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Smart homes are the present, not the future

Picture this: you’re being woken up with your window shades rising little by little, gradually letting the light in while birds chirp quietly outside. You make your way to the kitchen and the TV is already tuned into local traffic when the coffee machine turns on with the sound of your voice. You make your way back to the master suite, where the shades are fully open and your bathroom floor is a toasty 80 degrees. Welcome to a personalized home automation system.

If you’re anything like me, your home is already full with some of the newest electronics and technology. Home automation systems allow you to control many of these devices with the tap of a button. They can control everything from interior and exterior lighting, to home theater systems and security systems, to detecting water and gas leaks before they cause additional damage. An added convenience is controlling your thermostat, helping to ensure that your home is using energy efficiently while you’re not there. These systems offer convenience, security, energy savings and ease of use.1 The house of the future is possible today.


Your home, dialed in


I’ve assessed thousands of homes in my career as a risk management consultant, and have seen home automation systems develop over the years. Recently, I have marveled at how quickly advancements in these systems have picked up pace. It seems to me that technology is catching up to our desire to make managing our homes easier and more worry-free. While the science of home automation is not new, it wasn’t until fairly recently that their expanded features became widely accessible with the use of smart phones and tablets. In fact, the home automation market is predicted to be valued at almost $80 million by 2022, thanks to expanded product offerings and heightened consumer interest.2

Home automation systems refer to any group of devices (including IoT “internet of things” devices, appliances, or systems) which connect to a common network and can be controlled remotely. These systems are typically comprised of a “brain” or controller, which receives and manages signals from your home devices. The software tells the products what to do, and when. The preferred sub-systems, including security, audio, video, lighting, window shades and more, can be controlled from your smartphone or via a touchscreen keypad in your home. It’s a high-tech system that provides you with security, safety and ease when you come home at the end of the day.

Well-known home automation brands such as Control4, Crestron, Savant and Elan offer personalized convenience. Whether you want to curl up and watch your favorite show, arm your security system, dim the lights and listen to your favorite artist or even check in on a loved one, these things can be accomplished at the push of a button. There are plenty of highly customizable DIY home automation systems on the market, and then there are luxury whole-home systems that can deliver customized experiences for any lifestyle.


A smart system requires smart planning


Before installing a system, it’s important to ask yourself what you want to manage. Do you want to manage your household, enhance its entertainment features or improve energy consumption throughout your home?

For all systems, but especially for luxury or customized ones, proper planning, engineering, and design are paramount—especially during installation. These systems can range greatly in price, starting in the thousands and (depending on what features you want to include) reaching many thousands more when accounting for installation labor, programming and other factors that allow for the automation you desire.

Start by visiting a local showroom to get a better handle on all of the ways that a system can benefit your home and interview a dealer or installer to find one that works best for you. Do you have an older home? Certain installers specialize in retrofitting older homes so you can feel more secure knowing that a system will be installed with your home’s vintage features in mind. Like any big project, it’s a good idea to seek bids on the work, and make sure you have asked on the important details. An important question not to miss is how maintenance checks and follow-up calls are handled. All technology presents an opportunity for technology failure, so understanding how your dealer can help with any unforeseen issues can help you be more prepared if there is ever an issue.


Benefits abound: 3 common reasons to automate your home


Features like an entertainment patio, or a state-of-the-art home theater make it easy to see the entertainment and wow-factor possible with home automation. But there are also practical, everyday reasons to consider these systems that can be even more compelling. Below are three ways they can enhance safety or provide savings.


Home security


Security is the main reason that customers start searching for a home automation solution.3 Security in today’s world goes beyond making sure that doors are locked and security cameras are pointing in the right direction. Your home automation system can pair with your security system to not only arm the system, but also to turn off your lights, verify your garage door is closed, and activate your alarm system with one click.

If you travel, most systems also offer a vacation setting which can make your home appear occupied even while traveling.  You can also connect devices throughout your home, such as motion sensors, surveillance cameras, door locks, or glass break sensors, to your system, allowing you to activate them instantly through your smart phone even if you are hundreds of miles away.


Risk management


For another level of protection, new equipment hitting the market allows your home to be better protected against water damage. You might consider adding specialized devices and sensors to your system which can alert you remotely to a water leak and then automatically shut off your water—potentially saving you an average of $5,092 in out-of-pocket expenses.4 Sensors can also detect water heater failure, one of the leading sources of water damage in residences, and one that costs an average of $4,444 per claim.4 This involves installing small point-of-contact water sensors near the water heaters in your home. These systems can send instant alerts and be monitored and controlled from afar—potentially saving you the surprise of coming home to an entirely flooded basement.


Energy efficiency


Another opportunity for savings is in energy efficiency, where small where small programming changes to your energy settings can easily add up to savings on your energy costs.

The first way is through temperature. Almost 40% of the energy used by the average home goes toward heating and cooling.5 Home automation allows you to program your home thermostat to suit your schedule, reducing this energy drain. As you leave for work, your thermostat can be set to adjust to an efficient 65 degrees, then return to a comfortable 72 degrees well before you even pull into the driveway. By setting a daily “coming home” event, your device can learn the time it takes to heat or cool your home and adjust accordingly—allowing your home to reach your ideal set temperature with the lowest energy use possible. What if a project at work delays you for a few hours? Just access your smart phone, adjust the time at which your temperature is set to adjust, and you’ll lose no time on your energy savings. By allowing this smart adjustment and control of temperature settings, Nest Learning Thermostat estimates that owners can save $131- $145 per year on average,6 while ecobee, another popular model, reports saving customers an average of 23% on their heating and cooling costs.7

A smart home system can also reduce your electricity consumption. It can provide flexible lighting options, allowing you to only use energy and resources that are necessary while you are at home, or even within in a single room. In a click, you can also control your lighting and dim your light bulbs, an often-overlooked action that not only extends the life of your bulbs, but also can greatly reduce your electric bill.


System security


No matter which features you prioritize for your home, it’s essential to consider the security of the system itself.

Since a home automation system is made up of a group of connected devices, the security and protection of each device should be seriously considered. A Hewlett Packard study estimates that approximately 70% of IoT home devices contain security vulnerabilities which could open your home to potential hacks or cyber mischief.8 Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate these risks.

Working closely with your home automation provider can help you learn about the best security measures and how to maximize your ability to lock down your system from intrusion. Consulting with your installer on how to set up a virtual local area network, as well as taking the following steps recommended by Safewise, can go a long way in keeping your home’s system safe.9

  • Secure your internet router by making sure it has Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA2) and changing your password from the default
  • Use a home automation system from a reputable company
  • Check the camera logs regularly on your system for any unauthorized access
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi for home automation applications
  • Change passwords often on your router, home automation app, and phone
  • Update apps you use for your home security. Since updates often include patches for bugs or vulnerabilities, it’s a good idea to update right away9


Bringing automation to you


In today’s world, the sheer volume of new technology available can sometimes seem overwhelming—especially if your family tends to embrace new devices as quickly as mine. A home automation system can tie many of these time and energy-saving devices into one simplified interface, allowing you and your family to enjoy their benefits with ease.

At Berkley One, we’re always keeping track of these new developments, and we’re here to help. While you may not be ready to get to work by a driverless car just yet, we are here to help make sure that your technology and insurance are keeping up with your life as the world changes—so that you can be always moving forward.


Jerry Forrest is a Risk Management Consultant at Berkley One.