What to look for in automated shades

Automated shades are an increasingly popular choice for home owners. Whether it’s for convenience, privacy, energy savings, or just as an upgrade, automated shades add a nice touch to your home. While a lot of the decisions are around aesthetics like any window covering, there are more details to think about with automated shades. Let’s review what to consider for automated shades.


Start with what type of automated shade you are looking for, e.g. roller shades, honeycomb, etc. Sometimes aesthetics will dominate, so you’ll choose your window coverings weighing the right look over other features like maximizing energy savings or privacy. For example, since honeycomb style shades have a built in air pocket, they have better insulating properties over roller shades.


Before you choose your fabric, you should consider how much light and privacy you want from your automated shades. Fabrics are grouped in three main categories: sheer, translucent and opaque. Sheer allow you to see your outside view and lets lots of light in; the flip side is that they don’t offer much privacy. Translucent shades soften exterior light and provide more privacy, but won’t allow you much of an outside view. Opaque fabrics block light and provide maximum privacy – for example, nice for bedrooms and media rooms. Once you have an idea of the fabric group, then you can look at colour, styles and textures.

All shades will help keep a house cooler in the summer (ie shades down during full sun), and warmer in the winter (shades up during day, and down at night). If you are looking for extra insulation from your window coverings, you should pay closer attention to the “R value” of a shade. R value is a measurement of thermal resistance – basically, how well something does at insulating.


Automated shades can be powered by battery or wires, or you can go completely manual. Battery powered is the easiest way to power automated shades, especially if you’re not able to realistically run power wires to your windows. Note though that while batteries should last years; e.g. Lutron expects 3-5 years under basic daily use, you will have to replace batteries eventually.

If you’re building or renovating your home, we strongly recommend running power wires to each shade. This takes batteries out of the equation – especially for hard to reach areas. Wires also give you more flexibility on fascia choice (see below). Most shades use low voltage wiring (and power supplies can be out of the way, such as in a basement), but some require regular house voltage. Make sure you know which you have chosen, as if you’re using regular house wiring, you’ll have to make room for an outlet.

Manual shades come in handy for areas where you don’t want or need automated shades, or for windows that are too narrow for automation. Either way, if your chosen manufacturer makes both, you can choose manual shades and still have them match nicely with your automated shades.

Wired or wireless control

For control, some shades are controlled wirelessly and some require control wires. If your chosen system requires control wires, make sure you know what your wiring needs are before you close up your home’s walls for good.


Fascia options depend on the manufacturers. They cover the roller and any shade mechanisms. Most have options for no fascia, fabric fascia or box (architectural) fascia. You can choose no fascia if you plan on building a recess for the shade or like the look of a shade roll.

If you’ve chosen to wire your shades, the headrail will likely be much smaller than one with batteries – this will make it easy to hide or simply ignore the shades without needing a fascia.


You can decide to mount your shades inside your window frame or outside it (i.e. above your window frame). If you choose inside your window frame, careful measurements must be made to make sure it will actually fit inside.

If you want it mounted outside, you have to consider mounting on your window trim, or check that the shades come with spacers so they can be mounted to clear your window trim. While the measurements for outside of your window frame are a bit easier, you still have to make sure they are measured to fully cover the window.

When you choose roller shades, you can also decide if you want regular or reverse roll. Reverse roll can provide more clearance for things like window and door hardware.


The last big decision you have to make is how to control your shades. You can decide from a simple remote control, remote control and smart phone app, or remote control and integration with smart home control. There is a growing collection of shade products that are compatible with consumer DIY yourself systems, so you can dig into those if you like. If your system is large, it makes sense to get some professional help.

Note that not all shades behave the same. Some only open and close with one or a couple set points (e.g. 50% open). Maybe this is all you need, but if you are the type to have your shades 23% open yesterday, 100% today, and 89% open tomorrow, you’ll want to make sure your chosen shade supports infinite open/close settings. If you want to group a rooms shade to open and close in sync, make sure the system supports that.

There are lots of shading vendors to choose from, so choose one that works for you and your home. Check to see what other feature are available when you narrow down your automated shade choice. For instance, is it alright if you manually pull on a shade and have it still work with automation? How loud are the motors when the shades are opening and closing? Do you have a preference on the hembar style? What’s the warranty? With a bit of effort up front, you can have automated shades that give you great value in your home for years to come.

