2014 has roundly been hailed as the year the home gets smart. If you've thought about dabbling in home automation but found the array of devices, systems, gadgets and price points just too overwhelming, you are not alone. While the concept of a home that is smarter than its owner is both thrilling and slightly scary, in reality, what most of us want out of our smart homes is simple: security, savings and a dash of convenience.
Manufacturers are catching on to this consumer desire, and have come up with a variety of simple, stand-alone smart gadgets that get you a step closer to the home of the future, without the need for a computer science degree.
1. Belkin WeMo
If you only make one smart home purchase it should be the Belkin WeMo ($50). This little gadget can turn anything with a plug into a smart device.
Plug it into an outlet, then plug any household device - lamp, coffee maker, oven, space heater - into the WeMo and voila; your device is now connected to WiFi and controllable with your Smartphone or computer.
For some wow-your-friends type home automation, pair your WeMo with the web service If This Then That and have your lights flash when you get an email from your boss, or set your coffee maker to turn on 5 minutes before your alarm goes off.
Upgrade to the $100 WeMo, which comes with a motion sensor, and program your device to turn off your curling iron when you walk out of the bathroom or send you a text message when someone opens your front door.
The leader in the field of smart climate control, Nest is not the only connected thermostat on the market, but it's the first on the market with true artificial intelligence. The Nest Learning Thermostat ($249) monitors your movements and learns your routines, then adjusts the temperature accordingly to save money and energy - it claims up to 20 percent. The Nest gets to the very crux of the simple smart home solution: a device that acts like your very own butler, anticipating your needs without you having to lift a finger.
3. Philips Hue
The Hue light bulb from Philips is probably the most fun home automation tool currently on the market. Pick up a starter pack of three bulbs and one WiFi bridge device ($200) and have hours of fun playing with the lighting of your home. Each bulb can deliver a full spectrum of color. Have a photo of your favorite beach at sunrise? Pull it up in the Hue App on your Smartphone and recreate the exact lighting in your living room.
You can also set the lights to come on automatically or control them remotely from the Hue Smartphone app, as well as set different rooms to light up at different times - a good way to deter would-be thieves. Geo-fencing technology means the lights can turn on when you walk up to the door and turn off when you leave (just make sure no one else is home).
The LED bulbs use 80 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs and Hue also has an IFTT channel, allowing you to set up some more wow-your-friends automation such as turning all your lights Wolverine Blue at the start of a Michigan basketball Game.
4. Kwikset Kevo
From losing your keys, to locking your son out of the house while you're stuck at work (or just helping avoid that awkward jiggle when you arrive at your front door laden down with bags), a smart lock solves a lot of problems.
Smart locks range in abilities, with some really exciting new intelligent devices coming down the line. But right now the best option comes from Kwikset. Its Kevo Bluetooth Enabled Deadbolt ($219) turns your iPhone into your key (if you don't have an iPhone the key fob works in the same way). Simply walk up to the door with your phone or key fob in your pocket and touch the lock with your finger to open it. You can also send electronic keys to family, friends or visitors who have iOS devices (Android coming soon). Plus, crucially, you can still use a regular key, nullifying concerns of what happens when your phone's battery dies, the power goes out or grandma comes to visit.
5. Defender Surveillance System
A whole home surveillance system was once the sole purview of spies and millionaires with white cats. Today however, we can all keep an eye on our garden gnomes from the security of the sofa, or a beach in the Bahamas, with simple to install and surprisingly inexpensive tech like the Defender Surveillance System.
For around $300 you can have six high-tech, all-weather cameras with 100 feet of night vision. Simple to install and compatible with computers and most smartphones, Defender's surveillance system allows you to view footage or your home from anywhere in the world, courtesy of a 500GB hard drive that will record more than two years of footage.
6. Bluetooth Audio Path Light Kit
A smart home should sense your every need. After a long day at work, when you step into your garden in search of relaxation, your warm white LED lights should greet you, showing you the way to your favorite lounger. There, once you sit back, relax and sip a glass of wine, your favorite album begins to plays through them. That's right, through the lights.
The Bluetooth Audio Path Light Kit by CE TECH ($169) is the first low-voltage landscape light kit integrated with wireless Bluetooth speakers, allowing you to enjoy your tunes outdoors via your Smartphone or any Bluetooth enabled device. Thank you, Jeeves. That will be all...
Jennifer Tuohy writes about home technology and automation for Home Depot. Jennifer focuses on new innovations being incorporated for use with appliances, thermostats, doors, and outdoor living. You can find more info on these home automation devices available at Home Depot, including the models highlighted by Jennifer.