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There are a lot of crazies out there. This is especially true when it comes to the digital world. Here are a few tips on how best to secure you home Wi-Fi and keep pesky intruders off your home wireless network. We will explore hot secure your router, make strong passwords, and protect all of the various devices that communicate via your home Wi-Fi network. We’ll even include a few non-tech tips to make upgrading your security easy for anyone.

Secure Home Wi-Fi Step #1: Secure Your Router

Your wireless router is the hub of your Wi-Fi network. No, seriously, it’s like the mother ship from Independence Day…without it, none of your devices will be able to access the internet. If your router is left defenseless, your internet connection and all devices that use it are vulnerable to hackers, viruses, and other malicious cyber threats. However, you can prevent this from happening with the following tips.

Start with a Secure Router

The majority of people use the router provided by their internet service provider (ISP). However, this is not always the best option. Instead, consider purchasing a third party router. This router should include features like guest access and parental controls. We recommend most routers by Linksys, which also include firewalls and are budget friendly. This is essentially the front line and best way to secure your home Wi-Fi.

Rename Your Network

Every router comes with a default network name, or SSID (service set identifier). This makes it easy for hackers to determine what kind of router you have, which in turn makes it easier to hack. That being said, change the name of your router. Also, avoid network names with personal information (eg “Billy’s Wi-Fi). It’s also a wise idea to avoid network names like “HackMe” or “Unhackable”…this is just asking for trouble!

Enable Encryption

There are a lot of Wi-Fi encryption formats (aka protocols) out there.  There are three primary protocols:

  1. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)
  2. Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
  3. Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2)

There are rumors stirring around that WPA3 is just around the corner. Once your encryption is up and running, it will protect all data that flows in and out of your network. WPA2 is the protocol that you want to use in most every case. This step only takes a few minutes and you can make it happen in 4 simple steps to enable WPA2 on your home wireless router. This is an essential step towards a secure home Wi-Fi network.

Activate the Firewall

Since you’ve already followed our first tip, you have a wireless router with a built in firewall. However, it will only protect you if you’ve activated it. A firewall helps to hide your network from malicious cyber attackers on the prowl for targets. To find your router’s built-in firewall, log into you router’s admin settings and look for a tab or page named “firewall” or “security”. You should the find an enable button. Click that button and hit save/apply. Yup, it’s really that simple!

Keep Your Software Up-to-Date

Sometimes it will feel like software updates are out to get you and the worst time possible. However, their annoying presence is a reminder to keep our devices and information safe. This is also true of routers. Some routers take care of this automatically. However, you should still make it a point to check to make sure your router software is up-to-date on a monthly basis.

Secure Home Wi-Fi Step #2: Use Strong Passwords

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but strong passwords are a hallmark of strong online security. There are two key passwords that you’ll need to create when you set up your router. The first is your administrative password and the second is your password to connect to the network. It’s not easy to come up with a hacker-proof password. It’s even harder to remember it. However, you don’t have to do it on your own. We recommend using a password manager like LastPass. Password managers are a great way to secure your home wi-fi network and your entire online presence. LastPass not only stores your passwords, but it will also help you generate secure passwords.

Secure Home Wi-Fi Step #3: Protect the Devices that Use Your Network

Every device that connects to and uses your Wi-Fi network is a potential gateway to trouble. To keep out as many threats as possible, make sure the devices that use your network aren’t carriers for viruses, malware, or hackers. We recommend the tools below to fortify the wireless devices that connect to your wireless network.

Internet Security Software

Most computers, phones, and tablets come with their own security features. However, it’s a wise idea to  double up and and an extra layer of protection via third party software. Internet security software helps to fend off malware, viruses, and other various online threats. There are countless types of internet security software out there from which you can choose. Some are free and others operate on a monthly or annual subscription. Here are a few different options that will help you narrow the field: third party internet security software.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN establishes a private tunnel between the internet and your home wireless network. This This is quite possibly one of the best ways to ensure a secure home Wi-Fi network. It keeps hacker and other troublesome entities from tracking your online activity. It also does a great job of concealing your your IP address (internet protocol address) and network from uninvited guests. A VPN is typically a paid service that creates a virtual service that you’ll need to log into every time you go online.

The most important time to employ a VPN is when you are away from home. Think about…you’re out in the great unknown wild of Wi-Fi networks. You seriously have no idea what, or who, could be lurking in cyber space these days. This is especially true when you log into a public hot spot. However, many experts encourage users to log into a VPN anytime they connect to the internet.

Parental Control Software

This is a very specific type of online security, but a valuable one if you have young children, or teens, at home. This can essentially be the silver bullet of your home network security. Parental control software aids in keeping kids safe and away from inappropriate content. It can even help monitor social media interactions and keep an eye out for cyber bullies. Furthermore, most parental control software comes with antivirus and anti-malware protection. That means you get a whole bunch of digital awesomeness wrapped up in a single package!

One of the stronger and more efficient parental control software options out there is Net Nanny. It is a front runner in the industry and has earned a heaping pile of accolades and positive customer reviews. Net Nanny also protects computers and mobile devices, which isn’t always the case when it comes to parental control software.

Secure Home Wi-Fi Step #4: Non-Tech Solutions to Secure Your Wi-Fi

Believe it, or not, but not every network security solution requires fancy software or passwords that the NSA could use for eyes-only information. There are other things you can do to help secure your wireless network. While these measures don’t require a tech savvy mind or software, they can still make a measurable difference when it comes to keeping the boogie man off your home Wi-Fi network.

  • Disable your wireless router when you are away (eg on vacation).
  • Place your router in the center of your home so as to decrease the odds of an outsider having a strong enough signal.
  • Use less than creative or intriguing network names. Boring names typically attract less attention.
  • Use a timer outlet to shut down the router each day at bedtime or before dinner…okay this may require a slightly tech friendly mind!
Secure Home Wi-Fi Recap Secure Wi-Fi Network FAQs What features should I look for in a secure wireless router?

Most consumer routers include a number of security features, but these are the ones that are most important:

  • WPA2 Encryption
  • Built-In Firewall
  • Guest Access

If you have children in your home, you may also want to invest in parental control software and time limit controls. The latter lets you block access during certain times.

How do I peek my neighbors from using my internet connection?

The most effective way to prevent outsiders from accessing your wireless connection is to secure the network. You can accomplish this by making the network private and require a password to access it. You can also disable the broadcast SSID feature on your router or other access points. This prevents your network from showing up in open searches and limits access to those who already know the wireless network name. Another trick is to place your router in a central location within your home. This prevents the signal from reaching your neighbor’s realm.

How can I find out what devices are connected to my Wi-Fi network?

Your router should come with instructions on how to view a list of connected devices. However, if this is not the case, the easiest way to see what devices are connected to your home network is to use your router’s web interface.

To access the web interface, you’ll need your router’s IP address. Enter that address into your web browser and you should be able to view a list of connected devices. You should then look for labels like attached devicesDHCP clients, or connected devices. Click the button, and you’ll see a list of connected devices.

Once the list populates, you will either recognize or not recognize the names of the listed devices. Some names will be easy to recognize, such as the name of a laptop or tablet. However, other names will be gibberish, such as an IP or MAC address.

Is it safe to pay bills or shop online over my home Wi-Fi network?

The short answer is yes. Shopping online is a convenience (and hobby) that has become a hallmark of the internet age. Yet it can be a risky proposition. Most people feel safe using their financial data online when they’re at home. If you regularly pay bills or purchase household items online, it starts to feel like you’re just using the checkbooks and filing cabinets of old.

But it’s important not to get too comfortable. First, make sure you only use sites that start with HTTPS (the “S” is for secure) for shopping and paying bills. Next, verify that you’ve secured your router, and if you want extra protection, use a VPN for all financial transactions. And never store your financial information in your internet browser—no matter how convenient it seems.

