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How long it takes to break even on smart home upgrades

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Smart home features can spruce up any house but when you’re upgrading to these features, where does the spending end and the savings begin?

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Smart home devices are primarily marketed as adding convenience and luxury to your home. They allow you to interconnect your appliances with your smartphone and to monitor and control your utilities remotely. But do smart home devices actually save you money?

Smart devices like speakers and music players are obviously designed to allow you the convenience of playing whatever music you want, wherever you want it. But smart devices that monitor or adjust utilities like heating and water could also save you money on your bills.

Joel Lee over at MakeUseOf has crunched the numbers. He’s published a rundown of the most money-saving smart devices, and how long it will take for the devices to “pay for” themselves.

Smart thermostats are perhaps the most obvious devices for saving you money on utilities. Nest says that their thermostat will save you 13 percent on heating and cooling; ecobee3 claims an even more impressive 23 percent.

Comparing these numbers with U.S. Department of Energy statistics on average household utility costs, Lee calculated that a Nest thermostat will pay for itself in just over two years, while an ecobee3 will pay for itself in just one year.

Rachio is a smart sprinkler device that maintains your lawn watering schedule. It makes sure that the sprinklers turn off on rainy days, conserves water when it’s cold out, and optimizes the watering schedule for maximum absorption.

Rachio claims it can help you cut your spending on water for the lawn by 50 percent. Lee estimates a more conservative 30 percent, but even so, says that the device will pay for itself within 15 months.

Plus, he adds, a smart sprinkler system will also increase the overall value of your home, letting you set a higher price point should you decide to sell it.

Lee wasn’t particularly impressed by LED lightbulbs, pointing out that it will take almost the full lifecycle of the LED bulb to recoup the expense of buying them in the first place. The savings are a bit better, he says, if you compare them to the costs of running incandescent bulbs, and if you skip over the big brand names in favor of lesser known, but also less expensive LEDs.

Lastly, Lee recommends smart moisture sensors. These devices can warn you of leaks, roof damage, and other water damage long before you might notice the effects. If these sensors can give you a heads up on even one potential water-damage disaster, the device will clearly have paid for itself.

It appears that smart home devices could be worth the investment, although it’s important to note that these devices are notoriously insecure. While you may save money on your utilities, one bad hack could easily cancel out these money-saving benefits.

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Real Estate Technology

Up your digital creative game with Moleskine’s Flow notebook

(TECH NEWS) Moleskine isn’t just the fancy notebook on your desk. Their latest digital notebook has made remote collaboration even easier.

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Moleskine Flow screenshot shows collaboration in creativity.

Moleskine Studio is taking creative immersion to a whole new level with its upgraded digital notebook, Flow 2. Since its launch last year, the creativity and productivity tool, Flow, has made writing, drawing, and sketching simple. And now, it’s adding real-time collaboration, pencil case mode, vertical documents, images, and a new sync engine that will help creatives do so much more.

Working alongside teammates has been nearly impossible because of the remote world we’re all living in today. However, Flow 2 makes it a little easier with its real-time collaboration feature. Nowadays, we work on a document. We send it over to another teammate so they can make some edits. Then, they send it back so we can make any needed changes. It’s a constant back and forth battle. With Flow 2, multiple people can work on the same document at the same time. And everyone can use a different device no matter where they are.

To do this, all you have to do is tap on the collaboration button in the document, and share the link with the people you’d like to collaborate with. Every time someone is making an edit, you will receive a notification. If you’d like to chat while you’re collaborating, you can use “FaceTime picture-in-picture”. Also, if your collaboration group is a little too large, you can broadcast the collaboration using Zoom.

Pencil case mode with the iPhone helps declutter your workspace. Instead of having all your tools on your iPad screen, you can place them on your iPhone. This frees up screen space on your iPad so you bring all your creative ideas to life. Getting this setup is effortless. You set your iPhone next to your iPad and open the Flow app on both devices. Your tools then show up on your iPhone. Easy peasy!

