How to make your second home smarter, safer and more sustainable

Anyone lucky enough to own a second home knows that the solace of a private retreat can fade once worries surface – all compounded by th...


Anyone lucky enough to own a second home knows that the solace of a private retreat can fade once worries surface – all compounded by the added distance. An empty house is a vulnerable house, after all, whether it’s drips, leaks, floods, fires, ice, wind, burglars or bears (so many bears). That’s why smart home devices – wireless devices and electronic devices that can communicate with each other and connect via the Internet – can be an effective remedy, if not a panacea.

Here’s a look at several products, from security systems to comforts and amenities, that can take some of the anxiety out of maintaining a second home.

Unlike traditional security systems that come with professional installation, long-term contracts, and hefty price tags, intelligent security systems are easy to install, customizable and cost a fraction of their conventional ancestors. They can also instantly notify homeowners if something goes wrong, and even let them see what’s going on in real time.

Smart security systems are available as kits with a master base station connecting to door, window, and motion sensors that monitor your home. At Wirecutter, we always recommend adding a subscription to Professional Monitoring, whereby a call center is notified when your system goes off and then contacts you and the appropriate emergency services.

SimpliSafe and Ring offer a wide range of affordable devices, including door and window sensors, lights, cameras and motion detectors, with responsive customer support and prompt professional monitoring.

A smoke detector is an essential device for any home, but unlike basic versions, smart smoke detectors send an alert to your smartphone when they detect smoke, fire and, in some cases, carbon monoxide. . (Some security systems, like Ring, offer a device that listens for the sound of any smoke alarms and then alerts authorities.) Google NestProtect (about $120) only integrates with other Nest devices, but it’s easy to install, has a 10-year lifespan, reliably sends alerts when triggered, gives a verbal warning loud before triggering and can be muted before or during an alert using an app (although you must be physically nearby).

A security camera of any style can be an effective tool in deterring potential intruders. Smart security cameras can be configured to send smartphone notifications if someone or something ventures into specific areas of the camera’s field of view. (They also allow you to check your home and property after a storm.) Many are able to distinguish between a person, animal, package, or blowing leaf.

the Wyze Camera v3 is a versatile yet inexpensive (about $35) model that works indoors or outdoors, has a built-in magnetic mount, and can be used with or without a subscription, depending on your needs. Likewise, a smart doorbell camera alerts you when someone approaches your door or a package is delivered; even better, it lets you see your visitor and talk with them via video chat using an app on your phone. the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell (Wired) works particularly well; it retails for around $140, with video storage and smart detection features requiring a $3 monthly subscription.

Burglars know the old trick of hiding a house key under a rock or a garden gnome. A smart lock lets you do without physical keys altogether. There are several styles, but versions with a keypad that replace your existing deadbolt allow you and certain guests, neighbors, contractors and babysitters to enter and leave the house without having to copy and distribute the keys. You also receive a notification whenever someone uses your door lock.

the Schlage encoding (about $275) is sturdy yet easy to install in minutes with doors that have an existing deadbolt. It connects directly to your Wi-Fi and has a built-in alarm if someone tries to break into or block your door.

A smart thermostat makes your home more comfortable, which is for many a characteristic feature of a second home, while reducing energy costs. It does this by optimizing the operation of your home’s air conditioning system, automatically increasing or decreasing it whenever possible to save money. Smart thermostats also ensure that your home is at the comfort level you selected when you or your guests arrive, and that you’re not wasting energy heating or cooling an empty home.

the Google Nest Learning Thermostat (about $250) is simple to use and works with most consumer HVAC systems. It’s the smartest model we’ve tested and it has an attractive design. the Alexa Smart Thermostat (about $60) is noticeably less stylish and a bit less versatile, but it’s a competent and economical option that suits most homes.

Water damage is the most common cause of home insurance claims, largely because there are so many ways for water to go where it’s not welcome. Pipes can corrode, freeze or burst; toilets, drains and washers can back up or overflow; water heaters can rust. A smart water shut off valveas the Phyn More (about $500) or the Flo by Moen Smart Water Monitor and Shut-Off (starting around $760), attaches to your home’s water supply line and can detect both a small, routine leak or a severe flood – and even shut off your water supply if it’s catastrophic. (Many insurance companies offer a discount on your annual premium as well as the purchase price of the device).

A faster but less efficient option is to smart leak detector as the Moen Flo Smart Water Sensor (about $50). These small devices are placed on the low point of your floor in areas where water leaks may accumulate, then send an alert when water is detected.

For water outside your home, in-ground irrigation systems can help maintain your gardens and lawn, but non-smart versions lack the brains to adapt to rain and weather conditions. , and can waste valuable water (and create mosquito ponds). Smart sprinkler controllersas the Rachio 3 (about $165), connect to your existing irrigation zones, then control watering based on custom schedules that can account for plant types and hyperlocal weather forecasts, so you don’t waste water.

The quality and capacity of your home’s lighting affects your comfort as well as your sense of security. Smart lighting excels at improving both. Smart bulbs can be screwed into any standard outlet and then set on a schedule, so you never come to a dark house or have to worry about setting outdated light timers when you are away. They can be controlled remotely using an app, adjusted and dimmed to get the right colors and brightness, and paired with other devices so they’re triggered by other actions, like the lights on when you unlock your smart lock on the front door.

The relatively cheap Wyze bulb color (about $15) is exceptionally bright and has useful modes you can trigger in its app — like vacation mode, which causes the bulbs in your home to randomly turn on and off to simulate occupancy.

smart speakers have become the preferred way to control and interact with their smart devices, but their primary role is to facilitate calling news, music, weather and other audio via voice command. Depending on your favorite digital assistant – Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri – there are some great options. Most smart home devices are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant; less work with Apple’s HomeKit, which relies on Siri for voice commands.

If you like Alexa, there’s a wide range of speaker options, but the basic Amazon Echo is a reasonably powerful but inexpensive desktop speaker (the Echo Dot is a mini version suitable for smaller rooms). the Google NestAudio is comparable for those who prefer the Google ecosystem. And for HomeKit users, there’s only Apple’s HomePod Mini, a small but surprisingly powerful orb. (All of these items cost around $100.)

To keep the house clean while you’re away, enlist the help of a smart robot vacuum cleaner, who can be unleashed to roam your floors and carpets like an inexhaustible sentinel.

the iRobot Roomba i3+ (about $300) is a standout among home-ready robots. It handles carpets and even pet hair with aplomb, and unlike some robots, it cleans evenly from front to back to avoid missing spots. You can use an app to ask it to clean at any time, like the day you arrive, or create specific schedules to suit your needs.

Window treatments like blinds and shades can help regulate your home’s temperature, preserve your indoor plants, and protect your furniture, rugs, books, and artwork from sun damage. Smart shades and blinds lets you automate them all, silently opening and closing on a customizable schedule based on your preferences. They can also be opened or closed at any time via app, voice command or remote control.

However, convenience comes at a premium. Corn IKEA’s Fyrtur range of blackout blinds (about $150) are relatively inexpensive, they only come in standard sizes. Top level options are Serena from Lutron shades and shades (around $500), which are fully customizable. You can install them yourself, but Lutron recommends hiring a professional to make sure everything fits together properly.

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