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Turning Home Automation Into A Must-Have

Home automation brings convenience and a certain measure of peace of mind to homeowners. From within the house or afar, you can check and control lights and thermostats from a smartphone, get water-leak alerts, check if your garage door is closed, or find out when the wash is done if you’re not in earshot of the chime. You can open the garage door and automatically turn on house lights and deactivate the security system. You can unlock the front door and have house lights go on automatically, or simply tap the door lock to unlock if your hands are full of groceries.

Many people are willing to pay for these conveniences, especially now that home automation is more affordable than ever. Checking your smartphone to see if you left the garage door open is certainly more convenient than calling a neighbor to check for you.

For many people, however, home automation can be a necessity. I learned that through experience when my wife fell down the stairs, broke a leg, and needed an operation.

Though I’ve been working from home to take care of her until she can get around better, there are days when I do have to leave home to attend briefings from manufacturers. So if a nurse or physical therapist arrives when I’m gone, does my wife really need to hobble over to the door to sees who’s there before deciding to let that person in?

Home automation provides a better way.

I installed SkyBell’s $199 Video Doorbell, which incorporates Wi-Fi, a video camera and a microphone. When someone presses the doorbell, the doorbell rings as usual, and my wife uses her smartphone to see who’s there and what they want. Then she decides whether to let them in. The next step is to install a smartphone-controlled doorlock so she can let someone in without hobbling slowly – and with difficulty — to the door. For now, she warns people at the door that it will take some time before she gets to them, if she decides to let them in at all.

To me and my wife, a video doorbell is a necessity, and it speaks to the industry’s potential to target home-automation solutions to the elderly, infirm, and people with disabilities for whom such solutions could ease their day-to-day challenges. I see POP at doctors’ offices, physical-therapy offices and the like.

Speaking of challenges, it wasn’t much of a challenge to install the doorbell. I removed the current doorbell and connected the SkyBell doorbell to the two doorbell wires. Setup was easy, though I ran into problems when I tried to connect a second phone to the doorbell. The instructions weren’t clear, but customer service took care of it in a minute.

Of course, there were some uncertainties during installation. For one thing, the doorbell connects only to something called a 10-36 VAC 10VA transformer. I assumed that’s what I had. And the current iteration of the doorbell can’t be connected to a 5GHz Wi-Fi network, only to a 2.4GHz network. The instructions told me to segregate my wireless channels and connect SkyBell to 2.4GHz channels. I had no way of knowing how to do this without calling in the Geek Squad, or trying to find and read through dense router instructions, so I ignored the advice. It worked anyway.

My advice to SkyBell is to offer some technical advice on how to do this or add 5GHz Wi-Fi to the next-gen doorbell. And to integrate its app to control other home systems such as door locks.