5 ways to smarten up dumb home devices

November 26, 2014, 1:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Wes Sumner wessumner.com

People with smart homes can control all their appliances using a mobile phone like a TV remote control. All they have to do is tap an app to unlock their door, turn on the lights and adjust their crockpot’s temperature while dinner is simmering inside.

Today, few people actually live in this Jetsons-like reality. But many are open to the convenience it promises.

Equipping a home with smart devices is expensive. Google’s Nest smart smoke detector – it alerts you when its battery is running low via an app – costs $100, for instance. Meanwhile, a connected crock-pot is $129 and an intelligent air conditioner is almost $300.

Enter retrofitting, which involves cheaply retooling appliances so that they’re no longer dumb. In fact, it can be as easy as installing a new sci-fi battery in your thermostat. You won’t have to replace your “dumb” appliances with smart ones, so you can hold onto that favorite (and perfectly good) toaster you bought three years ago. Here are some options:

Garageio: $149

Garageio lets you open and shut your garage door from your phone. Install Garageio’s black box in your garage, hook it up to your Wi-Fi network, and download the app. Presto, you can now open your garage door remotely and give temporary access to friends, family and babysitters. Garageio will also send an alert to your phone if your garage door is open and provide you with an activity log showing when your garage door was opened as well as who opened it. It's compatible with 96% of all garage door openers. For an additional $20, you can control two doors, and for another $20, you can connect three doors. Garageio’s site is set to pre-order because the demand is so great it can’t be kept in stock, but units ship every other day.

Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight: $99

Leeo's Smart Alert Night Light

If you have a deep-seated devotion to your smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarm, or frankly, just can’t face the thought of installing new ones, never fear. You don’t have to toss good old Smokey aside to get the programming Nest promises. The Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight is a round nightlight that plugs into a wall-socket. It can detect when your smoke detector or carbon monoxide alarms go off, and then send a notification to your phone. If you can’t respond, Leeo can send alerts to your emergency contacts. In addition, Leeo can let you know your home’s temperature and humidity levels. Still, it’s pricey at $99. Those willing to wait, should consider Roost's $25 nine-volt battery which slips into any smoke alarm and connects it to your phone. However, Roost ships in 2015.

Evermind: ($199 for the system/$29 monthly service fee)

Evermind markets itself as a monitoring system for the elderly. A package includes three sensors, which look like plugs. Connect any three appliances from curling irons to coffee makers to garage door openers in your parents or grandparents house. Evermind will let you know via an app when the appliances are being used. You’ll know if grandma doesn’t make her morning coffee which means it could be time for a check-in. One of the sensors comes loaded with it's own Verizon modem inside, so Evermind can work in homes that don't have internet (and thus the $29 monthly fee.)

INSTEON On/Off Outlet: $60.00

This outlet means you can turn two plug-in appliances into smart-devices. Screw it into the outlet socket in your wall and then plug in those appliances. You’ll be able to control them remotely, set schedules for your appliances to turn on and off automatically, receive alerts telling you when the appliances are on. Caveat emptor though. If you are plugging in non-INSTEON appliances, you’ll need to purchase an INSTEON hub - something similar to a router - to control your devices. It’ll run you an extra $129.

WeMo Insight Switch: $60.00

Turn anything with a plug into a smart-device with WeMo's Insight Switch. You'll be able to get an alert when your laundry machine turns off and when your TV switches on.  You can also create schedules for turning your electronics on and monitor the amount of energy your devices are using. WeMo's insight switch resembles a plug that you can use to connect any device of your choice. Information shown in a phone app tells you much of what you need to know about when and how often you use your appliances.