Environmental Controls

HVAC Controls

The most innovative thermostat on the market comes from a fiesty little company called Ecobee. It uses a connected main thermostat, plus multiple additional sensors that can be placed throughout a house, to monitor both occupancy and temperature, allowing you to tailor the interior climate based not just on the temperature in a single room, but on the temperature in the room where you are. Now that's a very smart use of connected technology! Ecobee has also partnered with all the big names, including Wink, SmartThings, and Amazon Echo. And the best part: the Ecobee sensors can be used to trigger your other Smart Home devices, such as lights and alarms. It's truly a cross-cutting product, and we encourage any user to consider the Ecobee if you're going to go through the effort of installing a new thermostat.


But Ecobee has some catching up to do. There is one dominant player in this market, and it's obviously Nest, owned by Google. Nest got an early head start long before Google bought in, and it enjoys a first-mover advantage. It works with the most devices, it has the largest user community, and it's extremely easy to use, which is one reason it became so popular. Plus it looks so darn cool in a retro-techie sort of way!

Shades and Vents

We'll just briefly mention these, although in reality, they are harder to integrate into a home due to the need to custom-order them to fit your home. Both Lutron and Bali market motorized shades that will connect with a Smart Home hub. In the smart vent arena, a start-up called Keen has introduced its Smart Vent product, which so far works only with the Samsung SmartThings hub. The ability to open and close vents to equalize temperatures throughout a house is pretty brilliant, but these are early days for this product category, and it's a fairly complex home automation application, requiring integration with a hub as well as a thermostat, specifically Nest. As we don't have either of these specific products, we haven't been able to test the Keen Smart Vent, but we definitely see the potential for this product to truly improve in-home comfort.



Motion sensors will be discussed later on this page, but if you're interested in environmental monitoring, the two main options right now are smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and water leak detectors. Among the most comprehensive smart smoke detectors is the Nest Protect. Its attractive and easy to use, but like most Nest products, it focuses on other products subscribing to the "Works with Nest" program, and that means using it as a trigger for other devices may be hit-or-miss. In terms of leak detection, there's the leakSMART line of products, which includes both a simple leak sensor, as well as a full system including a valve shut-off device.

Safety and Security

Locks and Garage Doors

What we're seeing so far in this category is fairly limited in features, but in certain circumstances, this could be just the application that convinces someone to set up a Smart Home system. Most of these systems have very limited automation; if you're lucky, you may be able to get them to connect with your car so that the garage door opens when you drive up, but generally speaking, they're main claim to fame is that they allow you to lock/unlock or open/close from afar via your smartphone. If you need to let someone in when away, or you need to make sure you remembered to lock up when you left, then smart locks and garage doors may well be for you.


In the smart lock arena, there is one best product: Schlage's Connect Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolt. It's available in a variety of finishes, and also functions as a standalone automated lock, which on its own is a great convenience. Never carry a key (or a smartphone!) to enter your house, and lock it with a press of the button as you walk out. Frankly, this isn't exactly a new feature, but it just goes to show how older technology sometimes trumps newer "connected" tech when it comes to improving our lives. Of course, you can use this as a connected lock, and it pairs easily with Wink. But take note: as of our publication date, it neither allows scheduled automation (lock/unlock at certain time), nor does it pair with Echo to allow you to lock or unlock with your voice. We can understand the concerns about voice control (Echo won't distinguish between an owner's voice and an intruder's!), but we're surprised Schlage and Wink haven't incorporated an automation feature into the lock.


In the garage door market, Chamberlain dominates, and for ease of retrofitting, the MyQ Garage Controls is the easiest system to add, although Chamberlain's MyQ Whisper Quiet Garage Door Opener is a great option if your garage door opener needs replacing. The neatest home automation trick these have up their sleeves is the ability to turn on home lighting when the garage door is activated, a great way to be welcomed home without needing to manually turn on lights or have them come on long before you arrive based on a pre-set schedule. That being said, we think there are certain benefits to having lights on even when you're not at home, so some consumers may choose to program their lights to come on at a regular time every night anyway.

Cameras and Alarms

As with thermostats, there's one dominant player here, and yup, you guessed it, it's Nest (was Google onto something when it bought Nest out for $3.2 billion in 2014, and has it made a cent off its purchase yet?!?). The Nest Cam, originally marketed as the DropCam, earned its wings by making home monitoring ultra-simple. A super-easy setup, along with a slick app interface (which you won't find on the ubiquitous Chinese-designed "security" cameras), meant a camera could be "dropped" anywhere.


But alas, the Nest Cam has been beaten at its own game in so many ways. For the same price or less, you can get a Canary, which integrates an alarm along with environmental monitoring (temperature, humidity, and air quality). Add multiple Canaries (Canarys?) to your home for full motion-based security, including online recordings and the ability to contact local authorities. Now, what if you wanted an alarm system built around door sensors? A simple and affordable solution is the GoControl suite, which includes both door/window sensors and a motion sensor. 

Overall, there's still more work to be done in the security arena in terms of getting a Smart Home package that truly equals the more traditional stand-alone alarm systems. No single package includes multiple cameras, door sensors, an alarm, and the ability to connect to an outside monitoring service, at least not one that also easily connects to a leading Smart Home hub. We've been testing the MyFox security system, which includes all of these, but its proprietary wireless hub has proven to be somewhat unreliable, and its door sensors don't always work, which is most definitely not what you want when it comes to a home alarm system. The search continues, and given the complexity of whole-home security, we think it will be a while before a comprehensive security system is fully integrated with a multi-vendor Smart Home system. 

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