Having a smart home with roommates can be hard


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It’s easier than ever these days to build house-wide smart home systems and manipulate appliances with an Amazon Echo. Though some of these products don’t yet play nice with each other, the smart home industry is growing and it’s an exciting time to get into connecting your living space. 

However, I was struck by an obvious problem when I went on vacation last week: What happens when you install smart home devices in a shared household?

This issue had briefly reared its head when my roommate yelled at Alexa and the exchange ended up saved to my phone, but it was only during a recent trip that I realized none of my roommates knew how my smart technology worked.

Image Credit: depositphotos.com.

Controlling devices with a smartphone

It only dawned on me how much of my home is controlled by my iPhone after I’d left my home in the care of three roommates. They’re tech savvy, to be sure, but they didn’t know that my iPhone controlled everything from my Amazon Echo dots to my desk lamp. My smart devices include:

  • A smart plug connected to a lamp behind the TV 
  • Two Amazon Echo Dots, each connected to speakers 
  • One Google Home Mini 
  • A Philips Hue bulb on the roof terrace 
  • An Awair air quality monitor 
  • A Footbot air quality monitor 
  • A Philips Hue light strip 
  • A Sonos One 
  • The desk lamp 
  • A second, range-expending Wi-Fi network

Image Credit: depositphotos.com.

Controlliing Smart Speakers

Only the light strip, Foobot and Sonos One are in my bedroom, with the rest scattered across our communal areas. Yes, my housemates could turn the devices on or off at the wall outlet, or maybe mute the smart speakers if they can find the right button, but otherwise they were pretty much locked out.

They could flick the roof terrace light switch to find the bulb was technically ‘on’, but switched off via the Philips Hue app on my phone. Flicking the wall switch on, off, then on again should bring the bulb to life, but they probably don’t know that, and wouldn’t be able to adjust the brightness, color or temperature because only I have access to the Hue account on my phone.

There’s a Hue dimmer switch for the light strip in my room, but none of them have used it before, so may not know what to do if they noticed I’d left the light on (it’s set to come on gradually every morning).

Also set to come on every morning is my Sonos One, which plays the radio from 6:45am until 7:30am. I forgot to cancel this before I went away, and wasn’t able to do it remotely as the app asked me to be on the same Wi-Fi network. Thankfully my friend in the room next door didn’t complain, but it’s easy to see how this could have been a problem.

Image Credit: depositphotos.com.

Echo Dot in the Office

Step into the lounge and my home-office space. One Echo Dot is permanently muted due to the way I have things set up, so no problems there. But the other, on my desk across the room, is connected to un-muted speakers and has a habit of responding fairly often when people are chatting nearby. I’ve written about this issue before, and how much better the Google Home Mini is at avoiding such false-positives.

I have also written about how this Echo Dot is often yelled at by irate housemates – yelling which is then recorded and stored in the Alexa app, which only I have access to. We’re good friends so no real harm is done here, but it doesn’t take much to imagine how a new and unknown housemate might feel if they knew the Echo was accidentally recording them and saving these snippets to an app on my phone.

Even the simplest smart device I owe, a plug connected to a lamp behind the TV which comes on for a few hours each evening, cannot be adjusted without using my iPhone. There’s an on/off switch on the plug but – again – I’m not sure if the housemates would all know this. And in any case, it’ll still switch back on the next evening even if they turned it off the day before.

Image Credit: depositphotos.com.

How Smart Homes Should Work

Now, I realize a lot of this could be considered a ‘first world problem’ – of course the three of them can survive a few days without being able to set the terrace light or desk lamp just so – but I felt a pang of guilt nonetheless. And of course this situation would be far more acute if the household had a smart security system, smart lock, and connected cameras.

All of this got me thinking about how shared smart homes should work, and how families should go about filling their homes with connected tech.

Will there always be just one gatekeeper, with the keys to the castle locked away in their smartphone? Should smart households create a dedicated email account to be used by every smart home device, with a password everyone knows? Of course, this would need changing when a housemate moved out – and what if they left on bad terms, or their departure was the result of a messy breakup? They could cause havoc by remotely accessing your devices, or change the passwords and lock you out of every account.

Image Credit: depositphotos.com.

Solutions for the Shared Smart Home

Many of today’s most accessible and useful smart home devices are spur-of-the-moment purchases; an Echo Dot, a smart plug, a video doorbell, or a light bulb. They can be installed in minutes and without a second thought, but for every element of their owner’s life they simplify or improve, they will likely cause everyone else a headache further down the line.

GearBrain is now on the hunt for solutions for the shared smart home, so stay tuned for advice and tutorials on how best to install connected devices when you live with others.

Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker, to see other products that are compatible with Amazon Alexa.

This article originally appeared on GearBrain and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

Image Credit: depositphotos.com.