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How to instantly make any home smart (even on a budget)

(TECH NEWS) Make it a point to upgrade one dumb aspect of your home to a smart device this year as we all move toward smart home living.

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wifi thermostat

Budget-friendly ways to go smart

Now that smartphones are in our pockets 24-7, we are closer than ever to a fully-automated smart homes without the unsettling plot twist of the eponymous movie. Maybe your pre-war ranch home doesn’t have the wiring or power for a full smart home remodel, but with a few tools, here are a few products you can buy today to make your home much more intelligent by 2018.

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Safe and secure

Virtual doorbell
Imagine your doorbell rings, and you get a notification on your phone. Not only can you see the person at your door, but you can talk to them too. You can protect your castle without actually being home. Also, it can help keep track of those pesky Amazon deliveries (we know you’ll be buying a lot of new smart home stuff soon!). Ring does all of that, and more!

Security camera
Not only can you watch out for intruders with the Nest cam but you can keep an eye on Fido while you’re at work. You can even talk to intruders and pets with Nest’s new talk and listen system. “Hey Fido – Get off the couch!” or “Hey Robbers! I’m calling the cops!” are just two examples of this tool’s usefulness. You’ll also get smart phone notifications when motion is detected in your home and go back through ten or thirty days of footage to see what you missed. It works inside and outdoors.

Smart locks
The day of keyless home entry is here. Never again will you have to fumble for your keys with your arms full of groceries on the front porch. Smart locks are a game changer. Controlled from your smart phone, smart locks like Kwikset’s Kevo Touch can be locked and unlocked remotely, temporary digital keys can be issued to house guests or home workers, all of which makes entry for homeowners is a breeze. Some locks even lock behind you once you’ve gone a certain distance away and most options have an additional keyed backup just in case something goes wrong. Smart locks vary in tech and style so do your research to figure out which is best for you.

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Smart entertainment

Smart TV
The TV is the hub of the home, and making it smarter is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your life. Either upgrade your existing model or use Chromecast, Googleplay, or Apple TV to make it easier to interact with your biggest screen. You can even use a gaming device like the Xbox to smarten up your TV. Cast images from your smart phone to the TV, or use built-in apps to watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime,. Apple TV lets you stream your own purchased content on the big screen, which makes a wide range of iTunes purchases (and your weekly binge of Real Housewives) easily accessible. With a new smart TV you can get the same wide range of apps, and in some cases, even Skype! I will say, the smaller plug-ins are more easily upgradable and way more affordable.

Google Home or Alexa
For the latest in smart home tech, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Google Home and Alexa. Prime competitors in the smart home world, both devices can be summoned with a word, can search the web, make shopping lists (or any other kind of list) and even play games with you. These are the in-home assistant hubs that truly make your home feel smarter. And isn’t that the most important thing?

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Save some green

Smart switches
Control any overhead light or fan with a smart switch like the Caseta. It works like a normal switch but can be operated remotely via smartphone. Lights can be dimmed, fans can change speed, vent hoods can be summoned with a voice command while you’re ducking beneath the kitchen smoke. Anything that has a connected switch in your home can be turned on or off from anywhere at anytime.

Smart lightbulbs
Smart lightbulbs are a game changer in any smart home. Hue can go into any light fixture, be any possible color, and can be controlled by your smart phone or smart home assistant. Set up preset times for lights to turn off and on, set up different lighting modes (movie mode, sleep mode, reading mode) and control it all via voice with your smart phone. http://drift-light.comDrift bulbs will dim once you flip them off, and slowly lull you to sleep as they dim to black over thirty-seven minutes.

Thermostat
The smart thermostat is a no brainer for smart homes. Heat up the house from your warm bed, or cool it down before you get home, smart thermostats like the Ecobee can make your home more comfortable. Remote sensors can tell if you’re gone or sleeping, and some thermostats can even learn your habits and fully customize the climate zones of your home.

Smart plugs
Control anything that plugs in with a smart plug. A couple of needle nose pliers is all you need to install one of these babies. Go ahead and turn off your computer all the way from the other room, or plug your iron into it so when you’re at work you can make triple-sure you didn’t leave it on. Or if you did leave it on, with the tap of a screen it won’t burn your house down. Plug in your crockpot and turn it on at the exact right time to have dinner ready when you get home. You can even update your plugs to have motion sensor capabilities, so that the fan tursn on when you enter your office, or goes off when you leave. Try theWemo switch or Summit Link’s budget-friendly version.

Squeaky clean

Roomba
Keep that new smart home clean with the ever-popular Roomba, and get rid of those dust bunnies you’ve grown to love. With iRobot’s new Home app, scheduling your top-of-the-line vacuum service is easier than ever. Summon the Roomba immediately with the clean button or schedule a dead-of-night service and wake up to the smell of an allergen-free home. Also, DJ Roomba!

Shower controls
Control shower temps, monitor usage and save water all at the same time. Smart shower controls work with your existing set up and can monitor specific water temperature settings so you never get too hot or too cold. Evadrop adjusts shower pressure depending on where you are in the shower, so you don’t have the water on full blast while you’re just shaving your legs. Some come with an app, like SmarTap, so that you can monitor temps and usage with your phone that keep everyone comfortable, keep your home leak-free, and save our greatest natural resources.

Go forth (and prosper)!

Smart homes are it. And we all have the tools to make our home more accessible, save more energy, and impress more of our friends. Make it a point to upgrade one dumb aspect of your home to a smart device this year. I promise you won’t be sorry.

#BudgetFriendlySmartHome

C. L. Brenton is a staff writer at The American Genius. She loves writing about all things, she’s even won some contests doing it! For everything C. L. check out her website

Real Estate Technology

Your office could benefit from a more open floor plan

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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open office

If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating/bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open office floor plans put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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Real Estate Technology

3D printed homes are now gaining traction outside of the US and China

(TECHNOLOGY) Other countries are now using 3d printing to build homes to underscore their infrastructure. This shows the viability of the technology!

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3D printing

Recently, we reported that Lennar was using 3D printing to build homes in Austin. In 2014, the BBC reported that China was printing up to 10 homes a day at the low cost of $5000 per home. This trend is making strides in the real estate market, even though there’s still a long way to go. In a move that should give the industry confidence in 3D printing, Indonesia’s Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR) Ministry announced that they are using concrete 3D printing to build homes in rural areas. Eventually, plans are in the works to construct schools.

Using 3D printing to build an infrastructure

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country. As with most countries, housing expenses are climbing in both urban and rural areas. According to Habitat for Humanity, 11.3% of the population lives below the poverty line. For comparison, in September, the U.S. Census Bureau released information that the U.S poverty rate increased to 11.4%, one percentage point over the same time in 2020. Affordable housing is a problem in Indonesia.

“This technology really helps us, so we can build faster, more accurately, and with precision,’ explains Kusumastuti, Indonesia’s Director General of Human Settlements.” The PUPR reports that 3D printing reduces waste and improves construction quality. Considering that up to 70% of housing is built by individuals, not private developers or the government, using 3D printing under the PUPR Ministry is an upgrade in a country that deals with many types of economic disasters, due to its climate.

3D printing’s potential for real estate

As 3D printing is used in more construction projects, not only in the U.S. and China, it’s hoped that the real estate industry embraces the technology. Indonesia isn’t the only country that is trying out 3D printing. 14Trees constructed a school in Malawi using this method already, with the project taking around 18 hours. The company is undertaking more projects in Africa using this technology and more companies are building houses using 3D printing in the United States. It will be exciting to watch how this plays out in the various markets.

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Real Estate Technology

Why everyone and their mother own spy machines (aka smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: Despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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