Catching a leak before your basement floods, sending a key to the dog walker, ordering cookies from that Girl Scout on the porch—all even if you’re 1,000 miles away. Combining your smartphone, your home WiFi network and the right apps can make the average home a lot smarter than it used to be—and give you more freedom, whether you’re out of the country or just lounging in your backyard.
Home automation systems, which typically control your thermostat or boost security, have existed for a few years, though they can require professional installation and be complicated to operate—not to mention that they can also cost thousands of dollars. Happily, that’s starting to change, as a bevy of easy-to-install alternatives are arriving on the scene. They’re less intimidating, too, since you can determine the level of sophistication. You get to decide just how smart your home is going to be.
This move is being driven by some major players in the electronics business. In early 2014 Google acquired NEST—a maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors—and has already moved to pair NEST products with other devices, such as fitness wristbands, ceiling fans and even your washer-dryer. (Apple’s next operating system, featuring the software HomeKit, promises to make it easier to control smart-home devices using an iPhone.) Samsung, meanwhile, has put skin in the game with the acquisition of SmartThings, a company that makes a variety of home security, lighting and energy management kits operated via smartphone.
Keep in mind, however, that some smart-home devices may be vulnerable to hackers, who could use them as an entry point into your home computer—or even your actual home. For the most security, look for systems that require passwords and offer encrypted communications. Then check out these ten systems that promise to make your home a little smarter.