Wishing for a smarter or more energy-efficient home this holiday season? Let’s face it: While a rooftop solar array may be on your wish list, pallets of solar panels may not fit under your Christmas tree. But there are plenty of more-compact gift ideas that can make your home smarter or more energy-efficient, or simply provide a modicum of architectural fun—yet still fit nicely under your tree or near the Yule Log. Here are five such suggestions from our editorial team.
We have been big fans of the WaterHawk showerhead since we first tested it earlier in 2016. In fact, we can’t imagine taking a shower without it, as it gives a real-time readout of the numbers that count—as we wrote in our in-depth review: “Big water- and energy-saving data are realized on the WaterHawk in the form of two real-time metrics—cumulative water volume usage (in gallons) and water temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit)—colorfully displayed on a round LED panel embedded in the face of the fixture.”
And it does all of that with no need for batteries or electrical power, thanks to a built-in hydroelectric generator. A perfect resource-conserving complement to your smart home, and an ideal shower companion in times of drought.
We typically don’t delve deeply into consumer electronics at large, but the tight integration of selected Samsung 2016 UHD and SUHD TVs with their SmartThings smart-home automation platform caught the eye of our editors. The upper end of Samsung’s 2016 line—including 7 Series UHD TVs and 8 or 9 Series SUHD TVs—can be used to control SmartThings-branded W-Fi accessories out of the box. And with the addition of a free SmartThings Extend dongle, which is expected to be widely available in 2017, the TVs can function as a SmartThings hub for your home and will integrate with the full range of SmartThings-compatible accessories—arguably the broadest range of accessories out there. The USB dongle adds ZigBee and Z-wave radios to the TV, and in doing so obviates the need for a separate SmartThings hub on the home’s network. You can read much more about the overall SmartThings platform in our recent review.
Beyond the SmartThings feature, these TVs of course bring 4K, 3840 x 2160 resolution to the viewing experience, 4 times the resolution of full HD (1920 x 1080).
As the first weatherproof security camera from smart thermostat pioneer Nest Labs, the Nest Cam Outdoor is the only outdoor camera that can be controlled directly from within the ubiquitous Nest smart-home app. In our recent in-depth review of the product, we wrote: “As a product designed from the ground up for DIY homeowner installation and plug-and-play integration with the Nest smart-home ecosystem, Nest Cam Outdoor benefits from an innovative magnetic mounting system, a well-thought-out approach to power and wiring, and an advanced software feature set.”
Among our favorite features of the camera is the Nest Sightline view, as we described in the review: “In Sightline, speed-sensitive vertical swiping produces a rapid, immersive review of recent activities, and as the snapshots or video thumbnails scroll by, the video feed window zooms instantly to display them. It’s an interface we found eminently practical and a thorough joy to use, where an entire day can be scanned in seconds.”
iDevices has spearheaded much of the effort to bring Apple HomeKit-compatible accessories to market, and their recent development efforts to integrate with the popular Amazon Alexa voice-control platform has made their entire product line more accessible. And due to their integration with the Apple Works with HomeKit program, homeowners can also use the latest iDevices Connected app, the new Apple Home app, an Apple Watch app, and Siri voice commands to control iDevices accessories. That’s a broad range of options, and you can read much more about iDevices and how the Amazon Alexa integration works in our in-depth review.
Their Smart Home Essentials Kit is an excellent entry point for building out a smarter home, and includes 5 of the Switch, 3 of the Socket, and 2 of the Outdoor Switch products in a single box. All are simple, plug-and-play products.
With broad appeal to youngsters aspiring to be architects and designers, homeowners considering building a new home, and serious architectural firms interested in developing detailed conceptual scale models, Ireland-based ArcKit has turned the modern building design world on its ear by launching a line of free-form architectural model building kits. In contrast to individual Lego building bricks, ArcKit brings a highly modular approach to model building by using snap-together building components—including doors, flooring, windows, walls, roof panels, and much more—to enable the rapid assembly of building prototypes. And, with all components molded to 1:48 scale, they are a perfectly-sized companion to residential architectural blueprints.
We have used ArcKit extensively here at Digitized.House, and can attest to the ease of use and suitability of the kits to quickly assemble compelling home models. We have worked with the A120 (385 pieces) and the recently-launched Mini Dormer (115 pieces) kits. For those in the U.S., the kits are on display in all Barnes & Noble bookstores.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.