Thursday 14 November 2019

Your money: How smart devices could save you money despite potential drawbacks

Smart gadgets might save you thousands but they can be expensive, so choose well, writes Louise McBride

Smart gadgets might save you thousands but they can be expensive, so choose well. Stock photo
Smart gadgets might save you thousands but they can be expensive, so choose well. Stock photo
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

From voice-activated music and lights, to fridges which you can check the inside of from afar, you could spend thousands kitting out your home with smart devices today. Some of these gadgets will save you money, some will save you time, and some will just be your way of impressing visitors. So for those of us who simply want the smart devices that save money, which gadgets might be worth buying?

SMART SECURITY

There are a number of smart devices which you can use to improve the security of your home.

It is possible, for example, to sync camera systems with your phone, allowing you to remotely see what is happening inside or outside your house. These systems can alert you to motion within or outside the house — depending on where the camera is. You may also be able to talk to the person calling to your home, through a speaker on that system.

You could pay around €150 to €200 for a basic single-camera system like this, though you may also have to pay a monthly or yearly subscription.

“Smart devices could save you money if they save you from disaster,” said John Barrett, a professor and head of academic studies at the Nimbus research centre at Cork Institute of Technology. “For example, if you have a smart home security device which prevents a break-in, that’s a huge potential saving.”

Some home insurers also offer discounts if you have a smart security device.

As well as helping to improve the security of your home, smart devices can allow you to remotely let other people into it.

A smart lock, for example, could allow you to use your smartphone to remotely open an electric gate or porch door for a delivery man — so that he can leave a delivery in your porch or garden.

Once the item is delivered, the door or gate closes and you can remotely lock it.

Cork-based smart-home technology firm Smartzone sells a smart door lock — a Danalock V3 — for €240. Most people also need to buy a new lock barrel (which replaces the existing lock and allows the Danalock V3 to be mounted on it). The lock barrel costs €100, bringing the total cost to €340.

“The ability which smart security devices give you to get deliveries to your home without you being there will save you time, and possibly money, as you won’t have to pick the package up from your local post office or elsewhere [thereby saving on transport costs],” said Mark Gardiner, head of products at Three Ireland. “The connected living [which technology enables] will help us run our lives more around where we are.”

In the United States, you can even get a supermarket worker to go into your home and stock your fridge. The supermarket — Walmart — launched its in-house delivery service in a few US states earlier this year. To use the service, you must have a smart lock on your door, or a smart door on your garage. The supermarket’s workers are equipped with a wearable camera, which is turned on when they enter your home.

Of course, many people may be uncomfortable allowing a delivery man or supermarket worker into their home when no one else is there.

However, in an increasingly time-poor society, there could be more demand for such services.

SMART RADARS

There are smart devices which can monitor floods and fires in your home. “If you look at the cost of the damage which a flood or fire could cause, it can make a lot of sense to buy such a device,” said Barrett. “Furthermore, more insurers will start offering discounts if you have such devices in your home. This [offer of discounts] is already beginning to happen in some countries.”

Indeed, in the future, some insurers could insist that smart flood and fire monitoring devices are in your home as a condition of offering you home insurance, according to Barrett.

There are also smart devices which can detect — and react to — leaks in your home.

Smartzone, for example, has developed a smart water valve — Flowsafe — which monitors water usage in the home and automatically shuts off water when leaks are detected. Flowsafe will be available from the middle of this month, according to a spokesman for the firm.

SMART HEATING

Smart thermostats allow you to control the temperature in your home remotely, and to set the heating to only come on when you need it. For example, the Hive smart thermostat allows you to control your heating from your smartphone. Hive normally costs €299 from Bord Gáis Energy — unless you get it as part of a deal. You can save up to €120 a year on your heating bills with this smart thermostat, according to Hive.

The savings on energy bills will vary. “Smart thermostats claim to allow you to make substantial savings on energy bills — but the amount you save will depend on your lifestyle, the home you live in, and how well-insulated that home is,” said Barrett.

SMART PETCARE

Smart devices could make it easier for you to look after, or monitor, your pet — particularly if you need to leave it at home alone for long periods (such as when you are at work). They could also save you cash on pet-sitter fees (though if you will be away for a long time, you will usually need to arrange for someone to look after your pet).

“There are smart devices which give you the ability to monitor or feed your pets remotely,” said Gardiner. “There are also microchip pet doors, which allow your pets in and out of your house at certain times.”

Sure Petcare, for example, is a UK company which has developed a number of products for pet owners. They include Sureflap Microchip Pet Door Connect, where the existing microchip on your pet acts like an electronic key and ensures that only your pet has access to your home — thereby preventing intruder animals from entering. You can also get notifications when your pet leaves or enters the home, and use your phone to remotely lock or unlock the pet door.

It costs €149.99 to buy Pet Door Connect directly from Sure Petcare’s website — or €199.98 if buying it with the hub (a device which links the pet door with an app on your phone). 

Sure Petcare also sells pet feeders, which allow owners to remotely monitor how much their animals eat — and which prevent pets from stealing each other’s food by only allowing certain animals to eat from them.

One such feeder — SureFeed Microchip Feeder Connect — costs €144.99  on the firm’s website, or €204.98 including the hub. You may be able to buy Sure Petcare’s pet door and pet feeder cheaper from Argos in Ireland, or from Amazon.

DRAWBACKS

As well as saving you time and money, certain smart devices could increase the value — and appeal — of your home, if you decide to sell it.

“Smart devices could also improve your quality of life — and maybe reduce stress,” said Barrett.

There are potential drawbacks, though. You must have a good internet connection if you are to make the most of smart devices — indeed, a gadget may not work without the internet. “If you are going to rely on smart devices in your home, having a consistent internet connection is important,” said Gardiner.

It is always worth checking what will happen to a smart device if the internet fails or if there is a technical glitch. “Most smart devices will have a fall-back position if the internet stops working — your security system, for example, will usually still work if the internet fails,” said Barrett.

Having a range of internet-linked smart devices around your home could lead to an intrusion of your privacy.

“Some people have no problem sharing their data — but others are not even aware that they’re doing so,” said Barrett. “People need to check the default privacy setting on their smart devices — and if they wish, activate a private setting.”

Be mindful of the threat of hackers too. “If a smart device is connected to the internet, it can be attacked by a hacker,” said Barrett. “So if you have a smart security system connected to your internet, and you can connect to it remotely, what’s to stop a hacker doing the same?”

For this reason, steer clear of cheap smart devices. “Most of the mainstream products will have a good level of security built into them,” said Barrett. “But if a device is suspiciously cheap, you need to be wary of how secure it is — as security does cost a bit extra.”

As always, buyer beware.

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