The post Secure Home Wi-Fi Network 101 appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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The speed at which technology is moving is both fast and exciting. Furthermore, this rapid evolution is taking place in nearly every aspect of our lives. The home front is no exception. Companies are designing devices to make our homes smarter, safer and more convenient. Moreover, homes are becoming smarter and more intuitive with each passing year. When it comes to smart home security trends and the associated technologies, 2019 will be anything but a disappointment.

2019 Smart Home Security Trends Increase in IoT Technology

The Internet of Things (IoT) consists of every piece of technology that is connected to the internet. These devices range from smart light bulbs to wireless security cameras…and everything in between. The IoT has played a rather influential role in the rise and development of smart home security technology. It is safe to say that the IoT will only continue to grow in 2019.

You will likely see more internet-connected devices than ever before. Some examples include smart refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers. You’ll likely even see advancements in crockpots! The home front is an excellent point of growth for products designed to improve our lifestyles.

However, there is one question that we should all be asking with the explosion of IoT technology in the home. Just because we can, should we?

What a Smart Home Should Do

Regardless of the various smart home security trends, all smart homes should serve one primary purpose. This primary purpose is simple – to improve the lives of those who live in the home. Simply connecting a device to the internet doesn’t make it a smart device. All truly smart devices should accomplish the following:

  • Incorporate wireless communication;
  • Collect and learn from data input without additional user input;
  • Possess the ability to interact with the IoT and other smart products; and
  • Solve more issues than their ‘dumb’ counterparts.

Simply connecting a device to the internet may seem like an advancement in the right direction. However, it is more of a gimmick than a gadget in reality. A genuine smart home, like the systems provided by Protect America, works to integrate multiple smart home devices into a seamless system. Furthermore, users should able to control their smart home devices from a single interface, anytime, anywhere.

More Devices for Babies and Pets

Another smart home trend on the rise involves the smallest members of many homes – babies and pets. 2019 has brought about a sharp increase in smart home devices designed for new parents. One such device is Nanit’s Baby-wearable breathing wear.

You can also expect to see more smart devices for our furry friends. Such technology includes cameras and self-dispensing treat machines. This segment of technology is not only smart, but it also provides parents and pet owners with a newly found peace of mind.

We had this exact thought when we developed the Protect America lineup of cameras. Our indoor surveillance camera lets you view live and recorded HD video, hear and speak to your child via two-way communication and even get notifications on your smartphone when motion is detected. All in all, this camera is perfect for parents of both children and pets!

More Voice Control Integration

Voice control is already an essential part of the smart home automation process. smart speakers make it easy to control numerous elements of your home. Roughly 39 million people in the US already own speakers with voice recognition capabilities such as Google Home and Amazon Echo.

2019 has seen even more instances of voice control in the home with features that allow you to control other smart devices with simple voice commands. The ability to control various devices with your voice is on track to incorporate nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Voice control is extremely helpful, which is why Protect America integrates with Alexa. This integration allows you to turn your lights on and off, lock your door, arm your security system and adjust the thermostat all with the power of your voice.

Smarter Bathrooms

Bathrooms are among the most frequently renovated rooms for homeowners. Despite this fact, it is surprising that we haven’t seen much integration of smart home technologies in bathrooms. This is especially true when three out of four Americans take their smartphones to the bathroom with them! This has changed with the rise of smart toilets, individualized bidets, motion-activated lights, and voice-activated shower controls in smart homes. The further development of smart bathrooms depends on the degree to which the overall experience is perceived as a meaningful development.

Growth of Artificial Intelligence

Another trend that we have seen develop in 2019 has been artificial intelligence, or AI as it is more commonly known. AI extends far beyond the existence of robots. It is the way that smart devices actually learn and in turn become more useful. The more you use them, the smarter they become. This may be a terrifying idea due to Skynet from the Terminator series, but it can be a truly beautiful advancement when applied in the right way.

A prime example of AI learning is the Protect America GoControl Z-Wave Thermostat. The GoControl Z-Wave Thermostat integrates with your smart home and uses AI to learn your temperature preferences and actively adjusts the temperature based on your location and activity level.

Think about it this way. If you’re in a rush to get to work, you don’t have to worry about leaving the thermostat up too high (or low) depending on the outdoor temperature. The system detects your occupancy patterns and lowers/raises the temperature. Solutions like this will save you money and time.

Design Friendly Gadgets

Plain and simple. A smart device that doesn’t coordinate with your decor can be a total eyesore. 2019 has brought about many beautiful and eye-catching devices that you can customize to match almost any interior or exterior style. In short, you won’t have to sacrifice style for convenience anymore. As the smart home industry continues to grow and mature, aesthetic compatibility is starting to catch up with the overall function of the devices.

Furthermore, the Protect America central Hub and Protect America app allows you to control your devices from a central location or your phone. This eliminates the clutter of multiple devices and remotes. In the end, isn’t smart home technology supposed to help you get more out of your home and help keep your valuables safe, and not take up more space in your home than what is absolutely necessary?

Upgrade Your Home Today

Each year, companies become more and more innovative as they create smarter devices and technology—and 2019 is no exception. We can’t wait to see what else this year brings to the smart home space. And we have some innovations coming out later this year that we can’t wait to share with you. Stay tuned!

If you’re ready to take the leap and get ahead of the trends with an integrated home security system, contact one of our Smart Home Security Pros at 1-800-951-5190 for a free quote today.

The post Smart Home Security Trends to Look Out for in 2019 appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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Amazon took the smart home industry by storm and it all started in 2014 with the Amazon Echo. The Echo was initially designed as a “simple” smart speaker. However, the basic nature of the Echo as a smart speaker was short lived due to Alexa. The addition of Alexa changed the smart home game forever. Alexa made the Amazon Echo the gold standard for smart home devices.  Furthermore, it is safe to say that Amazon struck it rich with Alexa as the hub for the Amazon smart home ecosystem. Here is a more in depth look into the history of Amazon’s Echo.

There are an endless number of devices and ways in which to integrate Alexa into your daily routine. There are 15 main categories of Alexa enabled devices. These categories range from smart lighting, to smart locks, to smart thermostats for instance. The following is an overview of all the ways you can create an Amazon smart home.

Amazon Echo

The 2nd generation Amazon Echo is the heart and soul of any Amazon smart home and is available in two variations: the standard Echo and the Echo Plus. The standard Echo is a smart speaker featuring Alexa. Whereas the Echo Plus adds the ability to unify smart home devices from various manufacturers via a single device. So that being said, you’ll want to go with the Echo Plus if you want to use it to anchor your smart home ecosystem. Here is a more in-depth comparison of the Echo and Echo Plus.

Amazon Satellite Devices Echo Dot

The Echo dot is the most common addition to most every Amazon Smart Home system. The dot serves the same purpose as a standard Echo, except it doesn’t have the full range of speakers. However, it gets the job done when it comes to controlling smart devices throughout your home. It is also a great asset in terms of the drop-in communication feature that is a hallmark of the Amazon family of smart devices. It is important to note that the Echo Dot does not function as a smart home hub.

Echo Show

The Echo Show is basically an Echo Dot with an awesome 10.1″ 5.5″ smart display to help you manage your day. It also sports a crisp front facing camera for video Skype calls. Furthermore, it is a great source of entertainment, as well as an effective method of communication with family and friends. The visual component of the Echo Show is extremely helpful when it comes to watching how-to and cooking instructional videos! It is important to note that the Echo Show does not function as a smart home hub.

Echo Spot

Like the Echo Show, the Echo Spot boasts an impressive 2.5″ screen and a front facing camera. It is designed to fit anywhere in your home and is easily accessible with its 2nd generation far-field voice recognition.

Amazon Smart Home Devices

Picture this – you walk into your home after an evening trip to the grocery store. Both hands are occupied with bags of groceries from your recent venture to the store. The last thing you want to do is put them down, only to have to pick them up again…and repeat this process a number of times. This burdensome task could become a thing of the past thanks to a handful of Alexa enabled smart devices.

Smart Lights

The first step in returning from the grocery store is turning the lights on. You’ll want to equip your home your entry way with a motion sensor and a few outdoor lights. We’ve provide a few ideas below for your consideration.