How to stream vinyl records at home

We’re a family of music lovers – we go to a fair amount of live shows, and music is always playing in our home. But I wanted to add vinyl records back into the mix. It was super easy to stream vinyl records in our home, and it sounds great! Let me explain. 

Our home is sometimes a bit of a home tech laboratory, as one might expect. For the most part though, we use Sonos for most of our day to day listening. We use a mixture of Sonos Connects, Connect:Amps, Play:1 wireless speakers, and even a Sub. Deezer is our go to streaming service as it offers high bitrate music for improved sound quality. Streaming radio is also frequently played as well. We find that the lower bitrates of streaming radio does tend to be a bit fatiguing after a while though.

Setting up a system to stream vinyl

I decided to try out a Rega turntable as they are well known for offering high-end sound at affordable prices. When the Rega RP1 arrived, I temporarily set it up in our living room using the living room Sonos Connect:Amp system. I used a Rega Fono Mini A2D phone stage to mate the phono levels for the Sonos Connect:Amp.

Set streaming system input to high quality

You should set the streaming system input to its high quality setting if available. In my case, I set the Connect:Amp to Uncompressed Line-In. I have a rock solid home data network (of course!), so I’ll take higher network traffic for better sound quality. 


Honestly I wasn’t expecting much, as the living room gear is good, but it’s not ‘audiophile’ by any means. When I started playing records though, it was immediately obvious that the sound was amazing. The Rega RP1 and Fono Mini A2D are widely well reviewed, and our’s showed why. They are just simple, great sounding audiophile components for value minded people. Not to kick off another debate about vinyl sounding better than CDs, digital music, etc., but our records sound great. As a bonus, we’ve been listening to whole albums again. Another great thing with the wireless streaming systems like our Sonos system, is that you can also group in other rooms if you don’t want to stay in one room. Manufacturers like Rega recognize people may want to stream vinyl in their homes, so they also offer turntables like the Rega Planar 1 PLUS. Its an all in one unit (turnable & photo pre-amp) that mates well with streaming systems, computers, etc.

Audiophiles may be put off by our system, but for regular music lovers (and ones on more modest budgets), it’s a great way to get the best of both worlds: you can dust off those vinyl records and play them with the simplicity of streaming music systems. Really, whatever level of music lover you are, its about enjoying music. In the end, our turntable has become a permanent fixture in our living room. While we still stream digital music often, its fun to put on albums too, especially on the weekends when we have a bit more time.

New home tech

There are two large technology trade shows in early September for new home tech; IFA in Berlin and CEDIA in San Diego. IFA allows the general public (and purchases on the spot!), and CEDIA is focused on home technology professionals. Both are a springboard for companies to demonstrate their latest gear. Here are some of our favourites from this year’s shows.

Virtually invisible fibre optic cable

Fibre optic cable is an affordable option to move large amounts data around a home. Its not just for computer networks though. These days the biggest home data use comes from video streaming. Video, especially 4K video, is really data hungry. Unless you’re renovating, an older home is usually stuck with Wi-Fi to move all this data. As many people know, Wi-Fi can be less than ideal. Cleerline has a really thin, transparent fibre optic cable to move that data and more. It can be retrofitted inconspicuously along baseboards or ceilings, up walls, etc. You can caulk or paint over Cleerfiber so its virtually invisible. This will allow easier placement of TV systems and other tech gear where you want it and not have to worry about relying on often poor Wi-Fi.

Samsung updates The Frame TV

Speaking of nearly hidden cables, Samsung has updated their Frame TV by combining power into their One Invisible Connection. Now there is only one cable between the TV itself and their One Connect Box. While they’ve also updated specs like the picture quality and art selection, and have added a black bezel option, most people will likely appreciative the simple, tidy set up that one tiny, almost invisible cable will offer.

Samsung also provided more detail about their 4K 146 inch Wall TV that delivers outstanding brightness, contrast and viewing angles. When you buy a Wall TV, you actually get 16 TV cabinets that are installed on a reinforced wall to create one seamless picture. It also runs about US$300,000, so not many of us will be ordering one soon. If you have the space (and budget), you can also go for their 292 inch 8K Wall TV! Its an interesting idea that could lead to wall sized TVs at average consumer prices in the future. Apparently over 40% of screens that Samsung is selling are over 65 inches, so there’s definitely demand for larger screens.

