What Is the ‘Internet of Things’ and How Can It Benefit Your Home?

Updated: Apr. 10, 2024

Smart devices are everywhere. Learn how they connect you to the Internet of Things (IoT), and how to get the most out of their applications.

We’ve all heard of smart devices. Phones are smart, televisions are smart— even lightbulbs are smart. But what about the Internet of Things (IoT)? Is that different?

Turns out they’re all part of the same ecosystem, with a small key difference.

“The Internet of Things is a collection of online devices embedded into everyday objects, that together send and receive data,” says to Jen Yokely, senior vice president of marketing at Allbridge. “These ‘things’ are embedded with sensor software and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet.”

So, the IoT can be thought of as the network of connections, while smart devices do the actual connecting.

IoT Applications

You already know your TV is smart, but your home has a nearly unlimited capability to be connected to the IoT.

“Beyond what may be obvious are other things like smart speakers, thermostats, doorbells and even garage doors,” Yokely says. “Anything that’s connecting through your internet is part of the Internet of Things family.”

And the IoT and smart tech capabilities are growing by the day. Here are just some of the ways the IoT benefits homeowners:

  • Home automation: Control your lights and thermostat with your phone and never return to a dark, chilly house again.
  • Energy management: Reduce your energy bill with auto-adjusting heating and cooling, based on time of day or occupancy sensors.
  • Pet monitoring: Is your good boy alone during the day? Spy on him and even toss him treats, using the IoT.
  • Home security: Control and monitor door locks and home security systems, and connect automatically to police or fire responders.
  • Home maintenance: Smart devices remind you when your air filters need changing, and alert you to plumbing leaks.
  • Smart gardening: For indoor plants, monitor soil conditions and control light and water. Outdoors, you can mow your lawn using the IoT!

Connected Appliances

Close up of woman's hand setting up intelligent home system, controlling smart home appliances with control panel of a smart home. Home automated system controlled from a dashboard. Smart living. Lifestyle and technology. Smart home technology conceptd3sign/Getty Images

Even if you haven’t purposefully sought out IoT-connected devices, you probably have many smart items in your home already. Manufacturers are incorporating smart tech into things homeowners buy and use every day, particularly appliances. Use these appliances as-is, or download apps to control and monitor:

Refrigerators

Too-high fridge temps mean wasted food and a big mess to clean up. Smart refrigerators connected to the IoT allow you to monitor fridge temps and adjust remotely.

They can also schedule maintenance, download software updates, even tell you if the door’s ajar. And because the kitchen is often the hub of household activity, some models come with centralized controls for everything in your house! Play music, check your calendar and control other smart tech like Alexa right from your fridge.

Washing machines

Gone are the days of moldy, forgotten clothes. Load the wash before work and use the app to start it an hour before you get home. Your clothes will be freshly cleaned and ready to toss in the dryer when you walk in the door.

If you get sidetracked, smart washers can send you reminders that your clothes are done. Some models even allow you to download and program new cycles that aren’t standard on your machine.

Vacuum cleaners

Ever since iRobot’s Roomba came on the scene, smart vacuums have become synonymous with hands-off cleaning (and spawned many a cute YouTube video). Robot vacuums are a convenient time-saver, allowing you to do other things while they do their work.

Customizable cleaning modes mean you don’t have to constantly monitor the vacuum if it changes rooms. They’re also great for people with mobility issues.

Coffee makers

If you can’t start your day without a hot cup of joe, a smart coffee maker makes your morning as smooth as a freshly-roasted Brazilian blend. Customize your coffee’s strength and temp, set brew times or start a cleaning cycle. Control with an app, or sync with Alexa or other virtual assistant.

Smart coffee makers can cost $100 and up — way up. But if you’re spending $5 a day on your latte at Starbucks, a smart coffee maker will pay for itself in no time.

Ovens

On a tight schedule? With a smart oven, preheat from your phone and start cooking as soon as you get home. Control the temp through an app or Alexa, turn the oven off if you forget, and even check on your food via a camera without opening the door.

(Sure, you could use the light, but you’d have to walk over there. And if your door’s like mine, it’s a little hard to see through.)

IoT Safety

When things are connected over a computer network, your data’s always vulnerable to some degree. As of 2022, there were an estimated 14.4 billion IoT-connected devices worldwide, and that number is growing fast.

Yokely says ongoing cyberattacks aimed at capturing user data mean it’s extremely important for homeowners to recognize the risks. Take precautions by using strong passwords and keeping them secure.

Here are other ways to keep your home network and data safe, according to data security experts:

  • Keep software up to date. Don’t ignore those firmware reminders.
  • Disable unnecessary features. If you don’t need remote access capability, disable it!
  • Change default settings on routers and other IoT-connected devices.
  • Use a firewall to prevent unauthorized access to your home network.
  • Don’t use public networks to connect to your IoT devices.
  • Monitor your network frequently to check for unauthorized access.