Science

Let your smart home take care of itself while you’re on vacation

Smart home devices aren’t just useful while you’re around the home or out and about—they can also help when you’re away on vacation, whether it’s keeping an eye on your property or stopping your water pipes from freezing over.

But you don’t necessarily want to leave your smart home devices configured in the normal way if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. There are special options and modes available specifically for those times when you’re taking a trip.

Smart heating

Part of the appeal of installing a smart thermostat or heating system is that you can control it from anywhere. This allows you to turn off the heating when no one’s home, and warm up your house when you’re traveling back.

You don’t want to waste energy and money heating an empty building while you’re on vacation, and your smart heating system will be up to the challenge. It’s really just a question of knowing what options you’ve got.

The Nest Learning Thermostat and other similar smart home heating systems have a special “away” mode for vacations. In the Nest app, tap the Thermostat icon, then tap Off before going away. Make sure you also go to Settings and then Safety Temperature, so your Nest will start up again if it detects your home is at risk of freezing or overheating.

[Related: Your WiFi and your smart home don’t get along. Now what?]

Meanwhile, if you’ve got an Ecobee thermostat, from the app you can tap Menu, Vacation, and then the Plus button to set the dates you’ll be away. Your usual heating schedule won’t apply during that time, but the app will ask you to set a minimum and maximum temperature threshold, which will tell the Ecobee to spring into action if frozen pipes or extreme heat damage might be a problem.

We can’t give you detailed instructions for every smart thermostat out there, but yours should have similar options available. You should at least be able to customize the heating schedule manually to reduce energy use, so if you forget to do it before you leave, you can use your mobile app and do it while you’re on your trip.

Smart lights

Using smart lights while away from home can give the impression that someone is inside your house, putting off would-be burglars from poking around your property.

No matter what brand of smart bulbs you’re using, you should find some options for setting them up to work on an automated schedule. In the Philips Hue app, for example, tap Routines, Other routines, and Create routine to get your lights to turn on and off automatically while you’re away. Note that you can make use of the Random times toggle switch to introduce some unpredictability into the schedule.

If Lifx is your smart light brand of choice, you can open the mobile app and tap the Plus button, then New Schedule to work on your vacation routines. The app lets you set start and stop times, as well as specific days to trigger routines.

You can also control your smart lights while you’re away, which is one of the benefits of installing smart lights in the first place. In that case, you’ll need to remember to turn your lights on and off while laying on the beach or enjoying an evening cocktail, which might not be the most fun way to spend your leisure time.

You can use smart plugs in the same way if they’re connected to lamps around your home. The apps that come with them will let you turn the power on and off at particular times for particular sockets, so you can create the illusion that someone’s at home.

Smart speakers

Smart speakers, one of the most popular types of smart home devices, can listen for intruders and play music or even conversation sounds to make it seem like your house or apartment is still occupied.

If you’ve got an Amazon Echo, it comes with a feature called Guard, which you can enable via the Guard option in Settings from the Alexa app. The tool listens for sounds in your home, including smoke alarms and breaking glass, and sends you an alert if it detects anything suspicious. If you’ve installed smart lights and security systems, Guard can work with those too.

Various third-party Alexa skills can also protect your home while you’re away. For example, Away Mode will fire up random conversations from your speaker to give the impression that your home is still occupied, while Guard Dog works along similar lines but uses the sound of a barking dog rather than human chatter.

You don’t get the same options with Google Nest smart speakers and displays, though you can set up automated routines to play audio at specific times while you’re away, or to control the other smart home devices you’ve installed. From the Google Home app on your phone, tap Routines to set up an automated schedule.

Amazon Echo speakers can do routines too—from the Alexa app, choose Routines from the menu, then tap the Plus button. You could, for example, set a TuneIn radio station to play for an hour every morning while you’re away (just be sure that it won’t startle the neighbors who think you’ve gone away).

Other smart devices

If you’ve got smart locks controlling one or more of your doors, set them to allow access to guests or neighbors before you leave. If you’ve got an August smart lock, for example, just tap the Guest icon on the app’s home screen to give someone else permission to get into your home to, say, check on the plants or feed your cat.

Smart sensors are a great option to get yourself some extra peace of mind while you’re on vacation, but you won’t need to configure these any differently than normal. Sensors to detect leaks or window openings work the same whether you’re at the office or on the other side of the world.

[Related: How to configure your smart thermostat to save the most money]

Likewise, security cameras shouldn’t need any special configuration for a vacation. All you really need to do is make sure they’re working as normal before you go, so double-check the feeds and the motion detection settings for each camera in advance of your trip.

A video doorbell is another smart device you can carry on using as normal, as you’ll still get alerts when someone is at your front door. When interacting with visitors, keep in mind that it’s a good idea not to mention you’re away on vacation. Just tell them you can’t come to the door and to leave packages with a neighbor, for example.

You can safely switch off any other smart home devices that you’re definitely not going to be using while you’re away to save energy—smart displays or baby monitors, for instance. When you get back, turn them back on and they should go back to work as normal.




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