We’re living in a highly connected, wireless world. Just about everyone – young, old, and in-between – uses a mobile communication device – either a Smartphone or tablet computer. In fact, according to industry statistics, Canadians are among the most intensive users of mobile devices: 55-percent use a Smartphone and 25-percent use a tablet computer. Various estimates place the annual growth rate for these devices at around 30-percent over the next couple of years.
Being able to control a wide variety of basic home functions and features through a mobile device offers a considerable degree of convenience in managing your home. It also enables you to take a more active role in safeguarding your family and your possessions.
Any product that has a wireless communication feature integrated into its design can be controlled by a mobile device via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Even older non-wireless products can be controlled when equipped with the right interface.
You can easily envision your mobile device becoming the nexus for controlling virtually all home appliances – from thermostats, air conditioners, heating systems, security cameras, lighting and door locks, to entertainment systems, clothes washers, vacuum cleaners, outdoor water sprinklers and even coffee makers. Over the coming years it’s likely that a majority of the home appliances entering the market are going to have wireless connectivity built into them.
One area that has taken advantage of smart technology is home security. There are a variety of smart wireless security options that can help make your home more secure. The most popular of these are smart locks. They’re reasonably easy to install and fairly simple to use. If you have basic DIY skills you should have no problem hooking up any of these home security devices. Other smart devices that enhance home security include smart doorbells, smart garage openers, smart security cameras, and smart lighting, which we’ll cover down the road.
The new generation of smart locks enable you to use your mobile device to remotely lock and un-lock doors for anyone who needs to get into your house, garage, or shop. You can also share smart keys (eKeys) with family and friends to control and monitor entry to your home. These smart locks can also be connected to other smart devices in the home, including lights, doorbells, thermostats, and sound system, through a smart home hub (see sidebar: The Smart Home Hub). Not all smart locks are compatible with both Android and iOS devices, so check to ensure the lock you choose is compatible with the device you use. Bear in mind that adding a smart lock won’t necessarily provide any additional security for your home unless it’s combined with some kind of alarm or camera system. However, it will add a measure of convenience.
In general, smart locks either replace the existing door lock, or they replace the thumb latch on the inside of the door – which makes them a good choice for renters as they can take the lock with them when they move. Installation of either of these styles is fairly easy and doesn’t require you to drill any holes in the door. Virtually all smart locks require batteries that typically last between six months and one year. Either a flashing light on the lock, or the mobile device itself, lets you know when the batteries need replacing. You do need to check that your current deadbolt is working properly, otherwise, if the smart lock you choose replaces the existing deadbolt, it may not function properly. For instance, if your door needs to be pulled closed with one hand, while turning the deadbolt with the other hand, you’ll have to fix that slight problem before a smart lock with work.
Smart locks are controlled by your mobile device via Bluetooth or a WiFi connection. Some locks provide both options. WiFi connected locks offer the advantage of being remotely controlled, so you can check to see if you’ve locked the door when out of town, or open the door to let Uncle Bob in to water the plants.
Different brands may have one or more ways of unlocking the door, including: physically touching the lock, waving your smart device in front of the lock, by spoken commands, or via an app. Some automatically open the lock when you enter a defined zone close to the door. Some, but not all, automatically lock the door after you enter or exit your home.
But what happens when you don’t have your mobile device at hand (or if runs out of battery power)? Some locks include a touch screen keypad, others a remote key fob, while some retain a physical key.
Also referred to as digital keys and virtual keys, they enable you to share access to your home with others via their mobile devices. Most enable you to specify when the smart key will expire. Some locks enable you to create multiple eKeys, others charge a nominal price for additional eKeys.
Also called activity logging, this feature provides a time list of everyone who enters and exits your home. This is convenient if you’ve given out eKeys to family or friends, and for keeping track of when the kids really do get home at night.
There are quite a few brands on the market, and many brands have multiple models. Here are four popular models widely available across Canada to get you started.
A more formal looking lock style. It replaces the existing lock hardware – there is a keyless outside housing with a touch screen keypad, a deadbolt, and an interior housing with a twistable switch. You can open the door with your mobile device via Bluetooth or with the unit’s keypad. It’s Android and iOS compatible. Remote control is via a mobile app (WiFi connection). Includes a two-way speaker, eKeys, and activity logging. Doesn’t automatically lock the door. Comes in 3 different finishes. Compatible with the Nest smart thermostat and Smart Home Hubs that use Zigbee and Z-Wave technologies. This style of smart lock is one of the most popular, and there are quite a few brands to choose from. Similar products: Schlage.com, KwikSet.com, SamsungDigitalLife.com, BaldwinHardware.com
Looks most like a conventional lock. Replaces the exterior existing lock and deadbolt on a door. Opens the door automatically via Bluetooth, with a remote key fob, or with a standard key. Doesn’t automatically lock the door. Android and iOS compatible. Works with the Nest smart thermostat. With the optional Kevo Plus Gateway you can remotely open and lock the Kevo. Only includes one digital share key – additional eKeys cost $2 each. Similar product: Lockitron.com
Unlike the Kevo, it attaches to the inside of a door – replaces the inside thumb turn on the lock and uses the existing deadbolt and exterior key cylinder housing. As with the Kevo, you can use a key as an emergency backup. Features include eKeys, auto unlock, time delay auto locking, and activity logging. Remote control requires the optional Connect AC-R1 adapter ($89.99). Android and iOS compatible (for Apple mobile devices there is an August Smart Lock HomeKit Edition). Works with the Nest smart thermostat. Similar product: DanaLock.com
This is a detachable, portable, weatherproof padlock style smart lock for securing a workshop, shed, bike, locker, or gate. Features eKeys and activity logging. Powered by a USB rechargeable long run-time battery. Android and iOS compatible. Similar products: Noke.com, MasterLock.com
These are hardware devices that connect and control communication between the various ‘smart’ components that make up a home automation network – such as locks, thermostats, security cameras, energy monitors, lighting, sound systems, and the like. Essentially, they enable you to get all your smart-home devices working together. You control the smart home hub through an app installed on your mobile device. Examples include Logitech’s Harmony Hub, Samsung’s SmartThings Hub, and Phillips Hue Bridge. Some of these hubs can connect to devices that use Zigbee and Z-Wave wireless technologies, popular with smart lights and security systems.