Now that your taxes are done (they are, aren't they), you can start thinking about that summer vacation. And then start worrying about who's going to watch your home while you're away.
A growing array of high-tech options lets you do it yourself. Log in online and you can get live video feeds from all over your home, text alerts when anything moves, and even adjust the thermostat that you forgot to program before you left.
1. Lowe's Iris
The promise of the smart home that automatically adjusts temperature, detects motion, delivers live video warnings and can automatically unlock the front door has largely remained just that, a promise. Frustrating to install and with flaky connections, many of the early systems were dismal failures. Now, at least one retailer looks as if it's overcome some the early hurdles other companies faced.
Lowe's complete smart home starter package, the $299 Smart Kit, comes with a control box or hub that plugs into your home network router, a couple of contact sensors (for doors or windows), a motion sensor, a programmable thermostat, an on/off smart switch (for a lamp, for example) and a range extender to spread the wireless signal. The system uses its own wireless connections (rather than Wi-Fi) and you can monitor and control everything online through a Web browser or via an iOS or Android app. (Basic temperature settings and on/off functions are free; for programmable remote scheduling, live video recording, and other advanced services, a premium monthly subscription is $9.99.)
Everything installed easily and quickly taking about an hour to get the Iris hub running and plug in all the peripherals. The window sensors and smart on/off plug took seconds to install. However, full disclosure: I've installed many programmable thermostats, so I had a head start. If you haven't done it before, plan on taking your time reading the instructions, which vary depending on the type of heating and air-conditioning systems you have installed.
Even with my experience, the Lowe's thermostat ran into a glitch. It would raise the heat but wouldn't drop the temperature below 67 degrees. Swapping out the device for a compatible Honeywell model solved the problem. Lowe's promises that there will be more Iris compatible devices from other companies coming in the future.
The system as it stands is already expandable. You can, for example, add a senior monitor, a $30 pendant that an older loved one can wear and with a push of a button send a message when they're in trouble (service is an additional $4.99 a month). In addition, a live video camera is $129 and a compatible Schlage Keypad Electronic Deadbolt lock for the front door is $199.
Nanny and cat cams are commonplace these days, providing instant piece of mind--and a little bit of a voyeuristic thrill--via an app or browser view. One of the simpler models to set up is from relative newcomer DropCam.
The D49 DropCamHD is a Wi-Fi-enabled 720p webcam that you set up by first plugging it into a PC on your network to run the installation software. Afterward, you can position the camera anywhere in your house where there's a power outlet and a Wi-Fi connection.
The camera lets you tap into the video and audio at any time over an iOS, Android, or Web browser equipped device. An unusual two-way audio function lets you communicate with anyone in the room (you can yell at Rover to stop chewing the couch) and night vision lets you see in the dark. You cannot zoom or swivel the camera remotely, however.
Noise or motion will launch an e-mail alert to you. For the truly security conscious, a recording feature that stores video online is available, but there's a monthly fee of $9.95 for 7 days worth of video.
3. Belkin WeMo
Sometimes, just shutting the lights on and off is enough to keep cruising burglars at bay. Belkin, which has a reputation for making devices dead simple to use, has a very basic WeMo system to do just that.
There are two remotely controlled switches. A $49.99 switch that connects wirelessly to your network and can be controlled on a iPad, iPhone or computer. There's also a switch with a motion sensor for $99.99 that reacts to nearby movement using a separate module. The separately positioned module means that a lamp can be set to go on when, say, the front door opens. Belkin also offers an audio baby monitor that works with iOS devices for $69.99.
So far, Belkin hasn't extended its system into a full-blown smart home kit, but for those who just want to plug and play, it's a good start.