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The lighting around your home is important in terms of both practical and aesthetic applications. The simple light bulbs that we often take for granted illuminate our homes at night, highlight points of beauty, provide security and create ambiance. American’s consume a ton of power in order to light our home. To be precise, we consume roughly 91 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year, per a report produced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To put things in perspective, the commercial sector consumes in the neighborhood of 141 billion kWh. Keep in mind that the commercial sector includes commercial and institutional buildings, as well as street and highway lighting. Smart lighting can reduce these numbers across the board and save everyone a few dollars.

Lighting accounts for approximately 6% of a home’s energy consumption.

The development of the smart home has made it possible for you to take full control of your home lighting via smart lighting. This technological advancement also allows you to reduce your energy usage. Smart bulbs are a great starting point but aren’t always the best fit for every smart home. This is especially true for homeowners who want to incorporate a smart home assistant into their energy-saving smart lighting system. Energy saving light switches, dimmers, and energy-efficient timers can be programmed via a smart hub or other home energy management systems to save energy and increase home security.

Control your Lights with Smart Switches

A smart light switch is an easy way to control home lighting and save energy. Once installed, a hard-wired energy-saving light switch can be controlled from a smartphone app or a smart hub. You can even use voice controls to toggle hard-wired smart light switches.

How Smart Light Switches Save Energy

Energy-saving light switches typically come with their own smartphone app. Once you’ve installed the necessary app on your phone, you can then turn lights on & off from any location. If you’re unsure if you left a light on after you’ve pulled out of the driveway,  all you need to do is check your phone!

The ideal light switches are ones that you can program. Programmable lights allow you to set up a schedule that will turn your lights on and off automatically at certain points throughout the day or night. This feature is not only convenient, but it also saves a lot of energy since your lights wont gobble up kilowatts when nobody is benefiting from the illumination.

How to Choose a Smart Light Switch
  • Single-Pole Smart Switch: A single-pole switch is wired to a light fixture via a single physical location. This method is often used in bedrooms and home offices. Single-pole switches are the most common style of smart light switch.
  • Three-way or Four-way Smart Switch: The larger rooms throughout your home may have three- or four-way switches that control one fixture from multiple locations. If this is the case, you don’t need to replace all switches with smart switches. Replacing just one switch with an energy-saving switch will usually do the trick.
  • Plug-In Smart Switch: Free -standing floor and table lamps are not typically wired directly into your home’s electrical grid. Rather, they’re plugged into wall outlets. The ideal light switch for such a situation are plug-in switches that give you control of the light at the outlet level.

Install Smart Dimmers

Smart dimmer switches are an easy way to save electricity. Like smart light switches, smart dimmers can easily be paired with smart home assistants, and these can be programmed or controlled simply by speaking.

How smart dimmers save energy

Without getting too technical, dimmers are able to adjust the amount of voltage moving through the switch circuit. Higher voltage results in a brighter light. Lowering the voltage reduces the amount of power reaching the light bulb, so the bulb consumes less energy and produces less light.

What types of bulbs do dimmers work with?

Your choice of smart dimmer depends on several considerations. The number of switches controlling the light is a factor, as is the amount of wattage you need. You should also consider the type of dimmer control you prefer and the type of light bulb used in the fixture.

Can all light bulbs be dimmed?

Technically, yes, all light bulbs can be dimmed, although several types of bulbs don’t pair well with dimmer switches. Four of the most common types of light bulbs are well suited for use with dimmers. Choose carefully, as the amount of energy these types of bulbs consume varies significantly.

  • CFLs: Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are highly energy efficient. If you’d like to use these with a dimmer switch, however, you’ll want to use dimmer-compatible CFLs. CFLs that are not designed for dimmer use will have a shorter life span and may flash or flicker. Noncompatible CFLswill have “not for use with dimmers” marked on the bulb or packaging. Using dimmer-compatible CFLs from the same manufacturer will provide the best results when pairing CFLs with dimmer switches.
  • LEDs: Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are some of the best bulbs for use with dimmer switches, especially if your goal is to reduce the amount of energy your lighting consumes. LEDs consume much less energy than other light bulbs and have life spans measured in decades. Look for LED bulbs designed for use with dimmers, and use them with LED-compatible dimmer switches.
  • Halogen bulbs: When used with dimmer switches, halogen bulbs consume up to 20% less energy than when they’re undimmed. There is, however, a downside: Dimmed halogen bulbs are less efficient, which potentially negates any benefits of using the dimmer switch. Instead of a halogen bulb and dimmer, most homeowners are better off simply replacing the halogen with a lower-wattage bulb.
  • Incandescent bulbs: Incandescent bulbs can be used with dimmers, but don’t expect any energy savings with them: Dimming a 60-watt incandescent bulb to 40 watts actually requires more energy than simply switching to a 40-watt bulb.

Set up motion sensors to automatically turn on lights when you enter the room.

Motion sensors can also be used to save lighting energy. Some of the best light switches include smart motion detectors, which send notifications to smart home hubs when lights turn on. This feature increases your home security, as you can set your smart home assistant to push alerts to your phone should motion detectors register suspicious activity when you’re not home.

How motion sensors save energy

Motion sensor lights and light switches save energy by automatically turning off lighting in rooms where no activity is detected. Many can be set to only trigger lights in response to human activity so the family cat won’t be turning on lights as she moves through the house.

As effective as motion detectors are, though, in many cases it’s more energy efficient to switch to CFLs or LEDs. Even when left on constantly, CFLs and LEDs consume less energy than motion detectors.

Pro Tip! The U.S. Department of Energy recommends turning off CFLs only if you plan to be out of the room for more than 15 minutes. If you do choose to combine CFLs with motion-detecting light switches, set the time limit on the motion detector to at least 15 minutes.

Where to place energy-saving motion sensors in your home

Motion-sensing light switches offer the most energy savings when used in locations where lights are often left on by accident.

Appropriate places to use motion detectors:

  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Children’s rooms
  • Closets
  • Entryways
  • Garages
  • Guest rooms
  • Hallways
  • Outside lights

Motion detectors are less useful in high-traffic areas such as kitchens and living rooms. Lights in these locations tend to be left on for extended periods of time, so the motion sensor won’t be activated often enough to be worthwhile.

Use energy-efficient timers to turn lights off automatically.

Even the best light switches can’t control lights that aren’t wired into your home’s electrical system. If you want to control when table and floor lamps turn on and off, you can use energy-efficient timers instead.

How smart timers save energy

Energy-efficient timers are placed between a wall outlet and plug and can be set to turn off the plugged-in item at a specific time. Also known as timer switches, smart energy-efficient timers have multiple uses, but they are most often used to turn off devices and lights that have been left on by accident. Timers can also be used to turn on lights at predetermined times, such as just before you come home from work.

How to use energy-efficient timer switches around your home

Furthermore, turning off forgotten lights, indoor timers also have a security component: they turn lights on and off in an empty house to scare off potential burglars. Some timers even have a random settings so anyone watching the house can’t judge occupancy by repetitive, to-the-minute lighting changes.

Energy-efficient timers have outdoor energy-saving applications as well. Timers can turn off outdoor lights on set schedules, so lights are only on when you need them, and outdoor timer switches are often used to control holiday or patio lights.

Be sure to choose timer switches designed for outdoor use when using them to control outdoor applications — indoor timers won’t be able to resist rain, snow and other elemental stressors.

Energy-efficient timers can be used to control:

  • Heating lamps
  • Hot tubs and pool filters
  • Indoor lights
  • Outdoor security lights
  • Small appliances (computers, radios, flatirons, etc.)
  • Water heaters
Turn a light into a smart device with smart plugs.

Smart plugs offer an easy introduction to smart home devices, even if you don’t own a smart assistant or hub. Turning a floor or table lamp into a smart device is one of the most common uses for smart plugs: Simply plug the smart plug into an outlet, and then plug the lamp into the smart plug.

