Any homeowner knows that a lot of free time goes into taking care of your house. But what if your house could take care of you? That's the dream of the "smart home" – and while there's no true sci-fi intelligent home that can do everything you need, we're getting closer.
Every day, 5.5 million smart devices are being connected in homes around the world, according to research firm Gartner. It further estimates there will be 6.4 billion of these "Internet of Things" devices by the end of the year, and 20.8 billion by 2020. If you want to get in on the ground floor, here are some gadgets you can buy today.
1. Tech to help you sleep better
There's been an explosion of gadgets that are designed to monitor and help you improve your sleep. The market for these gadgets is headed for more than $125 million in 2017, according to media reports.
Sense ($129) is a little orb that sits in your room, monitors noise, light, temperature, humidity and air particles and can wake you up at the ideal part of your sleep cycle. A tiny clip attached to your pillow tracks your movements. In the morning, it can tell you through an Apple app how much sleep you really got, and if something in your environment is disturbing your rest.
Some similar monitors include Beddit ($149), which also tracks your heart rate and breathing, and SleepRate ($100), which has an app full of useful information plus a wearable heart rate sensor. Withings Aura ($189.95) not only monitors your sleep, but it cycles through light and sound programs to try to improve it. Learn about other sleep trackers, including smartphone apps and smart mattresses.
These products mostly stand alone, but an upcoming sensor from Samsung called SleepSense will link up with Samsung's SmartThings Hub. When SleepSense detects that you're asleep, it will turn off the lights and TV and crank up the air conditioning. When you wake up, it'll turn on the coffee maker.
Note: Some fitness trackers that you wear around your wrist or clip onto your clothes monitor how well you sleep. Before you buy one, check out the exclusive Komando Fitness Tracker Comparison Chart.
2. A bright idea
How many times have you come home later than expected? It's dark outside and, of course, you didn't leave the lights on. You struggle to get the key in the door and, once you open it, you have to feel around the wall for the light switch. Then, room by dark room, you repeat those steps.
Wouldn't it be easier to tap an app on your phone while you're still in your car and turn on all the lights?
Lightbulb makers sell bulbs that you can link to the rest of your smart house. For example, with Philips' Hue LED lights and Philips Hue Bridge smart home device ($60; Amazon affiliate link), you can remotely turn on or off dozens of lightbulbs in and around your house.
These lights are also dimmable, so you can have softer lighting at night, or they can wake you up gently by turning on slowly in the morning. You can even sync your lightbulbs to your streaming music or movies. For example, you can program your Philips lightbulbs to dim automatically for optimal viewing when you turn on Netflix.
Bonus: "Hey, Siri. Turn on the lights." You can connect your Philips Hue lightbulbs to Apple's IoT hub, the Apple HomeKit. With it, you can use Apple's voice-activated assistant, Siri, to turn your lights on and off with voice commands.
3. A smart lock for your smart home
If you have a connected car, you may already be remotely turning it on or unlocking your doors without even touching your key ring. Cars are increasingly equipped with Internet-connected technology, so you can do things like unlock the doors when you've got an armful of groceries.
The same concept is at work in IoT homes. For instance, you can remotely lock and unlock your doors. Smart locks, like Kwikset's Kevo ($160; Amazon link) are Bluetooth-connected, too.
With Kevo and its smartphone app, you can program your home locks so only your family members can unlock the doors. You can set the times of day when they can unlock the doors, and you can give your house guests temporary access to your home. No keys required.
Once your family, guests and you have downloaded the Kevo app to your smartphones, you don't even need to take it out of your pocket or purse to unlock your doors. Just touch the lock with your finger, and it'll unlock.
4. Keeping things fresh
If you roll your eyes at the idea of smart appliances like a smart refrigerator, that's understandable. Why would you need a fridge that connects to the Internet? Actually, there are a few good reasons.
LG, for example, has SmartDiagnosis. If your LG smart appliance is on the fritz, it will connect you with LG's customer service department by phone, or with a smartphone app. The repair techs can tell you what's wrong and help you get it fixed fast.
Then there's food tracking. You can get alerts you when you need to restock an item or when an item is about to expire. Samsung's upcoming Family Hub refrigerator even has cameras inside, so you can check what's on its shelves while you're out grocery shopping.
5. A house that cleans itself
If you've ever been vacuuming and wished you had Rosie from the Jetsons around to help out, you can stop wishing. Roomba made its name with robotic vacuums that keep your house clean without you lifting a finger. But its latest model is the smartest yet.
The Roomba 980 ($899) has a Wi-Fi connection that lets you control it with a smartphone app no matter where you are. You can remotely tell Roomba to start vacuuming, and on its dashboard you can see what it’s been doing while you were out.
Plus, the 980 fixes one of Roomba's most frustrating faults. If you've ever used a Roomba, or another robotic vacuum, you can watch it clean and clean one section of your house and continually miss a spot. That's frustrating, but now it's been fixed: Using its cameras and sensors, Roomba creates a map of the room it's cleaning so it knows if it hasn't covered everything.
Bonus: Prepare for the future
One of the biggest hurdles to a true smart home is that most gadgets stand alone or work only with gadgets from the same company. That's why smart home hubs are going to be important.
Instead of tapping an app to unlock your door, then another app to put on your lights and yet another app to turn off your home security system, you just do all that from a single spot. There are plenty of companies pushing their own hubs.
But be sure to do your research on what gadgets will connect before you commit to one. Apple's HomeKit, for example, works with non-Apple gadgets, but only if they're HomeKit compatible. Some gadgets you buy might not be. Companies like Cassia and HomeGenie are creating third-party hubs and software that try to work with everything, but they, too, may not be fully compatible.
Whatever you choose, just keep in mind that it's still the early days of the smart gadget revolution. So enjoy what they can do, but don't be too surprised if everything changes in a year or two.
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.