Smarthomes are convenient and powerful. From self-locking doors and automated lights to video doorbells and voice control, there’s so much to love. But, sometimes, owning a smarthome is an incredibly frustrating experience. Here are a few reasons why.
Your House May Not Be Wired For Smarthome Gear
Sometimes owning a smarthome feels like becoming a part-time electrician, only without proper training. Old houses have all sorts of “gotchas,” and some issues you may encounter are out of date wiring, non-functioning doorbells, and thick signal-killing walls. You might even discover you can’t use a wired video doorbell at all—and it may be prohibitively expensive to fix it.
Take it from me. My house was built in 1956, and I can’t use smart light switches because it doesn’t have neutral wires in half the rooms in the house! Most smart switches need a neutral wire, but in the 1950s neutral wires weren’t called for in the electrical code. Work done on the house brought a few rooms up to code, but it’s inconsistent at best. If your house isn’t up to code, getting it there means calling an electrician. They’ll have to run wires through your home, which may be difficult or impossible, and you’ll spend quite a bit in labor alone.
You can use smart bulbs instead, but they’re expensive. Every light fixture you want to make smart will need a bulb, and after you’ve spent that money, you’ll have to stop using your light switches, perhaps by installing guards.
Doorbell wiring is even trickier since you’re dealing with similar problems and multiple points of failure. If your doorbell’s transformer needs replacing, good luck finding it. There’s no standard location for transformers, and it’s not uncommon to completely cut off access to them when finishing a basement. You could spend a lot of money paying an electrician to find the transformer, only to see in the end it just can’t be replaced. In that scenario, if you want smart doorbell, it must be battery powered. But those have fewer features and are bulkier, so they may not even fit depending on your house layout.
Older Homes With Thicker Walls Add Signal Problems
Do you have trouble with Wi-Fi in your home? Even after placing your router in a central location, do you find it difficult to connect on another floor or at the far corners of your house? You’re going to run into similar issues with smarthome technology.
While some devices rely on Z-Wave or Zigbee to create mesh systems, anything that relies on Wi-Fi (like voice assistant speakers, some light bulbs, and some smart outlets), will have an equally hard time connecting to the internet as the rest of your Wi-Fi devices. The most effective method to overcome the problem is to use a mesh Wi-FI system, but they can be expensive. The very best Eero system tops out at $500 for instance. Even if you pull back, it’s not uncommon to spend $300 on mesh systems.
And if you have plaster or stone walls, it’s difficult at best to make necessary changes, like enlarging receptacles to make room for oversized switches with smarts in them. And while carving a hole in your drywall to fish wire or search for a transformer isn’t that big a deal you wouldn’t want to try that with plaster or stone walls at all.
Your Smarthome Devices Might Stop Working
Your smarthome hardware might stop working, and there’s not much you can do about it. We’ve reported the deaths of the Lowe’s Iris and Stringify platforms in recent months. Wink isn’t looking too healthy either lately—we can’t recommend it anymore. Before that, the Revolv hub was discontinued. Even when a company is stable, it may break your smarthome by accident as Logitech did with Harmony hubs.
You can try to minimize this by relying on hubs that don’t use the cloud, and there are several excellent options like Hubitat, Homeseer, OpenHab, or Home Assistant. But, as good as these solutions are, you’ll need to be technically savvy to get the most out of them. We’ve yet to find a cloudless smart hub as simple to put together as Wink.
Worst of all, even when the company isn’t the problem your devices themselves may fail. I found this out first hand when I woke up in the middle of the night to a strange clicking noise. I discovered one of the smart switches in my living room had malfunctioned, and the lights were turning on and off rapidly over and over. So in the middle of the night, I had to cut power, remove the switch and install a new dumb switch, for fear of an electrical fire.
Your Family May Hate Your Smarthome
When everything is said and done, your smarthome is only useful if the people living in it are willing to use it. And if you don’t go through a great deal of effort properly naming and grouping your devices, you might find your family unwilling to talk to your home. You can automate your house to forgo talking to it, but too much automation can feel creepy or intrusive. A smarthome that anticipates needs also requires participation, or you might find a bathroom turning its lights off while someone is showering.
Even if the members of your household accept the smart components, your extended family and guests might not. The easiest thing to do in that case is to make your house seem dumb when they’re around, but then why have a smarthome at all? If you have infrequent visitors, like a child attending college, they may find it challenging to keep up with changes when room names change, or when you replace smart devices. That, in turn, might make them feel less at home. You can make your smarthome easier for other people to use, but that takes some extra work—both for you and your family or guests.
Smarthomes are tremendous and fantastic when everything works right. But unfortunately, the DIY nature of the technology, combined with the sheer variety in home age, layout, and materials makes getting a stable, reliable smarthome system difficult at best. Before you take the plunge, it’s important to be fully aware of what you are getting into, and the level of commitment you’ll need to make