How smart plugs save energy

Smart plugs control when and how connected appliances use power, allowing you to optimize appliance use and save energy. A smart plug is controlled from an app on your phone so you can set timers for appliance use, turn devices on and off from anywhere and even view how much energy the appliance consumes.

How to use smart plugs around your home

Connecting smart plugs to your most frequently used lights, you can control lighting directly from your phone. Other practical uses for smart plugs include monitoring the energy usage of appliances, turning on coffee pots at specific times and controlling power flow to appliances that would otherwise continue to use power when not in use, such as gaming consoles and televisions.

The top of the line light switches, smart plugs, timers and motion detectors all offer energy-saving strategies for smart homes. Combining smart lighting controls with LED or CFL bulbs further increases your energy savings. As smart homes become the norm, home energy management systems allow homeowners to take full control of how much energy their home consumes while improving their quality of life and home security. Examining your habits and home helps determine which smart devices are best suited to your lifestyle.

The post How to Reduce Your Home Energy Usage with Smart Lighting appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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Whether you’re looking into smart light bulbs, quasi-intelligent thermostats, Bluetooth locks, wireless cameras or any one of an assortment of sensors, the modern home automation industry is awfully confusing for first-timers. Believe it, or not, but installing all of these gizmos is only half the battle. Getting everything to work together in harmony via a single interface is an entirely different challenge. Here are a few tips to get you started off on the right foot in terms of equipment and devices. It is also worth noting that some of the following are starter kits. Some kits contain a smart home hub and a handful of devices, while others only consist of a hub without any add-on devices. Here are a few things to consider as you begin, or continue, to build your smart home system.

Best All-Around Smart Home System

Samsung’s SmartThings has you covered with both breadth and depth when it comes to their smart home products. You honestly will not find a smart home system that can a greater variety of devices than Samsung’s SmartThings. The core of the system is a small rounded box – the hub – that connects to your router. Samsung even went the extra mile with the hub. There are two ways to link your smart home system. First is the 3rd generation Hub that offers the option of wireless connectivity. The second is Samsung’s Connect Home which melds a mesh router into the hub. You can then begin adding your devices via Samsung’s simple and intuitive mobile app. The devices you can add to your smart home system range from Samsungs direct devices to any one of a number of third-party devices with the “Works with SmartThings” brand.

Seemingly every major category is covered, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, numerous smart lighting products (including Philips and Sylvania gear), the Ring Video Doorbell, and smart door locks. SmartThings can also integrate with your Samsung smart appliances. If there’s a gap in SmartThings’ coverage, it’s a lack of support for Nest and August smart home products; otherwise, it’s hard to find a market that SmartThings doesn’t play in. As much as we like the third-generation Samsung SmartThings Hub, we don’t recommend an upgrade from the second-generation hub because of the pain such a migration will inflict on the user.

What to Look for When Shopping

As mentioned earlier, smart home systems come in a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, from brain-dead simple to vastly complex. Features vary just as widely, so you’ll need to pay more attention than usual when you’re narrowing down the field to find the product that’s right for you. Here’s a look at some of those key decision factors. To see how each system on the market measures up to those promises, drill down into the reviews at the end of the buyers’ guide.

Device Support

Some smart hubs support only a small number of devices made by the manufacturer of the hub. Others offer certification programs for third-party devices and/or offer hooks into systems developed by third parties: Amazon (Alexa), Nest (thermostats, cameras, and smoke/CO detectors), and Google (Google Assistant) are the biggies here, but Apple’s HomeKit could become important later. It’s critical to consider all the devices you already have in your home, and whether the hub will support them. If the hub doesn’t support them, you might be looking at a massive upgrade later. As well, you need to think about what devices you plan to add to your network down the line.

IFTTT Support

Many top smart home systems support IFTTT (If This Then That), the simple scripting system that lets you connect devices that otherwise wouldn’t be. For example, you could use IFTTT to turn all the lights in the house blue if a water leak is detected by your smart hub—even if it can’t speak directly to the lighting system itself. Stringify is a similar—and perhaps more sophisticated—service, but it has not yet gained as much traction as IFTTT.

Wired vs. wireless hub connection

Many smart hubs must connect to your wireless router via an ethernet cable, which limits your placement and, of course, requires a free ethernet port on your router. That can be an issue with the new generation of puck-like mesh routers that have just two ethernet ports (Eero, Google Wifi, TP-Link Deco M5, et al). A smaller number of hubs are wireless and can be placed anywhere in the range of the router, increasing your flexibility.

Sensor range

If your home is large or spread out, you’ll need to pay attention to the range that the hub’s sensors support. Hubs may support a wide array of connection protocols, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, and ZigBee, all of which have very different ranges. As with a wireless router, smart hub range can also be impacted by interference and device placement, and smart home devices themselves have different specs, as well. Take the time to look into the detailed specs to be sure sensors and third-party devices will actually work with your home’s infrastructure.

Battery backup

If the power goes out, your smart lights might not be useful, but other smart home features, like security sensors, rely on a hub that’s always on. Many smart hubs, even those that aren’t built around security, feature battery backups (either through rechargeable cells or standard AAs). Even a short power outage can cause a significant delay while the hub reconnects, so a battery backup makes sense in many home environments. If you like everything else about a particular hub that lacks a battery backup option, consider investing in an uninterruptible power supply to plug it into.

Mobile app usability

You’ll probably be interacting with your hub primarily through its mobile app, so you’ll want one that’s intuitive and powerful, with all the key features you use front and center. App-store screenshots and, of course, our reviews can help you get a sense of what you’re dealing with on the app side of things.

Overall complexity

This is a companion consideration to the mobile app, relating primarily to the audience for whom the smart home system was developed. Is the system geared at everyday users with limited customization needs? Or is it built with extreme flexibility in mind, to the point where the configuration decisions might overwhelm a novice user? Again, close attention to our reviews can help you gauge how comfortable you’re likely to feel with any system.

Security Focused Device Advice Sensor support

A companion consideration to the device support issue above, if you’re in the market for a security-focused smart hub, you’ll want one that has support for all the sensors you need. Most security hubs only work with the sensors made by the same manufacturer, so you can’t mix and match as you would with a general-use smart hub. Some security systems offer only a very narrow range of sensor types, while others have a wide variety to choose from.

Cellular radio backup

If you could simply cut the broadband connection to defeat a security system, it wouldn’t be much good, would it? Any good security system will include a 3G cellular backup that can be used in case your broadband connection drops. You should also carefully consider the battery backup consideration above, which is essential for dealing with power outages and is a standard feature on most security hubs.

Professional monitoring

If you don’t want to monitor your own security system 24/7, you’ll at least want the option to engage with a professional security company that can keep tabs on it for you when you’re out on a walkabout. These invariably cost extra, which leads to our final consideration….

Service plan costs

Service plan costs vary widely from system to system, and many vendors offer a range of plans to choose from. Some systems will work without a service plan, allowing you to self-monitor. Some require a plan to function at all. Also note that lower-tier service plans might not include professional monitoring Price out service plans carefully before you pull the trigger.

The post Smart Choices for your Smart Home System appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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The classic schoolyard bully may seem like a distant memory. However, bullying is all but a distant memory. Bullying, like most of our lives, has simply shifted to the digital sector of our lives. Unlike past generations, the current generation of youth are no longer safe from bullies once they cross through their front door. This phenomenon has come to know as cyberbullying and it is just as devastating, if not worse, than what most consider traditional bullying.

7 Ways to Prevent Cyberbullying 1.) Know Your Child

Before handing over a smartphone, think long and hard about whether your child is ready for the responsibility. There is no set age limit or standard in place for when the right time is exactly. However, you, the parent, are the best judge for when it’s the right time to hand over the keys to the smartphone world.

One way to gauge this coming of age moment is whether your child knows how to communicate with their peers online. This includes social media, messaging, and online gaming. Have they proven themselves trustworthy enough online to earn your trust?

