If you have said the words “Hey Alexa,” “Hello Siri” or another voice command to complete a task in your home, you may have the beginnings of a smart home. What does it mean to have a smart home, and how “smart” does your home really need to be? We decode the basics here.

What is a Smart Home?

Smart homes generally refer to connected devices in your house that integrate to computer systems and allow you to connect and exchange data, so you can operate your home wirelessly. Internet of Things (IoT) estimate there will be 50 billion wireless devices used to power our homes by 2020. That means that within the next few years, there will be (on average) 13 connected devices in each home in North America -- and the number is growing.

What Counts as a Smart Device?

Smart devices range from wireless garage door openers that you can operate via an app on your smart phone, to cameras used for security purposes, to refrigerators that allow you to peek inside and see what you have – while you are miles away at the grocery store. Basically, any device that connects to the internet and syncs with other devices to share information can be considered a smart device. Devices have a wide range of uses but have one thing in common: connectivity. They are connected, and collectively referred to as the IoT, because they communicate via a Wi-Fi signal in your home.

Worth the Cost?

Some devices are more useful to your day to day than others. Some get their value from added security and some are the neat gadgets that you can’t wait to show off to your friends. We’ve listed some of the most innovative devices here:

  • Thermostat: Imagine being able to control the temperature in your home from across the street (or across the globe!). Smart home thermostats give you the ability to connect your smart phone, control your whole home temperature, sync with other devices, and be responsive to voice command. Many homeowners use the technology to regulate temperatures from room to room, making this truly responsive and energy saving.
  • Door Locks: Never wonder if you remembered to lock the door again. With smart technology, you can lock and unlock your doors right from your smart phone and provide unique visitor codes to guests or delivery drivers, making your home safer and more secure.
  • Refrigerators: Wouldn’t it be nice to know you were out of milk before you got home in the evening? Smart refrigerators can now track the contents and expiration dates, and automatically order grocery staples and adjust cooling levels based on what’s inside. You can manage the contents (and the order process) from your phone. Now, if only it would start dinner for you, too.
  • Baby Monitors: Smart baby monitors don’t just alert you when your child is fussy. They have the power to learn your baby’s movements, alert you when they are awake or dreaming away. They help new parents develop and monitor sleep habits, so you can make adjustments when needed.
  • Outlets – Not every device is a smart device – or is it? With smart plugs, you can plug just about anything into it, and the gadget you plugged in becomes a smart device. There are limitations, sure, but the possibilities are endless!

It's “Smart” to Proceed with Caution

Any time you have devices that are operated by a Wi-Fi signal, you open yourself up for hackers. When you set up your smart home, it’s wise to take a few basic precautions to protect your data. Be on the lookout for phishing scams that look for personal information via email. Consider using a multifactor authentication, which asks you to use a password and an additional form of identification (like a code sent to your cell phone or a biometric authentication). Also, stay current with your online security updates. Finally, always secure your Wi-Fi and avoid public connections.

Smart home devices are helping homeowners re-think what is possible for efficiency and security, and help you operate aspects of your home remotely, and stay connected. Talk to your Farm Bureau agent about protecting your home – and everything inside. That’s always a smart move.