modern home automation has evolved beyond the simple timer-regulated thermostats and keypad door-locks of previous decades, into something that last century’s science fiction authors wouldn’t believe. And don’t think for a second that only houses can benefit from smart technology; more and more home automation systems are being designed with apartment dwellers in mind, and renters are discovering that they don’t have to be millionaires to enjoy technological innovation. Here are five areas where you can automate your apartment without having to break the bank. Just remember to talk with your apartment manager and double check your rental agreement before you make any changes to the property.
1. Climate control
Perhaps the oldest form of home automation is the automatic thermostat. In fact, one of the earliest thermostat designs was one that was created by Cornelius Drebbel for use in an artificial chicken-egg incubator in the 17th Century. Thermostats that are used to regulate interior home temperatures haven’t been around quite as long as that, but they certainly beat out things like electronic locks and home surveillance cameras. So, with such an established technology, how exactly can users go about adapting it for use in an automated apartment? Well, fairly easily, it turns out. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a device which not only fulfills the function of keeping your home the temperature you want it to be, but it also learns your habits and automatically adjusts itself to suit your needs. This means that if you leave the apartment for eight hours a day during the week to go to the office, and don’t want to be paying for climate control while you’re gone, or if you prefer that temperatures be colder at night while you’re sleeping, Nest will learn from the temperature adjustments you make and begin to mimic them at the appropriate times. Give it a week, and you won’t have to make adjustments anymore at all; it will have figured out your habits and automatically adapted to accommodate them. Nest can also be controlled remotely via any computer or mobile smart device. And, with Google’s acquisition of Nest Labs back in January of 2014, it seems as though the learning thermostat may be in a prime position to become the new hub of the Google smart home. The Nest learning thermostat can currently be purchased for $249 from the company site. That may sound expensive, but the reality is that a properly programmed learning thermostat could help reduce your monthly heating and cooling expenses by up to %20, so you can probably expect to earn back your investment within a matter of months. Installation requires no special expertise and should only take a few minutes, and support is available if needed.
2. Lighting automation
As anyone knows who’s ever had to follow kids through a house to make sure that unused lights are being turned off, wasted electricity can be very expensive. By automating home lighting, you can make it possible to activate or deactivate the lights in your apartment with the push of a single button, from anywhere with an internet connection. There are any number of possibilities when considering home lighting automation, but perhaps the most advanced is Philips Hue. Hue is a lighting system that makes use of smart LED bulbs (which are up to 80% more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and can last up to 25 times longer), and—with the help of a “bridge” device—allows you to control the entire system via a simple iOS app. Not only can the lights be turned on and off remotely, but they also have the ability to change their color and intensity, meaning that you can choose different lighting for different rooms, and alter that lighting at will. In fact, the system allows for almost limitless possibilities, depending on how involved you’d like to get. Lights can be programmed to turn on or off at prespecified times, change their color based upon the weather outside, flash to signal incoming email messages, and more. You can even take photos of hues and tints that you find intriguing, and have the lighting automatically match that color. Perhaps best of all for apartment dwellers is the fact that the bulbs themselves require almost no installation at all, in that they simply screw directly into existing light sockets. Of course, the starter pack will end up costing you approximately $200, and additional bulbs are about $60 apiece, so you may want to consider something slightly less cutting-edge. Simple occupancy-sensing lighting that can switch off when no one is in the room in question can also be purchased and installed with a minimum of hassle, and won’t cost you quite as much right out of the gate.
