Advice on having a home you can control with a remote

Kya deLongchamps doesn’t want to depend on ‘the internet of things’ but has sound advice if you want an automatic home you can communicate with remotely. 

Let’s face it — regardless of advances in smart house technology, we remain the superior intelligence in our homes.

If you forget to put a load of mouldering washing on and go out, there’s no software, app or device that’s going to clank over on little metal legs, lights blinking — load the machine and switch it on.

Does anyone really want to be nagged by their Bluetooth-enabled fridge about the urgent need to refresh the bell peppers? Appliance-specific logic was, up until very recently, inexplicable gadgetry in almost every case.

Still, there is a growing range of products that can be controlled in concert through a mobile device or smartphone, an internet connection, and fanned out around the house by a wifi network router. The choice is fascinating. And many, while not earth-shattering, are genuinely practical, and are getting cheaper.

For example, if you have a much-loved dog that is, out of necessity, left alone in the house, and he/she disrespects the couch the minute you leave, something like the Nest Cam, is a gem. When the device detects the sound and motion of Scrufty vaulting onto the Italian leather, you will be forwarded an instant alert and can yell ‘get down, you idiot!’ from your work desk twenty miles away.

It will also pick up on the return of your elder latch-key children, and you can give a well-aimed bark of ‘do your homework’ as they slouch on-camera. Linked to an optional subscription service called Nest Aware, the camera is linked back to a cloud, which means if it’s stolen, there’s still 30 days of 1080p HD footage safe and sound. €199 without subscription.

If you want to beef up security beyond a wireless alarm, everyone in the family could be outfitted with a pass key on their mobile phone to ‘knock-unlock’ a handle-free Danalock. This Danish-designed retro-fit home lock secures the principal door and can communicate with other smart home devices with a heavily encrypted code. 

If someone is due to say fix the boiler, you can give them temporary access during a set time using their phone too. €259.90. I would advise anyone to read real consumer reviews to judge whether the installation challenges and cost of something pricey like the Danalock is really enhancing your home.

Monitoring your baby remotely might seem a bit helicopter-parent, but imagine a scenario where you have a new sitter or a very young baby, and the potential all comes sharply into focus. 

With something like the D-link DCS-825L wifi baby camera or EyeOn, you can even check the temperature of the room from afar, take a snap to soothe your nerves or sing a lullaby to your little one while on a business trip. €129.99.

This and other brands of camera include a free app from their consumer base, the EyeOn from Mydlink, which guides you through setting up the device to work through your mobile or tablet.

While at home, something like the WeMo from Belkin uses audio rather than a live video feed, adding extra and interesting optional features such as mapping the crying and sleeping patterns of your baby to let you design a play/nap schedule to suit that individual child. €69.

Wifi connectivity and mobile apps are best known for their application to home security, and there are some clever new arrivals to simulate occupancy, or put a few welcoming lights on when you come home from work in winter. 

Enter the intelligent wifi bulb which brightens up with a touch on your mobile device wherever you are, or even detects when you are nearly back.

Presuming your wifi network is in place and you’ve downloaded the free WeMo app for your for Android, iOS, or Kindle operating system, WeMo LED bulbs can be programmed to operate as needed, singly or in groups, during the course of the day. 

There’s even a random algorithm to throw off unwelcome voyeurs scoping the neighbourhood for set patterns to your movements. The bulbs have a life expectancy of 23 years if used four hours a day, justifying their expense at €30 each (Belkin versions are €89.99 for a starter kit with 2 lamps).

Philips offer a wifi-enabled Hue table lamp in their extendable Friends of Hue range, with a choice of illumination in 16 million colours from a dedicated app. €74.99. There’s even a bulb/speaker version from Mipow, €69.99 (both devices from Currys). Brands including WeMo, Belkin, Nest and D-Link all offer a suite of modular products designed to work together or individually, sometimes with a master switch for a room.

Music Everywhere is a wifi range-extender, to allow speakers in more remote areas of the house to pick up on fixed or streaming music and radio.

It plugs into the wall, and any speaker (with connectivity ability) plugs into the device. You can then control the music from anywhere else in the house from your computer, tablet or phone. 

