Working Smarter, Not Harder

Advances have brought home technology into the mainstream. Here are some tips and devices to help streamline your home automation process.

Welcome to the home of the future. As the IoT, or Internet of Things, continues to proliferate this year, smart home technology has become better streamlined for, and more accessible to, the average consumer than ever before.

With these continual advances, new tech can get confusing. Through it all, integration is key to having a smart home.

“All of the products should work together to provide real automation,” says Josh Onley of Video Revolution in Tulsa.

Rather than managing dozens of different applications for smart devices from your phone or tablet, you should aim to have your home itself adapt to technology by integrating the features you want and managing them with a hub device. This simplifies your life instead of adding complications … lessening stress for you. Whether it’s home security, lawn care or mundane household chores, home automation can help.

Note the sleek interior of one of Brian Freese’s self-sufficient smart homes in Tulsa. Photo courtesy Brian Freese

1. Hubs

The Google Home Mini has light, thermostat and lock controls all in one place. Photo courtesy Google

In order to achieve seamless integration in a smart home, you need an ultra-high-speed internet connection and a hub device (other than your smartphone or tablet) to pull everything together, especially if you blend devices from multiple manufacturers.

Jeff Sanders, of Dynamic Audio in Tulsa, preaches inter-connectivity as a key to overall functionality.

“Think of all the portable devices that we all have, not to mention all of the electronic devices that make up our entertainment systems and our smart home systems,” he says. “At the end of the day, the home network is key.”

Smart home hubs help when you need remote access to all of your devices; you only need to control the hub from a smartphone rather than handling multiple apps for each product that you link to the hub.

Some popular hubs include Samsung’s SmartThings, Wink and Harmony. Even Amazon Echo and Google Home have joined the trend. Just be sure that the hub you choose is compatible with the devices you want to link together.

2. Security

The Nest Guard touts an alarm, keypad and motion sensor with Google Assistant built in. Photo courtesy Nest
The Ring Video Doorbell Pro offers 1080HD video, along with motion sensors, two-way audio and infrared night vision. Photo courtesy Ring

Security features are some of the most-sought-after components of a smart home. Global companies like Nest and Ring have upgraded the doorbell to a whole new level – adding HD video with crisp resolution, even at night – and security systems have evolved beyond a shrill alarm noise if someone is breaking in. For example, when an alarm is triggered, window shades can rise and outdoor lights flash to allow authorities to quickly identify your house.

When systems are integrated, the benefits multiply. For instance, if a smoke alarm were to go off, a feature in your heating-air conditioning system could activate a pump to remove the smoke and prevent fresh oxygen from feeding a potential fire. Other advanced fire alarms can verbalize the issue – whether it’s just some smoke or a carbon monoxide scare. Smart locks, garage door openers and high-tech security cameras can all be programmed and integrated to smoothly and effortlessly provide the highest levels of protection for your home.

3. Energy and water savings

Google-owned Nest thermostats can be controlled from your phone with remote temperature settings, and the website claims it can pay for itself in energy savings in two years or less. Photo courtesy Google
Lutron lighting controls can dictate the mood of any room – from bright and cheerful to cozy and relaxed. Photo by Paul Schiefer

One of the greatest benefits of a smart home is energy savings. The average household spends $2,000 each year on energy costs, but smart light bulbs, timers, remote lighting controls and motion sensors can cut those costs by directing energy usage to when and where it is actually needed. Amy Grogan, of Airco Service based in Tulsa, suggests installing a programmable thermostat.

“[It] will further lower your utility bills by not having your system running as much when you are away,” she says.

In addition, technologically advanced pool pumps and heaters, irrigation systems and a smart water heater can help you save on your water bill.

4. Health and fitness

The QardioBase bathroom scale can help you keep track of not only your weight, but bone density, BMI and muscle mass. Photo courtesy QardioBase

Smart homes can help you track your fitness goals, especially when health and wellness apparatuses are linked to a hub.

The QardioBase bathroom scale tracks your body’s fat and body mass index, bone density and muscle mass – and even helps you chart a pregnancy. Sleep Number’s smart bed helps you get a better night’s sleep by tracking your sleep habits, positions and temperature and adjusting accordingly.

For those wanting to keep an eye on an elderly relative, many smart hubs like Amazon’s Alexa can “drop in” on relatives, using technology akin to an intercom to ensure everything’s all good with those you love.

5. Outdoors

Looking to avoid the summer chore of mowing your lawn? Just get an iRobot Terra Hero to do the job for you. Photo courtesy irobot

Even outdoor chores have been transformed with technology. Fully automated sprinkler systems can respond to the environment by turning themselves off if the weather becomes inclement. Automated pool vacuums and lawn mowers – with prices ranging anywhere from $200 to $5,000 – can robotically sweep up debris or cut grass on a schedule.

In addition, outdoor tech has moved today’s living spaces from the indoors to the patio and garden. An outdoor-friendly, big-screen television, along with a sound system camouflaged throughout the backyard, extends the entertainment venues a home can offer.

