Are smart appliances the smart choice?

Are smart appliances the smart choice?

Key tips to remember

  • Energy-efficient features can cut your electric bill, but they come with a hefty initial price tag.
  • Remote operation adds convenience, but also poses security risks.
  • Smart appliances make maintenance easy, but they often require more of it.
  • We can all agree that a robot vacuum is a no-brainer.

Watch out, George Jetson! From backlit touchscreen panels that double as windows into your refrigerator to microwaves that automatically download cooking instructions, there’s no denying that the cutting-edge features available in today’s smart appliances look super cool and futuristic. Not only do they flout the latest technology, but these devices also use the internet to connect to mobile apps and each other with the goal of being more efficient and self-sufficient.

But should you kick your old-school appliances to the curb just yet? Or will these fancy contraptions leave you screaming, “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” Before you invest in a smart appliance, let's go through some of the pros and cons to see if upgrading is indeed the smart choice for your home and budget.

Energy efficiency can reduce your bills.

With utility bills and gas prices continually creeping up, saving energy often means saving money. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 13 percent of the energy used in a typical home can be attributed to just four common appliances: the refrigerator, dishwasher, and clothes washer and dryer.

Smart versions of these energy-hungry appliances feature the most advanced energy-saving technology, which can make a big dent in your electric bill. Power and water efficiency are excellent with these new smart models, and depending on where you live and your energy provider, some can even connect with the utility company to determine which hours are most efficient for them to run.

For example, GE has developed smart products that work with PG&E smart meters to alert customers during peak hours so they can choose to either not run the appliance or put it in energy-saving mode. With a smart washer and dryer or dishwasher, that means loads of laundry or dishes can be run when electricity rates are lowest, and integrated sensors calculate the most efficient drying time.

Smart refrigerators allow remote access to the temperature controls, which means you can change the temperature of the fridge to a lower setting during times when you’re away and not opening it. You can even create a temperature schedule to maximize your energy savings.

Con: As with solar panels and impact windows, the initial purchase cost of a smart appliance such as a refrigerator or dryer is significantly higher than its old-school counterpart. You need to examine your energy usage and determine how long you’ll need to own and operate the appliance to see if the dollars and cents you’ll invest will make sense.

Remote operation adds convenience.

One of the main draws for smart appliances is the convenience factor. With a Wi-Fi connection and a smartphone app, you can monitor and control these appliances from anywhere in your home — or the world, for that matter.

Smart appliances easily interact with other home technology, so you can simply say, “Alexa, preheat the oven,” when you have your hands full with other food prep. Linking a smart washer and dryer to a home control hub means less walking back and forth to the laundry room or garage, which is especially convenient if your laundry is located where it’s hard to hear the alerts.

Going smart just sounds like a no-brainer when it comes to one of our least favorite chores: vacuuming. Who doesn’t want a robot vacuum with voice control? Better yet, tap your smartphone to remotely schedule a cleaning before you get home.

Smart refrigerators, such as LG models with Smart Access, let you check the status of your fridge contents from your phone, so you can verify if the midnight snack you’re craving is actually there before making the trip.

Remote access also means no more panicking about leaving the oven on after you’ve left for vacation because you can easily turn it off from wherever you are. Brands such as Miele even include a feature that shuts off the water to a clothes or dishwasher if a leak is detected, to give you even more peace of mind.

Cons: Wi-Fi connections inherently pose data and privacy risks, and smart home appliances may not utilize the most reliable internet security protocols. This can give hackers a way to access other connected devices in your home. As these devices collect more and more data about you and your habits, that data could be more valuable and thus more vulnerable to hacks. Following these tips will help make your smart appliances more secure.

Also, while having the option to start a smart washer, dryer or dishwasher remotely is great, at the end of the day, you still have to actually get up and go to the machine to load your dirty clothes or dishes into it.

The latest tech makes life easier.

The newest innovations in smart refrigerators allow you to easily keep track of what’s inside. Many brands include cameras that snap a photo of the contents every time the door closes. You can use the LCD touchscreen panel or a smartphone to check for items without opening the door — another energy-saver — or to double-check what you may have forgotten on your shopping list while at the store. Some even allow you to order groceries for pickup or delivery.

Smart refrigerators can change cooling sections from refrigeration to freezing and back again, depending on your changing needs, and features such as LG’s Freshness Tracker let you input foods and check their expiration dates. You can also use the touchscreen display to showcase your family calendar or type notes and reminders — no more searching for a pen.

For your cooking needs, smart pressure cookers and ovens often come with recipe apps. There’s no worrying about burning the meatloaf, because when the desired cook time is reached, the oven will place the dish in a warming mode until you’re ready to serve. The newest smart microwaves can scan barcodes to automatically download cooking instructions.

A smart washing machine will notify you when the detergent or rinse agent is running low and can even order more for you. To keep your clothes fresh when you’re running late, use your phone to start a dewrinkle cycle, or set up auto-delay cycles.

The ease of Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t just for you — your appliances also use it to talk with each other. For example, GE’s CleanSpeak technology sends a signal from the washer to the dryer, which will then auto-select an appropriate cycle and drying time, saving energy and money. Many smart fridges incorporate recipes into their displays, which you can send to your smart oven, which will then automatically heat up to the desired temperature based on the recipe.

Cons: Although many of these smart features can indeed make your life easier, if the internet goes out, so do the features. Also, the price-conscious among us may not feel these features are worth the added cost. After all, the dryer still can’t fold the clothes for you. Does paying for Wi-Fi features make sense when many “dumb” models currently offer similar energy-efficient and quick-cycle features?

Another issue is that many brands start to discontinue firmware and security updates for these extra features after only a year or two as they turn their attention to developing the newest appliance. And while phone notifications are helpful, getting a ping every time someone turns on the oven or a dryer cycle ends could turn into information overload.

Receive maintenance notifications and benefits.

Troubleshooting a broken oven or refrigerator is never fun, but most smart appliances can diagnose themselves when there’s a problem, which is a huge help. For instance, if you notice your refrigerator isn’t getting cold, it could be the compressor, evaporator, fan or thermostat. The manufacturer of a smart appliance can send a signal directly to the refrigerator, which will report which part is broken, and a tech can be dispatched with the correct item — all with one call and zero guesswork.

Smart appliances can also send alerts about issues in the kitchen while you’re away from the house. Dishwasher brands such as GE and Whirlpool use an app to alert you to any performance issues, including a leak or if the dishwasher isn’t reaching the correct temperature, which is something you normally might not notice right away.

Smart dryers can let you know when the vent needs to be cleaned, which avoids the fire hazard of lint clogs, and they can also alert you if the lint filter is full. These improvements allow you to better maintain your appliances, so you get your money’s worth from them.

Con: While maintenance notifications are innovative, smart appliances and devices often require more repairs in general than their old-school versions — and those repairs can be 50 percent to 100 percent more expensive. The most common point of failure is the computer controller board. Extended warranties are usually encouraged when purchasing these appliances due to all the technological things that could go wrong, which drives up the price even further.

So, are smart appliances the smart choice for you? Well, the robot vacuum definitely is, but it’s all about weighing energy savings, convenience and the latest tech against cost, potential security risks and maintenance needs. The good news is that smart appliances have been getting less expensive and more secure, and the trend is expected to continue as the technology becomes mainstream. Here at Cinch Home Services, we want to make sure your appliances, whether old-school or high-tech, are always working at their best. Consider investing in a home protection plan for added security, and stay in touch with our newsletter and Facebook page for more home-related articles.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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