Just because you're stuck at work doesn't mean you can't shut the garage door your teenager left open or unlock the front door for the house cleaners and relock it when they leave. And on your way home, you can warm up your house and preheat the oven with just a few taps on your smartphone.
There's a large, and rapidly growing, selection of devices that can be controlled remotely. The beauty of most of these options is that they can be installed without running new wires. At most, you'll have to replace a switch or a receptacle. Best of all, you don't have to be a computer programmer to get them working. You can spend thousands of dollars on a whole-house automation system or just spend $15 on one wireless switch to operate your favorite lamp.
If you like the idea of being able to control every switch, outlet, electronic device and appliance in your house, you'll want to buy a home management system like the Iris shown here. Most home management systems consist of a central hub that connects to your home wireless network and allows you to control security systems and any number of devices from anywhere in the world using a smartphone, tablet or computer.
How it works: The central hub communicates with compatible devices in the home via an RF (radio frequency) wireless protocol. The devices and the hub need to share the same protocol in order to communicate with each other. Z-Wave, ZigBee and INSTEON are some of the more common RF protocols on the market. Some home management systems operate on more than one protocol, which means they can manage a wider variety of devices.
There are several advantages to a home management system. Because the hub communicates by way of RF rather than Wi-Fi, it won't bog down your home Wi-Fi system. You only have to download (and learn) one interface instead of a bunch. And it's easier and cheaper to add devices at a later date.
The Iris system by Lowe's, shown at right, starts at $100, with packages including thermostats, outlets and security for $180 to $300. Another popular system is Lutron's Caséta, which controls lights, shades, dimmers and thermostats (starting at $120).
There are devices that can be operated remotely by your mobile device and that don't require a whole-house system. Belkin is one company that makes a line of products under the WeMo brand that work individually, using the Wi-Fi signal in your house. It offers outlets, a light switch and a camera. WeMo even teamed up with the folks at Crock-Pot, so now you can remotely power up and adjust the temperature so your pot roast will be finished to perfection exactly when you want it to be.
There are other stand-alone products that don't require a whole-house system. Several thermostats can work independently with your smartphone, tablet or computer. Lawn irrigation systems are also joining the remote bandwagon. And this MyQ Garage overhead door controller turns your old garage door opener into a modern-day smart device. It requires no wiring and works on most garage doors manufactured after 1993. But remember, most of these stand-alone products use a home's Wi-Fi, and too many individually controlled devices could result in sluggish Internet speeds.
Install an inexpensive plug-in outlet that's controlled by a battery-operated remote that looks like a light switch. Stick the new switch on the wall where you want it and plug the lamp into the remote-controlled outlet—problem solved. A similar setup made for exterior use is perfect for your Christmas lights. This one is controlled by a key chain remote.
Want some cool convenience? Swap out the light switch in the TV room (or anywhere else!) with a remote dimmer switch. That way you can turn off or dim the lights without leaving the comfort of your cushy sofa. There's even a memory button that remembers your favorite light level. Take note, however, that devices like these communicate with an IR (infrared) signal that requires a clear line of sight—meaning, they'll only work together as long as they're in the same room.
Are you notorious for forgetting to turn off the lights in the garage, shop or barn? Tired of trudging down the stairs or across the yard to shut them off? Here's a neat product: Convert any single-pole light switch in your house or on your property into a three-way switch with a product like this Skylink SK-8. Replace the switch you want to control with the Skylink receiver switch. Then attach the battery-operated remote wherever you want. The new switch will work like a three-way that can be operated with the remote or at the source. Each switch has a specific distance limitation; some can only travel 50 ft. This one reaches 500 ft. in open areas.
Control lights and outlets with remote controls, some disguised as wall switches. There's no reason to spend tons of money if you just want to switch devices when you're at home. There are many simple remote control gadgets that control lights and outlets.