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Upgrade Your Abode: A Gift Guide for the Discerning Home

11/27/2017 Kristin Demshki


Who’s on your holiday gift list this year? Grandma. Husband. Partner. Daughter. House?

Yes, even your home might appreciate a little something under the tree this year. But don’t try to keep up with the Joneses (or the Gateses) when it comes to home automation, says Joe Dugandzic, a smart home consultant/expert. Don’t worry about the “new and shiny,” he says – but ask yourself instead, What do you want to do with your smart home? What do you want to automate or control?

Perhaps you already have an Echo, Amazon’s home assistant. Here are a few more ideas from Dugandzic.

Lighting. Automated lighting is particularly popular during these dark winter months. With the Philips Hue or the LIFX, just change out the bulb and install an app – the smart bulb can be flicked on and off and offer changing full color spectrum levels, from an energizing daylight effect to soft evening tones.

Some LED holiday lights can work with smartphones. One manufacturer, ilumi is now offers a “smart floodlight” that works with Bluetooth – use your phone to dim lights, or select from 16 million vibrant colors (red and green spotlights, for example).

Security. Easy-install smart locks are all the rage, Dugandzic says, including a new $149 August Smart Lock, which can be controlled from your phone and automatically locks the door behind you. The benefit of August or a retrofit lock is that you don’t have to change your key, he says, as they attach to your existing deadbolt. Some locks can recognize users, unlock as you arrive (no need to handle a key) or even issue temporary “virtual” keys to users such as vacation-home renters.

As well, the smart doorbell category is very popular, Dugandzic says. August offers a video doorbell camera. When the doorbell rings, an alert is sent to your phone, along with an image of the ringer. You can talk to the person, or even program the doorbell to play an automatic message regarding where to leave the package, Dugandzic says.

Most work with existing wiring, although some newer varieties are battery-operated. The Nest Hello that ships in January promises to offer facial recognition – so you can decide whether to answer the door when your mother-in-law makes a surprise visit – and canned responses.

The new Nest Protect offers different alerts for fire and smoke, and carbon monoxide detection. Instead of shrieking at a roast turkey gone wrong, Nest Protect’s speaker will announce, “heads up – smoke in the kitchen,” and will do so throughout the home, like a fire-detector intercom system. Silencing the alarm only requires a simple hand wave – not flapping a towel at the sensor.

Indoor Comfort. Nest has debuted a less-expensive thermostat – Nest Thermostat E -- in time for winter with all the features of the original Nest, with the exception of air-conditioning.

Several new smart-home products help monitor indoor air – particularly useful for those with fireplaces and elderly or young children in the home. Products such as the Elgato Eve Room will send an alert if indoor air quality has dipped or has been compromised by volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Other products, such as the Insteon Water Leak Sensor, will send a phone alert if leaks are sprouting, which can be helpful for saving thousands in repairs for your permanent or vacation home.

Command Center. The new Google Home Mini is a smaller and less expensive ($49 vs $129) version of the Google Home smart speaker from 2016. “It has the full capabilities of the full-size Google Home,” he says, “But it’s simply smaller and less expensive.” He notes it’s a “great competitor” for the popular Amazon Echo Dot ($49), particularly for those who are in the Android ecosystem and love the Google Assistant.

While most products play well with the Apple, Google or Amazon ecosystems, a “smart hub” (such as Wink) can allow power users to coordinate a series of events, such as an evening routine of turning off the lights, locking the doors and activating the security system. But if you’re just getting started, go a la carte, Dugandzic says, as you can usually control individual products with their own apps or through free home automation apps such as Yonomi and Stringify.

With one (or a few) of these products, your home will enter the new year in style and on point, ready to take over a few menial tasks and free up your leisure time.

The views, information, or opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent those of PennyMac Loan Services, LLC and its employees.

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