By Christy Matte
Extreme weather is a concern for all homeowners. Recent hurricanes have shown us just how devastating the losses can be. These situations can be especially worrisome when they happen while you’re away from home or if you own a vacation home in the affected area. From power loss to water leaks to intruders, threats brought on by severe weather can be especially destructive to an empty house.
But there is a way to help ensure peace of mind from afar during crazy weather situations. Smart home technology devices like security systems and water sensors can help minimize damage and keep you informed until you can safely go back to the property. When shopping for a smart home system to help prepare you for emergency situations from afar, keep the following considerations in mind.
Smart Devices to Consider
These systems offer a wide array of solutions to help minimize damage while you’re away from home.
- Water sensors – Burst/leaky pipes or a failed sump pump during a storm (not to mention a broken dishwasher or even an overflowing sink) can mean significant damage to your home. A water sensor can inform you before the problem gets out of control.
- Window/door/lock sensors – We all know the value of security systems, but they can be of special importance in emergency situations when looting may be on the rise. These sensors may even be able to alert you to damage in your home. Broken windows, or worse, can trigger security sensors and send you an indication that something is wrong or alert the authorities.
- Smoke and CO2 alarms – These should already be present in your home, but the smart variations can notify you remotely if dangerous situations arise or alert the local fire department.
- Gas leak detector – Gas leaks can be extremely dangerous both for your property, and for anyone in the vicinity. A gas leak sensor will alert you so you can contact your local fire department to get assistance.
- Power failure alerts – Loss of power is one of your first indications of the possibility of larger problems. These simple systems inform you of power loss to your home, so you can take whatever steps necessary to protect your belongings. They also can tell you when the power returns, so you can rest easy knowing that things are under control.
In order for smart home technology devices to work, they need power. This may be the biggest challenge in a weather emergency, as power is often one of the first things to go. You may need some combination of solutions to make sure you’re fully covered.
- Battery backup – Many connected devices have a built-in battery to power the device in case of power loss. Full home security systems, such as those installed by your cable or security company, often have a battery backup as well. While these won’t keep the devices powered indefinitely, they can run long enough to get you through the first day or two of an emergency situation.
- UPS – A UPS, or uninterrupted power supply, is essentially a backup battery that can be used to power multiple devices for a short period of time, usually a matter of minutes. They are often used to keep computers from shutting down immediately during a power outage, giving you time to save your work and power down safely. In this case, however, they can keep your Wi-Fi and sensors up long enough to alert you to the power loss and any other immediate problems. If your home is damaged by a tornado, for example, you might get an alert about water damage, broken windows or glass doors, and power loss. While a UPS can provide power for much longer, most of those systems are cost-prohibitive for the average homeowner.
- Whole-house generator – A whole-house generator kicks on automatically when your home loses power, requiring no action from you. It will depend on a fuel source, so it’s important to make sure it has enough available to last in an emergency. And if it relies on a gas line coming into the house, remember that it could be compromised in a severe weather situation.
Regardless of the devices you choose, they will need a way to communicate with you, typically via email or text, while you’re away. Choose one that matches your lifestyle, budget and the type of emergency that concerns you.
- Home Internet – By far the easiest and most readily available devices will rely on your home’s Wi-Fi connection. Wi-Fi internet access is available in the vast majority of homes and it’s a standard that companies can easily build around. There are drawbacks to Wi-Fi-enabled devices, however.
- Wi-Fi relies on having an internet connection coming into the house, which could easily be compromised in an extreme weather situation. Moreover, if you have a vacation home, you may not want to pay for internet services while the house is vacant, so it may not be activated during certain times of year.
- Wi-Fi also requires power sources for the modem, router(s) and devices, which are typically not located all in the same area of the home. This can pose a problem if you’re relying on a generator.
- Your Internet provider may also be impacted by the same weather emergency and may experience an interruption in service.
- Mobile Hotspot – If you do not want to maintain internet service in a house while you’re away, or you’d like a backup for your emergency system, a cellular-based hotspot is a good choice. Service is less expensive than your cable-based internet and it doesn’t rely on cable wiring into your home. Hotspots use cellular service to give you Wi-Fi access when you don’t require as much bandwidth. Sensors and other devices can communicate via the hotspot. As a bonus, most hotspot devices are designed to be used on-the-go and will already have built-in batteries for backup in a power-loss situation. There are two considerations to keep in mind, though.
- You need to be in an area with reasonable cellular access to use a hotspot.
- In an emergency, cell towers can overload and even lose power themselves.
- Sensors with SIM Cards – SIM cards identify your smartphone to your cellular provider, but they can also be used in other types of mobile devices. For example, there are standalone sensors that have their own SIM cards so they can communicate via a cellular network without any additional equipment. These have a cost, however, as you’ll need a SIM card and service for each device you choose. In certain situations, this may be more cost-effective than a hotspot solution, and it minimizes the risk of your sensors losing connection to the internet.
Creating a Cohesive Smart Home Technology System
If you plan to be away from your home regularly during high-risk times, you might find it best to use a home security installation with around-the-clock monitoring that will cover the basics and handle any alerts on your behalf. Or, you might choose to piece together your own system based on your personal circumstances. A video camera can also come in handy to record any damages to share with your insurance company or the authorities.
You can integrate many of these devices through a smart home hub that you can manage and access via mobile app. Take your time to consider your options and shop around for reliable smart home technology products that will protect your home when destructive weather strikes.