RTiQ intelligent remote monitoring

One of the new professional home tech movements is to use intelligent systems that allow remote monitoring of technology systems in homes. RTi’s RTiQ allows home tech professionals to intelligently monitor clients’ systems and receive email and text alerts when issues occur. We can then remotely resolve issues, reset devices, etc. This allows for a better user experience, less downtime and reducing need for someone to come and physically fix things (which sometimes is just a power cycle). Even simple systems occasionally need a reboot or small adjustment, so although not a sexy gizmo like a big TV, anything that makes things run better for everyone is great in our books!

These new home tech devices provide an indication of where home technology is heading. People are looking for bigger screens to watch their ultra high definition streaming content. They want it to installed clean and simple – and to keep running smoothly no matter how complicated it is behind the scenes.

Tip for great home music systems: subwoofers

small subwoofers like sub air help home music systems sound better

People are listening to more music, often using streaming music. Many have music (and surround) speakers discreetly installed in their living spaces. Frequently this involves installing ceiling speakers. While they can sound great and are hidden in plain sight in the ceiling, there’s something missing,.. true low-end bass. This includes the low-end dance beat or the rumble from a movie explosion. These low-end sounds require subwoofers. But, there are ways to hide subwoofers too.

Speakers need to be physically large to create proper bass – blame physics. Even with the technical sorcery that manufactures build into their products to make small speakers produce surprising bass, they just can’t hit the true low notes. Its not just for dance music aficionados or action movie fans, good bass helps better fill sound in the room and is more pleasing to listen to (often without specifically noticing ‘bass’). We always encourage people to consider a discreet subwoofer (or completely hidden) whenever possible.

Standard subwoofers

A standard subwoofer needs to be large to properly produce proper bass – especially if you want explosion feeling bass. A true audiophile or cinephile will require a ‘proper’, read very large, subwoofer. In these cases, aesthetics often lose to sound. It doesn’t always have to be the case though. If you’re building or renovating, often some planning can greatly minimize impact to your living space. For example, its sometimes possible to cloak subwoofers with end tables or cabinetry. Often this doesn’t work for a room though, so we have to look to the next two categories.

In-wall or in-ceiling subwoofers

In-wall and in-ceiling subwoofers only need the speaker itself exposed. All the electronics can be hidden in some other part of the home. Some in-wall subwoofers use the space in the wall as part of the speaker to create great sound. Others like in-ceiling subs have the speaker cabinets hidden in the ceiling. Our ears can’t perceive where bass is coming from, so we often ‘hide’ speakers low to the ground behind furniture. Even if exposed, they’re usually barely noticed – like a vent cover. While you can get audiophile or cinephile grade in-wall subwoofers, even a reasonably priced setup can really open up the musicality and sound of a room.

Alternative subwoofers

Sometimes you’re in a bind – perhaps you want to more bass, but you can’t plan for a standard or in-wall/in-ceiling sub. Here you can look at clever subwoofers that are either small or non-standard shaped. While this category of subs can’t play as low as the others, they definitely improve the sound without a large visible presense. For example a small sub can easy be placed under an end table. You can also consider one like the Focal Sub Air that is just over 6” deep. If you’re a Sonos fan, their Sonos Sub is also just over 6” deep. These and others are wireless if you can’t run cables. Some are available in black or white to help blend into your decor as well. These can be  placed under or behind furniture as still sound great.

The addition of a good subwoofer will help improve the sound of home music systems. Depending on your situation and budget, from building to simply adding a wireless music streaming system, there are many subwoofer options available. With some planning, you shouldn’t have to compromise your home’s sound system.

Top home tech ideas for renters

Renters often feel left out when its comes to home tech. Much of it is very custom and is often permanently installed. It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment or a house, there are many things that can be done that are both non-permanent, and more importantly, easily repurposed in your next place. Here are some home tech ideas for your rental space.

Wireless Music (easy)

Wireless music systems are everywhere, so if you don’t already have one, its likely time that you jump on board. There are lots of great systems from Sonos to Heos to Bluesound. Just check your needs; i.e. wireless speakers, sound bar and/or components. Also, how do you want to stream music? By Bluetooth, Airplay 2, propriety (e.g. Sonos) – or a combination of these? For example, Sonos supports its own streaming system (of course), and it also recently added support for AirPlay 2.