2.) Understand how Social Media and Messaging apps work

There are countless social media platforms and messaging apps available these days. Even if you’re not the most tech savvy of parental units, it is vital for you to become familiar with the digital world in which your child lives. Social media, messaging, gaming apps and the sites your child engages with on a regular basis must become part of your working knowledge base. Doing so will prevent a technology language barrier between you and your child.

A few of the more essential social media platforms include the following:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Tik Tok
  • Tumblr

Then you have your core messaging apps:

  • Snapchat
  • WhatsApp
  • Kik
  • Telegram
  • Viber
  • Facebook Messenger

The team at Common Sense Media does a great job providing an overview of the more popular social media and messaging apps among today’s youth. You can check out their thoughts here.

3.) Learn how Cyberbullies operate

Like all the technology that surrounds us, cyberbullies are constantly evolving and changing their tactics. It is next to impossible to foresee what the future holds when it comes to cyberbullies. These menaces to society will likely post unflattering, humiliating or embarrassing images or videos. This media may even be subject to malicious photoshopping.

Once something is posted, it is darn near impossible to stop it, let alone remove it entirely. Once posted, all it takes is for a few peers to share said post and the original author could have an audience in the millions in a matter of minutes.

Cyberbullies are known for setting up fake accounts to troll others without revealing their identity. Even worse, cyberbullies may set up accounts posing as their targeted victim and post less than flattering content under a veil of secrecy.

4.) Engage in an ongoing dialogue with your child about Cyberbullies

This shouldn’t be an issue if you’ve taken the time to wrap your head around social media and the major messaging apps. In the simplest way possible, talk to your kids! Make sure that they can identify a cyberbully and know what to do if they encounter one.

If you take an active approach to social media, be on the lookout for instances of cyberbullying. This is a great way to actively show your children what cyberbullying looks like and the impact that it can have on an individual and the public in general. Make it clear that cyberbullying is exactly what it is by saying to your children, “that is cyberbullying”. This way there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. There is no sense in dancing around this very real scourge.

Help your kids always take a proactive approach to cyberbullying by reminding them to keep their privacy settings on lockdown on all their accounts. Make it a point to work with them to set clear rules for online behavior and to establish screen time limits.

5.) Monitor your child’s accounts

In a perfect world, our children would come to us at the first sign of any cyberbullying, but unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. As parents, our job is to be vigilant—and in this case, that means nosy. Know the usernames and passwords for all of your children’s accounts and check them frequently for red flags. If you’re not up to reading every post and text, an app like Bark can help by alerting you to potentially inappropriate conversations happening on your child’s phone or other devices.

6. Set limits

We all know that the more tired we get, the less inhibited we are, and it’s the same for kids. Setting firm limits on screen time, especially when it comes to messaging and social media apps can help stop problems before they start. Devices like Disney Circle make it easy to set specific bedtimes for mobile devices, control the amount of time your kids spend on certain apps and filter out websites you don’t want them to use.

7. Watch for warning signs

Cyber bullying might be happening on a screen, but its real-life effects aren’t hard to spot if you know what to look for. A child affected by cyberbullying may become withdrawn, spending more time than usual attached to their phone. They may have strong emotional reactions when asked to put away their devices, and they may be moodier than usual. You may also notice them shutting down their current social media account or creating new ones and hiding their device from view when you’re nearby. If you see any of these signs, it’s time to start a conversation.

The post Cyberbullying Safety 101 appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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Home automation and the elderly population may not seem like a perfect pair, but it’s quite the opposite. Home automation devices are a perfect fit for our elderly peers, especially as their health declines.

A member of the Protect America marketing team recently looked after one of their grandparents for a three-year period in lieu of moving them into a retirement home. During this period, our team member looked to incorporate various home automation devices with the aim of making simple everyday tasks easier for their grandparent and to help keep tabs on them.

Voice Controlled Lights

This entire experiment began when our team member noticed their grandparent struggling to twist the small knob to turn on their bedside lamp with their arthritic fingers. A few days later, the house had its first Amazon Echo device and a handful of connected light bulbs. Next thing you know the grandparent had full control of every light in their bedroom via their voice. This was a big help in that if the grandparent forgot to turn off the bathroom light at night, they could do so from the comfort of their bed. The once painful task of turning their bedside lamp on and off multiple times each day became a simple three-word command— “Alexa, bedside off”. The marketing team member applied the same concept to the rest of the electronics in their grandparent’s bedroom.

Motion Based Automation

The next step in the experiment consisted of a trio of motion sensors. The first motion sensor covered the entire room, the second was placed in the bathroom and the third sensor placed just above the doorway leading to the upstairs hallway. This series of motion detectors served two main purposes. First, the sensor overlooking the full bedroom and the sensor in the bathroom combined to act as an alert system. If the grandparent had to use the bathroom at night, the sensor pairing could notify the caretaker if the grandparent did not return from the bathroom within a set period. This is a huge help in the event of a standard slip & fall incident.

The other benefit of the motion sensor trio is that they served as an alarm clock of sorts each morning. The caretaker set the motion sensors to turn a light on in their bedroom and set it to a brilliant green. The light would only turn on when triggered by the motion sensor between the hours of 5:00 am and 7:00 am, which is when the grandparent typically woke up each morning.

Front Door Smart Lock

A smart lock entered the picture as the grandparent’s health further declined and hospice caretakers began to visit on a regular basis. The keypad enabled smart lock provided the primary caretaker with some freedom, such that they did not have to be present to grant the hospice caretakers access to the house. Each hospice caretaker had their own entry code and the primary caretaker was notified of all activity through the front door via their iPhone. This provided much relief and flexibility for the primary caretaker, especially considering that the hospice caretakers did not arrive on a set schedule, but rather a window of time each day.

Alexa Drop-In is Key to Home Automation for the Elderly

The final core element to the home automation designed for our team member’s grandparent was a series of Echo Dot’s placed in each of the main rooms throughout the house. This allowed for a makeshift house-wide intercom system of sorts via Alexa’s skill to drop-in. Again, like the lightbulbs, this is operated completely via voice, which did away with the grandparent struggling with the phone keypad. Simple things like, “I need help with _______”, or “I forgot how to turn the television on” were quickly answered and handled thanks to the near instant contact provided by Alexa’s drop-in feature.

Closing Thoughts on Home Automation for the Elderly

These three relatively simple components of a home automation system made a world of a difference for all parties involved. They also go to show that home automation for the elderly is not too far fetched of an idea, nor real-world application. In addition to simplifying tasks that many take for granted, the application of new technology allowed for fresh conversation and brainstorming sessions between individuals a generation apart. If you, or someone you know, could benefit from updating your home with a basic home automation package, such as what is described above, please check out the wide range of devices that Protect America provides in addition to their professionally monitored home security services.

The post Home Automation for the Elderly appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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5 Thrifty Ways Burglar-Proof Your Home

You don’t need to spend a king’s ransom to burglar-proof your home. Here are some of the more thrifty (yet very effective!) DIY home security ideas to keep unwanted guests out of your home.

Secure Windows with Simple Window Locks

The latches on most double hung windows are no match for a burglar with a pry bar. Pin locks are an easy solution. To install one, all you have to do is drill a hole. If you want to lock the window in a partially opened position, drill a second hole. You can find pin locks at home centers and online. They work well on sliding patio doors too.

Load up your exterior perimeter with motion lights

Put motion detector lighting anywhere. Motion detector lights are a proven crime deterrent, and standard hard-wired models cost as little as $15. If running a power supply would be difficult, buy ones that run on solar power. The downside is the cost.

Secure Sheds With Screws

Your locked shed seems secure, but a cagey thief can bypass the lock by using a screwdriver to remove hinges and other hardware with exposed screw heads. Foil would-be thieves by using Allen head, Torx head or hex-head cap screws instead of standard Phillips head screws. You can also order tamper-proof security screws that require special removal tools that an opportunistic thief is unlikely to have. You’ll also need to buy a special bit or tool. Type “security screws” or “tamperproof screws” into your search engine.