Also, landscape documents aren’t your only option anymore. You can choose a “top-to-bottom infinite canvas”. The orientation type can be set up when you create a new document. Although, you cannot change the orientation after it has been created.

Uploading images to Flow is finally here, so your creative possibilities have more room to grow! Images can be uploaded from your photo library and file-sharing services like iCloud, Google Drive, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc. You can even take photos directly from the Flow app. Images can be dragged and dropped from other apps. You can also rotate, resize, and duplicate images, among other things.

The New Sync Engine improves performance and stability. Documents on the iPhone now open in read-only mode. You can say goodbye to accidental drawings that can ruin polished work. With the Clipboard, you can paste selections into another Flow document. And, if you have a universal clipboard enabled, you can even paste the content into your Mac or other iOS/iPadOS devices.

So, if Flow sounds like something you’d like to dive in to, it’s available for download on iPhone and iPad.

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Real Estate Technology

Could your office benefit from an 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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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 offices have floor plans that 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

Google’s project management tool organizes and automates your tasks

(TECH NEWS) The beta is out for Tables, a project management tool that uses automation and a well-rounded user interface to organize teams and productivity.

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Google Tables graphic, Google's new project management tool

Keeping track of different documents and tasks to manage a project can take a lot of time because everything isn’t easily accessible in one place. Hunting down notes from different meetings and emails to keep all this documentation up to date is exhausting. And, there’s always someone who doesn’t have their ducks in a row so you’re having to make sure they are updating their parts, too. The project management aspect takes up more time than many tend to expect.

Google’s Area 120, the company’s in-house incubator for experimental projects, has come up with a very neat tool that should, hopefully, remove a lot of these problems. Tables “helps teams track work and automate tasks to save time and supercharge collaboration—without any coding required,” wrote Tim Gleason, the general manager for Tables, in a blog post.

When you first open Tables, you will land on the homepage. From there, you can access your most recent tables and workspaces. If you want to create a new blank workspace or table, you can do so by clicking the “New” icon. You can also import already created Sheets and .CSV files as custom templates. Also, there are blank templates to help you get started working quickly. Templates for things like managing data, tracking projects, and employee recruiting are among those included.

Tables are made of columns and rows that use structured data. Each column has a defined data type, which enforces the “relationships on data contained in the rows.” Easily displayed icons at the top of each column let you take a “quick glance” of what information is contained in each section. If you double-click on a column, you can make changes to the “structured objects” and changes will be automatically reflected everywhere else on the table.

Plus, Tables lets you build automated actions and triggers by using Bots. With the Bots, teams can schedule recurring email reminders. This means you can nudge that one team member who is always running behind on their projects. Team members can send messages in chat rooms to let everyone know when a new form submission was received, or move and assign a task to another team member when the status on a task has changed.

Because Tables uses structured data, you can configure the data into different layouts. This means you can switch from a grid layout to a Kanban layout view. And, you can also create Forms that let you collect data from people anywhere. Questions in the Forms are directly tied to the existing table columns so setup is easy. And, of course, Tables can integrate easily with other Google products like Google Sheets and Google Groups.

“Tables is like a spreadsheet and a database had a baby and gave it special powers,” said Sam Dresser, VP of education at School of Rock in a video. The performance-based music education school is one of the companies that has already started using Tables. Sam says the school is very collaborative and uses a lot of spreadsheets. Because Tables work well with other G-Suite products, the tool allows them to “jump in and start collaborating and start working right away” on their projects.

Tables is a work-tracking tool that does look very user-friendly. Just by looking at it, you can see the familiar clean and tidy feel that all Google pages have. The idea of being able to have all your notes in one place that can be updated automatically without all the manual work is worth checking it out. Currently, Tables is in beta in the U.S. The free plan gives you 100 tables, 1,000 rows, 1GB for attachments, and 50 bot actions. If you need more wiggle room, you can get 1,000 tables, 10,000 rows, 10GB for attachments, and 500 bot actions for $10 per month. So, do you think it works as good as it sounds?

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