Voice Control (easy)

If you want to layer on voice control to your home tech, there are basically three families – Alexa, Google and Siri. Be aware which your device supports – e.g. Sonos currently supports Alex and Siri on some of their speakers while Sony supports Google on TVs, etc.

Surround Sound (easy)

Most of us already have some pretty killer, large smart TVs. The next step is to update the sound systems in your viewing room. The good news is that there are more and more companies providing great sound systems to take your system to the next level. These usually consist of a sound bar and wireless surround speakers and subwoofer. If you’re already hooked on Sonos, then you can start with something like their Beam surround set, or go bigger with the Playbar set or Playbase set. Other manufactures like Sony even have startlingly good Dolby Atmos systems that will rock your world (and possibly your neighbours).

Projectors (easy)

A projection TV system is not as outrageous as it sounds. The easiest option is to use an ultra short throw projector (like this basic one or this 4K one from Sony) that sits next to your wall. These can be pricey, so you could consider a regular projector. If you can’t run an HDMI cable to the back of you room for the projector, you may be able to use a wireless HDMI converter – not ideal vs. a wire, but will often work for short distances. Of course its best to project on to a screen (fixed or motorized), but you can get reasonable results onto a regular wall if its in good shape (and colour) and you don’t want a screen in your living space (especially if it doubles as a your living room).

Mesh Wi-Fi (easy)

Unless you have a small place, its likely that you can benefit from better Wi-Fi coverage. If you’re renting a place that doesn’t have ethernet wiring, you can get a lot of mileage from a mesh Wi-Fi system.

Smart Lighting (easy to moderate)

There are many smart lighting products that don’t require re-wiring. These include Philips’ Hue, Belkin’s Wemo and even some of the Lutron’s Caseta products. These are either lightbulbs, lights or plug-in module that you can control with a smartphone or optional remote controls. Depending on the device, it may require a hub and/or work with various platforms such as Apple’s HomeKit or Samsung’s SmartThings.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more control, and you’ve got the clearance from your landlord, then you can look at in-wall devices such as ones from Lutron and Leviton. Just be aware that its recommended to have an electrician do the install of the in-wall devices (and replace the old switches again when you want to move out).

But wait, there’s more (easy to moderate)

These just start to scratch the surface of what’s available. There are other devices like surveillance cameras (like from Nest), Z-Wave sensors (like from Fibaro) and vacuums (like from iRobot). From fun to security, there seems to be almost everything available.

There are more devices coming almost daily that is reasonably priced and easy to use. Choose what you want to do, choose your home tech ecosystem, and then have fun!

Understanding home control technologies

All of your tech gear, from TVs to smart home devices, needs to be communicated with to do the great things they do. Not too long ago, you could do this with a basic remote control. If you wanted to simplify your system, you got a (sometimes not-so-simple) universal remote that was able to control your TV, VCR (remember those?) and sound system. These days, there is a plethora of ways to communicate with everything from TV to smart home products. Here’s a crash course on the more common home control technologies that are used these days.

The difference between one-way and two-way home control technologies

There are two basic categories of device control: one-way and two-way. As it sounds, one-way controllers only talk one-way – they don’t listen to check if they were heard or understood. An old school TV remote is a one-way device. You point it at your TV and press a button, like a channel button. If you pointed the remote mostly towards the TV and all worked well, the channel would change. The remote has no idea if anything changed. That’s up to you – if it didn’t, then you need to press the button again.

Two-way controllers both talk and listen. You can use two-way devices to have a ‘conversation’ and confirm that the task was completed. The device can even send back information like what its volume currently is. 

One-way home control technologies

The more common one-way home control technologies used are IR and RF. IR, or infrared, is light that we can’t see. It is used to carry control signals. Since its light, devices need to ‘see’ their remote to work. Otherwise its pretty robust and is used for devices like TVs, sound systems and cable boxes. RF, or radio frequency, controls put the control information on radio waves. These are similar to IR, but with the added benefit that radio waves can travel through walls and cabinet doors, etc.