6. Household chores

The beloved Roomba can clean your dwelling spaces on a schedule. Photo courtesy iRobot

Our grandparents likely never imagined that Instant Pots and shoebox-sized robots could cook and clean at the touch of a button, especially from a remote location. But nearly every home appliance has become automated these days.

Vacuums – like iRobots and Roombas – can clean your dwelling spaces on a schedule. Kitchen tech has advanced drastically too. Stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, pressure cookers, toasters, coffeepots, microwaves and many other appliances can be controlled via smartphone or a hub device – meaning you can preheat your oven, find out what’s in your fridge, turn the coffee on or turn something off you forgot about … all from afar.

The ‘Golden Fleece’ Goldenrod does well in the Oklahoma climate. Photo courtesy Steve Owens, Bustani Plant Farm

Gardening Trends

To keep your outdoor areas en vogue, follow these tips.

  • Consider Oklahoma’s mercurial climate when choosing new plants.
  • Create an outdoor setting on your patio as inviting as your living room.
  • Make a meadow in your back lawn.
  • Brighten an evening with an outdoor lighting system to enhance your home and garden.

Those are the four major design trends to follow when embarking on your spring gardening journey.

For starters, choose “Oklahoma proven” plants. These have been tested and shown to be hearty enough to survive the state’s unpredictable weather. Master gardeners suggest varieties of hellebores. Baby’s breath spirea is an old-fashioned Southern plant making a comeback in Oklahoma gardens … and hearty lantana is a must.

Steve Owens, owner of Bustani Plant Farm in Stillwater, specializes in plants that thrive in Oklahoma. Bustani is also known for exotic plants, discovered by Owens on frequent trips to study in far-flung locales. He sees a growing interest in native plants, shrubs and trees, especially goldenrods and coneflowers.

Owens suggests a new Marrakesh coleus plant, developed by an Oregon grower. Owens says it has unusual colors – reddish purple, apricot, tan – with unique scalloped leaves. Another new bedding plant is firefly cuphea, a vividly colored beauty. Bustani’s trademark is that Owens never sells a plant he hasn’t tested thoroughly to see if it will endure Oklahoma’s climate.

If you’re renovating your garden, Owens says, “don’t be afraid to toss out some of your old, tired plants. We throw out old furnishings in our home. Why not the garden?”

Making your backyard a priority means investing in landscaping, pool design and lighting … and even a waterfall. Photo courtesy Caviness Landscape

David Hillock, a consumer horticulturist with the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, touts the merits of raised bed gardening as “a way to add visual interest and texture into your landscape. These are usually two to three inches above ground and can be a rectangular soil plateau or an elaborate bed framed in sturdy material. Gardeners tend to reap higher yields as the raised beds allow more garden space for other growing plants.”

John Meadors of MGM Lighting reminds that a well-lit home (including the yard) is a major deterrent to home break-ins. Photo courtesy MGM Lighting

Dressing up your patio and pool area is one of the most exciting parts of creating an outdoor living space. Today’s patios resemble inviting living rooms and kitchens with all the comfortable amenities only found indoors previously.

“In 2019, the trend for outdoor living is bright colors – reds, blues, greens, purples,” says Kathy Caviness of Caviness Landscape. “Weather-friendly fabrics and durable materials for furnishings – teak wood, cast iron, metal – are a must for this style of casual outdoor living. Plantings – especially native grasses, including pollinators milkweed, bunny grass, vervain and American hollies with red berries – are a must for attracting bees, birds and butterflies.”

Fire and water are part of the outdoor living trend, too, Caviness says. Fire pits and fireplaces are important – big copper fire bowls line swimming pools or other defined areas. Sun shelves and swim-up bars are popular poolside features, inspired by high-end resorts.

A well-manicured, well-lit lawn is the key to backyard entertaining. Photo courtesy Caviness Landscape

Gardens are now divided into several landscaped areas, with pathways leading to more public or private spaces. Depending on the lawn’s size, a meadow – a quiet oasis for meditation, a fire pit, even a yoga class – is planted at the garden’s end, adding visual appeal and charm with little maintenance required. Many homeowners invest in their patio, pool and garden to enjoy “staycations” in lieu of short getaways.

Container gardens are a fun and easy way to satisfy a green thumb. Photo courtesy Agricultural Communications Services, Oklahoma State University

The final touch for your garden is appropriate lighting. John Meadors, owner of Tulsa’s MGM Lighting, says manufacturers incorporate transformers into new, safe and efficient LED lighting systems. They also add different color phases to lighting systems.

“One color is a soft rose that makes skin tones look so much more appealing – and younger,” says Meadors, stressing the importance and value of a home’s foundation lighting. “A well-lit home is the single best deterrent to home break-ins.”

Caviness emphasizes lighting, too, especially for the patio and pool.

“Landscape lighting extends your time outdoors and helps balance the landscape design,” she says.

Caviness also loves discreet lighting in trees and pathways to create a magical effect in the garden – something every gardener hopes to achieve season after season.

Keep the party going in your yard with extra lighting on your garden. Photo courtesy Phillip’s Hue
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