Some smart homes outsmart even their owners

Some users of smart home technology complain about the complexity of once-simple tasks

Aug.August 08, 2015 09:00 AM

Ian Schrager

Hotel executive and real estate developer Ian Schrager is frustrated with his “smart home” system allowing remote control of lights, window shades, even his swimming pool’s temperature. He estimates that his first smart home system broke about five times a year, so he replaced it with a second system with an electrical switch allowing users to override the system.

Schrager has excluded smart home systems from his real estate projects, including his company’s upscale condominium development in Manhattan’s Bowery District. He said “it can be a lot of bells and whistles that people don’t like.”

Many home builders include software applications for remote control of security cameras, door locks, blinds, music, lighting and appliances. Apple, Google and Samsung have fast-developing home automation platforms. Some rental apartments come equipped with smart home systems, too.

However, smart home technology frustrates homeowners like Schrager, largely because of the complexity of previously easy tasks.

Paul Wright, 68, director of the Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute and  professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California Berkeley, got a “learning thermostat” controlled by smart phone as a gift. He said he never installed it because the technology’s “fiddle factor” was too great for him.

Furniture maker and home renovation contractor Mike Fitzpatrick, 53, has spent an estimated $60,000 on a system made by smart home company Control4.  It is supposed allow remote control of lights, audio and video systems, temperature and security.  But he said he “can’t figure out what to do when it goes wrong.” [Wall Street Journal] Mike Seemuth


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