Two Ways to Secure Shed Door Hinges

Shed doors usually swing out, so the hinge pins are accessible from outside; all a thief has to do is pop out the pins and remove the door. To stop this, buy a security hinge with tamper-proof pins and a locking tab at a home center. Or, you can retrofit an existing hinge by removing the center screws on both sides, inserting a finish screw through one side and allowing it to protrude about 1/4 in. Drill out the receiving hole slightly so that when the door is closed, the finish screw head engages the other hinge. That way, even if the hinge pin is removed, the door can’t be taken off.

Install Door Reinforcement Hardware

You can spend hundreds on a fancy “pick-proof” deadbolt for your burglar proof front door. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that’ll stop most burglars. The truth is, most don’t know how to pick a lock. They gain entry with one really well-placed kick or body slam that splits the doorjamb (and often the door as well), and they walk right in. You can use this thrifty way to burglar-proof your home and stop them in their tracks by beefing up your door and jamb with reinforcing hardware. The components of this burglar proof front door take about an hour to install.

Measure the entry door thickness and the spacing between the entry knob and the deadbolt cylinder. Then buy either a single or a double wrap-around door reinforcement plate kit and four 1-1/2-in.-long stainless steel wood screws. Then get a doorjamb reinforcement kit.

Remove the entry knob and deadbolt cylinder. Then remove the deadbolt and latch and toss the short screws. Install the wrap-around door reinforcement plate and reinstall the latch and deadbolt plates using the longer stainless steel screws. Next, can you guess what the absolute first thing you should do when you move into a new home is?

5 more Thrifty Ways to Burglar-Proof Your Home Defeat Bolt Cutters
“A determined thief with an angle grinder and enough time can cut through nearly any lock,” says Master Lock’s Justin Matuszek. “But more often, the thief has a bolt cutter and is trying to work fast.” He says the thicker a lock’s shackle and the less it’s exposed, the more secure the lock is from bolt cutters. And the kind of locking mechanism makes a difference in how easily a lock can be picked. The Master Lock Magnum keyed padlock and the Master Lock ProSeries Combination Lock both resist bolt cutters. Both are available at amazon.com. Plus, here’s how to choose the best security chain.
Pick-Proof Your Dead Bolt
Even amateur thieves can pick a lock. To hold the deadbolt firmly in place so the door can’t open, install the deadbolt protection device. Slide the ‘lock’ over the deadbolt handle it to keep it from turning.
Reinforce Your Entry Door Strike Plate

Reinforcing your door’s weak spot, the jamb, with a heavy-duty strike plate and extra-long screws give it the added strength needed to withstand a burglar trying to kick in your door. If your deadbolt was installed within the last 10 years, it’s probably already reinforced. To check, simply remove the strike plate. If it’s heavy steel with at least 3-in. screws or has a heavy reinforcing plate, you can rest easy. If not, buy strike plate-reinforcing hardware.To install, remove the old strike plate, then hold the new one in place and deeply score around it. Chisel out space for the new plate, then mount it by driving 3-in. screws through predrilled holes.

Secure Patio Doors

Patio door locks are easy to pick. Placing a heavy-duty stick in the door track will bar the door closed, but it looks crude and it’s inconvenient to remove every time you want to open the door. Fortunately, there’s a better way to get the security you need.Andersen Corp.’s auxiliary foot lock fastens along the bottom of the door and has a bolt that fits into a grommet to hold the door secure. A similar lock, the Door Guardian, attaches at the top of the door. Both locks allow the door to open 3 in. without compromising security. Installation takes about 10 minutes. Screw the bracket containing the pin to the door, then drill holes and insert grommets in the track for the pin to slide into.

An Even Simpler Idea for Sliding Doors

Like a lot of people, we needed something to secure our sliding patio door. But I wanted it to be a little more stylish than a 2×4 or an ugly metal bar. So I picked up an oak handrail and stained and sealed it. I finished it with an attractive drawer pull. It works great, it’s easy to handle and it gets tons of compliments from everyone who sees it.

Another 5 thrifty ways Burglar-Proof Your Home Add a Security Anchor

What do you do when you don’t have a place to lock your bike, canoe or construction materials while you’re away? Sometimes—unfortunately—call the police to report a theft. The Kryptonite Stronghold Anchor, once installed, provides a safe, permanent anchoring spot for your stuff.

This clever, tamper-resistant system involves drilling three holes and installing bolts to anchor the heavy-duty security hook to cement (bits included). A dome covers the hook and bolts. The anchor can also be installed in truck beds or secured to other surfaces using your fasteners. The instructions are clear, the design is clean and simple, and it comes with a lifetime warranty (well, you know, sorta).

Install a Small Safe

Most of us don’t need a big, heavy, expensive safe to secure our valuables. For $100, you can get a safe that will protect against thieves. Be sure to fasten it to the floor or wall so an intruder doesn’t walk off with it. Safes go up in price for options such as fire protection and digital or biometric (fingerprint-reading) opening systems. Sentry Safe makes the ones shown here.Install the wall safe or cylinder floor safe by bolting it to the floor (most safes have holes inside for just that purpose). Hide it in the corner of a closet or other inconspicuous area. Or mount the wall safe inside a wall and cover it with a picture. Or chip out a hole in your concrete slab and stick in the floor safe, then pour new concrete around it.

Keep Spare Keys in a Lock Box
Hiding a house key is risky business. Clever (or lucky) burglars sometimes find hidden keys. And insurance companies may refuse to cover your losses if there’s no sign of forced entry. The solution is a combination lock box. Screw it to a fence post or your house in an inconspicuous spot. But don’t use the short, wimpy screws provided by the manufacturer. A crook could pry off the box, take it home and patiently saw it open. Instead, use four No. 10 x 2-in. screws, preferably stainless steel.
Know Who’s There
You never want to open a door unless you know who’s on the other side. A peephole lets you see who’s there, but entry doors don’t come with peepholes, and a lot of peepholes are so tiny that they don’t clearly show you who’s out there. Strangers can hide slightly out of view or appear so distorted that they’re hard to identify. Avoid uncertainty by installing a wide-angle door viewer. The one shown here from M.A.G. Engineering and Manufacturing Co. (magsecurity.com, No. 8720) offers a 160-degree view and is available on the company’s website. Install it just like a standard peephole—drill a hole from each side and screw it in.
Protect Your Mail
Mail theft is a growing problem since unsecured mailboxes are easy targets. One sure way to keep thieves from stealing your mail—checks, credit card offers, personal information—is to use a security mailbox. Once the mail is dropped in, you need a key to open the box. Just screw it to the wall or post as you would a standard mailbox.
3 final thrifty ways to burglar-proof your home Don’t Keep the Clicker in Your Car

A thief who breaks into your car can grab the remote for easy access to your garage. This isn’t just a problem when your car is parked in the driveway; the registration card in your glove box gives a crook your address. So get rid of the remote on your visor and buy a keychain remote. You can easily take it with you every time you leave the car. Home centers stock only a small selection of remotes, but you’ll find more online. Start your search by typing in the brand of your opener, followed by “remote.”

Lock Up the Overhead Door
Some people “lock” the overhead garage door when they go on vacation by unplugging the opener. That’s a good idea, but physically locking the door is even better. An unplugged opener won’t prevent “fishing,” and—if you have an attached garage—it won’t stop a burglar who has entered through the house from opening the garage door from inside, backing in a van and using the garage as a loading dock for his plunder. Make a burglar’s job more difficult and time-consuming by locking the door itself. If your door doesn’t have a lockable latch, drill a hole in the track just above one of the rollers and slip in a padlock.
Be Smart with Social Media

Social media is a fantastic tool, one that works great for staying in touch with friends and for sharing travel experiences and photos … after your trip is over.

Remember that social media is built to be public, which means that it’s a bit like talking to a crowd with a megaphone. Don’t share travel plans unless you’re comfortable with the entire social media community knowing about them. Because social media accounts default to a public setting, criminals can simply search for keywords like trip, travel, vacation, out of town and find descriptions of the dates and times that people will be leaving their homes. To avoid this, simply wait until after your trip to share information about your trip! If you do feel the need to let people know you’ll be out of town ahead of time, take a few moments to ensure that your post is marked as private through that social media platform. By limiting its audience and its searchability, you can make sharing your schedule much more secure.