When one-way technologies fail, like in the channel change example above, you have to correct for it manually. For a simple system, like a TV and cable box, this usually suffices. (Not always, though: the elderly lady down the street often gets stuck in a cycle where her cable box is on while her TV is off, and vice versa.) For more complicated systems with many devices, you need to make sure that all the devices got their messages. Otherwise, results can and do vary. This is where two-way systems can overcome issues and ensure home tech bliss.

Two-way home control technology

Two-way home control technologies provide a much more stable interface since the controller can get a response from the device to ensure all is good. Common two-way technologies include RS-232, IP (Internet Protocol – wired or Wi-Fi), Z-Wave, ZigBee and Bluetooth. Note that Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee and Bluetooth are all wireless technologies. These can work fine as long as devices are within the specified distances, etc. RS-232 and wired IP are usually preferred, as you don’t have to be concerned with wireless coverage issues. But, of course, you do need wires. 

Interestingly, RS-232 is actually a very old computer communications standard (from the 1960s!), but its still very capable and usually preferred by home technology professionals to control devices. The reason is that controlling devices doesn’t require much data or fast speeds, so the ol’ reliable RS-232 can still keep up with our latest technology. Its usually preferred even over wired IP, as then control doesn’t have to compete with other data, such as streaming Netflix video. That said, the ubiquity and consumer friendliness of IP makes it the go to for modern smart home systems. Obviously with a wireless control technology though, you don’t need to run wires around your home. 

The smart home system you choose often dictates the home control technology. Often people don’t consider the future headaches when choosing a certain technology for the wrong situation. Its not a coincidence that long term stable systems use a wired two-way control technology, especially old, boring RS-232. A good control system, like from RTI, will work with many or all of the home control technologies, so you can mix stable products with convenient wireless ones where the scenario makes sense. Either way, when implemented properly, you can harness their technologies to make a very complicated system a snap to use.

What is GDPR, and why so many privacy and terms of service emails?

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the European Union’s requirement on how businesses collect and use customer data. It came into effect on May 25th. European or international businesses that have customers there, must meet GDPR rules. This is great news, as home technology relies on many pieces from diverse providers. We’ve seen GDPR related emails from everyone from businesses like Google to bands such as the Arctic Monkeys. So, what are the rules?

Levels the playing field

The GDPR helps level the playing field. Companies can be ethical with consumer data protection and privacy, without risking unfair competition from others that are blasé or downright unethical with this data. The term personal data is a broad term that covers consumer data such as shopping behaviours and preferences, credit card information and addresses. Some experts estimate that only 25 percent of customer data in databases meets GDPR requirements. These corporations will have to improve transparency and protect consumer rights.

Consumer rights

General Data Protection Regulation gives consumers rights and control over their personal information. It has specific rights: the right to access, to be informed, to rectify, to erasure, to restrict processing, and to object, as well as rights in terms of data portability, automated decision making, and profiling. Basically this enables easy access to personal data and understanding on how its used. Businesses have been madly emailing out their polices to users to show that they meet these GDPR requirements.

There is a growing list of examples of why these type rules are needed (such as the scandal with Facebook and Cambridge Analytics). Canadians have rules for pieces like email list authorization, but we need a broad set of enforceable rules like the GDPR. In the meantime, we’ll happily piggy-back off the European Union’s rules for the international companies that we deal with.

Home tech pro observations

A home tech pro is like other professionals – we notice certain issues (with technology) that others might not see. Like a mechanic that hears that your car isn’t right, or a physiotherapist that notices poor posture, or a singer that hears off notes when it sounds good to the rest of us. We’re often pulled into new homes that we were not involved with where things were missed because home tech was an afterthought. Here are some of our observations from the field.  

Exposed wires and tech

We’re surprised when we see easy (and inexpensive) details missed in new builds. You should use recessed wiring boxes for wall mounted TVs locations. Recessed boxes allow mounting TVs closer to the wall to help minimize impact on room aesthetics.

Exposed TV wiring is another issue. If a TV is to be over a fireplace, there should be a conduit (pipe for wires) in the wall to hide the wires. Most home owners or designers have decided where a TV is going to go, so make it ready to hide the wiring.

The other piece of the puzzle is where to put the cable box, Apple TV, Blu-ray player, etc. These can sometimes be hidden behind the TV, but otherwise plan out where to put these boxes. If you’re not sure, talk to a home tech pro. It will make a big difference in the look and feel of your home.

