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Smart home technology is an increasingly popular --- and affordable --- option for everyday homeowners.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Nest is one product line that provides smart home security and climate control systems, such as the pictured smart thermostat. The thermostat over time 'learns' the daily activities of your household, automatically adjusting to meet your needs and — ultimately — bringing savings to your utility bills.

Smart home technology was out of reach for the average homeowner a mere two decades ago.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, popularized smart home possibilities and made global headlines in the mid-1990s for his hi-tech 66,000 square-foot compound in Medina, Washington. Not only was it replete with material extravagances exclusive to the super rich and famous, it was an awe-inspiring temple to technological innovation.

For those of us who still had to get up from the couch to change the TV channel, the notion of lights rising and dimming when entering or exiting a room at the island mansion estate seemed like pure

magic.

What once seemed like science fiction for all but the mega wealthy is now commercially within grasp, however. Products like Nest, Google Home, Life Watch, Amazon Echo, Comcast's Xfinity Home, Vivint and a host of others offer tech-based security and convenience to fit most household budgets.

But how to approach and realize smart home aspirations is not so cut and dried. Are products from different companies compatible? Are the systems for security and convenience the same? With heightened threat of Internet security, what are the risks of having numerous household items connected to the web? Should you do it yourself or hire a service?

"It sort of depends on how sophisticated you want it to be," says Brady Preheim, owner of Preheim Business Center in Scappoose. "If you're wanting to do security and monitoring, and add a thermostat and all that stuff, you'll have to rewire, and it requires an electrical background."

If it's simplicity you seek and don't know the difference between a tablet and a laptop, employing a service, such as Comcast's Xfinity Home or Vivint Smart Home tech packages, is probably the way to go. For a monthly charge, such outfits provide live feed home surveillance equipment installation and services, plus a support system that takes the worry out of setup and maintenance.

Xfinity and Vivint additionally include a family of modules that provide for home automation beyond security, including outlets, lighting and appliance controls.

"You can add smoke detectors, motion detectors and cameras, and each one is a module you can buy," notes Preheim, who offers Xfinity Home packages at his store. Instead of having several apps and passwords for a range of products, Xfinity Home keeps it simple with a single password and platform.

For the more technologically savvy, individual products by Nest, Ring, Insteon and many more offer integrated products that can be accessed through a virtual assistant or an app on your smart phone or tablet, absent a service contract. Module compatibility is a top consideration, notes Torrie Hughes, co-owner of Digital Guru in Scappoose.

"There are a lot of different devices out there. Making sure they are compatible is one of the most important steps to complete," says Hughes, who carries and recommends Vivint for smart home setup.

For the DIY homeowner, Hughes says paying attention to module placement is a must

"Making sure the placement of devices does not come up with any interference is important. This can vary depending on the size of the home and how far signals are needing to travel," he says.

As is the case with any tech endeavor, be sure to independently research a variety of products and services prior to rushing out and jumping on the swelling smart home wave. There's a lot out there, with more seemingly hitting the market daily. Additionally, as headlines have recently pointed out, the more things we have connected to the Internet, the greater the opportunity malevolent actors will take advantage of them.

In October, for example, hackers tapped into the relatively unprotected "Internet of Things," such as web-connected TVs, DVRs and closed-circuit TVs, and used the IP addresses from those products to orchestrate a distributed denial of service attack on Dyn, a major Internet data center. The result was a historical disruption of Internet services, the largest to date.

"They can be hacked," says Preheim of many smart home devices now on the market. "[Hacks] are uncommon, but I see in the future it being something that, if it happened, it can be a real concern."

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