Smartphones and other connected gadgets have come to play a crucial role in helping people manage their lives.
In 2018, more people than ever will be using their phones to stay connected with their homes, thanks to a variety of digitally linked household gadgets and appliances that can be controlled with a simple tap or swipe of smartphone screen.
The rise of the ‘smart home’ – a home in which everyday amenities such as ovens, televisions and burglar alarms can be controlled or monitored digitally from the user’s phone – is part of a wider phenomenon known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Experts believe that this type of technology will do more than merely add convenience to our lives – it will also help us to ensure that our homes remain secure when we’re not there.
“Today, people want more information as well as greater flexibility to control their home environment,” comments James Coulson of Honeywell, a smart technology company that manufactures products including app-controlled thermostats, security cameras and leak detection devices.
“The growing demand for smart technology products helps to feed people’s desire for instant information, and makes home owners feel safer and more secure.” According to James, this type of technology will soon become the norm. “In the not too distant future, everyone will think it inconceivable that they can’t control home functions on holiday, wherever they are in the world,” he reckons.
So for those of us interested in embracing the IoT revolution by investing in smart products for our homes, which items offer the best bang for you buck in terms of added security and cost-cutting potential?
When calculating the price of your home insurance, a number of factors are considered, including how secure your home is.
Taking additional security precautions could reduce your premiums, particularly if you choose one of the following systems for your home:
Although your upfront savings won’t necessarily be more than you spend on a security system, the long-term benefits may be worth it.
For example, if you buy a hi-tech home alarm system for £700 that’s going to be more expensive than any discount you might get. The benefits, though, go much further than just a discount on your home insurance.
Noel Summerfield, Head of Admiral Home Insurance, said: “Having security measures in place demonstrates that a customer has taken the time to put in preventative measures to protect their property.
“For example, an alarm can deter burglars, reducing the risk of an insurer having to pay out on a theft claim.”
But the biggest saving, he said, may not come in immediate discounts, but in avoiding future premium increases.
“It also saves the customer money because they then don’t have a claim that leads to an excess and possibly increased premium at renewal,” he added.
“You’re playing the long game, installing security to reduce your chances of making a claim. If you suffer a break-in, or have your car stolen, it may lead to a higher premium when the time comes to renew your policy.
“That alarm system you install, therefore, will keep paying off over time without your realising it. You might not see a big drop in your premium, but you’re reducing the risk of seeing your premiums climb.”
Burglar alarms and CCTV cameras are hardly new technology, and have long been relied upon to help deter intruders and catch criminals in the act. By combining these tried-and-tested methods with the instant notifications provided by smartphones, security companies are helping consumers to keep their homes safer than ever before.
“Smart home security products offer the convenience of being able to check in on your home while away, allowing you to protect your home in real time”, says Steve Roberts of lock manufacturer and home security company Yale.
“Smart alarms can be controlled from anywhere in the world, alongside smart CCTV systems that give users the option to monitor their home while they’re away. People who own these products can rest assured that their home is securely protected, at any time, from anywhere.”
While basic smart home security gadgets can be bought for as little as £200, you’ll usually need to spend more for a comprehensive smart home security system. Yale, for example, sell a smart starter bundle including a smartphone-controlled door lock and home alarm kit for £800.
This may sound like a steep investment, but the peace of mind and intruder-deterring potential of such systems could end up saving you money in the long term.
“Homeowners with smart security systems can react much quicker to suspicious activity, potentially preventing costly incidents,” Steve points out.
“Homes that choose to install CCTV systems are statistically 90% less likely to be targeted by thieves, dramatically reducing the likelihood of homeowners needing to make a claim on their insurance.”
Read our guide to the best gadgets to deter burglars.
Nobody likes spending more than they have to on household bills, and this is one of the main areas in which smart home technology can help.
For example, by opting to replace your old thermostat with one of theirs, smart thermostat company Tado claims that you could cut your heating bills by up to 31% – for the average household, this could amount to between £367 and £540 per year.
Another key cost-saving benefit of smart technology is in preventing household accidents from occurring, safeguarding against incidents that might otherwise force you to make an insurance claim.
“Smart home products can be seen as a safety net,” explains James from Honeywell. “Water leak and freeze detectors are there to help you if something goes wrong – to let you know about a potential leak or freeze in your pipes as it happens, allowing you get in there and fix the issue before it becomes a problem. This ultimately saves you from having to make an expensive insurance claim.”
Since making a claim on your home insurance can also impact on the cost of your premium, spotting a potential issue before it materialises could have a big impact on your annual household spend.
At the very least, make sure that your home insurance includes home emergency and accidental damage cover – Admiral’s three levels of cover all offer this option alongside a 24-hour emergency helpline.
Nest has been making smart thermostats since 2011, and the company is really hitting its stride. Now in its third generation, the Nest Thermostat is beginning to learn, and adapts as your patterns change. It turns the temperature down when you’re out, and when you go to bed, and back up shortly before you wake. Plus it looks really slick!
It’s also claimed that, with control of the ambient temperature and hot water accounting for around 60% of your household energy usage, it can help with saving money on your bill. You can see how much you’ve saved using the app, and can control it with voice assistants. It’s particularly well integrated with Google products, as you might expect given that it’s made by Alphabet, Google’s parent company. And it works with Amazon as well.
The Nest Protect will alert you if there’s a fire or carbon monoxide leak in your home. Rather than triggering a panic-inducing noise, it can tell you in some detail what and where the problem is. It’s able to differentiate between fast-burning and slow, smouldering fires. And if it’s a false alarm, you can switch it off with an app, rather than waving a towel and eventually giving up and ripping out the battery in exasperation.
With a smart detector, there’s the obvious advantage that you’ll be alerted even if you’re not at the property. And you have the option of adding friends or family members, so they can be alerted too. If you also have the Nest Thermostat, then they work together - switching off the heating if there’s a problem, for example.
It works with Google and Amazon, and with Apple through an iPhone app.
The Canary all-in-one security system has a range of different useful features. It becomes enabled when you leave your home, and features a HD camera with a 30-day video history, but also a 90-decibel siren to scare off any intruders. You can also alert the relevant authorities if there’s a problem. Plus it monitors the temperature, air quality and humidity in your home. It works with Alexa and Google Assistant.
With SmartThings, Samsung has come up with a simple and useful entry-level package for turning your property into a smart home. You can control a huge range of electrical appliances, lights, your thermostat, check to see if windows or doors are left open, hook up motion-sensor cameras… And that’s just for starters.
The starter kit comes with two window and door sensors, a multipurpose motion sensor, and plugs to switch appliances on and off. Plus there’s a hub to connect them all together, and you can add extra devices as and when.