Table of remotes

If your system is just a cable box and a TV, then you’ll likely be OK with just the cable box remote to use them. The issue is that every time you add a piece of gear, e.g. an media steamer like an Apple TV, all of a sudden you’re juggling multiple remotes depending on what device you’re watching. Often it’s only one or two people in the house that actually know which remote controls what device.

Not everyone has the desire or budget to spend their money on audio/visual equipment. For those who do, budget in for a universal remote control. There is no point in spending lots of money on an amazing system if its hard to use. Depending on your needs, a universal remote can start under $100. A proper remote should be part of the mix and budget if your system involves more than two or three devices. You can talk with a home tech pro for assistance for more complicated systems.

Proper networking wiring

People expect Wi-Fi to work everywhere in their home. Unless the home is small or you’re lucky, this can’t happen with just the Internet Service Providers Wi-Fi router. You need to use separate access points to make Wi-Fi grace every corner of a home (and outside!). Although we’re advocates of using Ethernet wiring everywhere you can, you must at least have in-wall wiring for Wi-Fi access points as needed.

We were recently called in to a new home where there were no in-wall Ethernet wires installed for anything, Wi-Fi or otherwise. This was unfortunate as we had use expensive adapters to allow Internet over TV coax cables for Wi-Fi Access Points. The Wi-Fi coverage is much better now, but not ideal due to coax cable location limitations. Now everything has to use Wi-Fi. TVs, computers, printers, etc, can’t be wired and are slowing down Wi-Fi only devices like smartphones. Take a look at your living space, and make sure there are network wires for things like TVs, computers and Wi-Fi access points.

Video/sound quality 

It may sound snobby, but we really notice when things look or sound off. You don’t have to spend massive amounts of money for decent equipment. Yes, high end stuff can be expensive, but riding the value curve gives impressive results with a reasonable price tag. People may try to ‘save’ money by installing less quality gear like ceiling speakers. Some may not immediately notice that their system sounds bad, but they use it less and less as its fatiguing. Often when they walk into someone else’s home, they’re wowed and wonder why it sounds better. Balance your budget for all components – a cheap TV or cheap set of speakers will limit the performance of the rest of your equipment. 

Make sure these kind of issues are addressed when you’re building or renovating. If you feel its out of your comfort zone, then reach out to a home tech pro to get some help.

How to choose the smarts for your smart home

DIY smart home hubs

Smart home technology options can make your head spin. How do you go about figuring out which smart home solution or solutions are right for you and your home? Its easy to get caught up with gizmos and sales pitches, so start with what you actually want to accomplish. For example, are you looking for some smart lights that automatically come on. Or a smart door bell to see who’s at the door no matter where you are? Or wireless speakers to make it easy to listen to more music? Perhaps you basically want it all!

Whatever you decide, think about what you want and why. Maybe its that you want your shades to close automatically at night and open in the morning. Sometimes its choosing smart lights because you have a frick-load of lights in the home you’re building, and you want a single lighting keypad vs. a wall covered with lights switches. Sometimes its to simplify home control for seniors or disabled people. Determine your targets and build out from there.

Once you have figured out your smart home targets, you can then start looking at how they will be controlled. There are three basic categories of smart home control: individual app based, DIY smart home ecosystems, and custom control systems.

Individual apps

If you’re looking at just a few smart devices, then maybe you don’t need a ‘master’ brain to control everything. For example, if you just want a smart thermostat and wireless speakers, you’d likely be well served using products like Nest and Sonos and their related apps.

Starting with a few apps to control your devices is great, but consider that you may want to add more device in the future. If you think that’s possible, its good to know what’s compatible with various ‘master’ brains. If you start using lots of smart devices, then it gets annoying switching between apps to control each device. This is where the next two categories come in.

DIY smart home ecosystems

This first level of ‘master’ brains are DIY (Do It Yourself) type smart hubs that tie your smart devices together. These allow higher level control such as grouping functions (like turning on music and setting mood lighting at the same time) or automation based on time of day or location, e.g. when you’re close to home – called “geofencing”.

