Time is drawing near when it’s time to close up the winter home in Florida, Arizona and other sunny winter destinations and prepare for the trip back home. For those with homes in their winter destinations this means draining the hot water heater, unplugging the TV and appliances and putting their cable TV services on hold. Keeping tabs on our vacation homes while back up north has involved hiring a management company or individual to periodically check the home to insure all is safe and secure. For many this also involves having someone enter the home to do an inspection. Technology now makes it easy and relatively inexpensive to perform many of the tasks required to insure that your home remains safe and sound.
The heart of a Technology House Sitter is a wireless internet connection. Most of us contract for internet services already through our cable or telephone providers while vacationing so all that is require is to maintain this service while you are away. The good new is that you can probably have your provided downgrade to their Starter Package as you will not be streaming movies or using other high bandwidth services. The first thing that I would recommend investing in is a Battery Backup System. This is a device that maintains AC power to devices in the event of a power failure. Since most house sitting technology products rely on an active WiFi connection I suggest that you plug your cable or DSL modem and wireless router into this unit. The Battery Backup also provides surge protection to your key devices. A good quality system from APC or CyberPower can be found at Amazon or your local electronics store for about $40.00.
The next decision to make is whether you want to access all of your monitoring devices from a single manufacturer,website or smartphone application or to source from multiple manufacturers. I liken this a bit to the purchase of stereo components; do you want a fully integrated system or the flexibility to purchase devices best suited to your application? I personally have opted for the latter. Lets take a look at what’s available.
Many of us already have an alarm system at our winter homes for insurance purposes. If you have not upgraded to a system that can be monitored remotely via your computer or smartphone I would advise doing so. Usually the only thing required is a change of your wall panel and changing from a land-line phone connection to a cellular connection. The added bonus here is that you no longer need to pay for a local phone service that you don’t use for any other purpose when you return home. Once upgraded you can now arm and disarm the system remotely, have alerts sent directly to your cellphone and many other features.
While many may simply shut off your HVAC when you close up I like to set limits to insure that furniture and other items do not suffer heat extremes. With a WiFi enabled thermostat you can program your thermostat to only turn on when electricity prices are low. I personally set a high limit of 90 degrees for my home. Once the temperature reaches this temperature the AC will run for 15 minutes. I have found that if I run my AC in the night, between 2:00AM – 4:00AM, when the electricity costs are the lowest, I can economically cool the home to a point where the AC will never come on during the day even when the outside temperature reaches 110 or more. You can also program the thermostat to send high heat and other system alerts to your cell phone. A good WiFi thermostat will cost around $250.00. I have found the ecobee3 Smart thermostat to be a highly programmable and reliable unit.
While many home break-ins are spur of the moment acts by kids doing a quick smash & grab professional thieves will usually watch a home for a few days to see if its occupied or not. Traditional mechanical timers have been around for a long time and are used extensively by Snowbirds to turn lights on and off to give the illusion of occupancy. The biggest problem with these are that the lights go on and off at the same time every day. They don’t allow for earlier sunrises and later sunsets during the time that the home is unoccupied. WiFi enabled timers can be programmed and reprogrammed remotely depending on the sun’s cycles. Many units also offer the ability to randomly turn lights on and off to give the appearance that a home is occupied. If someone is watching the home they will see different light patterns, even at the same time of night. You have multiple options for controlling lights; use a standalone WiFi timer that plugs into an outlet or replaces a standard light switch or you can use a standalone WiFi enabled light bulb. One thing that is overlooked by many is an audio device, a thief may not be able to look into a room with the curtains closed but will be able to hear a radio or TV, use a WiFi plug to have a radio playing during the times that yu want someone to think that the home is occupied. A WiFi smart wall switch will cost $30.00 – $40.00 on Amazon or at a retailer from belkin, Ankoo, TP-Link, WeMo and others.