3. Smart television
Home is a place where you should be able to relax and unwind, and there are few ways to accomplish this goal that are more universally beloved than zoning out in front of the television. Of course, if you really want to get the most out of your television, you’ll need a cable box (most of the best television programs aren’t available on free-to-air channels), a digital video recorder (so that you don’t have to plan your life around when a specific show is on), and probably a videogame system (because the only thing more fun than watching TV is playing TV). Once you’ve gotten all of these various systems and peripherals setup, you may notice that the area around your television becomes a mass of clunky boxes and trip-hazardous wires. Of course, wires can always be managed and hidden, but there has got to be a better way. Smart TV gets rid of all of that external nonsense, by including internet capability and web-based features built directly into the television itself. As a result, users are able to not only watch television programs as they would on any basic set, but they can also access computer media files, enjoy online services, visit webpages, record video, and play streamed games. Smart TVs generally run anywhere from about $500–$1000, but can end up saving you some serious cash in other areas. For a more complete rundown on the various Smart TVs and what they can do, check out our blogpost “What is a smart TV?“
4. Automated door locks
Home automation for entertainment and comfort is all well and good, but if it can’t ensure the safety of your loved-ones and your property, then what good is it really? The lock on your door is the first line of defense against potential home intrusion, and as such, it should be the first thing you consider if you’d like to protect your apartment with a little home-automation security. The August Smart Lock is an iPhone-controlled deadbolt that can be easily installed onto most single-cylinder deadbolts locks of the kind most commonly found in North America. Once installed and activated, the electronic lock allows the registered user to issue specific virtual “keys” to anyone who might need access; the recipients are then able to use their own smartphones to disengage the lock. The operational time of these keys is completely programmable, so if you are expecting a plumber to stop by at a certain time and you’d like to make sure that he can get inside, you’ll be able to grant him a one-time key that will expire once he’s completed his job. If, on the other hand, you have a friend or family member who is always welcome, you can grant that person a more permanent key. The lock can also be set to sense your approach and automatically disengage when you (and your smartphone) get near the door, and can even be set to re-engage the lock once you’ve passed through. The lock can also be manually operated with the use of a key, just in case something goes wrong. The system also keeps a complete record of who has been in and out of the house. The device can be installed in minutes, and requires no special understanding of electronics or locking mechanisms. Of course, this kind of automation isn’t free. The August smart lock will set you back about $250.00. You can settle for slightly less expensive versions such as the Kwikset Kevo or others, but whatever you decide to go with, just make sure your property manager knows what you’re doing—we’d hate to see you invest in an automated smart lock and then be legally prohibited from using it.
5. Home surveillance
Sometimes it’s just not enough to lock your door and call it good. For the times when you need that extra bit of assurance that your apartment is going to be safe, automated surveillance cameras may be the way to go. Of course, the best and most comprehensive systems can set you back thousands of dollars to purchase, install, and maintain. That’s all well and good, but if you’d like peace of mind without having to sell off a piece of your inheritance to be able to afford it, there are budget options available. Dropcam Pro is a wireless video monitoring system that can be purchased for around $200. The camera itself has an all-glass lense which gives the device a field of vision of 130 degrees. Additionally, the camera (which is controlled remotely using an internet-connected computer or mobile smart device) can zoom in on anything without sacrificing picture quality. Of course, this is still just one camera, so if you’d like a more comprehensive surveillance system for your home, you’ll either have to purchase multiple Dropcams, or invest in a multiple camera system. As for installation, Dropcam Pro can be set up in a matter of minutes. In essence, you need only choose a location for the camera, connect it to your home Wi-Fi (sorry, that’s the only kind of internet connection it supports) and then to your computer or mobile device, and create a Dropcam account. That’s it. Once it’s running, you’ll be able to view and hear through the camera at any time day or night (the camera features night vision capability, so darkness isn’t a problem). You can even speak through the camera, thanks to the two-way audio feature. Dropcam Pro also offers the ability to record video directly to the cloud and retain that data for up to thirty days. However, this service comes at an extra yearly cost. The original Dropcam is also available for about $50 dollars less, and provides a slightly smaller field of vision than the Dropcam Pro, as well as less impressive zoom capabilities, but is otherwise still a fine choice for apartment security. And, given that these cameras can be picked up and moved at a moment’s notice, they’re perfect for apartment dwellers.
So, just because you’re living in an apartment and on a budget, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t also enjoy the home of the future. Affordable smart technology is available today.
Hmm. Now all you need is a flying car and a vacation on the moon…
Do you have any other suggestions or tips when it comes to automating an apartment on a budget? Share them in our comments section!