This little darling also increases the reach of your wifi for anything else you might need to do.

As an entry point for the enthusiastic but truly terrified, start with lights, security, and control of your appliances via switches and sockets. Stay with one brand. The MiHome Energenie modular items with a MiHome Gateway hub (€79.99) are very easy to set up and expand as one dedicated group.

Choosing a single tool? Get your phone in touch with your heating system with SMS messaging to a smart thermostat.

Subscription-based services such as Climote with Energy Ireland (€300 installed but before subscription) are being surpassed by free apps to once off-buys of thermostats and dedicated TRVs. Nest is best known for its cabochon-like Learning Thermostat (€189), a multi-award winning way to control and monitor your central heating.

Alternatively, true techies will want to be highly personal about their network from the start, utilising web-based ‘recipe’ makers to get their devices chatting like IFTTT (If this then that). Ifttt.com.

If you have lots of devices and different brands of apps to control them, it’s worth considering a hub to control them all. Samsung’s SmartThings is popular choice.

Will all this virtual curating of our lifestyle infantilise us in the coming years? Will marriages fail and minds crumble because the double espresso was not presented by the home network at 6am one Sunday morning?

The expense and interference of the new, connected house, only makes sense if it connects firmly back to your highly specific needs. Personally, the idea of my favourite music playing as I come up the drive reads as Hitchcock creepy. I just cannot compute.

Hot Property

Advice on having a home you can control with a remote

With 3,000 installations in the UK and following on its big reveal on Channel 4’s Grand Designs in 2014, The Little Magic Thermodynamic Box has just been launched to market in Ireland.

It operates like a refrigerator in reverse (solar-assisted heat-pump technology). Fitted to a south-facing wall, on a terrace or out on the roof, a solar panel takes energy from the ambient air temperature and sun.

Liquid refrigerant circulated through this thermodynamic panel is converted to a gas and compressed inside the box, producing heat. Water is drawn in to a microwave-sized box, heated and returned at 55C to your cylinder for domestic use.

The spent gas is converted back in to a liquid and this is circulated through the panel once more. Daily, the thermodynamic box costs under €1 to operate — 70c, according to the company.

The ambient air temperature outside can be as chilly as -10C and the product has been shown to work well, even in the Scandinavian climate. It retrofits to an existing cylinder and complements the existing water heater.

The Little Magic Box can also be used with Therm Smart’s Central Heating Management System in conjunction with a boiler, saving up to 30% on central heating energy usage. System including installation €5,000 plus Vat. For more information log onto www.thermsmart.ie

Dog gone?

Advice on having a home you can control with a remote

Your absence is stressful for your dog, and if you don’t have a house-sitter, or trusted close neighbour, to provide food, security, and comfort, they are faced with the added challenge of being boarded-out. Take these steps to keep your beloved pets as calm as possible.

* Choose the right kennels. Look for an experienced team with secure kennelling and a proper schedule of exercise or release, appropriate for your dog. How much human interaction will your dog get in your absence? Unless you have a bomb-proof recommendation, make a site visit. Don’t just book over the phone. Is it a clean and happy environment, with a raised bed and shelter from the sun?

* Do not launder the dog’s bedding, if they have regular blankets. The smell and texture of their own bedding will be very comforting. Bring it along, together with their regular basket and toys, if you can. Leave the dog off the day before you travel, rather than slinging it abruptly from the car, as you speed to the airport.

* Ensure you dog’s vaccinations are up-to-date. This should include a nose-applied vaccination for kennel cough. Most kennels will demand proof of these precautions, with a fully stamped passport from your vet. Two or more companion dogs can generally board together — but don’t’ expect a cut to the rate for this service.

* Invest in some DAP. This is a dog-appeasing pheromone, which mimics that released by bitches near their pups. It reassures adult dogs. It comes in a spray and can be used in the car on the journey to the kennels, and sprayed around the enclosure there, too. The kennel may have a DAP plug-in on site.

* Leave your vet’s details, and that of a surrogate minder, with the kennels in case of emergency when you might be out of reach.

* Catteries should be chosen with real care. Security, space, hygiene, and extensive experience are paramount. Many catteries will not accept un-neutered cats. Check ahead.


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