Closing Thoughts

If your looking for more thrifty ways to burglar-proof your home then check out the Family Handyman. However, if you’re looking to lock your home down and protect what really matters, then check out Protect America and request a quote today!

The post 18 Thrifty Ways to Burglar-Proof Your Home appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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Earlier this month Ring, the smart video doorbell company, announced its first major acquisition – that of Cleveland based Mr Beams: an innovative LED lighting technology company. The acquisition, of which no financial details have yet to be revealed, marks a major milestone for Ring, who have gone from niche product specialist to major home security brand inside five years.

The company, which was born out of founder Jamie Siminoff’s garage, has raised over $200 million in series funding, and is now estimated to be worth over $1 billion. It counts Richard Branson, Amazon, Qualcomm Ventures and Goldman Sachs amongst its investors.

Siminoff explained to smart home website, The Ambient, that the takeover was the result of an alignment of ideas and cultures and that any future acquisitions would have to fit the same mould.

“It’s not a revenue thing and it’s not a technology thing – it has to be an area that we see as fitting the mission and it has to be a culture that we think we can work with,” he said. “The stars have to align.”

Industry Insight

“When we find a company like Mr Beams, with founders like David and Mike, who are just so culturally on the same plane as us – when you have that and you can get them at a price that’s not a crazy Silicon Valley price, it’s a rational price, and you can say, ‘We’re going to do something great, you’re going to do something great, let’s do this together,’ that’s when it works.”

“If you look at some other companies that have faltered in our space, I think they have tried to do everything in house too much,” he added. “But, I think there’s a balance. If you just buy companies and stick them together you’ll never have any cohesion.

“Soul is the thing. As we grow as a company things will change and evolve, but soul would be the most upsetting thing for me for us to lose.”

Mr. Beams will continue to operate as an independent division inside of Ring and the first products to be born out of the partnership, Ring Beams – a range of external LED lighting was announced at CES 2018, and will go on sale in the spring.

Ring Floodlight Cam Review: The Home Security Device to Get

Perhaps best known for its doorbell cameras, Ring has a Floodlight Cam that’s geared toward protecting other parts of your house. This $249 device has two powerful lights and a sharp, 1080p camera. Combined with a neighborhood-watch feature — which lets you see videos of suspicious activity recorded by other Ring cameras in your area — this camera makes for a great set of digital eyes for your home.  

Design

Ring isn’t breaking any new ground with its Floodlight Cam. Apart from the camera section, it looks pretty much like any traditional floodlight. You know, the type of floodlight that you’d find at a home improvement store. It’s made of metal and the device comes in black or white. 

Below the two LED lights is a fairly large, rectangular housing that contains the camera, a speaker and microphone, and a dome-shaped motion detector on the bottom. All three parts are connected via adjustable arms to a semicircular base, which attaches to the side of your house.

Traditional Setup

Installing Ring’s floodlight cam is similar to the procedure with most other floodlights: A metal ring screws into the junction box on the side of your house, and then the camera/light housing connects to that box. This setup method requires you to use a small s-shaped hook to temporarily hold the housing in place while you attach the wires from your house to the camera and light. It’s not as simple as the setup with the Maximus Camera Floodlight, which attaches to the baseplate much more easily.

Setup Review

However, I found it easier to adjust the Ring camera than the Maximus version; the latter requires you to push the camera in and then rotate it. With the Ring, you simply twist the arm the camera is attached to.

After physically connecting the Ring to your house, you must then connect the camera to your Wi-Fi network via the Ring app, specifying things such as your address and the sensitivity level of the camera. In all, setup took about half an hour. Connecting the wiring is fairly simple, but if you’re uncomfortable with electrical work, consult an electrician.

Video Quality

The Ring’s camera records crisp and colorful 1080p video. It picked up the rust-red deck and fading green grass of my backyard, and I could even make out features of my dog as he bounded around.

Although the Maximus camera advertises a 155-degree field of view, the device measures that diagonally, rather than horizontally. By comparison, while Ring’s camera has just a 140-degree FOV, in practice, it showed far more of my backyard than Maximus’ camera did; I could see the neighbors’ yards two doors down in both directions.

What’s more, Ring’s app lets you specify motion zones: areas in which, if it detects motion, it will alert you. Maximus’ app has this feature, but only if you subscribe to one of the company’s plans. So, if you don’t have a plan (like me), the Maximus would often send me alerts when a neighbor pulled in his car on the very fringe of the frame. In Ring’s app, you can also set schedules for when the lights and the motion detection should be active.

Video Quality Specifics

The Ring camera also has night vision, something the Maximus lacks. Both cameras can be set to turn on their lights when they sense motion, but only Ring’s can work in the complete dark, which is helpful for seeing things at the edge of the lights’ range. You lose a bit of definition in Ring’s black-and-white nighttime videos; I couldn’t distinguish any features in my face as I walked in front of the camera. 

Ring’s camera also has two-way audio, so you can talk with whomever you see on camera, as well as a 110-decibel alarm that’s loud enough to draw attention. One thing that the Ring lacks — and the Maximus has — is the ability to play prerecorded messages, as well as sounds of barking dogs, gobbling turkeys and more when the camera detects movement.

Neighborhood Watch

Want to know what’s going on in your neighborhood? The newest feature of Ring’s app lets you view security-camera footage that other Ring owners (from any Ring camera) have shared, as well as other alerts — such as fires and reported crimes — around your home. However, you don’t need to own or have purchased a Ring device to use this feature; anyone can download Ring’s app and view and report incidents.

You can specify the radius around your house from which you will receive alerts, and you can both post and comment on footage put online by others. I found it both unnerving and reassuring to watch video of people stealing packages and testing door locks in my neighborhood.

Smart Home Integration

The Ring Floodlight Cam works with Alexa, Google Home and IFTTT. 

You can view a feed from the camera on the Echo Show, Echo Spot, and Amazon Fire TV Sticks and TVs.

Security Plans

For $30 per year (or $3 per month), Ring’s Protect Basic plan covers an unlimited number of cameras, gives you 60 days of video and lets you share it with others. That’s better than Maximus’ starting plan, which cost $4.99 per month but gives you only seven days’ worth of footage.

However, if you don’t subscribe to any plans, Maximus lets you review the past 2 hours of video and download three videos per month. Without a plan, Ring lets you view live events only as they’re happening, but you can set motion zones.

Bottom Line

The Ring Floodlight Cam brings Ring’s strong security camera to an outdoor floodlight. The quality of the video is great and its other features — such as neighborhood alerts in the app — further enhance the floodlight cam’s utility as a home-security device. While you’ll need a Ring subscription plan, the company’s $30 yearly price is one of the most affordable among its competitors. If you want a security camera and a floodlight in one, Ring is the way to go.

The post Ring Camera Emerges as Worthy Contender with First Takeover appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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The lighting around your home is important in terms of both practical and aesthetic applications. The simple light bulbs that we often take for granted illuminate our homes at night, highlight points of beauty, provide security and create ambiance. American’s consume a ton of power in order to light our home. To be precise, we consume roughly 91 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year, per a report produced by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. To put things in perspective, the commercial sector consumes in the neighborhood of 141 billion kWh. Keep in mind that the commercial sector includes commercial and institutional buildings, as well as street and highway lighting. Smart lighting can reduce these numbers across the board and save everyone a few dollars.

Lighting accounts for approximately 6% of a home’s energy consumption.

The development of the smart home has made it possible for you to take full control of your home lighting via smart lighting. This technological advancement also allows you to reduce your energy usage. Smart bulbs are a great starting point but aren’t always the best fit for every smart home. This is especially true for homeowners who want to incorporate a smart home assistant into their energy-saving smart lighting system. Energy saving light switches, dimmers, and energy-efficient timers can be programmed via a smart hub or other home energy management systems to save energy and increase home security.

