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Q&A: How to turn your home into a smart home

Q&A: How to turn your home into a smart home
This content is produced by Motiv8 Agency on behalf of Cox Communications. The newsroom or editorial department of Tribune Publishing was not involved in its production. (Photograph Courtesy of Cox Communications)

Not long ago, Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark, was one of a few who owned a smart home. Today, the latest high-tech home products and services, combined with super high speed internet, are allowing everyday people to create the smart home of their dreams: A home that even Tony Stark would envy.

To get you started, here are answers to a few questions you may have before building or renovating your future smart home.

What exactly is a smart home?

A smart home utilizes a hub or bridge that connects your home systems and devices remotely and automatically through an app on your smartphone. Systems and devices include home automation (lighting, HVAC, appliances), entertainment (streaming video, gaming, TV) and security (keyless locks, cameras, sensors).


"The list grows daily," says Michael Demboski, director of purchasing at Warmington Residential, which develops and builds a variety of housing types including single-family and multifamily communities throughout California and Nevada. "Our homeowners are only limited by their imagination or desire to integrate this technology into their lives."

Cox Homelife, Nexia and Apple HomeKit are a few examples of the automation systems homeowners can deploy, Demboski says.

"The benefit of a smart home is the central hub, which you can monitor and manage from a single app," he adds

What are the first steps in making my home a smart home?

First, consider your budget and decide which features you want most. Do you want automated lighting? Do you want automatic locks so you can let in a dog walker, for example? Do you want full video security?

Second, your smart home needs a hub, which acts as its brain. You can purchase a hub and try setting up the system yourself, or you can opt for an inclusive system from your internet provider that includes 24/7 security monitoring.

For example, the Homelife system, offered by Cox Communications, can unlock your home's full potential with a personalized home security and automation system. Homelife gives you professional around-the-clock security and hazard (carbon monoxide, smoke and water detection) monitoring, email text alerts, live video feeds, as well as thermostat, lights and door-lock control.

Third, your home needs reliable high-speed internet. As a major residential homebuilder, Warmington provides the wiring to offer super-fast internet service, Demboski says. Cox offers consumers a service called Gigablast, which delivers some of the fastest and most reliable in-home Wi-Fi. Gigablast is 100 times faster than the average DSL, allowing users to download a video game in three minutes, 10 HD movies in seven minutes and 1,000 photos in 16 seconds.

Why go with the fastest internet service?

"Gigablast delivers superfast internet speeds with the potential to drive hundreds of connected devices within a home," Demboski says.

Do smart homes do more than control thermostats, lights and security?

"The thermostats, lights and security alarms were the starting points of this market," says Rebecca Anbardan, vice president of sales and marketing at Warmington. "These items that pioneered the market have reached a price point that makes them attainable and more mainstream, allowing homebuilders the opportunity to offer smart homes."

Smart homes also allow homeowners and builders to create a more healthy and efficient home. "Indoor air quality can be monitored and managed by smart home technology," Anbardan says. "Energy usage can be monitored and managed. Sensors can be used to detect water leaks and shut off water to the home."

Automation can even be used to simplify daily tasks," Anbardan says. "A homebuyer could be at the grocery store and pull up a picture of the contents of their refrigerator to see if they need milk."

Can any home be smart? Can older homes be retrofitted to be smart?

"All homes have the ability to be smart in some form or fashion," Anbardan says. "The number of connected devices or how smart you can make your home is limited by the bandwidth you are able to obtain, which is determined by the wiring available within the home."

What do smart-home owners value most?

"Energy efficiency, security and entertainment are the main goals homeowners are looking to achieve," Anbardan says.

How much does it cost to have a smart home?

"With the advancement of technology, you can now begin your smart home system with minimal investment," Demboski says. "Buyers can start small and add incrementally."

—Dan Vasquez for Cox Communications