The Worst Things About Owning a Smarthome

Smart home connection and control with devices through home network.
Andrey Suslov/Shutterstock

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

Interiod of a light switch, showing only line and load wires
This light switch wiring is nowhere near up to code. Josh Hendrickson

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 Old houses have all sorts of “gotchas,” and some issues you may encounter are out of date wiring, non-functioning doorbells, and thick signal-killing walls.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

Boxes for Wink hub, nest thromostat and smoke detctor, schlage smart lock, Echo and Google Home hub
Josh Hendrickson

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.

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