There are various platforms such as Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s SmartThings, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Nest. While all have their pros and cons, a big thing to watch out for is device compatibility. For example, some devices are compatible with HomeKit, but not SmartThings. Some devices like Sonos speakers have good cross platform compatibility, but some devices are restricted to only one platform. To complicate things further, some devices like smart locks make multiple ‘flavours’ of the same thing, so make sure you buy the right smart flavour (e.g. buy the box that is labelled compatible with HomeKit if you want it to work with HomeKit).

This category is changing fast as many manufacturers are updating compatibly with and without the need for smart hubs. Although these are called DIY, you’ll want to be fairly tech savvy to tackle the set up. You can see why even though these are called ‘Do It Yourself’, some people prefer to get help with them or DIFM (Do It For Me)!

Custom control systems

The next step in master brains, are custom control systems. The main benefits of custom control systems are to make complex things simple-to-use and orchestrate devices together at a higher level. Most products in this realm are only available to custom home technology integrators, as while they have great functionality, they are more technologically challenging to set up. Getting a professional to set up and program helps ensure that everything works smoothly for you. There are more control options available as well – e.g you can add wall control panels and handheld universal remotes to work in conjunction with a smart phone app.

The cool thing is that professional custom control systems such as RTI can also control many consumer and DIY devices. Custom control systems allow control of smart home devices that would become unwieldy in an app or DIY yourself type platform. They allow for total control of all your devices; from AV media systems to smart home devices.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to smart home tech. A couple of app based devices may serve some people well, while DIY type system are better for others. Some people or circumstances require the use of a custom control system. We focus on solutions that make sense for our clients, so we help with all these categories. Feel free to reach out if you would like some help.

Top five simple home technology upgrades

We often get asked about what smart home technology upgrades are possible without major or costly renovations. Thankfully there is much that home owners and renters can do that doesn’t involve costly or messy construction work. Here is an overview of simple-to-implement home tech that our clients are most interested in.

Smart TVs

Many of our clients last upgraded their TVs when the original flat TVs dropped in price and these TVs are getting to the point that they need to be replaced. The timing works out as the next generation TVs, 4K TVs, are great value. They also come with smart features for watching streaming services like Netflix or showing pictures from your smartphone. While our clients are updating their TVs, they want the wiring and remotes cleaned up and simplified. We help them update and organize their digital audio/video worlds by determining which smart TV features work for them and provide programmed universal remotes to make it all easy to use.

Wireless and streaming music

Our clients are often curious about wireless speakers or have gotten the wireless speaker bug and want help expanding on it. Wireless speakers like Sonos and Bluesound, and streaming music services like Spotify and Deezer have revolutionized the way we listen to music. These great sounding speakers require a Wi-Fi network and power. You can also use them to augment that new 4K TV for updated sound for TV shows and movies.

Smart lighting

There is a lot of interest in updating light switches to smart dimmers and switches. Companies like Lutron and Leviton have very functional dimmers and switches at reasonable prices. They are also inter-compatible with other home technology upgrades such as wireless speakers and thermostats. While most devices replace your current light switches, there are also plug models that allow you to smarten up lights like floor lamps without any re-wiring required. From then on, you can control your rights from your smart phone or on smart timers when you’re away. These are not only convenient for everyone with features like lights that come on when you near your home, but may also be and asset for seniors and disabled people to simplify lighting control for them.

Automated shading

Automated shading is also growing in popularity. There are reliable battery powered options, so you don’t have to have your windows wired for power. People want these shades for privacy, light blocking and energy savings. Sometimes clients want convenient shades that open and close timed with sunrise and sunset. Maybe its to keep a bedroom dark when enjoying a sleep in. Sometimes it helps block out the afternoon sun before it heats their home like an oven. Whatever the reason, they can have great looking shades that are smart and easy to use. Plus, you will never have to worry about operating them in difficult to reach places like high windows.

Better Wi-Fi

It seems that everything in our lives these days requires Wi-Fi. When your building or renovating, you can make sure all the right wires get put into your walls to help create the perfect Wi-Fi system. For older homes or condos, you sometimes have to look for another way. As mentioned in the past, mesh Wi-Fi products provide a decent Wi-Fi system to use in these tricky situations.

There are many simple home technology upgrades available for those who want to smarten up their homes but are not building a new home or doing an involved home renovation. We’re always happy to help them, and its rewarding when we get to see their faces light up like kids on Christmas morning when they first use their new upgrades.