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Monitoring the Milk or Energy Efficiency: Which Home Automation Features Are Window Dressing, And Which Do You Need?


The wired home of the future purports to be able to tell us when we’re low on refrigerator staples, or change the tunes when a dreaded Hall & Oates song comes on.  But it can seem overwhelming to choose which developments are “must haves” and which would merely be nice to have.

Check out our top picks for tech upgrades that will make the most difference in your life—and the ones you can skip, for now. Want to help keep costs low? Check for services that have a one-time purchase option, rather than a monthly monitoring fee:

Get it – now.

  • Smart thermostat: Save money, save energy, and have a more comfortable home. A Wi-Fi enabled thermostat gives you a ton of options for scheduling too, so you can, say, turn the heat on earlier on a busy Monday than a lazy Sunday.

  • Smart irrigation: Overwatering your garden can be a waste of water and money. A smart irrigation system will automatically adjust your watering schedule based on factors such as weather, time of year and even zone type.

  • Smart locks: Want to control who’s coming and going? Handing out keys to service people, neighbors and family members can make you wonder who’s got one (and when they’re going to use it). A smart lock lets you assign codes to each person so you always know who’s entering your house. And if you decide you want to keep them out, just erase their code. Much easier than rekeying!

Skip—for now.

Do we really need our appliances to be smarter than us? Many of the new-gen appliances have cool features, but if you’re prioritizing your automation purchases, here are some you can safely skip:

  • Smart slow cooker: New slow cookers are trumpeting their capability to be turned down remotely with an app. But isn’t that the point of a slow cooker in the first place? You throw the food in, forget it, and it’s reasonably edible whenever you get home.

  • Automatic washing machine: While many smart washers have energy-saving features you’ll love, the manufacturers also tend to tout the ability to know when a cycle is through or to start it remotely. Eh… I’ll be more interested in smart washer technology when it can magically transfer my clothes from the washer to the dryer.

  • Wi-Fi connected refrigerator: The truly smart refrigerator—one that might tell me how much milk is left, or how old my leftovers are—is still a dream. Today’s “smart” refrigerator is basically a regular refrigerator with a tablet on it. But who wants to stand next to their refrigerator and search for a recipe, when you could move your tablet to your counter space? The smart refrigerator holds promise to eventually make our shopping lists for us and save us from moldy food, but it’s not quite there yet.

Savvy home owners know they have to pick and choose between which cool options are the most practical. Looking at each product individually—and assessing whether it will be a real solution to a challenge you have—is the key to a truly smart home.

Article written by: Cathie Ericson