Control your Lights with Smart Switches

A smart light switch is an easy way to control home lighting and save energy. Once installed, a hard-wired energy-saving light switch can be controlled from a smartphone app or a smart hub. You can even use voice controls to toggle hard-wired smart light switches.

How Smart Light Switches Save Energy

Energy-saving light switches typically come with their own smartphone app. Once you’ve installed the necessary app on your phone, you can then turn lights on & off from any location. If you’re unsure if you left a light on after you’ve pulled out of the driveway,  all you need to do is check your phone!

The ideal light switches are ones that you can program. Programmable lights allow you to set up a schedule that will turn your lights on and off automatically at certain points throughout the day or night. This feature is not only convenient, but it also saves a lot of energy since your lights wont gobble up kilowatts when nobody is benefiting from the illumination.

How to Choose a Smart Light Switch
  • Single-Pole Smart Switch: A single-pole switch is wired to a light fixture via a single physical location. This method is often used in bedrooms and home offices. Single-pole switches are the most common style of smart light switch.
  • Three-way or Four-way Smart Switch: The larger rooms throughout your home may have three- or four-way switches that control one fixture from multiple locations. If this is the case, you don’t need to replace all switches with smart switches. Replacing just one switch with an energy-saving switch will usually do the trick.
  • Plug-In Smart Switch: Free -standing floor and table lamps are not typically wired directly into your home’s electrical grid. Rather, they’re plugged into wall outlets. The ideal light switch for such a situation are plug-in switches that give you control of the light at the outlet level.

Install Smart Dimmers

Smart dimmer switches are an easy way to save electricity. Like smart light switches, smart dimmers can easily be paired with smart home assistants, and these can be programmed or controlled simply by speaking.

How smart dimmers save energy

Without getting too technical, dimmers are able to adjust the amount of voltage moving through the switch circuit. Higher voltage results in a brighter light. Lowering the voltage reduces the amount of power reaching the light bulb, so the bulb consumes less energy and produces less light.

What types of bulbs do dimmers work with?

Your choice of smart dimmer depends on several considerations. The number of switches controlling the light is a factor, as is the amount of wattage you need. You should also consider the type of dimmer control you prefer and the type of light bulb used in the fixture.

Can all light bulbs be dimmed?

Technically, yes, all light bulbs can be dimmed, although several types of bulbs don’t pair well with dimmer switches. Four of the most common types of light bulbs are well suited for use with dimmers. Choose carefully, as the amount of energy these types of bulbs consume varies significantly.

  • CFLs: Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are highly energy efficient. If you’d like to use these with a dimmer switch, however, you’ll want to use dimmer-compatible CFLs. CFLs that are not designed for dimmer use will have a shorter life span and may flash or flicker. Noncompatible CFLswill have “not for use with dimmers” marked on the bulb or packaging. Using dimmer-compatible CFLs from the same manufacturer will provide the best results when pairing CFLs with dimmer switches.
  • LEDs: Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are some of the best bulbs for use with dimmer switches, especially if your goal is to reduce the amount of energy your lighting consumes. LEDs consume much less energy than other light bulbs and have life spans measured in decades. Look for LED bulbs designed for use with dimmers, and use them with LED-compatible dimmer switches.
  • Halogen bulbs: When used with dimmer switches, halogen bulbs consume up to 20% less energy than when they’re undimmed. There is, however, a downside: Dimmed halogen bulbs are less efficient, which potentially negates any benefits of using the dimmer switch. Instead of a halogen bulb and dimmer, most homeowners are better off simply replacing the halogen with a lower-wattage bulb.
  • Incandescent bulbs: Incandescent bulbs can be used with dimmers, but don’t expect any energy savings with them: Dimming a 60-watt incandescent bulb to 40 watts actually requires more energy than simply switching to a 40-watt bulb.

Set up motion sensors to automatically turn on lights when you enter the room.

Motion sensors can also be used to save lighting energy. Some of the best light switches include smart motion detectors, which send notifications to smart home hubs when lights turn on. This feature increases your home security, as you can set your smart home assistant to push alerts to your phone should motion detectors register suspicious activity when you’re not home.

How motion sensors save energy

Motion sensor lights and light switches save energy by automatically turning off lighting in rooms where no activity is detected. Many can be set to only trigger lights in response to human activity so the family cat won’t be turning on lights as she moves through the house.

As effective as motion detectors are, though, in many cases it’s more energy efficient to switch to CFLs or LEDs. Even when left on constantly, CFLs and LEDs consume less energy than motion detectors.

Pro Tip! The U.S. Department of Energy recommends turning off CFLs only if you plan to be out of the room for more than 15 minutes. If you do choose to combine CFLs with motion-detecting light switches, set the time limit on the motion detector to at least 15 minutes.

Where to place energy-saving motion sensors in your home

Motion-sensing light switches offer the most energy savings when used in locations where lights are often left on by accident.

Appropriate places to use motion detectors:

  • Basements
  • Bathrooms
  • Children’s rooms
  • Closets
  • Entryways
  • Garages
  • Guest rooms
  • Hallways
  • Outside lights

Motion detectors are less useful in high-traffic areas such as kitchens and living rooms. Lights in these locations tend to be left on for extended periods of time, so the motion sensor won’t be activated often enough to be worthwhile.

Use energy-efficient timers to turn lights off automatically.

Even the best light switches can’t control lights that aren’t wired into your home’s electrical system. If you want to control when table and floor lamps turn on and off, you can use energy-efficient timers instead.

How smart timers save energy

Energy-efficient timers are placed between a wall outlet and plug and can be set to turn off the plugged-in item at a specific time. Also known as timer switches, smart energy-efficient timers have multiple uses, but they are most often used to turn off devices and lights that have been left on by accident. Timers can also be used to turn on lights at predetermined times, such as just before you come home from work.

How to use energy-efficient timer switches around your home

Furthermore, turning off forgotten lights, indoor timers also have a security component: they turn lights on and off in an empty house to scare off potential burglars. Some timers even have a random settings so anyone watching the house can’t judge occupancy by repetitive, to-the-minute lighting changes.

Energy-efficient timers have outdoor energy-saving applications as well. Timers can turn off outdoor lights on set schedules, so lights are only on when you need them, and outdoor timer switches are often used to control holiday or patio lights.

Be sure to choose timer switches designed for outdoor use when using them to control outdoor applications — indoor timers won’t be able to resist rain, snow and other elemental stressors.

Energy-efficient timers can be used to control:

  • Heating lamps
  • Hot tubs and pool filters
  • Indoor lights
  • Outdoor security lights
  • Small appliances (computers, radios, flatirons, etc.)
  • Water heaters
Turn a light into a smart device with smart plugs.

Smart plugs offer an easy introduction to smart home devices, even if you don’t own a smart assistant or hub. Turning a floor or table lamp into a smart device is one of the most common uses for smart plugs: Simply plug the smart plug into an outlet, and then plug the lamp into the smart plug.

How smart plugs save energy

Smart plugs control when and how connected appliances use power, allowing you to optimize appliance use and save energy. A smart plug is controlled from an app on your phone so you can set timers for appliance use, turn devices on and off from anywhere and even view how much energy the appliance consumes.

How to use smart plugs around your home

Connecting smart plugs to your most frequently used lights, you can control lighting directly from your phone. Other practical uses for smart plugs include monitoring the energy usage of appliances, turning on coffee pots at specific times and controlling power flow to appliances that would otherwise continue to use power when not in use, such as gaming consoles and televisions.

The top of the line light switches, smart plugs, timers and motion detectors all offer energy-saving strategies for smart homes. Combining smart lighting controls with LED or CFL bulbs further increases your energy savings. As smart homes become the norm, home energy management systems allow homeowners to take full control of how much energy their home consumes while improving their quality of life and home security. Examining your habits and home helps determine which smart devices are best suited to your lifestyle.

The post How to Reduce Your Home Energy Usage with Smart Lighting appeared first on Home and Life Blog.

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